If you take a look at a map of Brooklyn, you'll see that nestled between the Buttermilk Channel and Gowanus Bay, there's a funny kind of hook-shaped spur of land that protrudes off the mainland and encloses the Erie Basin. That's Red Hook, and it's a part of the city that even long-time New Yorkers may not be too familiar with, even though it offers the stunning views of Lady Liberty, and it's where Al Capone earned his famous "Scarface" moniker back in the "˜20s.
Red Hook has been an industrial area for over 200 years, full of warehouses, old factories and landmarks such as the Todd Shipyards and the Red Hook Sugar Refinery which can be seen from as far away as New Jersey and Greenwood. A lot of these buildings are crumbling, however, and signs of expired prosperity are everywhere, from worn cobblestone streets to old, hidden trolley lines. It makes one wonder - what happened to Red Hook? And, more importantly, what will happen next?
After Dutch settlers came into the Red Hook area in the 1600s, it was business as usual for quite some time. By the mid 1700s, Red Hook was a bustling, happening place and was one of the only areas of Brooklyn that was actually thriving. By 1850, the peninsula was one of the busiest ports in the whole country and already a colorful ethnic and cultural patchwork, according to David Sharps of Red Hook's Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge.
"At first, the area was populated by the workers on the waterfront - longshoremen. From 1840 to 1950, tens of thousands of people worked on the waterfront and the main groups were mostly German, Irish, Scandinavian, Italian, Filipino and African American." With the help of the Columbia Street District, Red Hook also became home to the first Puerto Rican enclave in the country. By the turn of the 20th century, the economy and the culture of Red Hook were booming.
But then, unfortunately, things started to change. In the early 1900s, the area was overrun by organized crime - including a stint by the infamous Mr. Capone - and in the mid 1950s, the area was hit with more huge problems. Shipping procedures started to change, going from bales and bulk loads to container shipping - not as many men were needed to unload the goods from the barges, and jobs were lost left and right.