Pioneer Works

Pioneer Works Lead

 

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!

Image sources 2

 


 

Where’s the Hill in Boerum Hill?

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Boerum Hill offers many boutique shops of all kinds along Atlantic Avenue.

 

Boerum Hill might be Brooklyn’s most quietly popular neighborhood. For decades it was considered a great place to avoid at all costs, and even today many people raise their eyebrows at the area’s mention. For those who have taken the plunge and moved here it is a calm oasis of city living, a peaceful alternative to the more hectic pace associated with the its surrounding neighbors: Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Fort Greene, and Downtown Brooklyn.

The neighborhood is bounded by Schermerhorn Street on the north, angling down Flatbush Avenue and Fourth Avenue on the east, Warren Street on the south, and Smith Street on the West. Most of the residential streets are lined with one-to-four-family brick or brownstone row houses dating from the mid nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. In addition, there are two mid-rise housing projects built after World War II and a raft of new condo buildings along or near Fourth Avenue on the East side of the nabe. It is consistently in the top five on lists of the most expensive neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

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Many of the buildings in the area are landmarked, and these storefronts provide a taste of what the neighborhood was like fifty or more years ago.

Location is everything, and Boerum Hill is perfectly situated near shopping, dining, entertainment, and transportation. There are stylish storefronts all along Atlantic Avenue between Smith and Nevins Streets; Smith Street is lined with restaurants and watering holes, as well has having a variety of clothing stores and delis; Fulton Mall is just above Boerum Place in Downtown; and the Barclays Center, BAM, and the Fort Greene cultural district are just across Flatbush Avenue. At that same location is Atlantic Terminal, with a full-scale shopping mall and the Long Island Railroad’s Brooklyn terminal and MTA subway hub for the B,D,N,Q, and R trains. The A, C, and G trains are at Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street, and the F and G are at Bergen and Smith Streets.

When the Dutch first arrived in the Boerum Hill area it was populated by the Lenape and Merechewick [spelling varies with sources] Indians. The area was eventually divided into parcels with Dutch owners with now-familiar names such as Bergen, Van Brunt, Cortelyou, Rapelje, and Boerum. England took over new Amsterdam in 1664, but the Dutch families in Brooklyn remained as citizens and landowners in the now English colony of New York. By the time of the Revolutionary War, the area had been further subdivided, but remained mostly farms and mills. During the revolution there was heavy fighting all around the area, in Park Slope Bed-Stuy, Gowanus, and Brooklyn Heights, but other than troops passing through or manning fortifications, not much happened in what’s now Boerum Hill. The nineteenth century was the major period of development throughout the northern half of Brooklyn, with the grid laid out, streets named—many carrying the monikers of those Dutch settlers–and today’s housing stock erected. The area became a magnet for immigrants, and waves of German, Irish, and Italians came into the neighborhood from the 1850s through the first half of the twentieth century.

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A Mohawk atop a steel girder high above Second Avenue, the Chrysler building behind.

The 1900s saw the rise of New York’s steel-and-stone skyscrapers, including the iconic Woolworth, Chrysler, and Empire State Buildings. A number of the ironworkers on these buildings were Mohawk Indians from Canada, who were adept at traversing through the steel-beam superstructures high above ground. A large contingent of Caughnawaga Mohawks lived in Boerum Hill during that time, concentrated between Smith and Nevins Streets from Bergen to Schermerhorn Streets. The Mohawk population grew so large that the local stores began carrying products specifically for them, including grains and ales from the Caughnawagas’ home in Canada, and the Cuyler Presbyterian Church held services in the Mohawks’ dialect. This enclave became known as Little Caughnawaga. There are descendants of these workers living in the area today, and, tangentially to our focus, Mohawk Indians still work in the ironwork industry, including being active in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center after the September 11th attack.

All this interesting Boerum Hill history, it has to be noted, didn’t happen in Boerum Hill. The neighborhood is named for the Dutch settler Simon Boerum, who at one time owned much of the land in the area. We’ve heard that back then there was some sort of rise near what is now Carroll Park (in Carroll Gardens) called Boerum’s Hill, but the Boerum Hill name wasn’t applied to the current neighborhood until the 1960s. Until then this section was part of what was generally known as South Brooklyn; in the 1800s, residents called it North Gowanus, and in colonial times the eastern end was a wet, marshy section of the Gowanus creek waterway. There was never a hill here.

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The residences in Boerum Hill are mostly one-to-four-family brick or brownstone row houses, many with decorative railings, on tree-lined street .

 


 

Brooklyn’s Going Solar!

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The Carroll Gardens Solar Community Farm is nearing final approval from Con Ed to join its grid and come online.

 

All across Brooklyn, from East New York to the East River, there has been a large investment in clean energy in the past few years. Solar panels are appearing everywhere, on buildings large and small, from block-wide industrial plants to single-lot row houses. These panels tie into the buildings’ power systems, and the energy they produce replaces that of their power company, a win-win for the panel owners in terms of saving both energy and money.

The use of solar power in Brooklyn isn’t exactly new. The industrial Gowanus neighborhood has many low industrial buildings with large, flat roofs under wide open sky, the perfect place for an array of solar panels, and traversing the Gowanus Canal along the lofty Culver Line subway overpass you can see multiple buildings with roofs filled with them, many of which have been in place for years. These arrays provide power to the buildings on which they sit, and sometimes to other, nearby buildings. Much of the Whole Foods parking lot on Third Street is covered with panels, and the roofs of Dyke’s Lumber on 6th Street, Extra-Space Storage on Third Avenue at the foot of First Street, Architectural Grille on Second Avenue across from Seventh Street, and behind that the roof above Interiors Palace at the edge of the canal all provide those buildings with at least some if not all their power requirements. And that’s not a complete list.

In Park Slope, on Windsor Place, a small-scale array provides power for a group of private homes. Apartment buildings across Brooklyn, in Sunset Park, Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, Gravesend, and elsewhere all get their power from rooftop solar arrays.

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Solar arrays are popping up all across Brooklyn, including these in Crown Heights (top), Sunset Park (center), and Bed-Stuy (bottom).

This is all very positive, but what about those who rent, those with no rooftops, with no legal rights to mount solar panels wherever they wish? How can we all participate in the green revolution and save some money in the process?

Recently, the East New York Community Farm came online. A community farm is a subscriber-based solar array that feeds into the state power grid, and the power sent to the giant utilities like Con Edison, LIPA, and PSEG is sold for power credits that are distributed to the community farm’s subscribers and deducted from the electric bill of those subscribers, a process with the technical term Net Metering. You end up paying two electric bills per month, one to your traditional provider and one to your community farm, but the combined total is (or should be) less than your former single payment.

The East New York farm, the first solar community farm in the city, can generate 1.2 megawatts of power at any time, which can provide electricity to about 100 homes.

There are now several available solar farms up and running in Brooklyn, and soon, the Carroll Street Community Farm will be joining them, possibly before the end of the summer. Con Edison is expected to give the Carroll Street farm a final okay to feed its grid within weeks. It’s just another solar-powered day in Gowanus, and from what we’ve read, the farm is already fully subscribed. The financiers of the East New York project anticipate more to come soon, and not just in Brooklyn. There are community farms open across the city, and it’s all just beginning.

If you’re ready to join the green revolution and save yourself some green in the process, you can find a community farm near you here. Do your due diligence to be sure you’ll get the deal you want before signing on. Scroll down to the FAQ section on that page to begin your research.

 


 

Venetian Elegance: The Prospect Park Boathouse

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The boathouse in Prospect Park, now home of the first urban Audubon Center.

 

Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s natural-wonder gem, is a fantastic funscape of outdoorsy things to do, including biking, hiking, walking, running, ball playing, sunbathing, picnicking, sledding, cross-country skiing, and more. There are also many structures throughout the park that offer even more: the playgrounds, the zoo, the band shell, the Lakeside skating center, the carousel, and the Lefferts House museum. Not to be overlooked is the boathouse, home to the first urban Audubon Center in the country.

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A late nineteenth century post card picturing the original boathouse.

The Audubon Center has been a tenant of the boathouse since the structure’s last renovation, in 2000. Prospect Park is in a designated Important Bird Area, or IBA (an actual thing), and is in the migratory path of literally hundreds of species of birds traveling through in the spring and fall. The center offers programs and instructional aids regarding these and the many local birds found in Prospect Park.

The boathouse was built in 1905, replacing a more rustic structure dating from the opening of the park in 1867. The original building stood on the edge of the Lullwater section of the park’s water course, making it an easy boarding area into the rental boats. The current structure, designed by Frank Helmle and Ulrich Huberty, is a two-story Beaux Arts-style beauty based on the Library of St. Mark in Venice. It features a long row of arched floor-to-ceiling French doors on the first floor and a terraced second floor with an awning-covered porch on the west side. Outside, there are white terra cotta eaves, and on the inside, gorgeous tiled vaulted ceilings on the first floor. A lullwater (usually put more bluntly as deadwater, but Prospect Park is a happy place) is an area of barely moving water, and these are great places for algae to grow. As a result, the water in front of the boathouse is often covered with thick algae blooms.

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Undated photo of the boathouse, from the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection, via the Gowanus Lounge.

After the second World War, as the entire city fell into the post-war doldrums of the 1950s and ’60s, the boathouse fell into disrepair, was put to varied city-agency uses, and was eventually closed. It came very close to being razed in 1968, with the bulldozers scheduled, when, after months of hard work, it was saved by preservationists under the new (1966) Landmarks law just 48 hours before demolition was to begin. When you see this stunning structure and its environs today, it’s agonizing to think that it was just two days away from disappearing forever. The boathouse was one of the very first buildings to receive landmark status.

Now, two renovations since its rescue, the boathouse  has become one of the most popular destinations in the park. The immediate area around it is beautiful, with the lullwater bridge in front and the recently made over Lakeside area just to the south. Besides the Audubon Center, the boathouse doubles as a venue for weddings, receptions, and private parties. There are often boats paddling by in the Lullwater, but those are rented now at Lakeside on the lake proper.

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Algae blooms are common in the lullwater in front of the boathouse.

The next time you spend a day in Prospect Park, be sure to stop by the boathouse. You can walk, you can bike, or you can glide past in a pedal boat. No matter what your mode of travel, be sure to snap a few pictures of the magnificent Prospect Park Boathouse.

The Audubon Center is open Thursday and Friday, Noon – 5:00 p.m. and weekends 10:00 a.m.- 1:00 p.m.

 


 

The Montauk Club

 

 

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The Montauk Club building at 25 Eighth Avenue, corner of Lincoln Place, in Park Slope.

 

Private men’s clubs have been popular among the elite class in New York City almost since the city’s establishment. The first in New York, the Union Club, was founded in 1836. Others followed, including (in no particular order) the Harmonie Club, the Knickerbocker Club, the Players Club, the Union Club, the Yale Club, and on and on. What they all have in common is exclusivity and a pretension to status.

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The dining room of the Montauk Club.

 

There were similar clubs in Brooklyn, including the Carleton Club, which stood at Sixth Avenue and St. Mark’s Place in Park Slope. In 1888 a number of dissatisfied Carleton Club members began organizing a club of their own, which became the Montauk Club, incorporated in 1889.  One of the founders, a broker named Leonard Moody, gave the money for the down payment on the site for the club at 25 Eighth Avenue, and the architect Francis H. Kimball was contracted to design and construct the clubhouse, which is a Venetian Gothic-style building. It’s windows with pointed arches and Quatrefoil design are direct copies of those in the Palazzo Santa Sofia (the Ca d’Oro) on the Grand Canal in Venice. Just a stone’s throw from Grand Army Plaza, this is one of the most striking and well-known buildings in Park Slope, and maybe in all of Brooklyn.

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The rear of the Montauk Club, facing Plaza Street near Grand Army Plaza.

The building extends from Eighth Avenue to Plaza Street. The basement had a bowling alley and a café. In front of the building, a stone stairway still leads to the front of the first floor from Eighth Avenue. To the left of that, a smaller set of stairs rose to the ladies’ entrance to the building. The first floor contained a grand reception room, a reading room, and a café. The second floor had two billiard rooms, as that was a popular game at the turn of the twentieth century, a buffet, two card rooms, and the club’s board rooms.

A large dining room, partitioned into three sections, took up most of the third floor, and a separate ladies’ dining room overlooked Eighth Avenue and Lincoln Place. A separate Ladies’ reception room was here, too. The fourth floor had the kitchen and, along Lincoln Place, six apartments used by visitors and members. Those visitors could sit in the designated “Jolly Room,” a sitting room in the rear of the building on this floor. The six apartments shared one bathroom with two toilets, two tubs, and two sinks. Above that, the area of the attic that had been finished had a laundry as well as quarters for servants.

Like so many other buildings in Park Slope, the Montauk Club property converted to a condominium, in 1996. The club took the basement and the first two floors, and the third, fourth, and attic floors are private residences.

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Many TV shows and movies have used the Montauk Club as a location, including Boardwalk Empire, shown here. photo: Macall B. Polay / © HBO / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Today, 139 years after incorporation, the Montauk Club carries on. From inception it has always been a social club, and so has no overarching mission. New members are welcome. Sponsorship is not required, though the club has a membership committee and there is a space on the application to name people you know, so applying for membership is no guarantee of acceptance. The cost of membership is not little but is quite a bit less than that for most of the Manhattan private clubs. For members, the club is available for weddings, receptions, and private parties. Non-members can book space there, but membership is part of the price tag. The members-only dining room is open Wednesday-Sunday, and the menu, which changes weekly, is very inviting.

If hob-knobbing with other Brooklyn social ariveés over diner in private dining rooms is your thing, the Montauk Club is definitely worth your investigation. “Affordable,” friendly, welcoming, and in a unique, elegant setting, the Montauk Club could be just what you’re looking for.

 


 

The Myrtle Avenue M Train Viaduct Rebuild is Complete, On Time and On Budget — Amazin’

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The reconstruction of the M Train viaduct east of Myrtle Avenue. It was completed on time and on budget, an almost unheard of circumstance for MTA projects.

 

On time and under budget; a phrase sweeter to any project manager than anything ever written by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, or any poet ever. Astonishingly, it applies to the rebuild of the Myrtle Avenue M train viaduct in Bushwick and the Fresh Pond Bridge by the Queens terminus.

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This drawing shows the viaduct rebuild area and adjacent buildings.

 

For the past ten months or so, M train riders have been taking shuttle buses from the Broadway and Myrtle Avenue stop to the end of the line in Middle Village, Queens. This inconvenience was due to the reconstruction of the viaduct carrying the trains turning between Broadway and Myrtle Avenues just east of the Myrtle Avenue station and the rebuilding of the Fresh Pond bridge in Queens.

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Note the close proximity of residential buildings in these before and after shots of the reconstruction (facing opposite directions).

Both sections of the railway are over 100 years old, and both had the original track laid. No longer. There’s 600 feet of new track, 700 feet of new third rail, and new signals and electric cables. The project was due to be completed by the end of April, and sure enough, today, April 30th, the line reopened, at a cost within the $163 million budgeted. The MTA has a time-lapse video of the rebuilding on its Web site.

Because of the project’s close proximity to both residential and commercial buildings, people in those buildings had to be relocated during the endeavor. The MTA helped in their relocation and in fact paid the rent due on the apartments and stores while the tenants were out. Now that the project is complete, those tenants will be allowed home again.

That’s the good news. The bad news: At 12:24 p.m., approximately seven hours after it opened, the line suffered a severe service stoppage when a switch blew at the Myrtle Avenue station. Hours later, M train service was completely down from W 4th Street in Manhattan all the way out to Middle Village. Can’t anybody here play this game?

 


 

Greenpoint Makeover: The Church of the Ascension Parish Hall

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SL Development’s rendering of the new façade of 120 Java Street, the former Parish Hall of the Church of the Ascension in Greenpoint.

 

Churches, for the most part, are sturdily built. Especially in older cities, many church buildings were erected in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when most were built using rough-cut stone or brick for the walls inside and out. Over the past thirty or forty years, societal changes have in many ways altered the way people worship, and the parishes that many of these structures were built to support have shrunk in size, sometimes merging with others and sometimes disestablishing and closing down.

As the numbers of parishioners fall, churches look for ways to keep going, and it’s not uncommon for some to sell off property they own, including parts of the church itself and/or the space above them. Developers rarely demolish a church structure. Besides their stout construction, these properties are often beautiful and richly detailed. Many provide interesting and unusual features that, when incorporated into the newly renovated space, whether that be offices or residences, are attractive to many buyers.

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The old façade of the parish hall. Note that much of the original, including the vertical elements, are being kept and incorporated into the new facing.

One of the latest such projects is in Greenpoint. Almost three years ago, the Church of the Ascension sold its dilapidated parish hall building at 120 Java Street and the air rights of the church proper to SL Development, and that company has now begun its renovation of the old brick building. The new façade makes use of much of the existing face of the hall (where in this case that original could be described as somewhat less than beautiful), giving it a major face lift and adding two floors. When complete, there will be eighteen apartments, each around 1,300 sq. ft. The new front is quite striking, and generally the project is in keeping with the scale and look of the old façade, though updated to a twenty-first century style.

The parish hall was built separate from the church building, which dates to 1866 (the parish was established in 1846), and although the hall has some recent historical significance as a refuge center for people displaced or otherwise affected by Hurricane Sandy, its redevelopment will not be a blow to the neighborhood as can sometimes happen in repurposing existing structures.

This is a project that, all in all, should benefit all parties involved, including homeowners and other residents on and around Java Street.

 


 

Crown Heights Mega Development Could Threaten BBG

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The proposed development of the old spice factory at 960 Franklin Avenue could cast a giant shadow over the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

They’e ba-ack.

Another mega-development threatens the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and once again the neighborhood is being awoken to the danger by dedicated community watchdogs.

For the third time since 2014 a large development project has been submitted for consideration to Community Board 9. The latest project, from Continuum Company and funded by Lincoln Equities, is proposed for the current site of the old spice factory at Franklin Avenue and Montgomery Place, a stone’s throw from the BBG and tall enough—at least thirty-two stories, and perhaps as high as forty-two—to cast a seven-acre shadow across the garden, including its greenhouses and the Steinhardt Conservatory building housing three special biospheres in climate-controlled environments, all of which would be greatly impacted by the loss of light even for a few hours a day.

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A closer look. The dark upper sections of the proposed buildings are higher than what current zoning allows.

Several neighborhood groups have mobilized against the project, which is in a specially zoned area that limits construction to seven stories, a restriction that was implemented more than twenty-five years ago specifically to protect the BBG from exactly what’s being planned now. Rezoning will require environmental assessments, public notice and response, and approval from multiple city agencies. While that sounds difficult, it’s not uncommon for such how-did-they-let-that-happen projects to be approved.

Last year, another large-scale project, by Cornell Realty and slated for construction at Crown and Carroll Streets, was put on hold when the community objected to its scale, which mid-process morphed from four seven-story buildings to a 500-unit, 175-foot-tall, two-tower behemoth. On hold doesn’t mean scrapped, and this and several other projects await the approval of just one similar plan to break the ice before refiling.

The spice factory was in operation right up to the sale of the property late in 2017 to Continuum, and neighbors continue to enjoy the mixed fragrances emanating from the now empty building. Built around the turn of the last century, the plant began life as the Consumers Park Brewing Company, one of many breweries that dotted Brooklyn in the late Nineteenth Century and into the mid Twentieth Century. The current building is not part of the new plan, and somewhere there’s a wrecking ball that’s gearing up for action. That in itself is a shame.

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The Tropical Pavilion is one of three controlled-environment areas in the Steinhardt Conservatory that could be affected by the Spice Factory plan.

We’re all for the development of empty or underused space, the repurposing of old warehouses and factory buildings, and the restoration, reconstruction, and/or redevelopment of dilapidated housing stock. But we support maintaining any neighborhood’s character in the process. Crown Heights residents are just getting used to the idea of the development of the Bedford-Union Armory just a few blocks away at Bedford Avenue and Union Street. A mega-project of the size and scope of the Continuum plan will absolutely alter the quality of the neighborhood.

Not of least concern is the potential harm that would be done to the botanic garden. This world-class, world-renowned facility is a gem that all Brooklynites should want protected. Plants need sun. A seven-acre shadow crossing the grounds would wreak havoc on the fragile eco-systems in the conservatory. Currently, the garden is protected by zoning laws. We think it should remain so.

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The old spice factory on Franklin Avenue, site of the proposed mega development. The botanic garden lies just beyond the trees on the left.

 


 

Where is the Strand?

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An aerial-view rendering of the proposed Strand, to stretch along Cadman Plaza from Borough Hall to the Waterfront and including Trinity and Bridge Parks.

It’s coming up on five years since the DeBlasio administration announced plans to revitalize the downtown area green space between Borough Hall and the Waterfront at Old Fulton Street, a concept labeled the Strand. Yet, to our knowledge, nothing is scheduled for action anytime soon, despite years of talk and actual planning. What’s the holdup?

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Renderings of the proposed Strand project for Cadman Plaza, Old Fulton Street, and Trinity Park.

Right now, the expanse of green from Columbus Park to the Brooklyn Bridge is underused in the extreme, and Cadman Plaza West is simply a concourse for pedestrians to get from High Street Station to the Waterfront and back. The Strand would transform the area into a destination in its own right, with a massive positive impact on the parkland and the grittier areas around the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage. It would provide additional beautification and modernization to such near-derelict areas as the Korean War Veterans Memorial Plaza; the Brooklyn War Memorial; the maze of roads, underpasses, and knolls around the Brooklyn Bridge exits surrounding Prospect Street and Washington Street between the Brooklyn Bridge and the BQE (a spot with a name that [almost] no one knows, Clumber Corner); the strip along Old Fulton Street to the park entrance; and along York Street by the BQE exit ramp to Old Fulton Street in DUMBO.

The renderings to the right, from the Architectural Firm WXY, show details of the plan. The top picture shows the plaza in front of the Post Office building. The next few show what the area around the war memorial could look like. Then comes the north end of the park between Middagh Street and Red Cross Place, then perhaps near Trinity Park, followed by Prospect Street, Old Fulton Street, and an overpass to a terrace above a new plaza by York Street and the BQE exit ramp around the bridge anchorage.

These renderings were presented to Community Board 2 in 2015. Since then, there’s been quiet. We’re not sure what the delay is. This is basically a high-end renovation project. Unlike the building of the Barclays Center, the land for the Strand is already empty, for the most part, so there’s no displacement or demolition involved; that all took place when the BQE was thrust upon the neighborhood back in the 1960s. In the renderings, there looks to be some roadway and bridge redesign and construction, but nothing too major to our eyes.

Downtown Brooklyn has become a vibrant, active business and residential community over the last twenty-five years, beginning with the opening of the MetroTech office/back office/research complex on Jay Street to the mid-rise and now high-rise housing boom that took off in the aughts and proceeds apace today.

When those first apartment buildings went up, there were many naysayers who wondered why anyone would move to downtown Brooklyn. Of course, there have always been naysayers who wondered why anyone would cross from West to East over or under the East River for anything. Now, everyone wants to live in Brooklyn, and the construction boom is beginning to threaten the character and charm of many outer areas.

The buildup makes sense downtown, but historically, the biggest strike against downtown Brooklyn was that there wasn’t anything to do, either after work or on the weekends, except to get on the train into Manhattan.

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A possible new plaza by York Street on the north side of the Brooklyn Bridge approach.

That, too, has changed, with the blossoming cultural district on the eastern edge, at Flatbush and Lafayette Avenues, and the opening of Brooklyn Bridge Park on the waterfront.

 But, where’s the Strand? This is an area that desperately needs attention. Let’s get it moving.

 

 

 

 


 

Red Hook’s Incredible Hulk: The Erie Grain Terminal

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The Erie Grain Terminal, on Gowanus Bay’s Henry Street Basin.

Despite all the major construction going on in downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and to a lesser extent, pretty much everywhere across the borough, there remain many locations where, at least for now, the past looms large, no more so than on the Red Hook waterfront, where many vestiges of the area’s industrial past remain to intrigue and remind us of bygone eras. One of the larger structures remaining in the Gowanus Bay area is the decaying hulk of the former NYS Grain Terminal, a near-hundred-year-old government project built to boost activity and jobs in New York Harbor at a time when many grain shipping companies were moving to cheaper ports at Philadelphia and Baltimore. Today the decaying structure threatens daily to collapse into the Henry Street Basin over which it precariously hangs.

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A closer look, with outer sections of the structure hanging precariously over the water, their bottom portions rotted away.

 New York State opened the grain terminal in 1922 as an adjunct to the reconstruction and incorporation of the Erie Canal into the New York State Barge Canal System. That project was undertaken to reinvigorate the use of the Erie Canal and the ports of New York Harbor. The grain terminal was an example of way too much too late. There are fifty-four concrete silos, thickly built to withstand any possible grain explosion, with a capacity of two million bushels of grain. Despite the plant’s then-state-of-the-art construction, most of the lost grain movers didn’t come back, and the terminal never reached the level of business and capacity that would make it profitable. Government officials referred to the terminal as the “Magnificent Mistake.”

 The state operated the terminal at a loss until 1944, when it transferred the deed for the property to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which kept it limping along until finally shutting the terminal in 1965. The property was sold to a private owner in 1997. It’s currently closed to all but the intrepid trespassers who occasionally break in to document the plant’s interior before it’s gone.

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It is art, or is it history?

We have no idea what the future holds for the grain terminal, though we feel it’s safe to say it doesn’t include grain. It’s beautifully ugly, a 120-foot high, 430-foot long, mold-covered cement hulk crumbling into the basin, sections with their foundations rotted away drooping precariously over the water below. Our reporter paddled up the Henry Street Basin in a canoe to get the exterior photos included here, risking life and limb to get close-up images of this fantastic piece of Brooklyn history. We like to think the artifacts of the past will remain as symbols of our industrial heritage, a time when things seem to us looking back simpler and more black and white (both ideas mistaken, nostalgic misrepresentational deflections from our too complex present). Reality, and economics, may call for a different outcome.

Interior shows tops of silos

The interior of the terminal showing the tops of the silos as a grid of holes in the floor, and chutes from above that directed grain into them.

For the moment, the terminal stands. If you’d like to check it out in person, take the B61 bus from Smith-9th St. (F/G trains) or the B57 at the Jay Street Station of the A/C/F/R trains, both buses heading toward Red Hook. It’s a short walk from IKEA across the Red Hook Ball Fields to the Henry Street Basin. (Google map it.) You can’t go in, but the waterfront area of Red Hook is active, vibrant and beautiful, and definitely worth the trek.

For a beautiful, moving look into and around the terminal, check out this video from Carlito Brigante.

 

Interior Picture Source: atlasobscura.com