Dumbo History

Ever since Robert Gair discovered a location with access to shipping just north of the new Brooklyn Bridge in the 1880’s, the neighborhood saw a rise of factories, warehouses, and dock storehouses. Although the area has been known in the past as Rapailie, Olympia, Gairville, or Walentasville, it is now known as Dumbo (which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and these old factories have been converted into luxury lofts and old warehouses into art galleries and theaters. The area’s industrial buildings were recognized by inclusion on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in September of 2000. Dumbo is not quite Brooklyn brownstone and not quite Manhattan glass condo. With its exposed Belgian block streets anchored by massive bridge structures, Dumbo has a unique character all its own.

In 1978, the naming of Dumbo was conceived by resident artists as a way to make the area sound silly and unattractive to people looking to buy real estate here. To read more about the origin of Dumbo’s name, read the story written for the first time on DumboNYC.com by the person who named Dumbo.

On December 18, 2007, the Landmarks Preservation Commission granted landmark status to the Dumbo Historic District. (more here) The historic district is bound by John Street to the north, York Street to the south, Main Street to the west and Bridge Street to the east. (PDF map of Dumbo Historic District boundary and full LPC report). According to the LPC, the Dumbo area was “essential to Brooklyn’s rise as a major American industrial center and was the home of some of the most important industrial firms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century America including Arbuckle Brothers (coffee and sugar), J. W. Masury & Son (paint), Robert Gair (paper boxes), E. W. Bliss (machinery), and Brillo (steel wool). The buildings in the district reflect the extraordinary diversity of Brooklyn’s industrial development, with manufactured and processed goods including coffee, tea, sugar, machinery, paint, varnish, paper boxes, shoes, soap, ale, and steel wool. By the early twentieth century, Brooklyn was the fourth largest manufacturing center in the entire country and a significant portion of this manufacturing was done in DUMBO.”

Dumbo covers approximately 50 acres of land (The parking lot on 85 Jay Street is 3.1-acres).