Photo Essay: Unknown Brooklyn

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Brooklyn is so well known, and so well traveled, that you might think it has no secrets left to be uncovered. But it has plenty; it’s just a matter of knowing where to look, or having the time for the long walk or bus ride required to get there. There’s also the fact that some of these sites are in places your unconscious self-defense mechanisms might warn you to stay away from. Some are in locations that are so inaccessible you’d never just find yourself there — they’re not on the way to anywhere most people would ever go. Some are in places that only a small, privileged group are allowed into. And, to be completely honest, some are spots that no sane person would be drawn to. But, of course, all this just makes them that much more enticing, at least to people who are intrigued by a good urban adventure. Anyone can find something breathtaking and new in the Grand Canyon, but at the edge of Canarsie? Here’s a handful of pictures that were taken at ten of these locations.

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Sea Gate

Sea Gate, a gated community located at the westernmost end of Coney Island, has its own police force, two members of which guard its entrances to ensure that no one but residents and their guests gets in. As a result, very few outsiders ever see the neighborhood’s beach, poking into Gravesend Bay at the tip of the peninsula. I recently managed to talk my way in armed only with my charm, the only restrictions being that I was not to take any pictures of the spectacular old Coney Island Lighthouse — most likely because it’s owned by the US Coast Guard. I would have preferred to get beach photos free of rubble and mangled kids’ rides, but nature had other plans: Because of Sea Gate’s precarious location, it was slammed hard by Hurricane Sandy, which left some truly terrible wreckage in its wake. The good news is that, just three months after Sandy hit, the rebuilding of the neighborhood has moved pretty far along.

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Bush Terminal

Call it Bush Terminal, Industry City, or West Sunset Park — it’s the string of creaky warehouses and docks surrounding the not-remotely-blue inlets around 39th St. There’s not much reason to make the trip if you don’t work there, unless you’re a lover of grim industrial landscapes, in which case you’re in for a treat. You’ll probably be hearing more about this area over the next few years thanks to the city’s Sunset Park Vision Plan, which calls for “marine, rail, and building infrastructure upgrades, workforce development opportunities, integrated public open space, and amenities,” among other things, along the waterfront.

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Calvert Vaux Park

Calvert Vaux Park sits nearly invisible at the very edge of Bensonhurst, just across the creek from Coney Island. If you stand in the right spot and look toward the southeast, you can see the famous Parachute Jump; if you look toward the southwest, you can see the string of housing projects that line Coney Island’s avenues. Last time I was in Calvert Vaux Park it was spring and the foliage was so thick it was impossible for me to get through parts of it. It literally felt like a forest — not the kind of thing the neighborhood is known for. Going back recently to take these pictures, I was shocked to see how much it had changed. The landscape was so clear that you could practically see from the eastern edge of the park all the way to the water just past the western edge. Two things had happened since my last visit: Autumn had come and gone, taking the park’s leaves with it, and maybe a third of the trees had been flattened by Sandy.

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Canarsie Park

Canarsie Park is bounded by the neighborhood of Canarsie, the narrow Paerdegat Basin, and the Belt Parkway, which skirts the coast of Jamaica Bay. Most if it is taken up by a mini–skate park and the same cropped lawns, benches, and playground that you’ve seen in a hundred other city parks. But the rest of it — yow! Rolling hills, winding paths, a little lake — even the weeds, half-collapsed telephone poles, and caved-in fences are perfect. It’s like the best of Prospect Park squeezed into a space 1/1000th the size, and it’s equally photogenic in green (spring, summer) or brown and yellow (fall, winter). You’d have to try with every ounce of your strength to take a bad picture there.

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Dyker Beach Golf Course

In my entire life I’ve known only one Brooklynite who played golf — I mean actual grown-up golf, not miniature golf — but there are obviously lots more, since the borough contains not one but two courses. One of those is Dyker Beach Golf Course, a vast patch of greenery (with its own small lake) just off 86th St., the noisy and very urban thoroughfare that cuts through Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, and Dyker Heights. Even though I’ve passed DBGC hundreds, maybe thousands, of times over the years, taking these photos was the first time I’d ever been inside. Fair enough — I don’t think I’ve ever touched a golf club. I guess it was obvious that I didn’t belong there, maybe because I had a camera in my hands and was wearing monochrome pants, so seconds after I’d taken my last shot an attendant rode over to me in a motorized buggy, his dog trotting alongside. “Hi. You know this is a golf course, right?” “A what?”

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Floyd Bennett Field

Floyd Bennett Field, at the southern end of Flatbush Avenue, is the last thing you pass before taking the Marine Parkway Bridge to Rockaway. At various times over the past 80 years it’s been a bona fide airport, a Coast Guard station, and a base for the National Guard. The nearly endless (that is, airport-sized) space is now, well, lots of things, including campgrounds, a sports center, a training station for Sanitation Department employees, and an aviation museum. But what’s the function of those multicolored containers randomly placed around the runways?

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Abandoned LIRR Tracks, Midwood

There’s nothing an urban explorer likes more than abandoned railway tracks, and Brooklyn has a few sets of them. By far the longest stretch of unused track is a former Long Island Rail Road line that stretches all the way from Bay Ridge through a huge swath of the borough and up into Queens. (It’s supposedly being leased from the LIRR by the freight company New York and Atlantic Railway, but I’ve never seen a train run on it, and considering the condition of the tracks I wish the NY&AR the best of luck.) One of the most visible sections of the line is below ground-level in Midwood, where it cuts through the streets from E. 12th to E. 29th and beyond, creating a long series of dead ends on either side; these are perpendicular to another set of dead ends created by the B and Q trains.

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Mill Basin

It’s impossible to pass through Mill Basin unless you’re specifically aiming for it, since it’s located on a peninsula that hangs off Brooklyn’s southeast coast. The neighborhood is known for its concentric, tree-lined streets and its extremely well-to-do residents, who tend not to be shy about displaying their wealth. Pictured here are two of the Basin’s more modest cottages, or as much of them as I could fit in my camera frame.

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Sheepshead Bay

Toward the eastern end of Sheepshead Bay and just off the neighborhood’s main drag, Emmons Avenue, there’s a cluster of tiny streets that most people pass by without even noticing them. Created mostly in the ’20s, and “built on sand,” according to one resident I spoke to, they used to be lined with summer cottages used by wealthy patrons of the nearby race track (which was demolished long ago). Those cottages have been replaced with real, heated, year-round houses, albeit very small ones.

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Photo credit: Dave Mandl

Brooklyn Terminal Market

This sprawling East Flatbush food complex, where you’ll find everyone from Mr. Pickle to the Pagano Melon Corp., is a good 20-minute walk from the nearest subway station, which would be the last stop on the L line. I used to think, completely irrationally, that there was something vaguely sinister about the place — probably a combination of the ominous-sounding “terminal” and the fact that it’s more or less surrounded by auto-body and scrap-metal shops. But it’s just a market. Well, a big market, the kind that’s measured in football fields rather than square feet, and visible from outer space.

Photo credit: Dave Mandl