His was a vision like no other before and nary a one after.
Each time I’d go visit my mom in the old neighborhood, I’d take a walk down to the docks, passing the huge white Bush factories. I loved to fantasize what the genius of Wright would have done with the old buildings. I’d imagine lofts and tiny shops skirting the shore, enormous windows facing the narrows, the views of Lady Liberty, the harbor, the waterway leading out to the sea.
I still love to daydream of what could have been … what was.
The building, in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn, was the last in a row of three houses, adjacent to the Greek Diner. These houses were cold flats where the current owners resisted installing radiators for heat or converting the old coal stoves to gas. The fronts of all three houses called “airy-ways,” were enclosed in ornate wrought iron fences. The windows looked out at a giant white factory across the street.
Across the trolley tracks, across the alley and reaching down three avenues, Bush Terminal Factory District spread like giant tentacles along the docks of downtown Brooklyn, creating jobs for thousands of blue-collar workers. The women sewing piecework in long lines on factory floors, heads bowed and backs bent. The men loading and unloading the countless ships from all over the globe arriving to the ports of New York, the longshoremen.
The docks and the Bush buildings remained for decades, abandoned like unwanted children, only to become the center of controversy. The center of a zoning battle to restrict the number of stories the developers can built up. The original plans would have blocked the beautiful vistas from Sunset Park and Owl’s Head Park. The vista along the Narrows that stretches from downtown Brooklyn, adjacent to the Belt Parkway, under the Narrows Bridge and moving out to sea.
Progress wants more tall buildings to block the sun and ruin the landscape. Progresss hasn’t done enough damage. It wants to see how much more it can exact from the land before it implodes.
Ironic. We thought we grew up in a slum. Now progress has found the small row houses on 39th Street and the areas of Lower Sunset Park near the waterfront and wants to install fast food chains and factory outlets for cheap shopping.
Someone out there still believes we can shop our way out of economic crisis.
It was the Brooklyn Garment Center, the hub of activities, the inside of an intricate bee hive, alive and buzzing, producing sweet freedom for thousands of immigrants. It was for decades the gateway to middle-class. With its demise we would witness the end of an era.
The battle raged for years, and happy to say, the developers lost.
While some of the abandoned factories are being cordoned off as writer’s lofts, and others for games like paint ball fighting, the proposed sites for outlet shopping has been restricted.
The views for a change won out.
With all the assaults on our beautiful blue planet, nature endures. It cannot be conquered or completely eradicated by man and machine … and for that I am grateful.
Think about the town or city, hamlet or farmland where you grew up. How much of it still stands today? How much of your childhood remains should you be so inclined to revisit those good-old-days?
There are dozens of neighborhoods in Brooklyn that have changed so much that if I were dropped in by parachute, I would not know where I was … regentrified to the point of desiccation, the Brooklyn of my childhood has vanished.
Entire beach communities, my beloved Coney Island, and the areas above and below Sunset Park, are no longer as I remember. It reminds me daily that the man was spot-on … you can never go home again.
And what developers did not vanquish, Hurricane Sandy blew to dust in the wind.
Yet I can still walk to the circle by the flagpole, the highest point in Sunset Park and enjoy the sun setting into the bay. The vistas from my park and Owl’s Head Park remain … one small victory against the battle of time.
What part of your childhood has remained the same?
What part have you lost?
fOIS In The City
Note: The photographs of Sunset Park and Brooklyn came to me years ago from a now defunct blog. Like the credit above, many photographs and cartoons, and a bag-full of Maxine come to me from the same “third party” sources. Thanks to all who continue to post her and dozens of others for our enjoyment.