Unless you’re deeply into Brooklyn history, you probably don’t know the name Robert Gair. But if you’ve ever checked the time as you traversed the Manhattan Bridge or poured yourself a bowl of Cheerios (or any other boxed cereal), you’re only a degree or two separated from him.
Gair was a nineteenth-century immigrant from Scotland and a civil war veteran. While the war was still on, in 1864, he began producing paper products in a loft in downtown Manhattan, where he developed a mass-production system for printing and cutting cardboard boxes, complete with creases for easy folding. Gair’s customers included Colgate, Nabisco, and several cereal companies.
Success drove the need for more space, and in the late 1800’s Gair moved to Brooklyn, commissioning buildings at 25 and 30 Washington Street in what is now DUMBO, and later, 55 Washington Street and 1 Main Street, the building now known as Clocktower Building or, more simply, The Clocktower. The entire complex, referred to as Gairville, was interconnected, on the street by railways, underground through a warren of tunnels, and above ground by enclosed walkways. All Gair’s DUMBO buildings stand today, and several continue to bear his name.
Gair died in 1927. The Robert Gair Company was bought by the Continental Can Company in 1956. The commercial real estate giant Helmsley-Spear acquired the Gairville complex, which it sold to DUMBO’s current real estate mogul, David Walentas, in 1981 for $12 million, which amounted to $7/sq. ft.
Walentas has converted many of the buildings into condos, and this week the Clocktower’s clock tower penthouse alone closed for $15 million, or $2,140/sq. ft.