RED HOOK, Brooklyn

by Kevin Walsh

Revere Sugar Refinery, a Red Hook landmark for decades, was demolished in 2007.

“It’s hot in the poor places tonight.”

SO SAYS Jeff Tweedy on Wilco’s 2002 LP Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I thought the lyric was apropos to Red Hook’s situation…after decade after desolate decade, the western Brooklyn neighborhood is now in line to get some high-income spillover action from neighboring Cobble Hill. Will high rents and million dollar condos vault over the Gowanus Expressway and and engulf this isolated province, whose quiet, not-quite tree-lined streets have been silent since the big cargo ships stopped docking at Erie Basin? Will the coming of Fairway Supermarket and perhaps, Ikea furniture turn Red Hook into a big parking lot with its narrow roads crammed with Cobble Hillers and Sunset Parkers looking for lettuce and night tables?

Well, let them come, because in Forgotten NY we’ll record perhaps the last days of Red Hook before it becomes a soccer mom or trust fund kid mecca. On this page, we’ll concentrate on the more desolate areas of Red Hook, before they become less welcoming to people with a Forgotten NY income.

In the early-to-mid 1990s, Pier 39 at the foot of Coffey Street was renovated and renamed for Louis Valentino Jr., a hero fireman who sustained fatal injuries in a Canarsie blaze in 1996. Valentino was an alumnus of my alma mater, St, Francis College. The green area between the pier and Coffey Street is named for Fort Defiance, a Red Hook encampment during the Revolutionary War; shots fired from the fort, which was located a few blocks away at Dwight and Beard Streets, delayed the British fleet enough to help allow Washington to escape the Battle of Brooklyn with fewer casualties than he would have had.

The building on the SW corner of Coffey and Conover streets lay empty for 20 years before a parachute manufacturer bought and renovated the old place, which may date to the 1840s. The hoist used to lift hay bales or whatever is still in place. This building has an old sign showing Coffey Street’s old name.

RIGHT: These brick buildings, on Conover between Dikeman and Wolcott, have unusual wood insulation. You usually see this on frame buildings, but these buildings are brick underneath.

Van Brunt Street near Wolcott. I don’t know the significance of Kentler, but the business was established in 1854. Was there a tall building there when this sign went up? Why would it be so high?

Forgotten Fan Susan K. writes:

My great great grandfather William Kentler came to America in 1837 from Germany (Prussia) He settled in lower Manhattan, in an area that was full of immigrants that is now where the Brooklyn Bridge is. When they started to build the Brooklyn Bridge around 1850, the people that lived there had to move. William settled in Red Hook. He was a haberdasher, selling mens shirts, hats, handkerchiefs etc. He put up the Kentler building in 1854, hence the cornice bearing his name and the date. He had a store on the lower floor, and he and his family lived upstairs. There was actually a second building right next door, 355 Van Brunt St, that he built also, but it had burned down.

The Hope & Anchor is a new diner on Van Brunt. The owners are probably aware of London’s Hope & Anchor, a music venue that helped give Robyn Hitchcock’s band, The Soft Boys, a leg up in the early 80s; that’s how I know about it (finances prevent a London trip). Indeed, a Soft Boys LP was called “Lope at the Hive.”

For decades, longshoremen drank their lunch at 253 Conover, now run by Sunny Balzano, whose family has owned the place since the early 1930s. Just a few feet away, catenary wire, tracks and canvas-covered cars mark the spot where trolley aficionado Bob Diamond once hoped to return trolley service to Brooklyn.

By 2006, in the spot where Diamond hoped to open his trolley museum, the landscape has changed dramatically and a giant Fairway supermarket has opened in the old Van Brunt Stores complex, built during the Civil War. And in 2006, the old trolley cars, which had been left to the elements for years, had been removed and a waterside park is under construction.The cars can now be found between the Fairway supermarket and the waterfront.

I know I gave up on Name That Car awhile ago (took too much time to sift through all the responses) but I spotted this truck across Conover from Sunny’s…what is it?

Lots of Forgotten Fans are calling it a Willys Utility Truck, produced between 1947 and 1960.

A new park constructed between Pier 41 and the Waterfront Museum barge allows excellent views of Upper New York Bay.

By 2006 the park was fully landscaped and blooming.

Pier 41

Pier 41 on Van Dyke Street between Conover and Ferris, formerly off limits to pedestrians, has seen some former wholesalers turn to retail…

Your webmaster got a “piesicle” at Steve Turpin’s Key Lime Pie palace at this 1850s-era warehouse. The countergirl seemed unduly sullen, but I suppose sullenness is the only solution when NYS Lotto-cap wearing geezers come in asking for ice pops. (It was the most beautiful Sunday of 2006 and she had to be inside all day, no doubt). The piesicle is a mini-key lime pie on top of a graham crust, covered in chocolate. While being rather less frozen that it ought to be, it’s good, but not $5 good, though Steve’s is served for dessert at Peter Luger, so what do I know!

Take it easy. My Lord, Steve’s delivers in aFlathead Ford. A line of Fords were produced with flathead V8 engines between 1932 and 1953.

Van Brunt (or Red Hook) Stores, 480-500 Van Brunt Street, stretch along an arm of the Erie Basin. Both this building and the nearby Beard Street warehouse feature heavy arched and shuttered windows.

The Revere Sugar Refinery, once owned by Antonio Floriendo, a Marcos family confidant known as the “Banana King of the Philippines”, declared bankruptcy in 1985, and the refinery has been in magnificent ruins since then. A fire some years ago devastated it. The property has been recently purchased and the refinery has now been torn down.

Inside the Sugar Refinery

Lightship 84, one of a few dozen remaining in the USA and one of 4 remaining in NYC, sunk into Erie Basin in 1997, and there it has remained. In its near-century of history, it has been a lightship, training vessel, restaurant, and now it’s quite rusty. NYPD uses it as a training venue for the scuba patrol.

The New York Water Taxi…the only place you’ll see a checker cab these days…calls the Beard Street Pier its home base.

Dikeman Street. When I was in college, I was called “The Crooked Man” because my college newspaper layouts were never quite straight. We didn’t have a T square. Across the street, there’s a house somewhere under the brush, but I couldn’t find one.

Van Dyke Street near Richards. This brick building’s original name, The Red Hand Composition Company, has been getting more evident lately. Amer Tech Industries is a marine repair firm specializing in work on power generating barges.

RIGHT: Time Warner Cable relay station. This is how Jerry Springer gets into your TV as signals are relayed from satellites into wires.

This long, low building on the corner of Richards and Van Dyke Streets has a distinctive exterior, consisting of 20″ thick stones, reminiscent of some churches. It originally was the storehouse of the Joseph K. Brick Company, founded in 1854 to produce items used in gaslighting. Brick originated the fire clay retort, a device in which coal was heated to produce gas used for illumination; gaslighting began to be widely used in the USA around 1850. The burgeoning steel industry also needed a liner material that could withstand high temperatures. Fire, or refractory bricks, filled the bill. The bricks are tempered so they can withstand high heat and were used to line iron furnaces, industrial stoves, brick and pottery kilns, and other devices that demanded materials with a tolerance for heat.

Clay retorts were instrumental
 in the production of gas from coal. The heated retort freed the volatile or gaseous matter contained in the coal. These gases were then carried through a series of pipes and appliances which condensed, washed, and scrubbed the crude gas, and by mechanical and chemical means removed the impurities from the product and made it ready for commercial use.

The storehouse was restored by Greg O’Connell in 1995 and 1996 and was the first landmark building designated in Red Hook. The Van Dyke Street storehouse is 125 feet square and built in basilica form with a bulls-eye clerestory window. The ground floor has been altered to allow vehicle access. Presently it is home to a glass etching company. The two-story brick building across the street, 99-112 Van Dyke, was also a part of the Brick complex and retains its old brick chimney.

Some neighborhood joints. The Liberty Heights Tap Room, Van Dike and Dwight Streets, recently added a microbrewery. RIGHT: 20 Reed St, around the block from Sunny’s.

Red Hook Bait & Tackle Shop (320 Van Brunt) services neighborhood fishermen: from

The quaint bar overflows with “found” objects: a mermaid, strings of dangling fish, two mounted harpoons from a Long Island basement and a stuffed bear from Indiana. Strings of glowing bobbers barely light the ample space. Old-timers who remember when that tree fell in the church garden now set their drinks on its planks that serve as the bar, where they’re joined by the neighborhood’s younger set.

The Liberty Heights stencil is on the a Hamilton Avenue BQE stanchion; the hook, above a now-demolished Todd Shipyards building; the Red Hook is on Van Brunt

Rosebud? A Van Brunt Street storefront.

Van Brunt.

Wolcott just off Van Brunt.

Red Hook has several developers salivating as they hope to turn the waterfront into retail space. Many Red Hookers oppose Fairway and Ikea, but some residents of Red Hook houses applaud the developments, since they will supply jobs. It seems certain that “old” Red Hook, with its dusty streets, neighborhood dives, and residential pockets will soon be changing in some way. In a parellel development, entire blocks of Coney Island were bought by developers as well: its unique ambience may soon be on the way out, as well.

Red Hook’s blunt ambience will likely survive though.

Above, right. Along Van Brunt. The boxed X means the floor has collapsed and entering the building is dangerous.

The Other Side of the ‘Hook

Court and Bush Streets. A block away, Clinton and Bush Streets meet.

Court and Bryant Streets.

Here’s some of the desolation we were talking about. In 1776, a fort fired on the British from here, but in 2004, there’s a view of the near-dormant shipyard fronts and a view of a garbage-strewn Beard Street overlooking the old sugar refinery. The restaurant has since reopened asLillie’s Bar(By 2006 Lillie’s had closed again.)

This massive concrete silo, built in 1922, was once the processing center for grains used for breweries and distilleries shipped down from upstate and the western USA via the Erie Canal. The terminal closed as shipping in Red Hook gave way to New Jersey containerization beginning in the 1950s. With its 54 joined concrete silos, it has been described as looking like “concrete ladyfingers.” Today, the soccer field in front of the terminal has it as an impressive backdrop; dance companies have used it as a staging area, and urban sports enthusiasts have rappelled on it.

The grain elevator is in the Gowanus Industrial Park
, which operates over 30 small businesses and a growing demand for moorage of small vessels and barges. The industrial park hopes to take on shipping, on-site manufacturing and more maritime industrial uses.

Busy Red Hook Park features excellent soccer fields and track. It’s one of Red Hook’s few oases of green.

Though Todd Shipyards is gone, shipbuilder and repairer H.W. Ramberg is still here at 37 Dwight. This was a Sunday, so I saw no activity there. Is it still in business?

Bay Street. From nycgovparks.orgSol Goldman Pool opened to the public under the name of Red Hook Pool in 1936, as one of the 11 WPA-funded pools that opened that year under Mayor Fiorello H. Laguardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. The pool was designed by Aymar Embury in the 1930’s and was restored and renamed to honor the financial contributions of the Goldman Family in 1986. Currently, Red Hook Pool is a participant in the Department of Education’s SchoolFood program, which serves free, nutritional breakfasts and lunches to approximately 300 children each day during the summer.

Don’t know what you call it up there, but down here, it’s Hick Street.

The two mermaids at left are gone but the nymph at right, on Dwight, has survived.

The Todd Shipyards, also known as New York Shipyards, have now been closed and, in 2006, were demolished for a masive Ikea store. Philip Lopate in his book “Waterfront” describes an incident in which the crew of a damaged Central American freighter were detained here for 6 months until its owner could pay for repairs. Its crew was too afraid to venture into the Red Hook streets for provisions. The owner had to get food for them.

The Monitor, the first ironclad vessel from the Civil War era, was once repaired here. Within, the yards feature brick structures with heavy timber posts and machines that have 1920s-era Bauhaus industrial design highlights with skylights and 20-foot-tall windows. Without, peeling paper cutout art decorates the exterior and surrounding area.

As we see in this sequence from August 2006 the Todd Shipyards administration buildings are completely gone, though some invective and some street art have been placed on the blue plywood fence.

The new trend in Brooklyn is to plop giant developments in the midst of residential neighborhoods without investing in the overall infrastructure. Ikeas, in particular, tend to be in football field-size parking lots that are served by pedal-to-the-metal state highways and interstates. How traffic will get to this particular Ikea over Red Hook’s rutted, Belgian-blocked roads, well, that will be an experiment all Red Hookers will be participating in.

The following shows the Todd Shipyards from Erie Basin:

We see the unused docks of the Todd Shipyards, including the Beard Street waterfront, from Erie Basin, once so busy that B77 buses once carried “Erie Basin” in the destination roll over the front windows.

The Todd Shipyards dry dock. Most of what you see here will be torn down in the mid-2000s, with an Ikea shopping center due to take its place. By 2006 the red administration buildings you see in the background had been razed. Community activitsts were unsuccessful in preserving the dry dock.

Along Columbia Street south of Halleck Street.

Kranick Soap, Delevan and Richards Streets.

Just dropped in to see what condition his condition was in. Delevan at Dwight.

LEFT: Delevan between Richards and Dwight. Though piles of new money are flowing into Red Hook’s waterfront area, there will always be parts of the neighborhood that look just like this. A brand new condo complex borne from manufacturing lofts is right next door.

There was a party in nearby Red Hook Park and the soundtrack was nothing but Beatles. There was probably no one there who was alive when John Lennon uttered his first yeah, yeah, yeah…

Commerce Street. Silent as a tomb, except for the Beatles music, which was a little fainter here. Sunday afternoon, but I can’t picture it much busier during the week.

That’s what attracts me.

The building at Dwight and Verona interests me. Joe Cunningham and Mary Altaffer of the NYPost once shepherded me to the top of this building to get a good shot of the old Trum neon sign (see below). I don’t know if the can company sign is new or not; it looks new. The arched windows are reminiscent of the ones at the Beard and Van Pelt warehouses a few blocks away.

Many of us, your webmaster included, are not wealthy enough to choose the architectural style of apartment or house in which we live. I find that an injustice; you can choose your clothes, after all, and you can choose how you want your hair and jewelry, etc. But you can’t choose the style of where you live. Given that choice, I wouldn’t mind something like this place.

The story behind this sign can be found on this page.

This is Van Brunt Street and Carroll, and a still-incomplete skyline.

Toward the end of the day’s tour I was snapping photos of the Brooklyn Battery toll plaza; it has unique lampposts that interest me. I was whistled by a couple of cops, who approached and asked why I was taking pictures. I calmly explained about Forgotten NY (without attempting to sell them on it; cops aren’t interested in the hobbies of suspicious characters). They asked for ID, which I produced. Everyone was calm about the whole thing. They requested I move on without any more photos. I’ve been told I’d be within my rights not to produce the ID or cooperate, but since I understood their wariness, I did so.

A Look at the Hook: Forgottentour 13


Urban Omnibus » Block by Block: New York’s Street Historians November 4, 2012 - 2:15 pm

[…] that flash only red and green, explored New York neighborhood institutions like Red Hook’s Sunny’s Bar and Narrows Coffee Shop, and exposed the bucolic beauty of Park Slope’s Webster and Jackson […]

John McCafferty April 23, 2013 - 3:03 pm

I am told that Skanska has a year in Red Hook , and if so , can you supply me the phone number and location. Thank you very much


Kevin Dresch March 6, 2014 - 12:05 pm

is there any information on ” Mercantile ship repair ” located in Red Hook WWII era

Diane Dinnigan July 31, 2014 - 3:11 pm

I love this page! My maternal grandfather was born and bred in Red Hook and my family goes back in Red Hook quite a bit. His grandfather owned a bakery at 350 Van Brunt. His second wife took pretty good care of business so that they owned quite a bit of Red Hook. She was a real cow and never helped anyone out with her money.
The story goes that he got hold of “100” barrels of flour just prior to the Civil War and he profited on the war somehow.
I am really enjoying this page, thank you.

Lucy April 5, 2016 - 10:37 am

My mother worked in a bakery in Red Hook in the 1920’s-1930’s. We think its name was “Marjolaine’s” – By any chance could that be your grandfather?

Diana February 27, 2018 - 10:07 pm

I believe this is my great grandfather. He had a bakery at 402 van brunt and I’m trying to find pictures and information about it. Do you have any other info?

Lucia Gentile June 19, 2019 - 6:25 am

Thank you for your reply, but I don’t have any other info. Would you tell me your great grandfather’s name? I have an aunt who is 95 that may remember him. Thank you!

frank moran November 30, 2019 - 7:13 pm

I lived on conover st between walcot and Sullivan st from 1943 to 1955 a public school ps 30 on conover st was directly across from my apartment, I remember a bakery on van brunt st. between Sullivan and King st, closer to the corner of Sullivan st. directly across from the bakery was Meyers candy store, also on van brunt st same side of street the bakery was on there was an ice cream parlor that had soda fountain and booths it was also between Sullivan and King st. on Van Brunt St. the bakery was there for quite a long time

N J January 15, 2015 - 9:34 pm

I lived at 470 Columbia Street Red Hook went to PS 27, went to the community pool, my mom took us to the park behind the projects, if memory serves me there were 2 parks one small and one big. We attended the Clinton street movie theater We moved out 1956. What can you share about this era. I remember the projects having 2 or 3 courts with flagpoles. I remember an ice cream truck that came and brought us some of the best tasting ice cream a 5 year old ever ate. (her name was Ann, the saying went ‘Ann Ann the Ice Cream man’) I remember going to a candy store close by where I got penny candy. Is there pictures, would very much like to see it all again.. Thank you for your help.

Mark Barreto December 1, 2021 - 4:44 pm

I lived there from birth 1958 till 1973 and the only two elemenity schools were ps 30 and then they builder a new 15.they was a small park called coffee park and then the red hook statuim

N J January 15, 2015 - 9:39 pm

Forgot to say that my father worked at the Brooklyn Navy yard..add to my post please

Ken Luther July 19, 2015 - 7:07 am

This is great. I had Irish, Norwegian, and Italian ancestry from Redhook back in the 1880’s. (Sweeney, Olsen, and Forte.)

Barbara September 2, 2017 - 10:20 pm

I lived in Red Hook from 1944 to 49. My Dad was drafted at age 33 and I moved with Mom to the projects. My sister was born in 46 and slept in my parent’s room in a crib while I had the cot in the living room. My biggest memory was of the school without halls and the stairs on the outside. Would love to see a picture of PS 27 from that era.

Alfonso Rivera August 4, 2015 - 2:08 pm

I will soon try out the fantastic fishing pier (L. Valentino) as it juts out toward the sea, close to where the flukes, stripers, blue fishes, blackies thrive. I would love to experience seeing those rustic and quaint structures, some daying back into the 1800’s. this would give me a chance to look back and feel how life was during those times.

Gerry October 12, 2015 - 12:07 pm

I was born and raised in Red Hook, as well as my parents, grandparents. My great grandparents immigrated from Austria and Ireland and settled in Red Hook. Does anyone remember what people called themselves, the Pointers and the Creekers. .Constantly competing with each other. I remember as a child going to the Red Hook pool in the am, they let you in free. Then we had to leave when paying people came. We then went across the street to the park’s kiddie pool that was free. I graduated from Visitation School. A few years back, I happened to go on a cruise that left out of Red Hook. I parked my car in their lot, When I returned from cruise, I drove around checking out the neighborhood, brought back a lot of good memories.

Guy January 20, 2019 - 11:30 am

Born n raised in Red Hook
1952 to 1984
Anyone remember Aacorn ?
The business that bought much property in the 50’s

frank moran November 30, 2019 - 7:29 pm

I was born in the Bronx 1938 moved to Red hook in 1941 went to visitation graduated 1953, I lived across from PS 30 on conover st beteween walcot st and Sullivan st aacorn made large wood shipping crates for truck parts and frames and other items, they had a vacant lot on Sullivan st between Van Brunt and Conover we used to play tag on the boxes they were stacked in a way that made it great for that, I used to get the scrap wood they were throwing out for our wood burning stove. I also swam off the docks at pier 37 & 38 went to coffey park quite a lot and played ball in the adjacent play ground and ball field. I have a vivid memory of most of the area, and the families that lived there. I also remember before White Rock took over it was the Morgan soda co, I borrowed a few cases of soda at times

Elmer Horne December 11, 2015 - 12:47 pm

In 1944, my Army unit shipped out for Liverpool from Pier 97, a facility of the New York Port of Embarkation. Any pix of the pier area as it was then and/or later?

Arnie S. March 24, 2016 - 2:12 pm

I grew up in the Red Hook projects from 1940 to 1957 (116 Mill street). I attended PS 27
which I believe is now closed. I was in the “new” building”. Through 4th grade I was in the old building
which was right next door which had a building date of 1890! I visited my old school about 10 years ago and took a picture in front of the old school under the building date. Would you like a copy?
We had a great Baseball team called the “Bengals”that was sponsored by the PAL(Precent 27). I
played my first basketball game in the “baby park”on Clinton Street,just across from the “Big Pool”.
We had a very good basketball team that played in the Red Hook Community Center right next to my
building on Mill street. At that time the projects were predominantly Itlalian,Irish & Jewish. It took a while,
but we all got along. There use to be an old saying for a kid from Red Hook, “You either made into college or wound up in jail”

Anonymous November 23, 2017 - 7:09 am

P.S. 27 is not closed. Name changed to P.S. 676, THE NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL.

Marion Somma September 6, 2017 - 8:00 pm

I lived on Wolcott St nd then Dikeman St. Went to Visitation.and then.sent to Bishop MC Donnell H.S. Attended Marymount College. Left RedHook in.1960. Married in Visitation Church.Siblings, Eileen.and Terry. Marion Johnston.

Diana February 27, 2018 - 10:10 pm

If anyone has any information about my family’s bakery at 402 van brunt, it would be a big help! They opened in the early 1900s and closed in the 60s or so, due to the closing of the ship yard etc.

Dorothy June 18, 2018 - 12:52 am

I was born and raised in Red Hook in the 60s. We lived at 76 Van Dyke St.. Went to P.S. 15… Remember the meat market on Richard St., and the penny candy store… Anyone else remember “Skinny Andy’s” where he sold stuff that “fell off a truck”? lol…

Anonymous February 18, 2019 - 7:23 pm

I remember “Skinny’s”. Jenna’s Candy store on Van Brunt. ” Jimmy the Fruit Man” on Van brunt & Dikeman. 1980’s Red Hook!

Anonymous March 14, 2019 - 5:14 pm

Yes I remember Skinny’s use to sell sneakers and the sneaker factory on 4 ave, and John Bargain Store Downtown Bklyn

Mark J Ramberg August 26, 2020 - 1:14 am

H.W. Ramberg at 37 Van Dyke Street was founded by my great-grandfather, Haakon W. Ramberg, in 1908 as Ramberg Iron Works. It operated as a ship repair company for almost 100 years until it was acquired by MAN Diesel in 2008. The operation was moved to New Jersey and still operates as a MAN Diesel repair site. The last Ramberg to run the company was my father, Einar M. Ramberg, Jr. who sold the remaining family interest in the concern in 1981. The company was a major source of employment in Brooklyn’s Norwegian community and often served as the first place of employment for Norwegian immigrants. It’s lasting fame, however, may be the spectacular 5 alarm fire on March 8 1950 that levelled the sprawling H.W. Ramberg facility and required 34 pieces of firefighting equipment t. subdue.

MaryannSkahan September 14, 2021 - 10:38 am

My great grandfather came from Prussia to Redhook.Mid to late 1800’s. My grandfather Louis Meyer was born and lived on Conover St.Went to ps 30 and attended Visitation Church. He left in early 1900’s and came to Cambridge,Ma.and never went back.

Janet lawless November 14, 2021 - 8:04 pm

I have some old photos of red hook blk from my great grandfathers house on conover st can I send some over to your publication. There is one I have from the revere sugar factory
The workers (my greets grandfather Antonio Balzano in center). Prob from 1900. Others from Italian parade some of my family from 1900s in that neighborhood

Do you want them. I could send them in to your publication if interested. Thanks. I feel there are prob so few of tthese left

Kevin Walsh November 14, 2021 - 11:36 pm

Thanks no.

Lois June 16, 2022 - 4:15 pm

Anyone remember a diner near Van Brunt/Richards St? My grandfather owned it, but it burned down in the
60’s maybe?


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.