Eastern Parkway: One of Brooklyn’s many Firsts

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The original route of Eastern Parkway, the world’s first, from Prospect Plaza on the West (left) and Ralph Avenue at the East end, from an 1897 Rand-McNally City of Brooklyn map,

 

In 1866, as Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead were planning the design and construction of Prospect Park, they smartly considered means of accessing the park. Most of the land surrounding the park was farmland then. The street grid had been planned in 1839, and laid out on paper, but not much area would be cut and divided until much closer to the twentieth century. The two landscape geniuses conceived of a grand road, broad and tree-lined, with little-to-no commercial activity allowed. A road that would be a pleasant, uplifting ride (this was well before the invention of the automobile) that would deliver those from outlying areas to the gates of the park and lead them home again afterwards.

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Eastern Parkway provides pedestrian promenades on both sides, and is lined with trees for its entire length.

The plan for the road, perhaps conceptually influenced somewhat by the Champs Elysees in Paris though by no means a copy of that route, was for a broad center roadway lined on each side with tress and a wide promenade, with narrower outer roadways for local traffic to the homes and apartment buildings that would line the street. Commercial activity was to be kept to an absolute minimum, a restriction the city of Brooklyn supported. Vaux and Olmstead coined the term parkway for their new road, and so Eastern Parkway is the first of the many, many parkways we now have throughout Brooklyn and worldwide.

At its opening, Eastern Parkway ran from Prospect Plaza (now Grand Army Plaza) at the north end of Prospect Park to Ralph Avenue, which at that time was the city line of Brooklyn. The route was chosen based on the terrain of this section of Brooklyn. During the ice age, glaciers pushing south crunched rocks and dirt and other debris together to form a moraine, or ridge, and Eastern parkway runs along the top of this ridge. This moraine also is the basis for the neighborhood’s current name, Crown Heights, and if you ever bike north-south through the area, you’ll realize that it’s harder to bike to Eastern Parkway on either side than it is to ride away from it. 

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The Parkway is perhaps best known as the route of the annual Labor Day Caribbean parade.

By 1897, Eastern Parkway by name had been extended through East New York out to the Queens county line, just past Conduit Avenue along what today is Pitkin Avenue. This portion of the road seems not to have been parkway, but a standard street with the glorified name and an elevated rail line running above much of the length of this section. We found a Rand McNally map from 1901 that shows the Pitkin Avenue name here and the parkway turn up along its current route and into Ridgewood, though it could be that the section north of Fulton Street was either a planned or still-under-construction route.

Today, Eastern Parkway maintains the beauty and feeling that Vaux and Olmstead wanted, except of course that traffic is now a nightmare, at least at rush hours.

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Eastern Parkway at Nostrand St., approx. 1919.

There is very little commercial activity, mainly at the corners of business-district avenues like Nostrand and Utica, and there are churches and synagogues, most notably the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters at Kingston Avenue. There are also major cultural centers at the west end, including the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Museum, and the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. And then, of course, Prospect Park, the genesis of the idea for the world’s first parkway.

Eastern Parkway is probably best known today as the route of the annual Labor Day parade honoring the Caribbean population of Brooklyn. The parkway is one of the many gems and the many firsts that Brooklyn can claim, and another of the many, many reasons that Brooklyn is the best place in the world to live.

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Eastern Parkway’s Route today.

 


Historic Green-wood Cemetery

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The main gate into Green-wood Cemetery, at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-Fifth Street.

 

One of Brooklyn’s most spectacular, naturally beautiful, and historically important spots and a big attraction for thousands of visitors annually is Green-wood Cemetery. (We won’t say it: people are dying to go there. Oops, we said it.) More famous people sleep at Green-wood than ever slept, lived, and/or died at the Hotel Chelsea; Green-wood is also forty-five years older than that Manhattan landmark.

As the mid-nineteenth century came into view, New York and Brooklyn were growing and becoming more urban. Green spaces were shrinking, and church yard cemeteries had graves reaching to the edges of their lots. The disposal of the departed began to become problematic. A new cemetery, Green-wood, was proposed by Brooklyn socialite Henry Pierrepont and laid out (no pun intended) after the then-current English style of cemetery having an informal park-like setting.

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Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom, is the main feature of the monument honoring the Revolutionary War dead.

Soon after Green-wood opened in 1838, it became a destination spot for Brooklynites and for many Manhattanites, later becoming a final destination for some of those visitors. Green-wood now holds the rich and famous from days long gone and days just gone by. A short list of celebs buried there includes:

The Famous
Leonard Bernstein, Composer, West Side Story, many others
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Artist
Henry Ward Beecher, Abolitionist
Kate Claxton, Actress
Horace Greeley, Newspaperman, Politician
Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives, Engravers
Frederick Ebb, Lyricist
Frank Morgan, Actor, who portrayed the Wizard of Oz
Samuel B. Morse, inventor of Morse code

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Statues of soldiers of all ranks grace the base of the Civil War memorial on Battle Hill in Green-wood Cemetery.

The Notable
Stanley Bosworth, Founder, St, Ann’s School, Brooklyn Heights
George Catlin, Painter
Henry Chadwick, Baseball Hall of Famer and inventor of the box score
DeWitt Clinton, Governor of and Senator from New York
Peter Cooper, founder of Cooper Union
Charles Ebbets, Owner, Brooklyn Dodgers
Mary Ellis Peltz, Theatre Critic
Eli Siegel, Philosopher
Emma Stebbins, Sculptor of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park
Henry and William Steinway, father/son, Piano Makers

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“Our Drummer Boy” commemorates the life and death of twelve-year-old Clarence McKenzie, the first Brooklynite killed in the Civil War.

The Infamous
Albert Anastasia, noted mobster
William “Boss” Tweed, Politician

and many other artists, athletes, industrialists, murderers and the murdered, military men and women, politicians, socialites, and more.

The grounds are the site of some of the fiercest fighting that took place during the Battle of Brooklyn, the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. The highest point in Brooklyn, Battle Hill, is in the cemetery, and is graced with a monument to the battle in the form of a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, and one to the New Yorkers who died in the Civil War. Elsewhere on the grounds is a monument remembering twelve-year-old Clarence McKenzie, the first soldier from Brooklyn killed in the Civil War. Ironically, it was not in battle, but in camp that the youngster, in his tent, was hit by a stray bullet from other Union soldiers drilling nearby. His monument, entitled “Our Drummer Boy,” stands on what’s known as the Hill of Graves, surrounded by other soldiers who were killed or fought in the Civil War.

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Crypts and monuments line this road and dot the entire grounds in Green-wood.

There are hundreds of mausoleums, obelisks, statues, and thousands and thousands of standard gravestones and markers of well-known and ordinary citizens across the cemetery’s 478 acres. Near the main entrance on Fifth Avenue is the monument to those lost in the Brooklyn Theatre Fire, atop a mound under which lie more than one hundred bodies of men, women, and children buried in a mass grave, the unidentifiable remains of victims of that historic, horrific conflagration. Far from being an historical relic, however, the cemetery is alive and vibrant, and continues to accept new residents. There’s room for many more.

Green-wood also continues its long history as a recreational destination, offering a slate of annual, monthly, and one-off events in every season. Many have to do with discussions and/or examinations of death. November includes a Day of the Dead Family Program; Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre; Border Crossings: This and Other Worlds (about death, not politics). 

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A fall day at Green-wood Cemetery.

There are Twilight Tours, birding tours (including a search for the famous Green-wood parrots), Trolley Tours (perfect for the less mobile of us), and others with eclectic subjects, focusing on topics such as mushrooms, stained glass, and seances. One long-time annual event is the ISO Symphonic Band and Orchestra concert every Memorial Day. In addition, there are Revolutionary War reenactments, Green-wood at Night tours, and so many more all year round.

Green-wood Cemetery is a true treasure, and any Brooklynite who hasn’t been there should make a resolution to go in 2019. No matter what time of year, its beauty and its interest can’t be beat. Get to Green-wood Cemetery, while you can still walk out when you’re done.

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Some of the many hundreds of ornamented gravestones in Green-wood Cemetery.

 


 

Brooklyn Ranks High as a Strong Investment Market

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A rebuilt downtown Brooklyn, the hub of the borough’s building boom that has made Brooklyn one of the darlings of investors worldwide.

 

If you’re an investor in real estate, Brooklyn should be looking pretty good to you right now. Across the country, new home sales have flattened, and in many areas have begun to drift downward. That could be a worry for the economy as a whole, but experts and analysts that focus on the real estate sector continue to support Brooklyn as a place to invest. A just-issued report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the Urban Land Institute names Brooklyn the number-two Market to Watch for commercial investment. (The Dallas-Ft. Worth region was number one.)

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Brooklyn ranks number two in Overall Real Estate Prospects in the United States in a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The report, called Emerging Trends in Real Estate: U.S. and Canada 2019, focuses on large-scale investment property, both residential and commercial, and in that area, one has only to look at Brooklyn’s ever-changing, ever-growing skyline to see that the residential building boom continues unabated. Various outlets predict that over 20,000 new condominiums will go on the market in the coming two years or so all over the borough. There is new construction going on in every neighborhood, including those historically ignored. Many are rental projects, and many  targeted for both sale and rental include “affordable” units, meaning offered at significantly less than full market rate, though falling well shy of what most people think of as affordable.

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Industrial buildings in Brooklyn are being renovated and refurbished for use by tenants requiring twenty-first century services and features.

Other than ground-up new construction, the PwC report notes that Brooklyn has a large stock of old industrial buildings that are underused or empty, and these have been and continue to be attractive both to developers and to buyers/renters who enjoy the look and solidity of these old brick-and-wood-beam structures. Many of these building have been modernized for twenty-first century business tenants in the tech sector and high-tech manufacturing, and some, like Industry City in Sunset Park, have been converted to retail/industrial properties, with stores and restaurants on the lower floors making the buildings destination sites for not just for neighbors, but for people from across the city and suburbs. In Greenpoint, the nonprofit organization The Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC) has refurbished seven industrial buildings and leased them to small-scale manufacturers and artisans, helping to create jobs and maintain the vitality of the neighborhood.

In many of the markets that the report records or anticipates price fall-offs, the reasons noted are rising prices of construction materials, possibly due to the current international tariff cat-and-mouse games going on, and the rise in interest rates resulting from generally good economic news.

Beyond the booming large-scale commercial investment, Brooklyn remains attractive to smaller investors and home buyers scouting through the many single-family and two-to-five-family houses available in almost every residential neighborhood. Sales of these types of buildings have remained strong, and prices, though they’ve plateaued in the past six to twelve months, remain at or near the highest they’ve been.

We’re happy that Brooklyn remains a highly attractive real estate market. This is our home, and we welcome everyone. We do hope, however, that our borough remains a place where anyone who wants to live here can find a home that they can afford. It’s the greatest place on Earth to live. Just ask us who already do.

 


 

The Narrows Botanical Garden

 

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The Narrow Botanical Garden is a small, hidden gem at the northwest corner of Bay Ridge.

 

There are many, many hidden gems in Brooklyn, and one small outdoor wonder that’s unknown even to many of its neighbors is the Narrows Botanical Garden in Bay Ridge. Tucked between Shore Road and the Gowanus Expressway just below Owl’s Head Park, this small but lovely space, now known as the Jewel of Bay Ridge, has an open field, two tiny rose gardens, a natural area with water features and a turtle sanctuary, a monkey puzzle tree, and keeps bees that produce one of the best honeys we’ve ever tasted.

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The garden has several water features in and near the natural area.

The Narrows Botanical Gardens is today and always has been a labor of love by Bay Ridge volunteers who founded the garden in 1995 and others who maintain it today. The parkland that holds the garden was created when the Belt Parkway was built between 1934 and 1940. The park at this locale was little used for decades, and became derelict, with trash, car tires, and other detritus littering the area. Then, in 1995, two area residents, Joan Regan and James Johnson, waded into the park and began cleaning it up. Their efforts soon attracted others, and within a year, they had established the Narrows Botanical Garden.

It was a simple restored park at the start, but through the years various features have been added, including a greenhouse for plant propagation, a cactus garden, a lily pond, and the small rose gardens. Support comes from local businesses, local politicians, and the city Parks Department. That support helps with covering costs, but it’s the volunteer corps that operates and maintains the grounds that is the true lifeblood of the garden.

An early autumn visit to the garden found volunteers manning the gate to the natural garden. There is no admission, but, like all non-profits, donations are always gratefully accepted. Several other volunteers worked at various spots, digging and making minor repairs. One gardener had just collected a batch of honey from the onsite hives and offered some to anyone who happened by. Delicious doesn’t begin to describe the smoothness and taste of that golden nectar. The garden itself had peaked as far as most of the flowers go, but there were a few late-late-season roses in the two rose gardens, the koi pond in the natural area was active, and the small Chinese garden area is lovely at any time of year. And, we were delightfully surprised to see that monkey puzzle tree thriving in the ground not far from the entrance.

Narrows Botanical Gdn Logo 72dpiA taste of honey won’t be offered at every visit, but if you’re a garden aficionado and find yourself in the Bay Ridge area, a stop by the Narrows Botanical Garden should be on your to-do list.

 

https://www.narrowsbg.org/about_us

 

 


 

 

Gowanus Open Studios

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Summer’s over. Many of our favorite outdoor Brooklyn activities have wrapped for the year: the great season of Celebrate Brooklyn! is long over, the public pools are closed, and Smorgasburg shuts down for the season within weeks. There’s still enough warmth for a few more barbies in the park or in your own outdoor space (if you’re fortunate in that way), but it’s time to start thinking about indoor leisure-time events.

GOS+2018+Poster 325WOne of the most exciting of those each October is Gowanus Open Studios, when artists from Atlantic Avenue to the Prospect Expressway and from Court Street to Sixth Avenue open their studios and galleries to the public. The Gowanus area is packed with dozens and dozens of artists and galleries, many of whom (260 at last count) invite us all in to their spaces to see their work and talk about their ideas and techniques. It’s a great opportunity to experience the who, the how, and the what of artistic creation.

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Collage, sculpture, and photography are some of what you’ll see at Gowanus Open Studios. Works here by (top-bottom) Kate Fauvell, Timothy Corbett, and Konstantin Dimopoulos.

If you’re an artist, it’s a great time to see what others are doing, and perhaps grab a dose of inspiration. If you’re simply an art lover, you might just find a piece that’s perfect for an empty space in your home. The weekend is a great way for families to introduce the kids to life as an artist and experience an artist’s work area (most of which will look like nothing they’re allowed to do at home.) You’ll meet artists at different stages of their careers, and the work varies from grand scale to miniature, and from painting to pottery to sculpture to assemblage and many others types of work. It’s very exciting, and for those who want to experience it all, two days is barely enough time.

And don’t forget lunch! Or dinner! Besides artists’ studios and light industry, Gowanus has a ton of great restaurants and food outlets, including Pig Beach, Runner & Stone, Monte’s, Two Toms, Dinosaur Bar-B-Q, Freek’s Mill, Table 87, Michael & Ping’s, Bison & Bourbon, Ample Hills Creamery, and many more. And let’s not forget the local breweries, Three’s Brewing, Strong Rope, and Other Half, all with tap rooms open to the public, and all three open during the Open Studios event.

The Gowanus Open Studios weekend is organized by Arts Gowanus, a non-profit organization that supports the Gowanus artistic and industrial enclave with the intention of building and promoting “relationships between individual artists, arts organizations, and the broader community” in order to strengthen the bonds between them and to “connect the world to the Gowanus community.” The open studios weekend is their largest event of the year. It’s not to be missed!

So, mark your calendar for October 20th and 21st. Hours are noon – 6:00 p.m. both days. Best public transportation is the F and G trains to Fourth Avenue, the R train to 9th Street or Union Street, and any of the many lines that pass through Atlantic Terminal.

See you there!

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Paintings and sculptures from (L-R) Joy Makon, Carol Adams, Christy Powers, Gerald Siciliano, and Joseph Burchfield, just a few of the artists you might meet at Gowanus Open Studios 2018.

 


 

Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg

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The shaded seating area at Smorgasburg Prospect Park, with vendor tents behind.

 

Who doesn’t like a good flea market? Gently used clothes, dishes, home furnishings, jewelry, art, antiques, and chatchkas offered by dozens of sellers at bargain prices. Who doesn’t like a fantastic food fest? Food to eat right now, with offerings from over one hundred vendors, all surrounding a large cluster of picnic tables. We all do, and Brooklyn is, as with so many things, a leader in both areas.

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From baseball gloves to African masks, vintage steel beer cans, and lettering, some of the many varied items for sale at the Brooklyn Flea.

Two great markets, Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, are provided by the Brooklyn Flea, a ten-year-old company that began with markets in Fort Greene and Williamsburg and has moved on to locations at Industry City, DUMBO, and Prospect Park, and is rated by numerous travel magazines and Web sites as one of the best open-air markets in the country and even the world.

We can remember the flea at both original locations, and we thought it was great then. We miss it still in Fort Greene, but have enjoyed the spiffy new surroundings at Industry City and the old architectural ingenuity evident under and around the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO, long one of our favorite nabes.

The other big, regular event run by the Brooklyn Flea is the weekly Smorgasburg, a massive food event in the original East River State Park location in Williamsburg (Saturdays) and in Prospect Park (Sunday) on Well House Drive at Breeze Hill. For those who are just now checking out Brooklyn or those who somehow don’t know about this already, Smorgasburg is a monster food fair, with vendors selling an international mix of prepared dishes running the full gamut from poutine to vegan treats. A recent visit to the Prospect Park locale had us tasting delicious offerings from Jamaica, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, and ogling meats, sweets, and other delectables from many other vendors we noted down for next time. Everything is good, and it all tastes better sitting outside. But note that time is running out. Summer’s over, and Smorgasburg runs only through the end of this month. Miss it now and you’ll have to wait until April next year! (Dates below.)

Other important Smorgasburg notes: Pets are welcome, and at Prospect Park there’s a large area for parking bikes. We assume there’s bike parking at or near East River State Park.

Whether your passion is food or found treasures, weekends in Brooklyn can feed your individual frenzy for either or both. Visit the Flea and/or the Smorgasburg and satisfy your yearnings. You’ll have a great time doing it.

Brooklyn Flea
Saturdays, 10:00 – 5:00, Industry City, 241 37th St., Sunset Park
Sundays, 10:00 – 5:00, Manhattan Bridge Arch, 80 Pearl St., DUMBO

Smorgasburg
Saturdays, 11:00 – 6:00, April – October ONLY (Last event October 27 this year (2018)),                                             East River State Park, Williamsburg, Kent Avenue at N. 7th Street.
Sundays, 11:00 – 6:00, April – October ONLY (Last event October 21 this year (2018)),                                               Prospect Park Breeze Hill, off East Drive near Lincoln Road.

 

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Views from the Prospect Park Smorgasburg.

 


 

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum

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The exhibits at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum cover international arts, local natural sciences, and world cultures.

 

Young minds are curious. From babyhood, the blank slate that is our new-born brain begins absorbing all that we see, examining our hands, and feet, and the faces, the touch, and smell of our parents and everything else that we sense. If we’re lucky, as we grow, as we age, that curiosity stays with us. One way to maintain that level of absorption of our surroundings is to continue to explore new things. Here in Brooklyn we’re very fortunate to have an institution that is dedicated to nurturing the developing minds of our youngest.

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, in Crown Heights, is the oldest and one of the largest institutions in the country and perhaps the world dedicated to feeding and developing the curiosity and creativity of children. From its beginning in 1899, the museum has presented science, the arts, and the natural sciences with the notion of learning by experience, providing interactive, hands-on exhibits that encourage visitors to take an active part in each. 

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Some of the 30,000 objects in the collection of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. At the rear is the entrance to one of the museum’s many workshop classrooms, the Color Lab.

Six permanent exhibits offer interactive experiences in nature, art, sensory play, cultural diversity, and more. The Neighborhood Nature exhibit includes dioramas of local plants and animals found here in Brooklyn. The Our favorite is World Brooklyn where kids can learn hands on what it’s like to work as a shopkeeper, baker, grocer, builder, and other vocations.

Many of the temporary exhibits introduce young people to other cultures, other eras, and other ways of viewing and interacting with the objects and materials around us. The museum offers many weekend workshops for kids, and educators and organizations can rent a Museum on the Go case for classroom presentations and activities. In addition, the museum offers after-school programs in the arts, culture, and science, and teen programs geared toward community interaction.

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum was founded in 1899 by the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (now the Brooklyn Museum), with the idea that children learn best by doing. Creating a place that offers children a chance to touch, operate, and become immersed in the offered exhibits was a revolutionary concept at the time.

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The world culture area offers a strip of “shops” displaying items specific to various places around the world.

The original building was an old mansion on or near the site of the present building in Brower Park, designed by the architect Raphael Vinoly and completed in 2008 with more than 100,000 sq. ft. inside and a large roof deck and garden. It is the only LEED-certified green museum in the city. Today, the museum boasts a collection of over 30,000 natural science and cultural objects that are either on display or used in the various programs and exhibitions. There’s something of interest for kids of all ages. We suggest you grab your kids and go see for yourself. (Note: Thursdays from 2:00-6:00, admission is free!)

 

https://www.brooklynkids.org/

 The Children’s Museum
145 Brooklyn Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11213, corner of St. Marks Avenue

Hours: Tue, Wed, Fri., 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Thu., 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Sat., Sun., 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Admission: $11 except Thursday, 2:00 – 6:00, free/pay what you wish

 


 

Bottle Beach and Dead Horse Bay

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Bottle Beach at Dead Horse Bay. These bottles and other debris fall out of the landfill under the embankment behind the beach.

 

Many Brooklynites have heard of Bottle Beach, often called Glass Bottle Beach, the stretch of beach along Flatbush Avenue opposite Floyd Bennett Field just before the Marine Parkway Bridge to the Rockaways. It’s one of the most litter-strewn beaches you’ll find anywhere in the world, with every step falling onto not just glass bottles, but all manner of recrement ranging from pieces of animal bones to shoes to tables to refrigerators, the type of trash changing on every visit. Where does all this dross come from?

The water lapping onto the beach is known as Dead Horse Bay, and the beach’s dirty (literally) little secret is that its scattered detritus comes not from the waters of the bay but from under the sand on the embankments behind it. In the nineteenth century, horses were a big part of everyday life. By 1880, there were upwards of 100,000 horses in New York City, working as the engines for streetcars, drays, and coaches. Their utility was indispensable, but they posed huge health hazards, each one generating +/- twenty pounds of solid waste and a quart of urine per day. In addition to that problem, they often died in the street, from sickness or overwork, and a carcass often remained where it fell until it had rotted and dried out enough to be easily carted away.

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Prior to being connected to the mainland, Barren Island (lower right) in Jamaica Bay could be accessed by walking through the marshland north of the island.

As people became more aware of how disease spreads, officials looked for a place to process the horses’ bodies and contracted the job to several “horse rendering plants” (read glue factories) on Barren Island, an isolated spot in Jamaica Bay. In addition to horses, the plants processed dogs and cats, cows, goats, pigs, etc., all commonly found throughout New York City and Brooklyn in those days. Besides glue, the factories turned out soap, fertilizer and grease. The island became known throughout the area as the most foul-smelling place in the state, and maybe the country. The workers who lived there with their families were considered somewhat less than human. The post-processing remains of the animals, mainly bones, were dumped into the bay, which along this stretch now carries the Dead Horse moniker.

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A factory on Barren Island, c. 1911. From the Brooklyn Collection of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Once Brooklyn became part of New York City, the island became a repository for trash as well as offal. Later, Jamaica Bay along the eastern part of Barren Island was filled in with sand dredged from elsewhere in the bay, connecting a few other islands together and to the mainland in order to build Floyd Bennett Field, which opened in 1930. The water around these islands had always been shallow and marshy, and the Dutch settlers walked through the bay water from one island to the next and back to the mainland, so filling in all those channels in was not a huge engineering feat. The western side of the former island continued to be used as a dump, and as Robert Moses bulldozed entire neighborhoods to make way for his expressways, many of the poorer homeowners and renters in the right-of-way areas were forced out with not much more than the clothes on their backs. The debris from these swaths of razed homes were sent to Dead Horse Bay, including clothing, furnishings, mementos, photos, and keepsakes, all of which now fall out of the sand banks and onto the beach along with the broken remnants of horse bones and bottles.

 


 

Pioneer Works

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There are so many reasons to love Red Hook: The waterfront, the many old warehouse buildings, now housing great modern shops and manufacturing companies such as German Kitchen Center

, the Red Hook Winery, Scanlon Glass, Steve’s Key Lime Pie, and Fairway, as well as more modern constructions like IKEA; the quaint nineteenth-century row houses along the narrow streets and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal at Atlantic Basin; and the baseball and soccer fields and the large public pool at the Sol Goldman Rec Center. There are also many arts and community organizations, both commercial and non-profit, that attract visitors from all over the metro area. These include the Waterfront Museum Barge, The Brooklyn Waterfront Artist’s Coalition Gallery, and Added Value Farms.

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A group listening to an artist talk about his work at the Potoprens exhibit at Pioneer Works, September 2018.

One of the larger of the arts organizations is Pioneer Works, located in a former Ironwork factory at 159 Pioneer Street, at the foot of Imlay Street  between Van Brunt and Conover Streets. Pioneer Works is a cultural center “dedicated to experimentation, education, and production across disciplines. Through a broad range of educational programs, performances, residencies, and exhibitions, Pioneer Works transcends disciplinary boundaries to foster a community where alternative modes of thought are activated and supported.” In plainer English, the organization’s goal is “to make culture accessible to all.”

One of the ways it does that is through its Second Sundays events. Second Sundays is a free event series which provides the public free access to tour the space, visit the studios of current resident artists, and view the current exhibitions. There is live music, and the organization’s program leaders give hands-on demonstrations and programs in art, education, science, and technology.

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One of the twenty artists exhibiting work at the Potoprens show talks about his work.

The center offers classes in each of its different focuses, i.e., art, science, technology, and music. Many classes relate to the current exhibitions. Admission is free, though a reservation is required. A link to order a free ticket is on the page of each program, class, or talk.

Scientific Controversies (Sci Con) is a series of conversations between scientists on unsolved quandaries, hosted by Director of Sciences Janna Levin. Conversations can be on any scientific riddle, such as Swarm Intelligence, String Theory, Black Holes, or Dark Matter.

One of the more well-known events sponsored by Pioneer Works is the annual Red Hook Regatta, in which homemade boats race along the Red Hook waterfront in New York Harbor.  The 2018 regatta, the fourth annual, takes place on September 28th. The race features two classes of boats, 3-D printed boats and general do-it-yourself boats. All boats must fit in a 2′ x 2′ x 2′ box. Electronic controllers are provided by Pioneers Works. Registration and controller-kit pickup ends on September 9th.  Full rules are here. Spectators can watch from Valentino Park pier from 1:00-5:00 p.m. The event is free, and there is catered food available (not free) and live entertainment during a half-time break.

Visit the center’s Web site for a complete list of current goings on.

Some History

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A picture of one of the steamrollers made at the Pioneer Iron Works near the close of  the 19th century. The building is now the home of the Pioneer Works cultural center.

The original Pioneer Iron Works factory opened by circa 1866 on Williams Street at the foot of Imlay Street, under the ownership of Alexander Bass. Ten years later the company was a leading manufacturer of tar kettles and steamrollers for road construction, and sugar production machinery and “temporary railroads,” the latter two products sold to companies in Cuba to be used on sugar plantations. The factory suffered two devastating fires, one in 1881 and one in 1906 but was rebuilt each time. The company closed in the mid-1940s, about the same time as the end of World War II, and the building was used for some time after as a storage facility for the Time Moving Company.

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Map detail from 1903 showing both William and Pioneer as the names of the street where the Pioneer Iron Works was.

William Street was renamed Pioneer Street around the turn of the twentieth Century. Maps from 1898 have the way named William Street. By 1903, both names, William and Pioneer, are used as the name. Eventually, William was dropped completely.

We’re repeat visitors to the center and to  Second Sundays, and can say it’s well worth a stop-by any time you’re in Red Hook, which we think should be fairly often.

Pioneer Works, 159 Pioneer Street
Hours: Thurs – Sun, 2 – 7      Admission: FREE!

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The Coney Island Art Walls

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Out to Live, by Chris Stain, one of approximately thirty murals at the Coney Island Art Walls exhibit, through September.

 

Coney Island is known the world over as a summer entertainment magnet, famous for its teeming beaches, boardwalk food stands, and thronged amusements parks, as well as the more recent baseball games and weekly Friday night fireworks.

One of the lesser-known, but just as cool, attractions and a great reason to get yourself down to Coney Island soon is the annual exhibit called the Coney Island Art Walls. The art walls sit in an otherwise empty lot between Stillwell Avenue and W 15th Street and between Bowery Street (one block south of Surf Avenue) and the boardwalk, right behind Nathan’s hot dog restaurant. Now in its fourth year, the art walls were the brainchild of Joseph J. Sitt, founder of the real estate development company Thor Equities, which owns the land, and Jeffrey Deitch, an art dealer and former Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, who co-curates the event with Mr. Sitt.

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Just a few of the walls currently on view at the Coney Island Art Walls exhibit.

Mr. Sitt, who grew up in Brooklyn, refers to the annual exhibit as “…Thor Equities’ way of bringing life to an empty site in the core of Coney Island, while keeping the Coney feeling and stretching it in new directions.” He had the walls erected in 2015 for the first show, and they’ve been up since. As is most street art, the works are temporary, painted over when a wall is given to another chosen artist.

Mr. Deitch has been an artist, art writer, gallery owner, and curator for decades, including his stint at MOCA, where a special Art in the Streets exhibit drew record crowds. He’s now bringing that same street-art vibe to Coney Island each summer, and we’re grateful for it. This year’s artists include Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Sam Vernon, Shepard Fairey, Jane Dickson, Jim Drain, Skewville, along with many other street artists and muralists.

Besides presenting the murals, the Art Walls space hosts periodic events both public and private. The final month of the season will include the Quiet Clubbing Festival on Saturday, September 15th, with six DJs spinning their sounds from 7:00 p.m. until the wee hours. Everybody gets a headset that lets you choose which DJ you want to hear and the volume. LED robots and LED hula dancers are promised for the event. The special music events require tickets, for sale in advance or at the door until sold out.

According to the Art Walls’ Web site,  the exhibition space is open every day from 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. through September, and admission is free. However, we went twice on Friday evenings and it was closed at 7:00. A mounted policeman told us it’s open during the day. On a third trip, on a Saturday afternoon, the space had been taken over by an event, which we could have attended for $60. (We didn’t.) Our advice is to get there before five o’clock on a weekday.

For more information on the music events, go here: http://donyc.com/venues/coney-island-art-walls

See you at Coney Island!