Monday, May 09, 2016

The Municipal Art Society Of New York's 'Jane's Walk 2016' Included A Fascinating Tour Of Gowanus Led By Long-Time Resident Linda Mariano

Linda Mariano, long time resident and guide of the Municipal Art Society Of New York's 'Jane Walk 2016 Gowanus'.
This past week-end, the Municipal Art Society Of New York organized more than 200 citizen-led neighborhood walks around New York City as part of the sixth annual Jane's Walk.

Inspired by activist and journalist Jane Jacobs, who authored The Death And Life Of Great American Cities in 1961, the walks are meant to get people to explore their city and connect residents to their communities.

One of the walks was organized by my good friend and long time Gowanus resident Linda Mariano, who is a passionate advocate of her neighborhood in her own right. The walk included a tour of the Gowanus Canal Pumping Station and Flushing Tunnel at Butler Street, a tour of J&M Special Effects at 524 Sackett Street and a visit to the Old Stone House at Washington Park, located at the corner of Third Street and 4th Avenue.

It was a fascinating look at Gowanus' history, industry and infrastructure.
The Gowanus Canal at Butler Street
Kevin Clarke. left, of NYC Department Of Environmental Protection explaining about the Gowanus Canal pumping station and flushing tunnel
The first stop on the walk was at the head of the 1.8 mile Gowanus Canal. Kevin Clarke, an environmental engineer for New York City's Department Of Environmental Protection, gave the group an overview of the facilities at Butler Street  that are designed to flush out and oxygenate the fetid canal by pulling in clean water from Buttermilk Channel.

The original flushing tunnel was completed in June 1911 but it relied on a huge steam-powered ship propellor that failed in the 1960's. For more than 30 years, the tunnel and the flushing mechanism lay in disrepair.  In 1999, the City refurbished and reactivate the system, but the attempt was less than successful.
Finally, in 2013, DEP began a thorough upgrade of both the tunnel and the flushing system.

The upgrade included significant improvements, which replaced the ship's propeller with vertical turbine pumps. All three pumps were switched on in May 2014. This new piece of infrastructure has increased the flow of fresh water into the canal from 150 million gallons a day to 215 gallons a day.
Allison Aaron of J&M Special Effects
The second stop of the Gowanus walking tour was a visit to J&;M Special Effects, a very unique business located in an old brick warehouse adjacent to the canal at Sackett Street.

J&M has been serving the entertainment industry since 1985, supplying the entertainment industry with pyrotechnics, smoke, rain, fire, wind, snow, and unique custom effects along with theatrical weapons, and blood.  J&M's effects are used in theaters, for films, TV, still photography and commercials and can currently been seen in 'The Crucible' on Broadway and in 'American Psycho'.

Co-owner and pyrotechnical Allison Aaron led the group around the facility and explained that this industry is highly regulated and finding a suitable location is difficult since the business needs to be in a self contained, free standing space, with high ceilings and lots of ventilation.
More importantly, proximity to the performing arts community it serves is crucial to its existence.

Gowanus has been home to J&M for the past 11 years and the business has clearly thrived here despite severe damage during Hurricane Sandy. (Parts of the building were under four and a half feet of water.) What will happen after J&M's lease runs out in 9 years? For the past several years, New York City and our Councilman Brad Lander have been talking about a Gowanus rezoning which would re-map a lot of industrial spaces for residential use.

It would be difficult to imagine Gowanus without businesses like J&M. One hopes that they will have a future in this neighborhood and will be allowed to grow in this City, despite the pressures of developers and politicians.

Kim Maier, Executive Director of The Old Stone HouseIMG_7957
The last stop on the Jane Walk 2016 tour of Gowanus was at the Old Stone House, a reconstructed 1699 Dutch farmhouse that was central to the Battle of Brooklyn. The house is located in Washington Park and JJ Byrne Playground, at the border of Gowanus and Park Slope.

Kim Maier, Executive Director of this historic site and museum, explained that the home was originally built in 1699 by the Vechte family, Dutch immigrants who farmed the land along Gowanus Creek and transported their produce to lower Manhattan. It was sold to the Cortelyou family in 1790 and in 1852, it was bought by Edwin Litchfield, a rich railroad developer.

The house became a significant landmark of the American Revolutionary war. On August 27, 1776, the first battle in the conflict between George Washington's Continental Army and the British took place right in front of its doorsteps.

A visit to the Old Stone House's museum is certainly worthwhile.  Don't forget to walk up the steps to see the long room upstairs and take time to admire the wonderful plantings in the small garden surrounding the house.

I would like to thank my friend Linda Mariano for allowing me to join her Gowanus tour.  Linda is a true inspiration to me.  She has been fighting to protect the integrity of Gowanus as a vibrant industrial neighborhood, has fought tirelessly for a thorough clean-up of the canal, and knows virtually everyone in the neighborhood.  I could not have imagined a better guide for this walking tour.
Linda, you are a modern day Jane Jacobs and my hero.  Keep on fighting!


Susan Shapiro said...

Love you Linda!!!! XO

Margaret Maugenest said...

What a great picture of Linda!!! It really captures her joyous spirit (on a rainy day!). xoxo

Katia said...

Doesn't it, Margaret? She has the brightest smile.

Anonymous said...

Love Linda.
Also there is a typo Katia. Should be fought not caught.
And does anyone know who renovated the cement house next to wholefoods?

Katia said...

Thanks for the edit. Auto correct can be such a pain sometimes.

The cement building you are referring to is the landmarked Coignet building. When Whole Foods purchased the land occupied by their Gowanus store, the company agreed to renovate the building which the seller of the land excluded from the sale.

Anonymous said...

Any chance there will be another such tour? Maybe when the sun is out?

Katia said...

Linda, who is a member of Friends and Residents go Greater Gowanus has lead many tours of the neighborhood for FROGG. I'll make sure to post about any future ones.