Red Hook

Quirky stuff: The German soldier in the Red Hook basement

March 18, 2019 Lore Croghan
Victoria Alexander of Realty Collective stands outside 204 Van Dyke St. in Red Hook. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen in Brooklyn lately?

For me, it’s the German soldier in the basement.

He’s wearing a helmet with a spike on top of it, which suggests he fought in World War I. He’s a drawing scratched into the cement floor in the basement of 204 Van Dyke St. in Red Hook.

Another hint that he’s German is an inscription carved next to his face that says, “Go To Hell With Germany.” A second image etched in the cement is an American flag flying beside the words “Vivat America.”

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This enigmatic drawing is scratched into the basement floor at 204 Van Dyke St. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
This enigmatic drawing is scratched into the basement floor at 204 Van Dyke St. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan.

Victoria Alexander, the president of Realty Collective, showed me the soldier when I visited the old industrial building on Sunday.

She’s in charge of marketing newly available space for rent at the property, which has frontage on Van Dyke, Ferris and Coffey streets. It’s right up the block from Louis Valentino Jr. Park and Pier.

The motives of the unknown artist who drew the soldier in the cement will forever remain a mystery.

Was he a father with a son who went off to war against the Germans? Was he an immigrant who wanted to show suspicious colleagues how loyal he was to the United States?


How old are those stone walls?

There are old stone walls in part of 204 Van Dyke St.’s basement. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
There are old stone walls in part of 204 Van Dyke St.’s basement. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan.

Surely you’ve seen the building with the soldier in the basement. It has memorable murals on its facade – including one of famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

The single-story brick warehouse belongs to the Robbins family. A couple of years ago they sold their business, Cornell Paper and Box Co., which had occupied it.

There’s another thing you should know about 204 Van Dyke St.’s basement. It’s that the Robbins family believes the stone walls down there could be the remnants of Fort Defiance, Alexander said.

The fort looms large in our borough’s history. It played a key role in the Battle of Brooklyn during the Revolutionary War.

Alexander has asked a historian from PortSide New York, which operates a Red Hook museum and cultural center, to evaluate the walls.

The Robbins’ willingness to delve into their building’s past is “commendable,” said Carolina Salguero, PortSide New York’s founder and director.

“Many property owners run from the idea of historic research and preservation,” she said.

Eat, drink and be married?

Here’s 185 Van Dyke St., seen from Valentino Pier. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Here’s 185 Van Dyke St., seen from Valentino Pier. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan.

Alexander is also handling the leasing at waterfront 185 Van Dyke St., which the Robbins family owns. Space that their paper-supply company used at the 19th-century warehouse is also newly available for rent.

Likely tenants at the two properties include food and beverage manufacturers, furniture makers, tech startups, artisans and art galleries, she told me.

“They’re entrepreneurs who can’t find space they can afford in other Brooklyn neighborhoods,” Alexander said.

Asking rents range from $25 per square foot per year for industrial tenants to $40 per square foot per year for ready-to-move-into office space.

Prospective tenants who have been talking with Alexander about 204 Van Dyke St. include operators of a nightclub, an events space, a commissary kitchen and a film-production company and two artists, she said. A food-production company is thinking about opening a tasting room with a roof deck.

This is a view of the Statue of Liberty from the water-facing side of 185 Van Dyke St. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
This is a view of the Statue of Liberty from the water-facing side of 185 Van Dyke St. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan.

At 185 Van Dyke St., which has views of the Statue of Liberty, a beer hall operator is talking to her about leasing a location. So is an operator of an events space for weddings. A film-editing company is considering a move to the building, too.

Red Hook is “a strong, creative, resilient and connected community,” property manager Brian Robbins said via email. “People need to know they can have their business succeed here.”

His family got into real estate leasing after Superstorm Sandy. They shrank the square footage their paper-supply company was using at 185 Van Dyke St. and rented the freed-up space to neighborhood businesses the October 2012 hurricane had displaced.

Follow Brooklyn Eagle reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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