Williamsburg (Brooklyn) is a neighborhood in North Brooklyn
directly across the East River
from the Manhattan
neighborhood now known as the East Village
. It was named for William III
of Great Britain, just like Williamsburg, VA, and was indeed an independent city, part of Bushwick
, one of the 6 cities in Kings County that were consolidated by Brooklyn
in 1885. When Brooklyn was consolidated into New York City
in 1898, Williamsburg became just one of New York's many neighborhoods.
Williamsburg was and is a bit isolated from the rest of Brooklyn, being on the far side of the Navy Yard and not on the network of major roads with elevated transit lines that fanned out from downtown Brooklyn. The completion of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, the next East River span to open after the Brooklyn Bridge tied the area into Manhattan. The Broadway elevated (today's J Train) and the subway line completed in 1924 linking North Brooklyn to 14th street in Manhattan (today's L Train) spurred development. It became a neighborhood of Jewish, Italian, and Polish immigrants, giving rise to comedian Alan King and the famous stakehouse Peter Lugers.
After the war the neighborhood gave way to other ethnic groups, notably Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics. It suffered decline with the rest of New York City and urban America in general. Williamsburg was particularly rife for urban blight, because unlike the rest of inner Brooklyn with its elegant |Brownstone] architecture (see Brownstone Belt), Williamsburg was largely built to house the working immigrant poor and consequently features mostly dilapidated architecture and not such elegant buildings.
In recent decades, two major developments have taken hold in Williamsburg, making it a rather unique neighborhood. One is the expansion of the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community in South Williamsburg (the area south of the Bridge) and the other is the emergence and expansion of the trendy/hip artsy district on the north side of the bridge. Both of these developments have largely displaced the Hispanic population.
The Satmar sect are said to number 50,000 in Williamsburg. They are unique in opposing the state of Israel, believing that Judaism cannot be political. They have transformed South Williamsburg into the Eastern European Jewish neighborhoods of old, complete with Yiddish only signs and bustling legions of black clad men and babushka-ed women walking the streets praying.
North Williamsburg has become one of the trendiest and most expensive areas of Brooklyn and New York City as a whole, and rents rival Manhattan's East Village. The transformation was begun in the late 80s as artists were priced out of Manhattan entirely and chose to locate around the Bedford Avenue L Train stop in nearby Williamsburg, one stop away from the village. New businesses followed. As the 90s progressed and everyone was priced out of Manhattan, Williamsburg became desirable for college students, young professionals, and even families. The artists have thus been priced out to DUMBO and other areas of Brooklyn, as well as neaby Long Island City in Queens, and the phenomenon has spread several L Train stops inland from Bedford, and has even spread to the nearby neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Bushwick.
The area is unique because this so called gentrification has not brought much of a change in the physical appearance of the neighborhood, with dilapidated buildings and warehouses sill being the dominant feature. Thus Williamsburg probably has the distinction of being the ugliest (from a traditional standpoint anyway) expensive neighborhood in America.