It Is Ours!

This past Thursday, The Green-Wood Cemetery, after several years of negotiations, closed on its purchase of the Weir Greenhouse, a New York City landmark. It is the only surviving Victorian greenhouse in all of New York City.

We are all very excited!

Here’s the Weir Greenhouse, in an early 20th century post card:

The Weir Greenhouse, about a century ago, soon after it was built.

And here’s what the exterior of the greenhouse looked like yesterday.

The Weir Greenhouse. A Green-Wood crew was in there on Friday, the first day it was in our possession, cleaning things up.

This is the greenhouse’s spectacular central dome, looking up from the floor.

The central dome is supported by iron. The slats are wood.

New York City’s Landmarks Commission’s Designation Report, written in 1980 by Andrew S. Dolkart (who is now the director of Columbia University’s Historic Preservation Program and its James Marston Fitch Associate Professor of Historic Preservation) describes the detailing of the Weir Greenhouse as “simple and straightforward.”

Here is the entrance way:

The exterior of the entrance way dome.

The entrance dome, a small-scale version of the central dome, is surrounded by windows and glass doors, making it a bright and inviting place for visitors.

UPDATE: I went back into the Weir Greenhouse today, Friday, February 10 (just one week after we took possession) to get some photographs of the great open space there. Here are two:

The interior of the greenhouse, looking across the open floor towards the main entrance at the corner of 25th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Looking towards the secondary entrance along 25th Street. That's quite an expanse of glass, isn't it?

The greenhouse has an very extensive system for nurturing plants: watering pipes close to the floor as well as windows that open in all sorts of sets and combinations to allow for careful adjustment of air flow and temperature.

Detail of the glass, iron, and wood system in the greenhouse.

In 1895, James Weir, in business as a florist since 1850, with greenhouses in Bay Ridge, “well-managed nurseries” in New Utrecht, and a greenhouse across the street from the main entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery

This is the first of James Weir's greenhouses on the corner of 25th and 5th. It was torn down when the current greenhouse was built.

, on the southwest corner of 25th Street and Fifth Avenue, hired architect C. Curtis Gillespie, who lived nearby, to design a new greenhouse for him. Gillespie created a wonder–a remarkable open space, of glass, wood, and iron, with a huge central dome.

This greenhouse project was the culmination of James Weir’s career. And there is no question that he wanted it to be something special–it was not only to be the pride of his substantial business, but also the pride of his neighborhood–he, his son, and his grandson (both of whom worked in the family business) lived just feet away, James at 236 25th Street, the other two just doors down the street at 228.

236 Twenty-fifth Street, the address (but not the building) where James Weir lived, is on the same side of 25th Street as the Weir Greenhouse, separated from it by Brooklyn Monument's yard and building. This brick building is now a part of the Brooklyn Bakery.
This is 228 25th Street, the house in which James Weir's son and grandson, both of whom worked with him, lived. It stands today, as it has for over a century, on the south side of 25th Street, about midway between Fourth and Fifth Avenues.

Not surprisingly, given the location of his greenhouse and his home just feet from the main Green-Wood entrance, and given that his business was very much tied to Green-Wood (a quick review of Weir-McGovern maps of Green-Wood, which were generously donated to Green-Wood by the McGovern family, indicates that those florists were taking care of up to 1000 lots at Green-Wood), James Weir in interred at Green-Wood. Here is his gravestone:

James Weir is interred on a high hill (above Green-Wood's Historic Chapel) from which his beloved greenhouse may be seen.

He is up on the hill above Green-Wood’s Historic Chapel. There’s quite a view from up on that hill–on a clear day you can see all the way to the Bayonne Bridge. And, from James Weir’s grave, you can see the dome of his greenhouse!

In 1971, the Weir family sold the greenhouse to the McGoverns, who kept the floral business going until recently.

However, unfortunately, little if anything seems to have been done, in the last 30 years, to maintain the greenhouse. Lack of maintenance is not good for any historic landmark. But it is particularly problematic for a building that is primarily made up of glass and wood; as is noted in the Designation Report, “[g]reenhouses are among the most fragile of building types and without constant maintenance they will quickly decay.” And that, unfortunately, has been the case with the Weir Greenhouse–it has decayed. First of all, several of the low brick walls that support the entire structure have fallen apart.

Collapsed bricks.

There is also much broken glass and rotting wood.

Examples of broken glass. Nearby, an entire section of glass panes was, at some point, replaced by plexiglass.
This tarp is covering a section where all the glass is gone.

While the current condition of the Weir Greenhouse will make its restoration a daunting task, that restoration will proceed. Under the leadership of Green-Wood’s president, Richard Moylan, the cemetery is committed to returning this landmark to its full glory. Structural consultants will be in tomorrow to begin their study of what has to be done. The work will then proceed apace, returning this great structure to its rightful place as a great asset to Green-Wood and the neighborhood.

On another note, we did get some very interesting and historical souvenirs as part of our purchase:

Weir and FTD printing blocks.
This printing block has the same pattern as that on the letterhead.

New York City’s Landmarks Commission, in designating the Weir Greenhouse a New York City landmark, wrote of its importance:

. . . the Weir Greenhouse, an extremely rare survivor from the nineteenth century, is the only known Victorian commercial greenhouse in New York City; that the form and massing of the greenhouse are bold and impressive, while the detailing is simple and straightforward; that is was built for the Weir family business which had a long tradition of horticultural activities in Brooklyn, that its presence and survival are integrally linked to the adjacent Greenwood Cemetery . . . .

Now it will be that much more closely linked to Green-Wood.

Congratulations to Green-Wood’s president, Richard Moylan, whose vision led to this purchase, and to Green-Wood’s board, which enthusiastically has supported this venture. Now it is time to fix the Weir Greenhouse up, to return it to the glorious space that it once was. And to create a place where future generations of visitors can catch their breath, orient themselves, learn about Green-Wood, then cross Fifth Avenue to discover one of the great historic places, and landscapes, in America.

Please click here if you would like to donate to this effort.

If you would like to read the entire Landmarks Preservation Commission’s Designation Report for the historic Weir Greenhouse, you may find it here.

14 thoughts on “It Is Ours!”

  1. My mother is 83 years old she was born in Brooklyn NY her family is interred in Green-Wood and she remembers the Weir Greenhouse. I was explaining to her that the greenhouse was purchased by the Green-Wood Cemetery to be restored and used as a museum for Green-Wood’s visitors. My mother is aphasic, so she is unable to speak but she is able to express her feelings with facial expressions and gestures. My mothers response was to smile until she heard the part about the museum, and that it was not going to remain a florist shop. It made me a little sad to think that the greenhouse had once been filled with beautiful flowers. It would be wonderful if there could be some way to incorporate flowers into the restoration plans for the greenhouse/museum. It would be amazing if that small piece of Green-Woods history could be preserved for everyone to enjoy especially when it embodies the true essence of Green-Wood and its role in society. People came to Green-Wood to visit the graves of their family, to relax and enjoy the park like setting. They wallked, picnicked and took pleasure in the natural beauty of Green-Wood.

  2. Congratulations on your acquisition and much luck on the remodel. It’s so nice to see people taking an interest in old dome greenhouses. Thank you for saving this historic piece of architecture.

  3. I was at Green-Wood last September for my father’s funeral and I remember seeing that greenhouse and thinking that it would be great if it could be restored. Congratulations on acquiring the greenhouse, it would have been a tragedy to lose such a treasure.

  4. I was very happy to hear this great beautiful green house will be saved. I have lived in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn for 66 years. I have bought many plants here not only for the cemetery but for my outside garden and home. I got a lot of magical tips from this place. I remember the huge rubber plant that dominated the center of this building reaching to the ceiling . But most of all I remember the parrots that could talk . They were a landmark just as the Greenhouse itself. I remember how shocked and sadden we all were when they were stolen. I use to just stop in there to say “hello’ to the parrots when I passed the place.
    When the Pope John Paul visited NYC many of the flowers came from this place and in the true spirit of giving everybody a second chance many released prison woman were taught the flower trade here.
    Again I am so happy this place will be saved.
    A property owner in Greenwood Cemetery.
    Rich Majewski

  5. I was born and raised in Greenwood Heights. I grew up literally right down the block from the florist. I would go there when I was a child and marvel at the plants and the architecture of the building. The florist was a breath of fresh air when you were growing up in the neighborhood in the 80’s. I felt as though I were stepping back in time. I still have that feeling when I walk through the cemetery. My husband and I just drove by the florist the other day and we had seen that it was boarded up. I almost burst into tears thinking that the florist was swallowed up by the gentrification that is taking over the neighborhood. I am over joyed that Greenwood acquired the property. I am all for the preservation of the neighborhood and it’s amazing history.

  6. I am so happy for the cemetery and for this historic structure. I just moved to the neighborhood a few weeks ago, and the moment our lease was signed we drove through the cemetery to celebrate. My husband and I both remarked upon the sad state of this lovely building when we left the cemetery and it is wonderful to see that this is happening.

  7. I always wanted that property so that I could fix up the old greenhouse. I live in the neighborhood and that greenhouse and the Greenwood Cemetery is the reason why. I love both so much. Though pets are not allowed in the cemetery I was able to bring my dog in the car and we would ride around with the windows down taking in the sights. It’s like riding through a park, except for the headstones. But they are beautiful also. I photograph there all the time. And I’m sure Greenwood will make the greenhouse just as beautiful as they do with their grounds. I walk by the greenhouse everyday to the subway and can’t wait to see the improvements.

  8. My adult son used to live in Sunset Park a block from the cemetery and is prob moving back in the area from Park Slope. We visited the cemetery once on a gorgeous day and I saw the beautiful greenhouse and commented to my son that it would be wonderful if someone bought it and restored it. I really hate to see pieces of history torn down so I really enjoyed reading that it has been acquired and will be restored.

    I do agree with some others that somehow flower sales or shows should be incorporated there.

    The cemetery is an amazing piece of history and a wonderful place to visit! I can’t wait to visit the greenhouse when its finished!

  9. I’m so glad that this amazing building will be restored. I was born and raised in the neighborhood and used to pass it everyday on my way to school and would stop in just to walk around. Finally in my senior year in high school. I got a job working in the greenhouse. It was great.

    It made me sad to see the place deteriorate over the years until it finally closed. Looking forward to it reopening.

  10. I made my first visit to Green-Wood Cemetery this past Sunday (4.21.13) and I was bowled over when I passed by the lovely old Weir Greenhouse. I am very pleased to find out that it has been purchased by Green-Wood and will be restored and its beauty and history will live on.

  11. Yes, we have heard from many people who recall buying flowers at this greenhouse. It was in that business for more than a century. We are proud to be custodians of the building and its history.

  12. Three generations of family have been buried at Green-Wood. My mother was just buried there on March 14. When we drove past Weir it was sad how much it had fallen into disrepair. It is wonderful to know this monument will be restored.

  13. Family lived on 17th street and parents loved GREEN-WOOD CEMETARY
    Both are buried there.
    When visiting, we look at the WEIR GREENHOUSE and wish I could have seen it when it was built.


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