by Andrew Rosenberg, 01/28/2014
Rooftop Films at the Old American Can Factory. Photo: Bami Adedoyin
A Walk Among the Ruins
Gowanus doesn't provide traditional tour-book sights, but crossing to and fro on the bridges that span the murky waters reveals the district's industrial past. The most evocative of them is the Carroll Street Bridge, the oldest retractile bridge in the States, constructed in 1889. Not that it has much competition: there are only four such bridges around, the design of its wooden deck slowly sliding back horizontally to allow safe passage of ships never having gained popularity. Crossing from the cobblestoned street across its planks and stopping to gaze at bobbing buoys feels nearly pastoral. The Union Street and 3rd Street Bridges are quite similar to each other, both drawbridges built in 1905. From the latter, some of Gowanus' most historic buildings are within a stone's throw. There's the so-called Bat Cave, the soaring Victorian-era Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power House turned party space and public art canvas; the graffitied brick pile is being transformed, if all goes well, into artists' studios. Nearby, at the corner of Third and 3rd, the squat, concrete Coignet Stone Building long stood dilapidated and alone on a vacant lot, a whisper away from being knocked down or falling in on itself. Erected in 1873 for a short-lived cast-stone manufacturer, it now has company in new neighborhood landmark Whole Foods, which hems it in. Staring from the other side of Third Avenue, the burnt-sienna walls of the Old American Can Factory were also thrown up in the late 1800s, though the place has been repurposed to serve as studio space for designers and filmmakers, as well as the site for a summertime rooftop film series. And close to the 9th Street Bridge, the unofficial emblem of Brooklyn hangs on as a (literal) sign of Gowanus' manufacturing past. Don't be content to see the Kentile Floors image on T-shirts; view the eight-story (unlit) neon sign while you can from the quiet intersection of Second Avenue and 9th Street.