The Gowanus Canal - South
Fifth / Sixth Streets
5th St is bisected by the canal. 6th Street only exists on the east side of the canal with the analogous street on the west side called Nelson St.
The six acre brownfield on the west bank of the Gowanus Canal between 5th and Nelson Streets was the home of a manufactured gas plant (MGP) which converted coal to gas for use in buildings, street lights and industrial processes. Manufactured gas was widely used in the late 19th and early 20th century, but competition from oil and natural gas led to the end of most manufactured gas production by the mid 1960s.
The plant at this location was built by Citizens Gas Company and opened soon after the Gowanus Canal opened in the 1860s and provided convenient shipping of coal to the plant. The plant initially consisted of three gas holding tanks, a retort house and coal storage areas. The plant was purchased by Brooklyn Union Gas (later renamed KeySpan) in 1895. A fertilizer plant on the lot just to the south closed sometime before 1915 and that lot was used for additional tar handling facilities and oil storage tanks. The plant reached its peak size and output in 1939. As manufactured gas became less popular, the site was converted to an oil gasification plant in 1952 before closing in the 1960s. The plant was subsequently demolished and Brooklyn Union Gas sold the land in 1969.
Manufactured gas production creates significant toxic materials, notably coal tars that seep into the ground and do not degrade with time. The careless handling practices of the 19th and early 20th century lead to significant contamination of the area and ignorance of the problem once the facilities had been demolished. The lot to the northeast on the canal became a concrete plant. The lot to the north along Smith St became a truck maintenance facility and parking lot. In 1971, a large warehouse was built on the lot to the south. The main lot itself remained barren when I visited in 2008, although plans were to get superfund money to clean up the site and turn it into a mixed-use development for the wealthy and powerful called "The Public Place".
St. Mary's Playground
St. Mary's Playground is a parks facility under the 9th Street subway viaduct. It is named for the nearby St. Mary's Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church, which was founded in 1851 and given a name common to sea-faring communities. The viaduct for the IND Crosstown line opened in 1933. The land was acquired by the NY Dept. of Transportation in 1934 by the WPA with the intention of using it for the proposed Gowanus Expressway. The expressway was routed to the south (opening in 1941) and in 1955 the land was transferred to the Parks Department. The first playgrounds opened in the late 1960s.
Meanwhile on the far more industrial east side of the canal, just north of the corner of 5th Street sits a small subterranean pumping station that seems to be unrelated to the Butler/Douglass St pumping station. Although I haven't found any reference to the 5th St pumping station in the Army Corps of Engineers documentation or online, I could definitely hear water gurgling through grates in the sidewalk, and I presume that the water flushes the 4th and/or 6th Street basins.
Eagle Clothes opened a plant on 6th St between 3rd/4th Avenues in 1951. They filed for bankruptcy in 1989, although their sign has remained, perhaps because its sturdy construction will require considerable effort to demolish. (VanishingNewYork)
Seventh / Eighth / Huntington Streets
7th and 8th Streets only exist on the east side of the canal, with the closest analagous street on the west side being Huntington Street.
Culver Viaduct / Ninth Street Bridge / Smith Street Station
This is actually two bridges in one.
The upper Culver Viaduct houses the IND Smith/9th Street Station opened on 7/1/1933 and is the highest elevated station in the NYC subway system, sitting 91 feet over the Gowanus Canal. It has two truss spans surrounding the platforms.
Underneath the subway station is a vertical lift bridge for 9th Street (NYC BIN #2240240). This bridge opened in 2000 to replace a deteriorated bascule bridge originally built in 1903 on the same contract with the Union and Third Street bridges further up the canal. The lift span is 82 feet to provide a channel width of 60 feet under three lanes of traffic and two sidewalks. When raised, the lift span provides a vertical clearance of 60 feet above mean high water. Because the bridge sits underneath another bridge, the normal configuration of two counterweights over the roadway on either side was not possible while providing the maximum clearance, necessitating the unusual use of four counterweights - one on each pillar. The bridge was designed by Hadesty and Hanover, LLP Consulting Engineers
The viaduct concrete deteriorated considerably over the years and a fabric cladding was wrapped around the supporting structure to prevent chunks of concrete from falling off and causing damage or injury. (NY Times 2009).
4th Avenue IND Station
The IND subway line continues east from the canal on the elevated viaduct between 9th and 10th streets to the elevated 4th Avenue Station.
This station and the 9th/Smith St station are "local" stations, although there is actually no service on the express tracks, which may have been built simply to provide an opportunity for future system expansion. The southbound G train terminates at 9th/Smith, then performs a crossover at the 4th Avenue station, resting on the express track east and then performing another crossover to return on the northbound local track, thus making it difficult to actually implement express service on the express tracks. The tracks go subterranean at 4th Street as they head toward Prospect Park and the F train terminus at Coney Island.
Ninth - Twelfth Streets
The businesses most actively using the canal are on the lower half of the canal and deal with heavy, time-insensitive commodities like gravel, fuel oil and scrap metal that are perfectly suited to shipping by water. Accordingly, a concrete plant, scrap metal yard and fuel oil terminal are located on the west bank of the canal between 9th street and Hamilton Avenue - with ready access to the main roads through the area and water access requiring raising only the Hamilton Parkway bridge.
Hamilton Avenue Bridge
This southernmost crossing of the canal is another two-for-one bridge, with the Gowanus Expressway on the upper viaduct and the Hamilton Avenue bascule drawbridge directly below it. The drawbridge contains two separate parallel spans (one for eastbound, one for westbound - NYC BIN #2240231/2). This has been a very popular crossing point since the canal was a creek and a number of different bridges have been built here since the mid 19th century, including bascule bridges in 1905 and 1942. It was renovated around 2005, although I'm not sure how much of the 1905/1942 bridge (if any) was incorporated into the renovation.
12/18/2008 03:17 PM
Under the Gowanus Expressway viaduct looking west toward the Hamilton Avenue Bridge
DOT Hamilton Plant
This is where New York City's streets come from. Just to the south of Hamilton Avenue on the east bank of the Gowanus Canal is the NYC Department of Transportation's Hamilton Plant where asphalt paving material (asphalt concrete) is made by combining gravel and the thick liquid residue from the distillation of crude oil.
As the Gowanus Canal empties into the bay, to the west is the Red Hook neighborhood which was originally settled by the Dutch in 1636 and was later annexed into Brooklyn. After the American Civil War, developer and railroad contractor William Beard (1806-1886) initiated the development of what has been marshland into Erie Basin, a man-made harbor and storage depot that began the boom in Brooklyn dock activity. After WW-II, dock activity diminished considerably with the advent of containerization and the movement of most port shipping to New Jersey. The neighborhood was also cut off from Brooklyn with the opening of the Cross-Bronx Distressway and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, and had no subway service, leaving it perennially depressed and, untimately, ripe for adventurously greedy developers during the building boom of the early 2000s. In 2006 Fairway opened a grocery store in the Civil-War-era Red Hook Stores building. In 2008, the furniture store Ikea opened an outlet on the site of the former Todd Shipyards.