It was padlocked for half a century but soon a historic coffee warehouse on the Brooklyn waterfront will be opening its doors to the public. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez recently got an exclusive look inside as work is underway to reuse the building and filed the following report.
The landmark Empire Stores has stood vacant on the waterfront for the past 50 years. But the 1868 structure that was used for decades as a storage warehouse is getting ready for its new life.
"We're reusing an entire industrial building for a whole set of new uses," said Brooklyn Bridge Park President Regina Myer.
New uses shown in renderings include retail, restaurants and office space. The main open air lobby will allow visitors to take the stairs or elevator to a rooftop garden which developers say will be an extension to Brooklyn Bridge Park and all of its magnificent views. Two floors were added to the warehouse, but with all the modern additions the history of the building will remain a focus.
"There were warehouses all up and down this area and this is one of the great ones that was preserved," said Brooklyn Historical Society President Deborah Schwartz.
"All of the beams and all of the floor and ceiling joist are original. That's exactly how the building was built in the 1860's," Myer noted.
The walls are stones, believed to be from Brooklyn's bedrock.
"This shist is what this stone is called was very likely pulled out of the water as they were building the Brooklyn Bridge," Schwartz said.
There's this enormous piece of equipment, known as a winch, that helped pull coffee and other products up to the higher floor windows where workers then tallied the deliveries.
"If you look at some of these wonderful columns, you'll see they're covered with old numbers, as ways of workers counting the number of bags that came in," Schwartz pointed out.
The Brooklyn Historical Society will be setting up a three thousand square foot satellite location on the second floor here featuring exhibitions that help tell the story of the working waterfront.
"We're actually going to install some of our collections in the bathrooms so every inch of space will be animated with the history of the building and the history of the area," Schwartz said.
The building will open up in phases starting this summer with the furniture design company West Elm.
The Brooklyn Historical Society plans to be in by the fall.