Take a stroll on Hamilton Avenue and Columbia Street in Red Hook
Eye on Real Estate: Sometimes you need an urban adventure. How about a stroll beneath a highway?
If it leads you through Red Hook, it’s totally worthwhile.
There’s a gritty beauty to the underside of the BQE when you see it from Hamilton Avenue.
Don’t worry. There’s a sidewalk, so this route is safely walkable. I’m heading to Columbia Street — which runs past leafy green parks and an urban farm that contrast with the highway system’s blacktop, concrete and steel.
If you don’t live in transit-challenged Red Hook, the closest subway stop to the neighborhood is the F and G station at Smith and Ninth streets. The station is a couple blocks from Hamilton Avenue.
A walkway in the sky
The starting point on this stroll is the sidewalk on the Hamilton Avenue Bridge over the Gowanus Canal.
The span was constructed in 1942 and is a “bascule bridge,” which is a type of drawbridge made of two parallel leaves for the northbound and southbound roadways. The toxic canal is a federal Superfund site.
On its far shore, at 595 Smith St., you’ll see a single wall standing on a vast empty lot. This is a remnant of the historic S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse, which was constructed in 1886. Activists and elected officials fought to get the building landmarked. Its owner, the Chetrit Group, tore it down.
Head up Hamilton Avenue in the direction of Court and Clinton streets.
Some of the streets that run into Hamilton Avenue are lined with handsome rowhouses, for instance Nelson Street and Henry Street. Here and there, you’ll see businesses such as auto repair shops.
Did you know there’s a pedestrian overpass above the BQE that connects Red Hook and Carroll Gardens? I never realized it until I took this walk the other day, but the highway’s got a pedestrian overpass that connects Red Hook and Carroll Gardens. Its entrance ramp is located at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Luquer Street.
When you’re scared of heights like some of us (meaning me), walking over a highway on a fenced-in path definitely qualifies as an adventure.
In this case, the scenery was so interesting. You can see the top of the World Trade Center. And at the far end of the walkway, there’s a sunlit red-brick wall that’s the side of the Brooklyn New School on Henry Street.
After you double back on the overpass, Hamilton Avenue continues for a couple more blocks to the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel.
This is the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which was renamed to honor the governor who played a big role in rescuing New York from financial collapse in the 1970s.
It’s North America’s longest continuous underwater tunnel, the MTA’s website says.
There’s a sidewalk by the tunnel’s entrance at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Columbia Street. You can get a good view of the World Trade Center without straying into traffic.
Lunch and lovely rowhouses
After the highway scenery along Hamilton Avenue, the first block of Columbia Street rowhouses seems especially tranquil and charming.
This block is a great place to linger if it’s warm enough for the outdoor seating at Camila’s Cafe (358 Columbia St.) on the corner of Seabring Street. Across the street, Jam’It Bistro (367 Columbia St.) serves Jamaican food.
There’s lots of cool stuff to see at the next intersection. You’ll notice the cross street is Commerce Street on one side and Luquer Street on the other. The street grid is complicated in this part of Red Hook.
A mural on the façade of low-rise 22 Commerce St. is eye-catching. The trash bins in front of the building are painted to be part of the mural, which is a nice touch.
An online posting says that Re:Gen:Cy is located in the building. It’s “a community and event space supporting sustainable development” by hosting educational programs, supporting small businesses and providing “a platform for regenerative projects to form.”
On the corner of Luquer Street, at 379 Columbia St., there’s an Italian sandwich shop that has been in business since 1922. The shop, which is called Defonte’s, is known for its huge hero sandwiches.
A bit further down the street, the bright-white painted brick facade of 5 Luquer St. caught my eye. I noticed this house when I took my walk, and a couple days later, the New York Post mentioned it in an article about five Brooklyn neighborhoods that are great places to live.
The story noted that the house was for sale for an asking price of $1.65 million. A posting on listing broker Compass’s website says the house is in contract.
A HUD foreclosure
When you turn back onto Columbia Street, you’ll soon see it forms a traffic triangle with Dwight Street. The third leg of the triangle is called Nelson Street at the corner of Columbia Street and Delavan Street at the corner of Dwight Street.
A portion of the street across from the triangle is blocked from vehicles with skinny bollards and painted with an aquatic mural.
A big former industrial building at 5 Delavan St. is called the Monarch Luggage Factory Lofts. It photographs well when viewed from the corner of Dwight and Verona streets, too.
On Columbia and Verona streets, there’s an apartment complex the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development foreclosed on in 2001, city Finance Department records show.
Later that year, HUD sold a package of properties that included the complex to a private owner for $100,000. The deed specifies that all the apartments in the complex must be maintained as affordable-housing units for 25 years from the date it was signed.
Past the corner of Verona Street, Columbia Street runs down the middle of the multi-block Red Hook Houses. HUD’s Regional Administrator Lynne Patton visited this New York City Housing Authority complex in August to hear residents’ complaints, the Brooklyn Eagle previously reported.
Last winter, HUD appointed a federal monitor to make sure NYCHA corrects chronic problems at its properties.
Parks and an urban farm
On the corner of Verona and Dwight streets, you’ll see eight-acre Coffey Park. It’s a leafy oasis.
After Columbia Street crosses Lorraine Street, you’ll pass a huge vacant lot at 55 Bay St. A single-story, 95,787-square-foot development is planned for the site.
Past the intersection of Columbia and Bay streets, you find Red Hook Park.
The running track looks newly refinished and is bright red.
A fence surrounding Red Hook Soccer Field 3 in the middle of the track reminds you it’s off limits because the ground is contaminated with lead. A soil cleanup by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the city Parks Department is in the works.
Across from Red Hook Park, an eye-catching new building at 556 Columbia St. houses a school called Basis Independent Brooklyn. It is on the corner of Sigourney Street.
On the opposite corner of Sigourney Street there’s picturesque, productive Columbia Street Farm. Rows of leafy greens look ready to eat. There’s a composting site.
The 2.75-acre urban farm at 560 Columbia St. was created in 2001 on the site of a concrete baseball field, its website says.
RIP Todd Shipyard
IKEA is nearby at 1 Beard St. I didn’t go inside because I would have stayed for hours browsing through the housewares.
Instead, I continued walking down Columbia Street to Erie Basin Park. IKEA was required to construct the 6.3-acre park after the City Planning Commission okayed the demolition of historic Todd Shipyard to make way for the construction of the Swedish furniture retailer’s mega-store.
The shipyard dated back to the 1860s.
Gantry cranes that were salvaged from the shipyard are displayed in the park. They stand pretty far away from the Columbia Street side of the recreation area. You should walk to the other end of the park so you can take good photos of them.
When you return to Columbia Street and head south again, the sidewalk runs right along the shoreline. A facility called GBX-Gowanus Bay Terminal is there on your left.
John Quadrozzi Jr. is the president of the terminal, where a wide range of industrial businesses such as scrap metal processors and fuel companies are located.
The most eye-catching feature of the terminal is the 120-foot-tall Red Hook Grain Terminal, which was built in 1922.
If you want to take a break, there are benches on the sidewalk where you can sit and listen to gulls’ cries. When you look north, Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn towers are arrayed on the horizon.
When you start walking again, that’s Erie Basin on your right. Businesses such as VIP Fire Sprinklers Inc. are located there.
Columbia Street curves. When you look out over the water, you’ll see Industry City down in Sunset Park.
The building at the very end of Columbia Street is the NYPD’s Erie Basin vehicular evidence storage facility.
You’ll have to turn around and retrace your steps to public transportation — city buses pick up passengers outside IKEA — or to get to Van Brunt Street for afternoon tea or happy-hour drinks.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
Eye on Real Estate is veteran reporter Lore Croghan’s weekly column on Brooklyn’s built environment. Whether it’s old as Abraham Lincoln or so new it hasn’t topped out yet, if a building is eye-catching, Eye will show it to you.
Leave a Comment
Leave a Comment