The story of the Chelsea Fiber Mill, now the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center or GMDC, neatly traces the story of Greenpoint itself.
Built by Standard Oil in 1868, the Chelsea Fiber Mill opened as a four building complex to manufacture rope and textiles for the U.S. Navy, and the larger maritime industry, alongside the route of the Vernon Avenue Bridge. The Chelsea Fiber Mill complex grew into eight buildings in 1891, and the Mills employed numerous Greenpoint residents, particularly during both world wars when it supplied marine rope made from sisal, manila, jute, and hemp to the navy.
The Chelsea Fiber Mill complex ended up in the possession of the City of New York in the 1970’s and the buildings fell on hard times. Threatened with demolition, they were saved by a non profit corporation in the 1990’s. The North Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation bought the 366,000 square feet of industrial space and basement area for $1, in exchange for renovating and modernizing the structures.
Though space can’t be had quite that cheaply anymore, it is kept affordable for the artists that use the space. Today, the GMDC houses 76 small businesses with 360 employees.
Many elements of the orignal building still exist. According to the GMDC website “The original gargantuan boilers–more than two stories tall and big enough to fill a baseball diamond–remain in place today. The welded boilerplates on these boilers read 1880” and there is still a large raw space, known as building 5 that has yet to be developed.
Currently the North Brooklyn Boat Club is working on adding a Boat House to the bottom floor of the GDMC.