Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

Urban Environmentalist NYC: Brooklyn Business History Revealed

December 11th, 2008 · 5 Comments

Observing a recent and fascinating blog debate (originated on Brooklynian.com) about the oldest business in Park Slope (it is most probably Neergaard’s)—set my mind reeling with another business, a most unusual structure with green domes on the corner of 25th Street and Fifth Avenue across from Green-Wood Cemetery. The Weir Greenhouse (now McGovern-Weir, pictured here) was built in 1895. The structure is not, of course, in Park Slope but has the distinction of being the only Victorian commercial greenhouse still in existence in New York City and has been in continuous use for over a century. Weir Florist was one of several greenhouses built in the 19th century near the entrance to Green-Wood (founded in 1838) and is the only one remaining today.

Though among the most fragile of building types, it has been lovingly cared for and continues to catch the eye to this day. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places since May 1984, its architect was G. Curtis Gillespie (George Curtis Gillespie), who is buried in Green-Wood. Built by James Weir, Jr., the greenhouse is not the first structure on the site. The family business was established in Bay Ridge in 1850 by James Weir, a Scottish immigrant. By 1886 the company, which was now James Weir & Sons, maintained 25 greenhouses at Bay Ridge and several nurseries in New Utrecht. In 1880 Weir commissioned a wood and glass greenhouse for the site where the business is still located. The building was designed by a local architect, Mercein Thomas, who was responsible for a large number of Romanesque Revival residences in some of Brooklyn’s finest neighborhoods. This original structure (see illustration) was a simple rectangle with the entrance contained within a corner tower with a pyramidal tower topped by a weathervane. All three Weirs lived on 25th Street in houses located near the greenhouse. This small greenhouse remained in use until 1895, when Weir applied for a permit to alter the building. The alteration was so extensive that little, if any, of the original structure survives. As he did in 1880, Weir did not turn to a greenhouse architect, but hired George C. Gillespie, who lived nearby. Gillespie is also known to have designed the Tobacco Warehouse at 84-85 South Street at the Seaport, which still exists.

The present structure, slightly obscured by display stands outside the building, is impressive in its forms and massing. The building has a rectangular plan like the one it replaced, enlivened by projecting bays and domes, its wood-frame structure enclosing glass panes with glass and galvanized iron roof surfaces. The main entrance, set at an angle to the street corner, is in the form of an octagon, capped with a cupola with a ball finial. The building is topped with a sloping glass roof that rises to meet the large octagonal dome which crowns the building and terminates at a point. A sign that originally read “Weir” and now has “McGovern” added to it, rests on the apex. The Weir family retained ownership until 1971, when it was sold to its present owners.

This wonderful Victorian building is a most suitable welcome to the most beautiful of Victorian cemeteries. May it stand for another century and beyond! What a near perfect testament its continued longevity would be to the spirit that animates Buy in Brooklyn and other recent shop local campaigns!

(Much of the above information was garnered from Andrew Dolkart’s report to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in April1982).

Ruth Edebohls
(Ruth Edebohls is the Coordinator of Urban Tours at the Center for the Urban Environment. To learn more about the Center visit us at www.thecue.org.)

Tags: Greenwood Heights · Urban Environmentalist

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Spnder // Dec 11, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    I love that building and it has always fascinated me. Thanks for the info!

  • 2 Brenda from Flatbush // Dec 11, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Ditto that–so glad it has survived.

  • 3 Jack // Dec 12, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Excellent mini-history!

  • 4 fsrg // Dec 30, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Interesting note – James Weir (presumably the senior) dropped dead of a heart attack while yachting off shelter island in 1906 (NYT) was a member of the Crescent Club and Atlantic Yacht Club

  • 5 fsrg // Dec 30, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Also the Daily Eagle in reporting that James Weir is moving across Montague St (2008) noted this:

    Florist James Weir was apparently very successful and had nurseries and greenhouses in Park Slope, but no record has been found of when he opened the shop on Brooklyn Heights’ main street. A Weir Florist is recorded as having been on Brooklyn’s Fulton Street in 1884.

    As a community leader in Brooklyn’s Yellow Hook, a neighborhood name tainted by yellow fever outbreaks, Weir suggested renaming it Bay Ridge. The new name was adopted December 16, 1853, according to the Brooklyn Historical Society’s booklet about Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton.