A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from April 07, 2009

"Gairville” was once the nickname of that area of Brooklyn between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, now known as DUMBO. Robert Gair (1839-1927) was a successful paper-box and paper-bag manufacturer. His reinforced concrete buildings (once employing 3,000 workers) still exist in DUMBO as monuments to the then-modern, fireproof and seemingly indestructible factory.

The name “Gairville” does not appear in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that is digitized through 1902; there is a citation from 1916. The first citation of “Gairville” in the New York (NY) Times appeared in 1928.

2 April 1916, Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, pg. 5, col. 1:
Employees’ Association of Big
Paper Plant Gives Clever

All the folks of “Gairville” gathered last night in Kismet Temple, in Herkimer street. “Gairville” is right down town in Brooklyn, not far from Borough Hall and all the population is employed in the Robert Gair Company’s paper plant.

2 August 1927, New York (NY) Times, pg. 21:
Wealthy Paper-Box Manufac-
turer Succumbs on Birthday
in His Summer Home.

Revolution in the Retailing of Goods
Due to his bag and Carton

WEST HAMPTON BEACH, L. I., Aug. 1.—Robert Gair, president of the Robert Gair Company of Brooklyn, paper-box and bag manufacturers, died at 11 o’clock last night in his Summer home, Dunedin-on-the-Dunes. Death was caused by apoplexy and came on Mr. Gair’s eighty-eighth birthday.
After the war Mr. Gair went into the paper-box and bag business. Through his inventions and through the development of his company he is credited with having changed the appearance of stores in many lines of retail trade. In the old days foodstuffs, to cite only one line, were in bulk and were exposed in the stores in barrels or wooden boxes. Mr. Gair’s invention of folding boxes and of cartons changed all that.

He started in business with a capital of $10,000 and located in 1864 in a small loft at 163 Chambers Street, Manhattan. The business prospered and he soon went into larger quarters.

Odd Incident Led to Success.
His revolution of methods of retailing goods came as the result of an accident. In 1870, while running paper bags through a printing press to print the label, he noticed that every bag was slit across its face. he examined the press and found that a type rule had been set too high and that it was cutting, as well as printing, the bags. Mr. Gair saw that he could cut and print a bag with one operation, so he invented machinery by which paper and pasteboard is creased and cut and printed in one operation. SHortly after this he made the first folding boxes and the idea was an instant success.

Since then the business has grown by leaps and bounds. There are six Gair factories scattered through the country, the largest being that in Brooklyn, which covers five blocks at the foot of Washington Street. Ten years ago he inaugurated the policy of all-day closing on Saturday during the Summer months. he did this, he explained, to give his 3,000 employes a chance “to work in their gardens.” The half-day workday of Saturday was distributed in slightly longer hours over the five week days.

Mr. Gair died many times a millionaire. In 1913 an insight into the profits of his company was obtained when he offered half of a $2,000,000 issue of preferred stock to the public. he and his sons retained half of the preferred issue and all of the $5,000,000 in common. It was learned then that for the seven years prior to the offering the net earnings on preferred stock had averaged 13 1/2 per cent. In the year ended Jan. 31, 1913, the net earnings were almost 21 per cent.

26 February 1928, New York (NY) Times, pg. 159 ad:
Where Are These 10 Great Gairville Buildings With Manufacturing Spece At Pre-War Rates?
Close to the river, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges these Gairville modern loft and manufacturing buildings are located.

Rents are on the pre-war basis. Single space runs in units from 7,000 to 100,000 square feet. There’s an entire building available containing 120,000.

Steam heat, live steam for manufacturing, freight and passenger elevators, inside railroad sidings, concrete steel construction, daylight fenestral type windows. Watchman service. Low insurance.
Gair Realty Corp., Owners

New York (NY) Times
SoHo, TriBeCa And Now Dumbo?
Published: Sunday, October 25, 1998
Where it came from was the Robert Gair Company, whose founder invented a process in 1879 that made practicable the mass production of folded cardboard cartons. The National Biscuit Company, for one, was ‘’quick to realize that the folding box spelled success for the package food business,’’ wrote William Thompson Bonner, in ‘’New York, The World’s Metropolis’’ (1924).

Running out of space on Reade Street in Manhattan, Gair crossed the East River in 1887 and built two six-story, red-brick factories at 25 and 30 Washington Street, between Water and Plymouth Streets.

In 1904, Gair built the first reinforced-concrete, multistory factory in the United States, 45 Washington Street, between Front and Water Streets. ‘’He erected, one after another, the massive monolithic concrete buildings which now compose ‘Gairville,’ the most modern and thoroughly fireproof structures as yet known,’’ Bonner wrote.

The literal high point of Gairville was the Clock Tower, completed in 1915. When Gair died in 1927, on his 88th birthday, the company had six factories around the nation. By the time it was acquired in 1956 by the Continental Can Company, Gair had 48 plants in the United States and Canada.

The Gairville buildings, about 1.8 million square feet in all, were acquired by Helmsley-Spear, which sold the complex to Mr. Walentas in 1981 for $12 million, less than $7 a square foot.

Google Books
An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn
By Francis Morrone
Photographs by James Iska
Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith
Pg. 114:
Robert Gair (1839-1927) built this, together with several other nearby buildings that are among the pioneer works of reinforced-concrete construction in America. Part of what we now call DUMBO was once actually known as “Gairville.” Gair was a major manufacturer of cardboard boxes, one of the industries for which this area was known in the years between the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge and the recent changes that have overtaken DUMBO (an acronym of recent vintage standing for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass").

New York (NY) Times
Made in New York
Published: Sunday, May 23, 2004
The real estate being pitched was ‘’Gairville,’’ a collection of 10 buildings just a few steps from the Brooklyn Bridge in which the Scottish-born entrepreneur Robert S. Gair consolidated his hold on the cardboard box industry in America.

Gair, described by his biographer, H. Allen Smith, as ‘’a grizzled giant of a man, as handsome as a portrait and as stubborn in his convictions as Toscanini,’’ had established a beachhead across the river from Manhattan nearly half a century earlier. The first of many entrepreneurs to seek more space and lower rents in Brooklyn, he began building his factories in a dreary, slum-ridden district at the foot of Washington Street.

By World War I, Gairville, which included 70 Washington and 35 York, was complete, and at lunchtime, its guiding spirit would often, as his biographer noted, ‘’go into the street and stand near the factory entrance, beaming paternally as he watched the employees stream out.’’

‘’In our metropolitan economy,’’ Lewis Mumford wrote in looking back on the complex some years later, ‘’the fabrication of bags, cartons, boxes, is little short of a key industry, and the conspicuous bulk of the Gair factories on the East River is an emblem of the part that these paper containers play in our daily routine.’’

By 1919, however, Gair stockholders had decided that box factories should be closer to the mills where the raw materials came from, and as the Gair company began relocating upstate, emptying its buildings, the company went from selling boxes to selling real estate. The Gair Realty Corporation beckoned tenants to Gairville with brisk, common-sense come-ons: ‘’The supply of industrial workers is practically just around the corner.’’ ‘’Watchman service.’’ ‘’Good husky sized elevators in ample number.’’

The Brooklyn Paper
November 25, 2006
Finding history in DUMBO
Landmark district in ‘new’ nabe still nameless

By Ariella Cohen
The first name was Rapailie, after the family who owned most of the land. But in the centuries to follow, the area would be called “Olympia,” “Fulton Landing” and finally “Gairville,” after the early-20th century industrialist Robert Gair, who manufactured paper bags and corrugated cardboard boxes at 45 Washington St.

Gairville has the best claim, historians say, but the name is unlikely to even be suggested. Why? Because Landmarks designation is about marketability, just as much as history.

“Can you imagine saying ‘let’s go out for dinner in ‘Gairville’?” said Simeon Bankoff of the Historic District Council

By Jason Kottke • Apr 6, 2009 at 01:47 pm
In 1879, Brooklyn papermaker Robert Gair developed a process for mass producing foldable cardboard boxes. One of the paper-folding machines in his factory malfunctioned and sliced through the paper, leading Gair to the realization that cutting, creasing, and folding in the same series of steps could transform a flat piece of cardboard into a box.

Gair’s invention made him a wealthy man and turned his company into an epicenter of manufacturing in Brooklyn. From Evan Osnos’ New Yorker article about Chinese paper tycoon Cheung Yan:

Gair’s box, a cheap, light alternative to wood, became “the swaddling clothes of our metropolitan civilization,” Lewis Mumford wrote. Eventually, the National Biscuit Compnay introduced its first crackers that stayed crispy in a sealed paper box, and an avalanche of manufacturers followed. Gair expanded to ten buildings on the Brooklyn waterfront. Massive migration from Europe to the United States created a manufacturing workforce in Brooklyn, to curn out ale, coffee, soap, and Brillo pads—and Gair made boxes right beside them.

Gair’s concentrated collection of buildings eventually led the area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to be called Gairville. That area is now known as Dumbo and, in addition to tons of residential space, the neighborhood is home not to manufacturing but to architecture firms, web companies, and other creative industries.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityNeighborhoods • (1) Comments • Tuesday, April 07, 2009 • Permalink