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The ‘historic’ Gowanus Canal

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The very thing that turned the Gowanus Canal from a fresh, oyster-filled creek into an oily “Lavender Lake” may be the thing that prevents it from going back to the good old days.

As both the city and private developers prepare to build residential housing along the banks of Brooklyn’s eerie canal, preservationists are trying to block such redevelopment by getting the canal zone “protected” as a historic district.

“It would be nice to try to preserve a sense of that history for the canal,” said Marilyn Oliva, a member of several Community Board 6 committees.

The Army Corps of Engineers put such hope within reach. In 2004, the Corps determined that several canal zone buildings and bridges are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places — including the Carroll Street bridge (already a city landmark); a pumping station on Butler Street; and the Bowne Grain Storehouse, a 19th-century warehouse on Smith and Creamer streets.

Currently, none of those structures are endangered by development plans, but Toll Brothers, which wants to build hundreds of units of housing, commercial space and a public esplanade, has already leveled one building eligible for historic recognition — the Foreman Blades Lumber warehouse on Second Street.

“People who live in that immediate area want to see some of that heritage preserved,” said Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors.

Activists admitted that there was some irony in trying to retain the current polluted state of the canal by seeking protection for the industrial buildings that hastened its demise during the 19th and 20th centuries. But they said it’s possible to separate the buildings themselves from the messy business that went on inside.

“They are perfect specimens of what industrial buildings looked like at the start of the Industrial Revolution,” said Betty Stoltz, a member of Friends and Residents of the Greater Gowanus. “Think of it this way: I don’t love everything the Church does, but I don’t want to see churches destroyed.”

With the industrialists and their polluting antics long gone, residents are now directing their ire at developers who threaten the historical buildings. But developers say that a side benefit of their plans to build along the canal, once celebrated for dinner-plate-sized oysters, will be improvements to water quality and public access.

Updated 5:05 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

al pankin from boro hall says:
I have been driving past this blight for the past 43 years, it's about time this area is finally getting rebuilt. if the preservations wanted to keep these buildings they should have personally bought them, they were real cheap and couldn't be given away. now that they are worth something they want to preserve them. they had all these years to do something.BUY THEM
March 21, 2008, 7:39 am
TJ and MP from Carroll Gardens says:
In cities like New Orleans the facades of building are preserved and the interiors are converted into housing, shops, businesses, etc.

In New York we either KEEP AS IS until it falls down or some developers pays a homeless man to set fire to the buildings (remember the waterfront fires 2 years ago?) OR we feel we MUST rip down the buildings and replace them with 30 story glass towers.

Why don't we keep the face & rebuild the belly?
March 26, 2008, 2:44 pm

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