Once upon a time in Red Hook, there were pirates, outbreaks of wood alcohol poisoning and people who hated, gasp, Fairway.
The past of Brooklyn’s mythologized waterfront hamlet has finally arrived in newsprint form on a public fence at the corner of Sackett and Columbia streets — ironically, just outside of the area now defined as Red Hook, in the Columbia Heights Waterfront District.
The installation, “Red Hook: An Exploration of Identity,” is a six-foot-high collage of New York Times articles going back 155 years and illustrations of the stories created by artist Robyn Hasty.
Hasty created the piece using every New York Times story with “Red Hook” in the title between 1851 and 2003, about 200 in total.
The Parsons student said her favorite story was a 19th century brief about pirates paying a visit to an old shipyard on the Hook’s southern tip. That shipyard was recently demolished to build an Ikea superstore that will shape the neighborhood’s future.
A Bushwick resident, Hasty said she is fascinated by Red Hook’s ability to maintain a distinct identity even as the differences between surrounding neighborhoods blur.
“It’s hard to say how that [identity] will shift with the gentrification that is happening now,” she said.
But judging from the artist’s wall of history, that gentrification is a long time coming. A 1976 Times piece on “loft living” artists renovating a furniture factory on Tiffany Place should extinguish any lingering fantasies that one can still be a pioneer in the neighborhood.
One developer who has played a huge role in the neighborhood’s evolution, Greg O’Connell, told The Stoop that he thought the piece should stay forever.
“This is the history of an amazing community,” said O’Connell, who converted several Civil War–era warehouses on the waterfront into artists’ studios before completing the final piece of the Beard Street complex: the Fairway.
When asked about the clip headlined “Brooklyn Groups Sue to Keep Supermarket out of Red Hook,” O’Connell laughed.
“That’s Red Hook,” he said, “I don’t bring up [the lawsuit] when I see them shopping there now.”