50 Favorite Places #23 Industry City: it’s complicated. Is this still one of my favorite places, or is it a nightmare of hyper-gentrification? If I write about it here, am I encouraging its transformation into the kind of “destination” I despise? Should I move on to something less complicated, like parks and bakeries?
But Brooklyn is all about complications, and so is this blog. In the end I decided to include it for what it has to say about the past, the present, and possible – contested – futures.
Besides, Industry City is already part of every post I write: this blog’s banner features a detail of one of its buildings, circa 2010 or so. Even before I moved here for good, the complex and its surrounding blocks were one of my favorite destinations for easy runs. I love old industrial architecture – it’s the Detroiter in me, I suppose – and the Sunset Park waterfront is a treasure trove for anyone with an interest in factories and warehouses. It’s lined with hulking, yet oddly graceful, multi-story factory lofts, interspersed with lower-rise warehouses and knit together by abandoned railroad tracks. Some buildings are, if not abandoned outright, underused. Others hum with activity, from the production of customized t-shirts to building supplies to beer. Smaller businesses sell live poultry, rebuild cars, and machine the components that go in those rebuilt cars. Truck traffic bumps along the uneven, block-paved streets.
Against this backdrop, the Industry City complex rises between 32nd and 37th streets like something conjured by a wizard or a movie director . . . or a developer. Oh, it’s real enough: the buildings date from the 1890s, when Irving T. Bush was pioneering the integration of transportation, manufacturing and distribution (you can read more about Bush and his legacy here). But today, they stand apart from the rest of the waterfront neighborhood. They’re in it, but not of it.
Fifty Favorite Places #22 In 1928, when Nicolo Mazzola opened a bakery at the corner of Henry and Union streets in what was then called South Brooklyn, the neighborhood was well into its transition from Irish to Italian. Both groups were driven by hunger – the potato famine, the almost feudal poverty of the Mezzogiorno – and drawn by the lure of jobs along Brooklyn’s developing waterfront. Today, the area has been re-dubbed Carroll Gardens, and it’s pretty thoroughly gentrified. Judging by what one sees and hears on the street, intimidatingly stylish and attractive young families from France are now the biggest immigrant group. But traces of older waves remain. There are the fig trees brought as seedlings from Sicily or Campania, replanted in Brooklyn gardens, wrapped and coddled through half a century of harsh winters, and still bearing fruit today. There are old school barber shops and funeral homes with unmistakably Italian names. There’s the Cittadini Molesi social club, the last of its kind. There’s the church where Al Capone was married. There are front yards like the one pictured below.
And there’s Mazzola Bakery – still in its original location and still family-owned, though since 1980 that family has not been the Mazzolas but the Caravellos.
50 Favorite Places #21 This is about Sunset Park – the actual park, not the neighborhood of the same name (though I love the neighborhood as well). In general, I rank parks according to the quantity, variety and novelty of the birds I’ve seen or aspire to see within their boundaries. Sunset Park is an exception. Not so with Sunset Park. While you can see birds there – Red Tailed Hawks and Kestrels and Crows of both the American and Fish persuasions, as well as the ubiquitous pigeons, House Sparrows and starlings, other common backyard birds, and the occasional weary migrant – it’s no one’s idea of a birding hot spot. The fact that I love it so much despite its failure to contribute a single species to my life list attests to its other charms.