Gowanus is one of Brooklyn’s more eccentric neighborhoods, with a relatively younger crowd tucked into blocks of industrial properties. Amid former factories and abandoned buildings, there are art centers, breweries, rock-climbing facilities, and even a shuffleboard club. Located near Red Hook and Carroll Gardens, Gowanus is known for its canal, which itself has centuries of strange and unfortunate history. The name Gowanus itself has no clear origin, with some believing it derives from a Canarsee Native American named Gauwane, though it was the site of Brooklyn’s first Dutch settlement. Gowanus was a center of industry and manufacturing, reflected in much of its current architecture, though the neighborhood has plenty more secrets to explore!
1. The Formerly Abandoned Batcave is Now an Art Center
One of the most recognizable features of Gowanus is a building dubbed the Batcave, the former Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power Station that until recently stood abandoned. Standing right along the Gowanus Canal, the eight-story brick building dates back to 1904, designed by architect Thomas Edward Murray. As Brooklyn Rapid Transit expanded throughout the borough, the direct current system needed a more robust power system. To increase the power supply, the BRT agreed to move operations to centralized stations close to coal and water supplies that could more efficiently distribute current without bulky overhead cables. The power station in nearby Ridgewood had burned down, and a new site was quickly chosen by the Gowanus Canal at First Street and Third Avenue.
Construction was underway by 1901, though labor strikes and equipment shortages pushed construction further back and it was not finalized until 1903. At the time of its completion, the Romanesque Revival structure was one of the tallest in the neighborhood, packed with conveyors that moved coal from barges on the canal into storage. The BRT became the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation, and as the years progressed, the Batcave deteriorated, and the boiler house was demolished in the 1950s. Five decades later, the Batcave attracted squatters who formed a community inside and by the nearby Carroll Street Bridge; the community continued to grow as more squatter communities across Brooklyn were evicted. The Batcave gained its current nickname perhaps because of the bats that lived there.
After over five years of restoration work, the Batcave has transformed into Powerhouse Arts, an arts center with manufacturing, exhibition, and educational spaces. At the time of restoration, just the Turbine Hall remained standing, though the Boiler Room was rebuilt with fabrication spaces to support the production of print, ceramics, and public art. The building houses workshops for print and ceramic production, which require access to the building’s rooftop extraction units. The Turbine Hall contains a Grand Hall for public and multi-use programming, such as exhibitions or performances. The building was also raised 13 feet to protect it from flooding and further deterioration.