Page 6 - Images of Red Hook, Brooklyn

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ascension of Al Capone (who got his famous scar
in Red Hook). Later much of the neighborhood
became the stomping grounds (literally) of
crazy Joe Gallo.
  Designed in the late 1940s, most of the
nearby section of the Brooklyn-Queens Express-
way is below-ground. This six-lane-wide trench
was cut straight through the neighborhood and
subjects nearby residents to increased air pol-
lution, traffic noise and property-damaging
vibrations. Since planners included a limited
number of options to cross over the expressway,
Red Hook soon found itself cut off from the rest
of Brooklyn.
  Not long after the completion of the BQE,
much of the shipping industry moved to the
larger container ports in New Jersey—and so
did most of the jobs. Soon afterward the Port
Authority announced plans to greatly expand
the container port—which encouraged residents
to either relocate or neglect their property.
Several blocks were razed before the Port
Authority cancelled its expansion plans, leaving
a blighted neighborhood in their wake. In the
1970s the depressed New York economy and the
subsequent crime epidemic further crippled the
community, resulting in abandoned homes and
derelict industrial sites, turning the area into a
“frontier outpost” on Brooklyn’s waterfront.
  But it’s hard to keep a good neighborhood
down, and Red Hook has bounced back. It is
tough to pinpoint the exact year that its fortunes
were reversed, but it is clear Red Hook has
turned a corner. There are well-regarded res-
taurants, new big box stores and small specialty
retailers each selling quality merchandise, a
greatly reduced crime rate, and newhousing and
commercial construction. There are even
tourists here now. Many people will tell you all
of this is a good thing, but not everyone. That’s
Red Hook.
What is the future of Red Hook?
No one can be sure, but almost everyone agrees
that some kind of change is going to come, and
soon. The explosion of new residential hous-
ing construction in New York has slowed down
recently, but development never slows for long.
It is only a matter of time before Red Hook’s
population will begin to grow again, either by
the redevelopment of existing structures or
through brand-new construction.
  Will the big skies, empty lots and wide wa-
terfront views that attract artists, visitors and
fishermen disappear forever? Will Red Hook
ever be provided with the public transportation
that it is desperate for? And will better transpor-
tation bring about the kind of sweeping changes
other neighborhoods have endured?
  It is my hope that any changes Red Hook
experiences will be slow and sensible and
preserve the beauty and character of our water-
front village for decades to come.
—Tom Rupolo, April 2012
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What is Red Hook?
Red Hook is a peninsula that reaches into New
York harbor, bordered by Buttermilk Channel,
Erie Basin and Gowanus Bay. The man-made
borders, the northern and eastern borders, are
often disputed. I am considering the borders
to be Atlantic Avenue and the Brooklyn-Queens
Expressway, which includes small parts that are
technically Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, but
were more or less adopted into Red Hook after
the construction of the highway.
  The first European inhabitants were the
Dutch who settled here in 1636 and named the
area “Roode Hoek” after the red clay soil they
found. “Hoek” means point, or corner and it’s a
common misperception that the name refers to
the curved shape of land. At that time Red Hook
was not hook-shaped—it was mostly marshy
wetland with an assortment of small islands.
These islands were connected by a variety of
tiny bridges but in time, all of the islands were
leveled and the wetlands were filled in.
  Red Hook was an important site in the
Revolutionary War. In one of the earliest skir-
mishes of the war, Fort Defiance, located on the
area’s largest island, traded cannon fire with
British warships, which deterred them from
entering the harbor and altered the army’s
invasion plans (they came ashore near present-
day Bay Ridge). After a long day of fighting
their way north, the large invading force was
on the verge of surrounding the Continental
Army. A small contingent of dedicated Maryland
troops located on the east shore of the Gowanus
Creek was ordered to keep the British busy
with repeated attacks while General George
Washington led the remaining 10,000 troops
in a daring retreat across the East River. Many
soldiers passed through Red Hook, all the while
under enemy fire, but with minimal casualties;
thus the bulk of the Continental army was
spared and would fight again another day.
Washington’s flawless evacuation
of Brooklyn is one of the greatest
moments in the annals of warfare.
And yet, even allowing for the
weather, how he pulled it off has
been a subject of debate ever since.
—Barnett Schecter,
The Battle
for New York
From the 1840s to the mid-twentieth century,
Red Hook’s active port thrived, and this
industrial neighborhood employed many of
America’s newest immigrants, first from
Scandinavia, then Irish and Italian dock-
workers dominated the neighborhood until
eventually Red Hook became one of the earliest
and largest concentrations of Puerto Rican
immigrants in New York City. These new ar-
rivals needed housing, and in response the city
built one of its largest housing projects in Red
Hook. Red Hook entered the twentieth century
as a busy port but a “tough ethnic cauldron.”
Prohibition prompted the growth of gangs in
the neighborhood, and with it the came the
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