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DUMBO, now a popular spot for young people and tourists, became a true community in the 1970s when artists and loft lovers seeking space outside Manhattan moved into commercial lofts illegally.

The small neighborhood between Vinegar Hill and Fulton Ferry holds a rich history of manufacturing and shipping that lives on in its renewed warehouses and old train tracks built into the cobblestones.

As the area grows in size and desirability after redevelopment, its boundaries are ever changing and many of its commercial buildings have been converted to living lofts.

  • The Thomson Meter building on Washington Street stands in the DUMBO historic district but is blocks away from the company’s original landmarked building.
  • Developer David Walentas is given responsibility for much of the neighborhood’s drastic changes as the founder of Two Trees.
  • Luxury housing rises in the once manufacturing-based neighborhood.
  • Local artist Tom Fruin's colorful water tower can be seen on the roof of 20 Jay St. The art installation has come to be a well-known icon for the neighborhood.
  • Empire Stores, now filled with various shops, art exhibits and office space is known to have been the first commercial roasted coffee production facility.
  • A little girl hangs onto the "DUMBO Reflector," an interactive art installation inside Empire Stores.
  • Brooklyn Historical Society, DUMBO is located inside Empire Stores.
  • The Manhattan Bridge seen through an old warehouse arch, displaying a backdrop of a mid-construction Manhattan skyscraper.
  • The old warehouse and DUMBO's Clock tower building seen from Brooklyn Bridge Park. The Clock tower penthouse sold for $15 million in 2017, making it the most expensive sold condo in Brooklyn's history.
  • A wedding couple poses in front of Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
  • St. Ann's Warehouse offers live theater to the neighborhood that is known for its artists.
  • The shot of the Manhattan Bridge is often swarmed by tourists and professional photographers.
  • With DUMBO's increased popularity, the neighborhood attracts countless couples posing for wedding shots.
  • Based around the Manhattan Bridge, the neighborhood comes to life below with winding cobblestone roads and low-rise buildings.
  • Now obsolete train tracks still show through the cobblestones.
  • A pop-up store takes over a triangle plaza under the bridge.
  • Food trucks fill an empty corner lot at Jay and Water streets.
  • New restaurants and trendy shops attract younger crowds to the neighborhood.
  • A man waxes a surfboard outside a neighborhood surf shop.
  • Olympia Wine Bar takes on one of DUMBO's former namesakes.
Photos by Paul Frangipane

How DUMBO Got Its Name

One thing is certain: Dumbo was not named for Disney’s flying elephant.

Another surety is that Dumbo is an acronym, meaning it is a word formed from the first letters of a series of words. It is generally accepted that in this case the series of words is Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, used to describe the area located between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.

Occasionally, it is called Between the Bridges. And some consider Down Under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Overpasses a more accurate description. (Another suggested tag was Danya, for District Around the Navy Yard Annex, but Dumbo won out.)

Late-night comics — Jerry Seinfeld is generally credited with the line — suggested that Dumbo stands for “Down Under Manhattan Bridge,” but that the “O” was added at the end because they did not want to live in a neighborhood called “Dumb.” 

The area, between Vinegar Hill and Fulton Ferry and bordered by Main St. on the west to Jay St. on the east and from the East River on the north to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on the south, had over the years been known variously as Rapailie (after the Dutch family that owned the land in the 18th century), Fulton Landing, Olympia, Gairville (after industrialist Robert Gair) and Walentasville (after real estate developer David Walentas).

Many presume the name Dumbo came from real estate brokers who made up a new name, like SoHo or Tribeca, to make the area at least sound more desirable for would-be tenants.

Closer to the truth is that residents in the late 1970s, many of them artist loft tenants at the time, came up with the name to discourage developers. Who would want to live or work in a place called Dumbo?

Norm Goldstein

Brooklyn-born Norm Goldstein is retired, after working 44 years for the Associated Press, the global news agency, where he served as a reporter, feature writer, editor, author and administrator. He also worked for AP as director of Educational Services and editor of the AP Stylebook. He graduated from Brooklyn College and the Penn State Graduate School of Journalism. He currently lives in Brooklyn Heights.