Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gowanus Wilderness

It must be in the air--Gowanus Lounge just visited the former (?) Whole Foods site as did I. Who can resist a hole in a fence on an abandoned lot turned wilderness? At the opening, with one foot in, a shiver runs through you. It's like standing at the edge of a zoo habitat and realizing the gate is wide open. You can't see the animals crouching in the weeds, but you feel their presence.

Cement silos, a glittering pile of scrap grabbed by giant mechanical hands, the rib cage of the viaduct silhouetted in the distance...

There is something about industrial wastelands that fires the imagination. Especially when they include graffiti, thick vegetation, and castaway toilets. The decaying and forgotten--these are haunted landscapes, filled with possibility and risk. The danger of nature unbridled, pushing back, erupting from concrete constraints. Who knows what is hiding there?

Blue Jake ventured in earlier this year and got a gorgeously eerie shot that includes the backside of the mysterious Coignet Stone Company building, recently landmarked. The building sits on the edge of the vast lot like a dessicated, once-splendid spaceship landed on a vacant moonscape.

As Brownstoner writes, the building "commands the attention of everyone who passes by it."

ForgottenNY recalls that this is the corner, "thoid and thoid," where the Brooklyn Dodgers were born.

And Laura Raskin at Brooklyn Rail dives in deep, putting it eloquently when she describes the building as: "crumbling and elegant, with steps that widen outward like open arms. An industrial wasteland of nothing surrounds it, as if it has been repeatedly left behind like a lost child in an empty parking lot. And there’s a slightly magical appeal to a building that sits on the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street."

An image of the Coignet Stone building in its former glory hangs on the wall of the Montauk Club, captured here:

photo: davidfg's flickr

We need haunted houses and weird landscapes like these. What happens to the imagination when everything is smoothed over, packaged, Xeroxed, and polished to a uniform luster?

When all of these places have been erased or tamed, where we will go to be inspired and challenged?

With Whole Foods possibly backing out, does that mean there are still some places left in the city that are too wild, too dangerous to be domesticated?

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