Brooklyn Timeline: Red Hook

  • Uli Seit/ New York Times

The dynamism of Brooklyn is evident in all of its many neighborhoods. And, to paraphrase Walt Whitman, Brooklyn contains multitudes. So, for our purposes, those multitudes have been divided into all of Brooklyn’s varied ‘hoods, each with a specific and distinct past and personality. So that’s why we’re going to go back into the history of each of these distinct areas, to understand better where they came from, where they are now, and maybe where they’ll be headed. First, we did Williamsburg, and then Brooklyn Heights, then Coney Island, because apparently I’m working in a counter-clockwise concentric circle through Brooklyn’s waterfront neighborhoods? No, that’s not it. There’s no method to my madness. And, yet, now I’m doing Red Hook. So, I guess my madness is at least centered around Brooklyn’s waterfront? I don’t know. I just don’t know. But, Red Hook it is.

This is a timeline of one Brooklyn neighborhood, its past and present, its people and places.

Around Brooklyn

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  1. Great to read your article. However, in skipping from the 1950s “On the Waterfront” Red Hook to the 1990s “Crack Capital” Red Hook, your timeline omits perhaps the most important period that impacted Red Hook’s development. In the 1960s, The building of the BQE, courtesy of Robert Moses, which cut off what is now called Red Hook from the rest of the neighborhood (what is now Carroll Gardens, Columbia Street Waterfront, etc.), had a huge effect on Red Hook’s development. It isolated Red Hook and marginalized its residents and became a physical and socio-economic barrier. That was exacerbated by the proposal to expand the Red Hook container terminal when, in that period, it was proposed that all of the housing, essentially between the waterfront and the BQE, be flattened to created space for a larger container terminal – container terminals need lots of upland space and New Jersey was taking business away from the New York ports because of their availability of that space. That proposal to flatten Red Hook forced people to flee that side of the BQE and move their businesses to Court Street., etc. Take a look at this blog post and links within to get some info on that –

    After that flight of population in the 70s, homeowners apparently burned their buildings for insurance, and Red Hook was red-lined, which all helped lead to the decline through the 80s that culminated in the crime-ridden crack capital Red Hook you describe.

    One thing that is clear, which is very apparent in your piece, is that Red Hook’s past and future is intrinsically linked to what happens on the waterfront. As that piece I directed you to states –

    “As always, it’s surely the use of the precious Red Hook waterfront that will continue to determine the character of our neighborhood.

    For better, or for worse.”

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  3. Your fondness for Red Hook is much appreciated, but your history causes concern as it repeats what have become standard errors thanks to the internet. My organization PortSide NewYork has been researching Red Hook to get beyond those old chestnuts and create a fuller, better understanding of the complex history of this little place. More coming at…

    Some specific comments:

    The following is not true: “it wasn’t really developed as a residential neighborhood for people other than dock workers and so it maintained its air of remoteness from the rest of Brooklyn.”

    Red Hook had a teaming population in a mixed use context. In fact, it was overcrowded at certain points. There were back houses behind the buildings you could see from the street and multigenerational families living per tenement floor. There was a Carnegie library, there was Ferry Place as a destination, thousands passed through it and Red Hook due to the Hamilton Avenue Ferry. There were once dozens of retail stores here, a testament to a large residential population. There was work in many factories and so workers were not just dock workers. One of the largest employers was a maritime business; but it was a shipyard, Todd, and their workers are not called “dock workers.”

    Red Hook is NOT the subject of the movie “On the Waterfront” though the issues of shape up, waterfront corruption and violence in the film apply to here. That movie is based on a real priest, Father Pete Corridan on Manhattan’s west side and is about issues on the Irish waterfront (Manhattan west side to Hudson County, NJ) see…

    If you mean to say that the “The Red Hook Initiative was formed” after Sandy, that is a real mistake. RHI celebrated their 10 year anniversary just shortly before Sandy at a large and well-attended fundraiser. RHI was in the position to be has helpful as they have been precisely because they have been here 10 years growing relationships in and knowledge of the community, that and the fact that their power did not go out.