Staying just down from the Brooklyn Museum and up from the proposed development around the Atlantic Yards. For those of you not in the know, the Atlantic Yards is an attempt to bring a section of Manhattan to downtown Brooklyn, running through the heart of my old Brooklyn neighborhoods, Downtown (or lower Prospect Heights in the current real estate vernacular) and Fort Greene. Included would be some dozen or so hi-rises, supposedly mixed commercial, low and medium income, and ‘luxury’ condominiums and a basketball stadium for the brought-back-to-Brooklyn Brooklyn Nets, designed by Frank Gehry.
If the Atlantic Yards is still happening, they haven’t gotten too far. Mostly the developers have demolished a couple of warehouses in the surrounding area, and blown up half the bridge which connected Carlton street east of the LIRR tracks to Carlton west of the LIRR tracks. The LIRR trains still sit humming at the end of those tracks, servicing the butt-ugly Atlantic Station which connects to the even more butt-ugly Atlantic Centre big box mall behind it. The LIRR station is still sectioned off with ugly wooden hoardings, both inside and out, as it has been since I first arrived here fifteen years ago.
Bruce Ratner, the man behind the Atlantic Yards, is responsible for both station and mall, and this doesn’t bode well, since the mall has to be one of the worst shopping experiences this correspondent has ever been on. Big box mall come to downtown Brooklyn, hardly an public space. Posting on Ratner in the Brownstoner . . .
The Atlantic Yards has been a hole in the ground as long as I can remember, the train yards storage for the LIRR trains, Atlantic Avenue more like a highway than a city street, bordered by a disused warehouse, a colossal housing project, and what used to be the Daily News Plant. The only consolation walking home at night was the Daily News trucks parked in the bays, with all the drivers getting ready for the night shift. With the lights, the big trucks idling in the bays while the bales of newspapers were loaded in the back, and the drivers hanging around smoking, it resembled a night-time port. I walked by so often some of the drivers came to recognize me – I lived right around the corner – and I used to chat with them. They were big white guys, mostly from Long Island or the outer burroughs, and they’d go to the little diner in the corner or, after their shift, for the morning run at Freddy’s Bar down on Pacific. A little crackhead used to circulate around the trucks. She was white with stringy brown hair and must have weighed all of eighty pounds. She cornered me once, away from the trucks at the bottom of the street. “Hey, you wanna a blowjob? Five bucks – I got my own condom too . . . ” showing me the condom in the palm of her hand. Too much.
When the Daily News shifted to the suburbs, the plant sat empty then was converted into condos. Nice enough looking building, but the street never really came alive. Freddy’s found new life as a hipster bar, playing found video above the bar They stripped the paint off the fine old wood bar and let underground bands play in the back. We used to make the trek up from Fort Greene to hang out.
The whole reason the Atlantic Yards exists at all was because of another redevelopment scheme thirty odd years ago that saw the powers that be tear down the old train station (a relic of that old station can be seen in the little white building in the traffic island across the street) and dig up the whole area, then leave it abandoned when they ran out of money, a hole in the heart of Brooklyn . . .