Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery Breaks Ground on New Educational Center
Green-Wood Cemetery, the Brooklyn burial site for the rich and famous of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the site of a Revolutionary War battle, remains one of the most historic and unique places in New York City. But, outside of organized tours, it was hard for the public to learn about the famous graves and massive mausolea — until now.
The cemetery just broke ground on a new education and welcome center, which will be built around the newly restored Weir Greenhouse.
Florist James Weir constructed the greenhouse in 1880 at the corner of 25th Street and Fifth Avenue, directly across from Green-Wood’s dramatic Gothic Revival main gate. At the time, Weir was one of several flower shops in the area hoping to build a business by selling floral arrangements to grieving loved ones and funeral parlors. McGovern Florists, which had grown and sold flowers in the neighborhood for a century, purchased the greenhouse in 1971 and advocated for its landmarking in 1982.
Vandals broke into the greenhouse repeatedly in the 1980s and 1990s, damaging the windows and forcing McGovern to close. Green-Wood purchased the property from the McGovern family in 2012 and started a decadelong restoration of the greenhouse, a delicate cast-iron structure with windows connected by wooden joints and copper wire.
In 2018, Green-Wood hired Architecture Research Office to build a new education center, which would need to fit in with the historic structure and earn Landmarks Preservation Commission approval. Stephen Cassell, a principal at the firm, drew up designs and plans for the project, and then shelved them while the cemetery raised money for construction.
The two-story building is meant to “set off and highlight” the greenhouse, which will become an exhibition and event space for the cemetery, said Cassell. The facade will be a mix of terra-cotta and high-efficiency triple-pane glass, with the main part of the building clad in floor-to-ceiling glass that will allow visitors to look out over the greenhouse toward the cemetery. Vertical stripes of terra-cotta along the glass panels are meant to help block the sun and cool the building. Other parts of the exterior will be solid terra-cotta panels.
The new building will host myriad uses, including a classroom, exhibition galleries, and a reading room for academics who want to access the cemetery’s extensive archives.
“They want to be able to use it in a bunch of different ways,” said Cassell. “They have more art installations. They’ve been slowly transitioning from being not just a cemetery.”
Aiming for LEED Gold certification, Green-Wood is also outfitting the property with energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, bird-safe glass, and green roofs to absorb rainwater. Landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates are also planting a series of trees, shrubs and grasses between the educational center and the greenhouse, to bring greenery to a greenhouse that will no longer grow plants.