Buildings on the banks of the filthy Gowanus Canal are pieces of history worth saving, neighborhood activists say.
A community group wants to create an official Gowanus historic district that would encompass a total of 422 properties, including the Batcave, a former subway powerhouse that a millionaire wants to transform into an arts complex, and myriad other warehouses and industrial lots. The activists behind the preservation bid say that, though few traces of the fight remain, the area saw the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brooklyn and that plenty of other history lurks in the canal’s murky depths and the area’s unassuming factory yards.
“People walk around in a dream half the time, I think — they don’t really get it, they don’t see what lies beneath,” said Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus member Linda Mariano, who has been interested in getting the preservation designation since the 1980s. “I’m a history buff and that’s what it’s all about.”
The 53-block area is a prime example of urban industry dating back to the mid-19th century, according to the application, which the state will vote on in two months.
If the canal-side neighborhood were recognized as historic, there would be no restrictions as to what locals could do with their properties unless they needed federal funding or a permit from a state agency, which would trigger a formal review, according to a state spokesman.
An area businessman penned a letter slamming the plan, arguing that neighbors were not properly informed about the application, that the tax credit qualification process would be too burdensome, and that Gowanus is just downright not historic enough.
“I don’t feel that it’s in the best interests of the community to have designations in a diverse area that doesn’t even have the characteristics to qualify,” said Gowanus Alliance president Paul Basile, who owns several one-story warehouses on Seventh Street and one on Baltic Street. “It’s not a progressive strategy for Gowanus moving forward.”
The neighborhood’s Community Board 6 is planning to ask elected officials to push a bill that would require the state to notify community boards about developments such as considering historic designation bids and closure plans like the one recently approved for a Park Slope old folks home, both of which caught board members off guard.