Bushwick warehouses may be the best-known party venues in America. The iconic buildings have had a marquee spot in HBO’s Girls and a recent showing in the headlines when Miley Cyrus danced topless at designer Alexander Wang’s Fashion Week post-party. Like a SoHo loft or a Bed-Stuy brownstone, the Bushwick warehouse has taken hold in the cultural vocabulary of New York geography. There’s only one problem though: they don’t technically exist.
Drawing on city data from the newly available MapPLUTO dataset, the interactive map below shows the locations of warehouses in Bushwick and, across Flushing Avenue, East Williamsburg. While some warehouses show up on the south side of this divider, the neighborhood of warehouses that hip Bushwick is famous for clearly falls to the north.
Of course, names change over time and language is never fixed. East Williamsburg is a designation that many residents dispute.
“It’s a real estate fiction,” say Vinny Campos, executive chef at Fitzcarraldo. “They call it that because the name ‘Williamsburg’ is worth more to people. It’s really Bushwick. The neighborhood starts east of Bushwick Avenue, when you hit the tall warehouses.”
Though the exact names may have changed over the last century, East Williamsburg is actually that very arrowhead of Brooklyn which Campos describes: east of Bushwick Ave, north of Flushing, and lined against the jagged edge made up of Queens and Newtown Creek.
Fine as this distinction may be, the icon that is the Bushwick warehouse has a tremendous impact on the area’s economy. Though gentrification has long been mentioned alongside Bushwick, it’s only recently that new residents have moved south away from the warehouses.
According to Brooklyn demographer Lorna Mason and her colleagues, Flushing Avenue has acted as a division between two kinds of gentrification. While both sides of the street have seen an influx of white residents, those moving south of Flushing have been fewer and poorer. In fact, until only recently, new white residents of Bushwick proper have actually had lower median incomes than the largely Latino established population.
The name Bushwick may have gained social capital over the years of warehouse parties, but it’s only recently that its reputation has been linked to change in the actual neighborhood. Wealthier whites have crossed Flushing into the largely single and multi-family homes of Bushwick proper. As they’ve now arrived, house prices in this neighborhood have risen faster than anywhere else in New York City, climbing 31.2% over last year and forcing out longtime local renters, most of them minorities.
It’s not the first time the area’s economy has turned on these warehouses though. At the turn of the twentieth century, according to Columbia historian Kenneth Jackson and tour company Urban Oyster, the beer-brewing industry was a major, steady, and well-paying employer in north Brooklyn. According to Urban Oyster’s Cindy Vandenbosch, brewing began in and around Bushwick when new German immigrants moved in to use the fresh water of the new Ridgewood Reservoir. At its pre-Prohibition peak, this corner of Brooklyn supplied one in ten beers drunk in the entire country. Red-brick breweries, ice houses, and distribution facilities spread throughout the area, so densely in one place that eleven companies sat side by side in a corridor called “Brewer’s Row.”
The good times didn’t last though. In the post-war era, crime was rampant in Bushwick and, paired with the near-bankrupt city government’s withdrawal of some services like fire protection, the neighborhood went through a transformation. According to a 1976 documentary, gang violence and massive arson turned Bushwick into “as much a neighborhood of rats, stray dogs, and burned-out buildings as it is of people.” In 1977, only a year later, the New York City Blackout led to a single massive wave of looting and fire that shook the structure of the neighborhood. Since then, these warehouses have been slowly regaining tenants.
Campos’ Fitcarraldo restaurant and the headquarters of tech startup Livestream share an old factory on Morgan Avenue and Stagg. In a classic timeline of revitalization, they arrived last year after the famous art collective 3rd Ward left. Partying and creative expression filled the abandoned buildings. As Bushwick gained a reputation for turning empty warehouses into globally notorious party venues though, some changes have spilled over into Bushwick proper and begun rapidly displacing residents rather than cobwebs. The warehouses often associated with the neighborhood may not technically sit within its boundaries, but they do seem to control its fate once again.
DATA NOTE: Warehouses in the MapPLUTO dataset were determined to be all buildings classified as “E”(i.e. Warehouses) or “F9” (i.e. Factory and Industrial Buildings - Miscellaneous). Bushwick proper is Community District 4, or in the Borough-CD numbering, 304. This district’s northernmost border is Flushing Avenue, so to include East Williamsburgh, the map also includes all structures in the overlapping City Council District 34. This data was manipulated in ArcGIS and SQL, then formatted for online display on CartoDB.