Historic Fort Greene Park

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The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument at Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn.

 

New York City, and Brooklyn with it, is a land of macadam, concrete, and steel. But with all its hard surfaces and hard edges, it is a city that loves its natural green spaces. Besides the well-known major parks, like Central Park, Washington Square, and the Battery in Manhattan and Prospect Park, McCarren Park, and Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, there are hundreds of small squares and triangles full of trees and shrubs and benches for weary pedestrians and area residents to sit in and enjoy.

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The visitors center at Fort Greene Park.

Brooklyn’s oldest official park remains today a bastion of activity and history. The land now known as Fort Greene Park has twice been the site of an actual fort. The first, Fort Putnum, was built at the start of the Revolutionary War by troops commanded by Nathaniel Greene. It was quickly taken by the British during the Battle of Brooklyn and held by them until the end of the conflict. It was re-outfitted and renamed Fort Greene

at the start of the War of 1812. After that war, it was decommissioned and was a draw for locals as a place to hang out and mingle. Washington Park, the park’s original name, was commissioned by the city in 1845 and promoted heavily by the poet Walt Whitman, who worked as an editor at the Brooklyn Eagle at the time. Washington Park opened in 1850.

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Washington Park. The street along the Eastern boundary of Fort Greene Park maintains the park’s original name.

The site is also a hallowed ground. During the revolution, the British anchored several decommissioned ships and barges in Wallabout Bay, just north of Fort Greene Park and the long-time site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Upwards of 11,000 men died aboard those vessels and were simply tossed overboard or buried in shallow mud at the edge of the bay. By the turn of the nineteenth century, their bones and other remnants were becoming exposed by tidal drifting of the muck. In 1808 the remains of these unfortunates were dredged up and buried on drier land near the navy yard.

Following the Civil War, a remodeling of the park conducted by Vaux and Olmstead, the designers of Central and Prospect Parks, included a final resting place for those “prison ship martyrs,” and the remains were moved again to this vault. In 1897, the park was renamed for General Greene. Interestingly, the street along the park’s eastern boundary is still named Washington Park.

Crypt Entrance

This door in the grand staircases that lead to the monument could be the entrance to the Prison Ship Martyrs’ crypt.

In 1905, the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White was commissioned to design a memorial to those buried under the park, the tall column that rises above the park today. The tomb holds the largest number of bodies of any Revolutionary War graveyard.

On a less somber note, the park is a magnet for many residents of the eponymously named neighborhood, Fort Greene. There are tennis courts, a dog-friendly area at DeKalb Avenue and Washington Park, playgrounds for the youngsters, and plenty of spots perfect for sunbathing and lounging. There are plenty of great stores and restaurants nearby on DeKalb and Lafayette Avenues to grab something to picnic on while you’re there. History buffs should add a visit to this park to their bucket lists.

 


 

 

 

If It’s December, It’s Dyker Time!

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The stunning light displays in Dyker Heights will be up until the end of the holiday season. It’s well worth a trip!

Dyker Heights has been an attractive neighborhood since its initial development in the late nineteenth century as a bedroom community for Manhattan’s business elite. Today, it’s a mix of modest yet comfortable semidetached homes and shockingly huge mansions, but it’s never more attractive than during the December holiday season, when the entire neighborhood lights up with a massive communal display of Christmas lights and decorations. If you’ve never taken a walk or ride during the holidays through Dyker, as it’s called locally (or Dyker Lights at this time of year), you must put it on your bucket list and get it crossed off soon, perhaps this season.

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From angels to reindeer to toy soldiers and candy canes, everything’s lit up in Dyker in December.

Anyone who enjoys the festive atmosphere surrounding the holidays, and especially the lights, will have their cravings sated in Dyker. People come from all over the world to see the Manhattan window displays in the department stores, and people come from everywhere to marvel at the lawn and house displays in Dyker Heights.

To get there, you could take one of the tour buses that come from Manhattan, or drive, but we recommend the D train to 79th Street and a leisurely walk west along 83rd or 84th Street to 10th Avenue and back. There are spectacular displays throughout the neighborhood, but the most eye-popping are on 84th Street between 10th and 12th Avenues. If you find enchantment in Christmas décor and lights, you must get out to Dyker Heights and see the show.

But enough said. There’s no marvel in talking about it. This entry is about the lights, so the lights take over the page from here. We took a tour of this year’s displays, and our photos follow. We don’t claim to be professional photographers, but they should whet your appetite to see the show in person.

 

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Not everything is bright and festive. This home has a definite flair for the dramatic.

 

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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

 


 

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!

 


 

Where’s the Hill in Boerum Hill?

Atlantic Shops Strip

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.

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 Very Own Subway Line

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Brooklyn’s G train Crosstown Line station map.

 

It’s the most disparaged subway line in the entire MTA system. “The line to nowhere,” They say. The line is the G train, and They are those who don’t use it. For those who do ride the G, it’s the best train in New York City. The A is known as the 8th Avenue Express and the F is called the 6th Avenue Local. The G is the crosstown line, snaking through Brooklyn from Church Avenue in Kensington north through Greenpoint, with (currently) two stops in Queens and ending at Court Square, without ever going into “The City” on the way. It’s the only non-shuttle subway line that avoids Manhattan.

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Letter tag for the G train.

The G train opened as the GG in 1933 as part of the IND system, using the double-letter code of the day for local trains. It was a simple shuttle between Queens Plaza and Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint, with plans to expand the line further. In 1937 the crosstown line extension to the Culver Line opened, with transfer points to the BMT’s L train at Metropolitan Avenue-Lorimer Street and to the A and C trains at Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street Station. The last stop was Smith-9th Streets in Brooklyn, and simultaneously the line was extended in Queens to 71st Avenue in Forest Hills. In 2009, it was extended to Church Avenue during a rehabilitation of the Smith-9th and Fourth Avenue stations, and upon project completion, an outcry of public opinion convinced transit officials to maintain the Kensington terminus rather than cutting the line back again. In 2010, the Queens end of the line was changed to the Court Square interchange with the E, M, and 7 lines.

During its history, the G train has had shifting terminus points at both ends and its car length juggled as ridership numbers ebbed and flowed along with the changing turn-arounds. The line’s nadir was the stretch of time corresponding with New York City’s financial and social troubles in the mid-to-late 1970s. A general lack of basic maintenance resulted in the line’s stations growing dirty and dingy, and service cuts made for long waits in unpleasant and sometimes unsafe conditions. The G train was given a reputation as a line to avoid.

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The Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s front page on July 1, 1937, announcing the opening of the G train’s Crosstown Line.

With the explosion in population and popularity of Brooklyn in the past thirty years, there has been an increase in people living, working, creating, and hanging out in the borough, with the crowds and high prices in Manhattan becoming what to avoid. Even though the line’s shady reputation remains intact in the minds of many, the G train now boasts a ridership growth that is out-pacing any other line in the MTA system. Service has increased, stations have been rejuvenated, and, for those heading from South Brooklyn to Williamsburg, Greenpoint, or Bushwick, the line is now one of Brooklyn’s best-kept secrets. All that’s needed now is to increase the train length from its current four cars to six.

That’s coming, and more. Many Brooklynites do work in Manhattan, and with the planned renovation of the L train’s Canarsie Tunnel beginning in April of 2019 to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy, the 225,000 commuters that use that tube every day will have to find an alternate route to work. G train in 7th AveThat means transferring to the G train, northbound to the E, M, and 7 lines to midtown and southbound to Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets for the A and C lines to the Financial District. To accommodate an anticipated huge increase in ridership, the MTA plans to add four cars to each train and to add trains, especially during rush hours. The secret will definitely be out, though the perceived inconvenience will probably not change the minds of too many of those new riders that the G train sucks. While they’re riding it, it just might.

For now, and then after, the G train is Brooklyn’s very own subway, and while for many it’s the train to nowhere, for us, it’s Brooklyn’s own, and we love it.

Great Brooklyn neighborhoods and attractions on the G line:

Greenpoint (Greenpoint Avenue; Nassau Avenue Stations)
Brooklyn Bazaar
Sunshine Laundromat
Numerous TV/ Independent Film Production Studios
Greek Theatres/Greek Restaurants

Williamsburg (Metropolitan Avenue; Broadway; Flushing Avenue)
Hip Neighborhood
Eclectic Restaurants
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Transfer to the L to Bushwick

Bed-Stuy (Flushing Avenue; Myrtle-Willoughby Avenues; Bedford-Nostrand)
Gorgeous Brownstones
Billy Holiday Theatre
Home Depot

Clinton Hill (Classon Avenue; Clinton-Washington)
Pratt Institute
St. Joseph’s College NY
Beautiful Neighborhood

Ft Greene (Fulton Street)
BAM
Arts Hub/Cultural Center
Barclays Center
Beautiful Neighborhood

Downtown Brooklyn/Boerum Hill (Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts.)
City Point Mall
Fulton Street Pedestrian Mall
Macy’s Brooklyn
Downtown High-Rise Construction
MetroTech

Cobble Hill/Boerum Hill (Bergen Street)
Smith Street Restaurant Row (North end)
Trader Joe’s

Carroll Gardens (Carroll Street; Smith-9th Streets)
Beautiful neighborhood
Smith Street Restaurant Row (South end)

Gowanus (Smith-9th Streets; Fourth Avenue-9th Street)
Art Studios
Gowanus Canal
Lowe’s
Whole Foods

Park Slope (Fourth Avenue-9th Streets; Seventh Avenue; 15th St.-Prospect Park)
Prospect Park
Best neighborhood to live in (Time Out NY, 2012)

Windsor Terrace (15th  St.-Prospect Park;, Ft. Hamilton Parkway)
Prospect Park
Low-scale housing

Kensington (Church Avenue)
Eclectic mix of restaurants and people
Kensington Stables
Green-Wood Cemetery

 


 

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.

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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


 

There’s Life Anew in [the] Gowanus

Gowanus. For many old-time South Brooklyn natives, the very name draws a chuckle and a shake of the head. For them, Gowanus isn’t a neighborhood, it’s a canal, and a foul-smelling, gag-inducing one. But that was the old days.  Today, it’s the canal, still dirty but no longer the fetid deadwater it was fifty years ago, and the neighborhood covering two blocks on either side of it on the north end and two blocks on the east side further south. And like many other once-written-off areas of Brooklyn, it is fast on the rise, with new businesses, increased residential development (and corresponding rising housing prices), and lots of places to go and things to do.

The Gowanus area in colonial times was a wide saltwater tidal marsh. The Native Americans living there when the Europeans first arrived, the Lenape, sold the area surrounding Gowanus Bay to the Dutch in 1636, and the new owners immediately built several thriving industries in the area, the largest being oyster growing, milling, and farming. The names of the early settlers now grace numerous streets in the area, including Luquer, Denton, Cole, Boerum, and Bergen. The earlier settlers, the Lenape, had a leader named Gouwane, and the Dutch perhaps named the area for him. In any case, the name Gowanus dates from the earliest European settlement of the region.

The area played an important part in the Revolutionary War. During the Battle of Brooklyn, near the Old Stone House a regiment of Maryland troops fended off the British army long enough for the Continental Army to retreat to Manhattan and avoid being destroyed. Many of those Maryland troops are buried in a mass grave next to the FVW post on Ninth Street near Third Avenue, where a wall plaque marks the site. The Old Stone House behind the playground at Fifth Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets is a reconstruction of the original. The commander of those brave Maryland men was William Alexander, whose name is the official moniker of M.S. 51 in the next block across Fourth Street.

In the early 1800s, as Brooklyn grew and industry increased on the Gowanus creek, the need to accommodate large vessels and people to work the docks resulted in the building of the canal and the filling in of the marshland for urbanization of the area. The chosen design for the canal was the cheapest of all those proposed, and the finished waterway was open only at the harbor end, and there was no way to flush the water and keep it clean. Built for its times, the canal soon attracted more industry, and the surrounding new neighborhoods quickly filled with workers and stores. Those neighborhoods were constructed in a way that the sewage from those areas flushed into the canal. That combined with the waste dumpings from the oil refineries, mills, cement factories, and other toxin-producing industries lining the canal quickly fouled the waterway.

By the 1950s and ‘60s, the construction of the BQE/Gowanus Expressway and then the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge obviated the need for water shipping for many of the companies along the canal, and the economic decline in the city during the ‘60s and ‘70s drove many companies away or out of business, and many of the empty spaces were claimed by small-scale artisans and artists for use as studios and small manufacturing. There is a large number of these types of tenancies remaining in the area, and they attract a large contingent of visitors during periodic Open Studio events.

Today, Massive cleanup efforts for the canal are well underway, a flushing tunnel that was first built in the early 1900s has been refurbished and now pumps water from Buttermilk Channel in the harbor into the canal to move the water downstream,  on-and-off dredging operations take place, and rezoning has led to residential building once again, this time large apartment complexes like 365 Bond Street, which sits directly on the canal at Second Street, and others along Bond Street and Fourth Avenue. It’s even possible now to go canoeing on the canal, with the reopening of the Gowanus Dredger’s Club launch site at the foot of Second Street on the East side of the canal.

The neighborhood today is garnering attention for its relative low rents in the older buildings, and its growing hip (not hipster) vibe. With the general influx of younger, more affluent residents, support businesses have sprung up faster than one can keep track of. Newcomers such as Taheni, Dinosaur BBQ, Pig Beach, and Ample Hills Ice Cream are all along Union Street, and microbreweries with attached beer gardens flourish on President and Douglass Streets between Third and Fourth Avenues. There’s also Whole Foods at Third Avenue and Third Street. These and many others complement less recent and older, established places such as 2 Toms, Monte’s, Runner and Stone, Little Neck, and the Bell House. There’s plenty to do and plenty to eat and drink. That’s a neighborhood worth living in!