Friday, November 19, 2010

Waterworks for the Water Works

Without ever realizing it, Brooklyn lost a piece of history last month, a piece of history that wasn't even located within its borders, but that went all the way back to the borough's time as an independent city.  A city that needed basic services to fulfill their needs, the most basic of which was water.  

Pipelines drew this water from the vast wilds to the east on Long Island, pulled west by pumping stations along the way, the grandest of which stood in Freeport. 

November, 2009
Completed in the 1890's, obsolete in less than forty years, the Romanesque building operated until the 1970's as a supplemental source of water for the city.  When New York no longer needed the Long Island aquifers as a water supply, the steam pumps were removed, and the building settled into quiet abandonment.  Redevelopment plans were proposed and discussed: condominiums, recreational centers.  It was bought, sold, foreclosed. Fencing went up, and occasionally a  security patrol was posted.  Somewhere along the line it burned.

October 1995
The fire was the end of it, collapsing the roof of the western section.  The structure was entirely made of timber and masonry, and with the roof gone, water would eventually have its way with the concrete and brick, weakening the walls and supports a little more every day, every month, every year; decades of neglect resulting in piles of rubble surrounding a ruined shell overlooked by a three story facade and tower.

November, 2009
And all the while the nature preserve surrounding it closed in, despite the best annual efforts of the town crews.  They usually came in each October to clear all the brush from around and inside the ruins.  I think it was done less for aesthetic purposes than to prevent the local freelance vandals from having the fuel to set it on fire again.

October 1995

I made my first visits here in the late 1980's, parking at the entrance to the preserve, a block north of the (fenced off) street access to the site.  Getting onto the property was always something of a joke: there was seven-foot high chain link fencing running along the eastern side north from the railroad embankment to where the nature preserve began.  From there the fence ran west along the northern edge of the property until it came to the creek, where it turned south, back to the embankment.

It was here, after a pleasant walk through the woods, that you could enter the property through holes in the fence and wander freely.

In the picture on the right, of the western end of the building, the fence runs through the trees to the left, and around the back.  The breaks in the fencing were located here.  This picture was taken in November of 2009.  I liked to come here at least once a year, if for nothing more than to document the changing graffiti and gradual deterioration of the building, as I noted about a year ago.   

So when I was driving by last month and saw a crane looming alongside the tower, I knew that gradual deterioration had given way to complete elimination.

Well, almost complete: the tower still stood, but that was all.  Everything else was reduced to piles of brick and mortar, and the tower would fall within days. 

It's sad to see it gone, inevitable as it was.  The building was nothing more than a crumbling shell, the owner was never going to be able to rebuild it, and it was too far gone for my pipe-dream project of a stabilized ruin, like the castles of the Irish and British countrysides.

What I wonder about most regarding all this is the beautifully carved frieze pictured at the top of this article. Even covered in paint it would be worth saving.  These two pictures of the main tower were made in November 2009 (intact version) and October 2010 (not intact.  So would that be 'tact'?).  I tried my best to poke around in the rubble, but the chunks were large and unwieldy, and  even though it looked like part of the wall was still standing there, I couldn't find anything but regular bricks. I really hope someone was able to take the time to rescue it.