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South Brooklyn Hospitality

south brooklyn bonfireSwan rolls out the welcome wagon, Gowanus Style: “… soon after moving in, I started reading the two community newspapers that served South Brooklyn. One had classifieds filled with Russian and Chinese brothels but the stories I most recall about the reconstruction of the 9th Street lift bridge across the Canal, which was years behind schedule, and the long-delayed repair of the Gowanus flushing tunnel. The history of Gowanus is twisted but, briefly, a saltwater creek amid marshes was, in the 1860s, turned into a canal to serve the growing industrial needs of Brooklyn. As quickly as it became the busiest waterway in the country, the Gowanus also became the scourge of South Brooklyn for the effluvia pouring into its water and air. Some called for the Canal to be filled in but that never happened, nor did the conditions prevent people from living nearby. Although numerous nineteenth century buildings remain, the thousands of squatters who once called the area home are long forgotten.

Also forgotten, or ignored, since it broke in the 1950s, was that pesky flushing tunnel. Built in 1911 and running underground from the East River to the Canal’s terminus at Butler Street the idea was pumping (relatively) clean water in from the river would ameliorate the smell and maybe bring the waterway back ecologically. That it took almost fifty years for this to occur says everything about Brooklyn, the environment and class war; the rest is detail.

When the tunnel was repaired in 1999, there were excited dispatches from the Canal zone. Look, algae! (It’s a start.) Fish! Birds! Let’s try oysters- there used to be oysters everywhere… oysters! I remember one sad, sick seal that wandered up and died soon afterwards. Then the flushing tunnel broke, again, and while I’ve seen claims it’s fixed, reports of the Canal’s health are suspect, as raw sewage still pours in when it rains and skein of fuck-knows-what and fuel oil coats the surface of the water. When it rains, a lot, the Gowanus floods, quickly, especially at high tide, and if a hurricane hits South Brooklyn, most people near the Canal are going to be under it.” — Brian Berger, from New York Calling, by special arrangement with the troof (baby)

Ernie Koy, Jr. by special arrangement with the Bronx adds: Thinking of living in toxic Gowanus? Ay Mami, I been there– my (first) ex-wife was from Bond Street, I know the area well. She was Puerto Rican, born here, parents came over in the 1950s and, after a few years in the Gowanus Houses, were able to move into one of the little brick rowhouses near Union. Smith Street in those days was majority Latino & Canal-side Santeria offerings were not uncommon. Although we were all Catholics behind that John the Conqueroo candle, I was more interested in the handball courts on Nevins; the street pharmacists nearby had nothing to do with it. Today, the Italian afterhours club is gone & while Gowanus is still a shithole, it was our shithole. Don’t believe anything you read by anyone who denies Spanish is the loving tongue, or can’t name at least five (ten) local Gowanus industries offhand. Ya’ll want to build, let alone buy, “PR Gowanus, one of manyluxury” anything on these shores: good luck, & we eagerly await the tall tales, lies & disortions of law & language (starting with this fake “luxury” crap) that might make it happen. While some shills of the internet have already smoothed the way (the benefits of three, & sometimes even four, years of historical perspective) others might be a little less… pliant? As for local hip-hop luminaries, MC Tern & is a bird you can trust!

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