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In Red Hook, an artistic rebirth • Brooklyn Paper

In Red Hook, an artistic rebirth

The bar Fort Defiance has definitely become a beachhead in the ongoing battle for the soul of Red Hook. Here, Wylie Dituri, 7, joins his mom, Tina Dituri, for a hot toddy (the boy’s drink was non-alcoholic, we assure you — some things never change!).
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Life magazine famously called Red Hook the “crack capital of America” in 1988. The area wasn’t much better when school principal Patrick Daly was shot in a drug crossfire in 1992. But last week, George Monos was at his Waterfront Kitchens, a new high-end showroom on Van Brunt Street, putting the final touches on a mixer to bring together designers, writers, and artists — mostly from Manhattan.

Next door, inside Foxy & Winston, whimsical $80 pillows were being sold alongside knit baby booties. Down the block are other artisan-owed businesses, including the upmarket soap shop Saipua on Van Dyke Street.

“Artisans and craftsmen have been here many years,” said Monos. “We’re like prairie dogs, just starting to poke our heads up.”

It’s the classic New York story: First come the artists, then come the amenities. In Red Hook, that meant Fairway Market and a cruise terminal, both in 2006, and Ikea in 2008.

To be sure, two Red Hooks show up in the new Census data: The bulk of the neighborhood’s population lives in the sprawling Red Hook Houses, the largest public housing development in Brooklyn. Data show median household income here is $14,321, up seven percent since 2000.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, the first 10 years of the new millenium were good ones: property values soared and median income rose 92 percent to $53,620 — to as high as 123 percent, to $133,519 from Conover Street to the waterfront.

The boom years have brought the socioeconomic chasm into sharp relief.

“None of that helped the neighborhood,” said Al Jones, celebrating inside the VFW Hall on Van Brunt Street. “It brought prices up, property up, and more traffic.”

Down the bar, Izzy Martinez, who grew up in the Red Hook Houses, remembered when he used to rent an apartment on Van Brunt Street for $150 in 1985. Today, it’ll cost him $1,700.

“For poor people, it’s getting worse,” he said.

And it’s getting harder to breathe. “Fairway, Ikea, the cruise ships — they are bringing thousands of cars through here every day, polluting Red Hook,” he said.

But at least it’s still cheaper than Manhattan.

“When we bought here you could still buy a lot for your money,” said Tina Dituri, who was with eating dinner with her 7-year-son Wylie in Fort Defiance, a café-bar that opened in 2009.

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