Breaking ground at a cemetery is not always a joyous occasion, but the Green-Wood Cemetery officials and local pols who gathered Tuesday were all smiles as they began the construction of a new $34 million education and welcome center at Brooklyn’s biggest burial ground.
The group, donning hard hats and shovels, ceremoniously dug the first clumps of earth on the land that will become a 20,400 square-foot facility, located across from Green-Wood’s main entrance at 25th Street and Fifth Avenue.
“Today we mark the start of a new chapter in Green-Wood’s storied history,” said cemetery President Richard Moylan. “As we cement our position as a leader in so many disciplines and as an anchor in this vibrant community, it’s only fitting that our neighbors and visitors have a welcoming Center where they can enhance their Green-Wood experience — year-round.”
When completed in June 2025, the facility will be used to greet visitors to the 478-acre cemetery and provide an indoor educational space, while also allowing the cemetery’s programming to continue 365 days a year.
The finished design will see a two-story L-shaped curtain wall of custom glazed terra cotta wrapped around Green-Wood’s nineteenth-century Weir Greenhouse. Inside, it will feature multi-use event spaces, a center for scholarly research, and two exhibition galleries for Green-Wood’s vast archives, which date back to its 1838 incorporation.
Green-Wood officials said the sustainable design will provide efficiency in water use, a high-performing thermal envelope, low-energy lighting, and environmentally controlled storage for the cemetery’s collections.
Moylan thanked the work of Green-Wood trustees, led by Chair Peter Davidson, for their “unwavering commitment” in getting the center built.
Moylan hailed the “unwavering commitment” to the project from the Board of Trustees, led by Chair Peter Davidson, who gushed that the new space will greatly expand the organization’s reach.
“There’s no other place in the world like Green-Wood. Its natural beauty, history, contemplative landscape, and role as a center of learning are unparalleled,” Davidson said. “This new center will allow us to share Green-Wood with an ever-larger audience of Brooklynites, New Yorkers, and visitors from around the world.”
Moylan added that the project would not be a reality without the strong financial support of so many in government, philanthropy, and the private sector. To date the project has received $4.1 million in state funds and $13.3 million in city money.
Some of the funders included the National Endowment for the Humanities, the state Council on the Arts, the state Regional Economic Development Council, the state Assembly, the Mayor’s office, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the Brooklyn Borough President’s office, and the city Council.
“The new education and welcome center will help to unlock that treasure for visitors and further reinforce Green-Wood’s role as an iconic New York cultural institution. The preservation of this landmark is crucial to our understanding of the past, our appreciation of the present, and our vision for the future,” said Governor Kathy Hochul in a statement following the event. “The Green-Wood Cemetery is a unique urban oasis and a treasure trove of historical significance.”
The cemetery is currently home to 570,000 permanent residents across its 478 hilly green acres, including many late legends — Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Charles Ebbets, Susan McKinney Steward, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lola Montez, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Horace Greeley.
Not just a final resting place, Green-Wood also operates as an outdoor museum, an arboretum, and a repository of history. Details of its extensive programs can be found here.
“The Green-Wood Cemetery has been a peaceful and beautiful open space in Brooklyn for nearly two centuries,” said Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “Now the stunning Education and Welcome Center will exhibit the unique and deep history of the Cemetery and the countless lives it has touched for all to learn about. I’m excited to celebrate this building and for visitors to be able to fully appreciate this unique place.”