Red Hook By The Water

August 18, 2009 § 63 Comments

This little nook of land projecting into the East River got its name from its characteristic red soil. The Dutch were the first to settle here over three hundred years ago and they named it Red Hook.

In early/ mid-nineteenth century, Red Hook was a bustling port, homing multitudes of longshoremen. An active industrial center throbbed in its heart- with a looming grain terminal, a sugar refinery, sundry warehouses and milling dockworkers.
By the latter half of the 20th century, the bust began. The biggest set back was the displacement of the shipping industry to New Jersey ports. Jobs as well as population declined steadily and by the end of 20th century what remained was a meager shadow of an industry that had been.
Efforts to revive the neighborhood failed remarkably, thanks to its geographic isolation. While there is new impetus to once again revive the area commercially, Red Hook is still considerably unchanged. Most of the dilapidated buildings and their industrial architecture remains intact, as development inches forward at an extremely slow pace.

What draws me to Red Hook is not just its history but also its present. As it sits at the edge of another wave of change, I am compelled to capture this place in its present, lest it changes too quickly or without a warning.

Perhaps, I am compelled by the romantic experience. A walk through this neighborhood is reminiscent of the bygone years since history has not yet washed away from its desolate shores. Perhaps, it is the surreal experience? The idea of a cranky life deciding to get up and walk out of here, leaving nothing but a ghost town behind; is haunting. The ghosts abound here freely, amidst looming warehouses, abandoned factories and deserted cobble-stone streets.

With you by my side, I plan to explore, and share this fascination some more:)

In this post we walk through the South-end of Red Hook. At the edge is the Erie basin – resplendent with anchored ships, ferries and remnants of a dwindling sea port:









Massive red-brick warehouses perimeter the waterfront and may I say, they are just unmissable! All along the water, their black metal doors and windows bellow and creak, and glow in the setting sun with warm ardor.

In the middle of these mammoth structures nests an abandoned set of  rail trolleys. Simply rustic and magnificent. These are the remains of Bob Diamond’s BHRA PCC cars project. They ran through Brooklyn for a good part of the 20th century, but finally, could not survive for lack of funding.






The massive Grain Terminal is where barges of grain were brought into NYC. Non-functional and gritty, it now appears to sprout awkwardly over a baseball field. Like a symbolic watchdog of the neighborhood, it still stands its ground it seems, undeterred and daunting:





And the Revere Sugar Refinery? It is currently in the process of being torn down so only a part of the structure remains. Jagged bricks jut out from the shrinking walls. Barely alive, it sinks slowly to the ground:



The adjoining streets seem mostly empty, desolate to be precise. But look closer, and they reveal a unique local flavor and quaint finds. Buildings, sidewalk installations, bars and nooks on streets are like intriguing oddities dotting the landscape here and there:








At dusk, I was back at the piers again, by the water. Because it is no secret that Red Hook By The Water shimmers like a tassel fringed with gorgeous sunsets. And who can resist that?:)

This was also my time for some quiet repose, when I contemplated the strange harmony that exists among these astounding views and the urban decay sprawling around in abandon.







Cities and neighborhoods evolve as a rule, but some take longer than usual, don’t they.

Red Hook has taken its time. Now, in the brink of a flux, will it welcome change or resent it? Will the City manage to preserve this unique industrial landscape or will it morph into just another mundane cityscape altogether?

What is your take on changing neighborhoods?

– The Juicer at work

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§ 63 Responses to Red Hook By The Water

  • pcadams says:

    Beautiful, Shipra! So many wonderful shots that it’s hard for me to pick out favorites, but I love the old trains and the sunsets.



    • The Juicer says:

      No worries Phil:) It’s definitely not just about picking favs:D
      While I was keen to recreate a sense of this neighborhood for you, I am curious about your observations and experience too. There is history everywhere, sometimes its traces are obvious like at Red Hook and at other times, obscure. Have you been in neighborhoods like these, and have you seen history fading, endangered, or preserved? Did the local community welcome the changes that came with time, or did they resist them?

  • I love them all! But a couple really blew my doors off! #’s 3, 18, 19 and the second to last! I think they should be hanging in a stylish loft in San Fran or NYC. Beautiful!

    • The Juicer says:

      Thank Scott- I could have delved a bit more deeper- if I had literally delved a bit deeper! Meaning- trespassed into those old standing structures!:) Well, I didn’t, and I keep thinking that’s not what we call an adventure!
      I hope your doors stay put, for I fear for the things certain Gypsy neighborhoods can do;) And come to think of it, since I wouldn’t trespass myself, maybe I need to take back my suggestion of you of going there undercover:D

  • Your images are outstanding – it is amazing how beautiful urban decay can be! There must be a reason for this… nostalgia?

    • The Juicer says:

      Yes, oodles of nostalgia! Urban decay never seizes to amaze me. Not just awe inspiring, but heart rending:)
      As these structures get torn down, and as mass retailers like Ikea and Fairway launch their mammoth outlets here, I fear we will lose the precious glimpses we have here of a bygone era. Economically reviving this area is not only inevitable but also relevant, but I wonder if it is possible to preserve some semblances of the past and strike a balance with the future?

  • Justin says:

    wow great shots! I really like the trams and the photo of the store front with all the stuff hanging in front of it!

    Hmm i think that neighbourhoods should retain what makes them unique. I know of some developments which embrace the current structures and turn them into homes. Like an abandoned factory is renovated on the inside to become units while the outside remains untouched.

    I think it has such a unique character to the location.

    • The Juicer says:

      The trams are sort of restored. Look again, and you will see a perimeter around them. Oh, made so many trips to catch the brick n metal buildings in the warm light at dusk! But I could not manage pics of these rusty trams glowing in the warm sun. The weather has been so fickle. I have to go back!
      That Black building had no name(!) and although it has all sorts of fishing equipment hanging over its facade, its actually a car repair shop. Heh.
      Right on about the restoration and conversion idea: a massive warehouse has been converted into a Fairway store right next to those trams. I definitely prefer that. I wonder how they could use the Grain Terminal, if they wished to retain it! Any ideas?:)

      • Justin says:

        ooo the grain terminal looks quite familiar to a building here in brisbane call the Powerhouse.

        Its been converted into a performing arts theatre! but the inside has retained most of its steel framework etc. it quite an interesting site… mm maybe i should go and take photos there!

        • The Juicer says:

          Oh please do! And share them! No one’s allowed inside this building, and a local showed me exactly how to sneak in/ trespass. Maybe I will, but for now, I didn’t:)
          Performing Arts Theater is a fabulous idea! Or an Art gallery? A lot of artists are moving into this neighborhood…and either one wouldn’t be a far fetched notion at all.

  • nina roos says:

    wauw!! I would love to live there. Supercool pictures. The colors and structures together with water and air. Wonderful really.

    • The Juicer says:

      Me too Nina! I am secretly hoping the place doesn’t change much by next year, when I can move!:D
      Yes- the elements are so raw and fascinating- the bricks, the metal, the air, the water and the sky! Well pointed out!

  • Satyam says:

    Capital, Ole’ pippy!!! Capital, Capital, Capital.

    • The Juicer says:

      Ha ha…ok beat this one: ‘Yes, sir,’ said Jeeves in a low, cold voice, as if he had been bitten in the leg by a personal friend…
      Contrary to Jeeves, I am jubilant with joy!:)

  • seanfraser says:

    You have given us a great ‘walk’. I feel I have just taken a journey through history and re-lived the incredible life and times of those who inhabited the ‘working harbour’. They are not there now but you can feel their presence everywhere.

    • The Juicer says:

      And you have said it so beautifully Sean…so glad this place resonated with you too:)
      Thanks for the comments, so concise, right at the heart of the matter, and in fewer words than I can ever manage!

  • Ravi Asrani says:

    Hi Juicer,

    Lovely vistas – you’ve outdone yourself once again. And the write-ups are quite thought-provoking. Go on, and keep it up.

    • The Juicer says:

      To tell you the truth, I wasn’t satisfied with this post, and that’s why it got a bit delayed. Sometimes it is tough to capture what we see! Thanks, thrilled to see you in the comments section! Always appreciate your feedback, on or off the blog:)

  • Simone says:

    Hi Shipra, your photos are always beautiful and exciting…!!!
    I like very much…!!!
    Have a good time…

  • Vicki says:

    Memorialistic photography! Well done Shipra, its a notable and solemn way to pay homage to former days gone by…. The echos rise from the page!
    I especially love the green train…and the sunsets are divinely inspired to be sure!
    At least the heavens remember this place!

    Hugs my love!

    • The Juicer says:

      Did you just coin the phrase Memorialistic photography?:) I love it! We could start a blog together based on that idea…and it need not be just about photography. What do you say? Ever since I have read your comment, I can’t get it out of my mind!
      And I think your nostalgia resonates with mine/ Yes in this place/ The heavens shine.

      • Vicki says:

        HaHa! Yes, its my new word for your way thinking and photography! Memorialist is a real word though! LOL

        Can you imagine how oblique our blog together would be….? Wow…a whole lot of fun !

        Love you babe! Keep up the fantastic work and writing!

  • not bad!
    this stuff could fetch u work! :)

    Very nice..

  • Rabi says:

    Fantastic. There always is something about urban decay that is just…magical.



  • Awesome work here. I love that shot with the yellow walls, a spot of sunshine amongst all that decay. A junkyard of memories indeed.

    • The Juicer says:

      You mean the one with the green truck parked on the side? That’s Sunny’s Bar. It opens up on the weekends, definitely on most Saturdays, but not many Fridays:) If that sounds like it doesn’t make any sense, you’d be right! The owner just decides to open up the place when he wishes to:)
      No consistency needed here, in a world of decrepit decay…

  • David says:

    I love the two cranes. Are they standing guard, or did they fall out years ago and won’t talk to one another..

  • there are many places in Kansas City that don’t exactly ‘change’ as much as they ‘decay’ in the hidden corners…or like the West Bottoms they lurk on a tightrope of indecision to re-rise or fall and scatter a like terrified cattle.

    —good photo essay–thanks

  • Thanks for the tour Shipra, in both word and photo. Nicely imagined as always. Cheers.

  • Suchit Nanda says:

    Thanks for your comment on my images & gallery posted here:

    In a slight rush as I’m leaving out of town but just a short note to say that you have a nice and varied set of images.


    ~ Suchit

  • Meigha says:

    clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky…Tagore. beautiful photos..hats off!

  • Amit says:

    You’ve surfaced with an intriguing pitcuresque, interpretation and most importantly you have induced elements of life in the place that seems (to me) nothing more than an isolated, abandoned port.

    Your narration of red hook by the water is simple a ‘symphony’ of past, present and future ..where music of life has always been there ! Well done !

    • The Juicer says:

      Oooh…I get so much inspiration from the comments on these pages!
      Love that symphony analogy! It’s just so delightful when you embroil yourself so deeply in a post…it is as if you were there with me…quite surreal I say:)

  • bookbloggy says:

    I love your blog!

  • Sushmit says:

    good stuff this…somehow like the metallic landscape with the buses a lot

  • Feanare says:

    What really fascinates me is how people can more or less abandon places. How they can just move away, letting the buildings become empty. Whether it’s a neighborhood or an old town. Simply because people need buildings, and buildings need people.

    A great choice of subject, with some photos which will probably be stuck in my mind for the rest of the day :)

    • The Juicer says:

      Very interesting thought Feanare- I am looking at the migration process quite belatedly here. Would be revealing to capture the change, when it’s taking place. Interview the locals amidst the flux, esp those who are packing their bags, leaving emptiness behind.
      Perhaps this story would’ve been more complete if I had researched and interviewed some locals who have stayed back. I did meet someone who has been working at the docks for about 17 years…not too long ago..but perhaps…a little prodding could have led to me to other older inhabitants too! I will keep that in mind for my newer projects!:)

      If my photos are going to stick in your head for even a little while, I have an excuse to celebrate! :D

  • Renée says:

    I love these.. the bright vans are so fun:)
    That is amainzing seeing that place…. times have changed for sure!

    • The Juicer says:

      True, it is something else, this place. A lot more needed from me, I need to go back many more times, photograph more, and at leisure. It’s a treasure trove:)
      Welcome to my space, I hope you will drop by again to share your thoughts. Loads of fun rides in the offing :)

  • Neil Reid says:

    It’s good to have you there, keeping the memory for us. I’m more the small town boy, but I am rather fond of “place” and can understand, appreciate your willing eye. And too, riding the train oft my sight will catch at some old long past empty building, and can’t but wonder all the history now unseen. Beautiful, what you do.

    Your Dragon series was also a very welcome sight. Well seen and done.

    • The Juicer says:

      Thanks Neil, I understand what you mean by love for ‘Place’ and all that it embodies. The history, the stories and future possibilities of Place are captivating foods for thought. The visual treat is simply irresistible for the meandering eye.
      So glad you dropped by again!

  • Musie says:

    I always love your photography, and I adore Red Hook. You’ve managed to capture the romantic, dilapidated spirit of the place. Inspiration for me to go wandering there again!

  • terryodee says:

    Great interpretation and the words make it for me. A few years back i visited a village here in France named Oradour-sur-Glane, it’s history is markedly different, but reading this reminded me of my visit there, the events that took place in Oradour-sur-Glane happened in a couple of hours and the real truth of what happened will, in my view, never be known, what happened in Red Hook has taken half a century, but to me it is another form of destruction of community brought about by external ‘forces’, be it for profit or for power, communties are ruined, livellihoods taken away, families and friends dispersed.
    Image wise. the abandoned carriages speak the loudest to me, it is as though the community just said “F##k It” and walked away.

    • The Juicer says:

      Yeah, the capitalistic external forces did Red Hook in for half a century or so. And yes, the community moved on. Forced to move on or maybe they gave in to the circumstances. Now, as the economy slows down, this area could provide an opportunity for development and growth. If we find a way to restore and also build, perhaps we could say that it came to a full circle. If this becomes just another clone of a 21st century American suburb, I would be a bit disappointed. But knowing myself, I might set out to find some meaning behind that phenomenon too. However cliched and utterly dull it might seem.
      I guess, they have probably figured it all out already in urban life-cycle literature?! I guess! :)
      Curious about Oradour-sur-Glane and it’s history. I will read what I can find. Talk with you some more.

  • timm says:

    I could write a long comment but then I wouldn’t have time to go catch up on the earlier photos that I missed. I will be back, a lot. Killer photos!

  • Nishank says:

    move to bombay shipra. make this city look good too :) plllllleeeeeeeeeassssse

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