Robert Guskind, the towering figure in the Brooklyn blogosphere who created the Gowanus Lounge Web site, died last week after an apparent drug overdose in his Park Slope home. He was 50.
His three-year-old site, which focused on — and frequently lampooned — real-estate development during the boom and bust in Brooklyn, was one of the borough’s most widely read Internet sites. It contained serious hard news scoops and opinionated rants as well as the lighthearted, such as frequent photos of discarded couches.
Guskind’s preservationist passions and tireless writing built up a vast readership and extended the Gowanus Lounge’s influence into City Hall and the executive suites of the city’s biggest developers, who, often found themselves as the blogger’s target in withering broadsides.
The prolific blogger and journalist, who once wrote for the National Journal, the Washington Post, a Newark community newspaper, and even The Brooklyn Paper, had endured a chaotic personal life in the months leading up to his death.
He and his wife were separated last year after Guskind had an extra-marital affair, he told The Brooklyn Paper shortly before his death.
And in January, Guskind lost his “day job” at the Web site Curbed, where he covered Brooklyn land use.
For years, he had wrote about his struggle with heroin addiction.
Friends of Guskind were concerned as early as last Monday, the same day that posts abruptly stopped appearing on gowanuslounge.com and Guskind’s regular Twitter blasts also stopped coming.
After another day of silence, Guskind’s body was found on Wednesday at 7:19 pm, the city medical examiner said. An autopsy was performed, but additional “tissue and toxicology” tests are being analyzed to determine the cause of death, said Ellen Borakov, a spokeswoman for the examiner.
On Wednesday, a week after his death, he was cremated at Green-Wood Cemetery in a small ceremony for friends and family.
In recent months, Guskind had entered a dark period — one that was apparent not just to his friends and family, but even to his readers.
His postings on Gowanus Lounge had become more erratic — both in tone and frequency — in recent months, but Guskind maintained a large audience and was even courted by elected officials, such as Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights), who took the online muckraker to lunch in December.
“I gradually became aware of his blog and realized that it was a part of the media landscape,” Yassky said. “I was a reader and I was very much aware that a lot of my constituents read his blog.”
Yassky’s district includes Williamsburg, a neighborhood of particular fascination to Guskind, because of its rapid gentrification of the last decade. One object of derision was the so-called “Finger building,” a tall, stalled project allegedly rising like a middle finger among low-rise homes and apartments.
At the other end of the borough in Coney Island, Guskind also verbally flayed Joe Sitt, a major landowner who Guskind wrote was destroying the honky-tonk charm of the People’s Playground by evicting carnie tenants.
In January, when the Astroland theme park was being dismantled after Sitt did not offer a lease extension — a tragedy Guskind said — he wrote, “We can not think of enough foul expletives to fully describe our rage and contempt for what he is doing to Coney Island.”
But because his blunt and pointed words were sincere, Guskind retained the respect of his self-professed rivals.
“Agree with him or not — and we disagreed about almost everything he wrote about Coney Island — there was never any doubt that Bob always believed what he wrote and genuinely cared about the borough of Brooklyn,” said Stefan Friedman, president of the PR firm Knickerbocker SKD, which represents Sitt’s company Thor Equities.
Guskind combined his outspoken opinions with old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting. He roved the borough, usually lugging a camera and video equipment to create a multi-media experience on the Gowanus Lounge with photo slideshows and interviews.
“He was a master of on-the-ground neighborhood reporting,” said Lockhart Steele, creator of Curbed.
To the readers, many of them Brooklyn newcomers, his dispatches helped them settle into hustle and bustle Kings County.
“I never got to meet Bob, but his blog helped me get to know Brooklyn and go from being homesick for the south to feeling at home here. I wish I had told him that,” wrote “Katie Black” on a Web site maintained by Guskind’s friend, Miss Heather.
Guskind is survived by his wife, Olivia Kissin; his mother Sally Guskind; and his sister Sharon Vitale. Please sign our online condolence book.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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