A. Legend has it that Jerry Seinfeld may have referred jokingly to Dumbo as “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge” but that New Yorkers arbitrarily added “O” at the end because they did not live in a neighborhood called “Dumb.”The “O” actually means overpass. And no, it can’t possibly be the village of the dumb when it has the highest concentration of tech firms in New York City.
Dumbo is now home to 25 percent of NYC-based tech firms. Hundreds of tech and creative firms here reportedly employ 10,000 people. It’s a long way from its 19th-century roots-- as a manufacturing district that housed warehouses and factories producing, say, Brillo soap pads. Some of the names of the old era remain etched in some buildings, in all their old faded glory.
Initially, Dumbo was called Rapailie, after the Dutch family that took control of the land in the 1700s. The area has also been called Olympia, Fulton Landing and, in the early 20th century, Gairville, after Robert Gair, a Scottish emigrant who manufactured the first cardboard box on Washington Street. The Gair building is now home to Etsy.
In the 1970s, Dumbo slumbered from suburban and business flight. It would take another 20 years for it to start changing again, with artists taking inspired residence followed by the first tech boom, the East River’s slow development and of course, rising prices in Manhattan. The location, just a stop away from Manhattan, was enough of a lure. The warehouses offered lots of space and shorter rental leases--2 years at most to Manhattan’s 10 years.
It seemed inevitable that Dumbo would be discovered yet again. Today, seaside district opens up to a charming neighborhood of art studios, fancy restaurants, luxury residences, large bookstores (where they seem indulgent now in New York City) and designer boutiques. Let’s not forget the Brooklyn Bridge towering above and cobblestone streets reminding of its storied past.
Getting here is easy. Take the F train. Get off York Street. The Clark Street stop on the 2 and 3 trains and the High Street stop on the A and C are just a short walk away. If you prefer taking the trip here with a view, take a boat via the East River Ferry, which departs from Pier 11 in downtown Manhattan. It’s a five-minute ride to the revitalized neighborhood.