It was a heckuva year to live in Brooklyn, let us tell ya.
These last 365 days packed more ups and downs than the Cyclones roster riding the Cyclone while twerking as part of some sort of superstorm Sandy relief benefit. Now is the time to kick back with a warm tumbler of something locally distilled and take stock of where we stand after an MTV invasion, a full year of Sandy recovery, an election season full of upsets and intrigue, and a boat-load of big development projects. These kinds of opportunities for reflection and binge-reading only come once a year, so enjoy and get ready for another exciting revolution of the Earth around the sun.
Atlantic oddity: Scientists discovered a 20-foot-long metallic “anomaly” below Atlantic Avenue, adding fuel to the rumor that a 19th-century steam locomotive is buried inside a long-abandoned tunnel. Engineering consultants detected the peculiar finding near Hicks Street, deep inside a half-mile tunnel built in 1844 as part of a planned route to Boston.
Turn off the park: The city forced community board chairpeople to give up their decades-old parking permits, making them pay for metered parking or bike or ride public transportation like the rest of us. District managers, the boards’ paid administrators, got to keep parking on Easy Street.
Sour deal: Famed chocolatier Jacques Torres gave Dumbo residents a toothache by relocating his manufacturing operations to Sunset Park’s Brooklyn Army Terminal. He sugar-coated his exit by announcing that he planned to keep his retail storefront in the cobbled-street neighborhood.
Swimming with the fishes: A stranded dolphin was no match for the toxic Gowanus Canal, which gobbled up the beast in its mucky shallow waters between Union and Degraw streets before rescuers could jump in. Later in the month, a baby cetacean washed ashore on the beach in Coney Island.
Goop scoop: The feds proposed digging up toxic sludge from the Gowanus Canal and using it to extend the Red Hook coastline as part of their half-billion dollar Superfund scrub-down of the icky estuary, delighting the developer who owns an adjacent industrial park. Not everyone was on board — some Red Hookers fretted the muck could be a health hazard and invite flooding.
Land grab: The state announced plans to shutter the 155-year-old Long Island College Hospital, kicking off a still-ongoing legal dispute. Opponents of the closure say the state just wants to cash in on the prime real estate the hospital sits on.
Hinsch’s flinches: Egg-cream fans shrieked, “Agita!” upon learning that Staten Island souvlaki sovereign Mike Moudatsos was taking over the iconic, 65-year-old soda shop on Fifth Avenue. Faithful patrons fretted he would radically redesign Hinsch’s the way he did a classic A&W car-hop on the Rock. Moudatsos promised to keep the old flavor mostly intact.
How sweet it could be!: Developers of the shuttered Domino Sugar factory promised a candy-coated comeback for the ex-largest sugar maker in the world. First-peek renderings showed a sumptuous sprawl of mixed-use skyscrapers resembling the futuristic skylines of Dubai and Shanghai, including a high-rise sculpted like a giant zero, another one featuring a donut-hole ringed by offices with apartments, a third dotted with terraced dwellings, and pair of svelte structures linked by a bridge that — at 598 feet and 55 stories — could become the borough’s tallest edifice yet.
More Di Fara’s: The home of peerless pizza decided to revive the full menu it retired a decade ago to make room for the snaking lines that were as iconic as Di Fara’s flavorful pies. Aficionados cheered the return of meatballs, chicken parmesan, and other much-missed favorites — in addition to some promised new menu items. They will be hawked out of a takeout store a few doors down from the legendary Avenue J pizzeria.
Turf tiff: Drivers saw red when the city wanted to green a traffic-choked area by removing 34 prized parking spots for a bigger recreation space. Tree-huggers embraced the idea of linking two parts of McCarren Park that are currently divided by asphalt, but the auto-set dug in its wheels.
Beastie joy: Deceased Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch, who grew up in Brooklyn Heights and attended Midwood High School, will live on at the Palmetto Playground on Willow Place and State Street — renamed the Adam Yauch Playground. The rapper died in 2012 of cancer at the age of 47.
Turf floors: The Brooklyn Cyclones made the switch from grass to artificial turf at MCU Park. The minor league Mets affiliate claimed synthetic sod at the Coney Island stadium would weather superstorms better and accommodate more off-season events. The team’s hated rivals, the Staten Island Yankees — whose stadium on the Rock was also flooded — are sticking with grass.
Fin-draiser: Brooklyn bohemians were all shook up to hear that the popular Mermaid Parade on Surf Avenue might go extinct because of Hurricane Sandy. But a tidal wave of donations poured in to help ice princesses, crusty pirates, and scantily clad sirens wig out again at the nation’s largest art parade.
Strike-out: Maple Lanes is dead wood. Bensonhurst’s beloved bowling kingdom closed its doors permanently to make room for condos, much to the sorrow of diehard kingpins who had patronized the neighborhood fixture for 53 years. When Maple cast its first strike, John F. Kennedy was president, the Pittsburgh Pirates were the World Series champs, and Elvis Presley topped the charts with “Stuck On You.”
Slicks ahoy: Rats, poop, oozing cancerous chemicals, and gonorrhea did nothing to deter the daredevil boaters who took to the Gowanus Canal — and lived to tell the tale. Dozens of kayakers, canoers, and rowers — some decked out in hazmat suits — earned major bragging rights when they paddled the Lavender Lake for the Gowanus Challenge, a 2.5-mile, non-motorized watercraft race, designed to draw attention to the federal Superfund site.
Dirty dozen: Southern Brooklyn spas were offering patrons more than a back rub, said cops after raiding a dozen massage parlors in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Bensonhurst. Police arrested 19 people on a slew of charges, including prostitution, worker’s compensation violations, and practicing massage without a license. The alleged Dirty Dozen were operating in crumbling buildings that were dangerous to be inside, the city said.
Holy rollers: The Jehovah’s Witnesses unloaded a parcel of prime real estate in Dumbo, including the iconic Watchtower building and several factory-style structures, for the ungodly price of $375 million. A Manhattan real estate firm snapped up the holdings, which are zoned for business or manufacturing use. The sale dismayed condo developers but thrilled entrepreneurs who envision a Silicon Valley in Brooklyn. The Witnesses, meanwhile, took their headquarters upstate.
Hospital on life support: The state Department of Health approved a plan to shutter Long Island College Hospital and state officials said they would ignore a court order demanding that no moves be taken to reduce service at the hospital. The news prompts staffers and politicians to take to the streets. Ten blocked traffic and got arrested, including Councilman Brad Lander (D–Cobble Hill).
VM-A-zing: The MTV Video Music Awards touched down at the Barclays Center, bringing traffic headaches, police checkpoints, and A-to-Z-list celebrities to Prospect Heights. We covered the pandemonium from all angles on our live-blog, checking in with the likes of Richard Simmons on the red carpet, chatting with the enterprising sidewalk sellers out for the occasion, and keeping an eye on the blow-out’s impact on the surrounding neighborhood. When the crowds cleared and the internet turned its attention to dissecting Miley Cyrus’s spastic stage show, neighborhood bodega Dubai Mini Mart tried to cash in on the frenzy by auctioning a roll of red carpet on eBay. The sale did not get any takers.
Atlantic Yards goes public: Four-fifths of the stagnated mega-development at the borough’s cross-roads went on the auction block. Developer Forest City Ratner claimed that it will continue to control the project even if it owns less than half of a stake.
Flip of the LICH: A judge tried to turn the tables on the state by issuing a bombshell court order demanding that the State University of New York relinquish control of Long Island College Hospital and calling its handling of the hospital possibly driven by a “sinister purpose to seize [the hospital’s] assets and dismantle” it.
Sunny’s rises: The year was full of triumphant returns — and tearful farewells — for businesses swamped by Hurricane Sandy, but few had the oomph of the comeback for beloved Red Hook bar Sunny’s. The reopening came 10 months after the superstorm soaked the saloon and 123 years after the watering hole first cracked its doors.
Two Council races, meanwhile saw high drama, with upstart Carlos Menchaca unseating incumbent Sara Gonzalez in Sunset Park and former Diana Reyna aide Antonio Reynoso taking his boss’ seat and effectively sticking a fork in disgraced former assemblyman Vito Lopez’s comeback hopes.
Chopped: A daredevil aircraft whiz who loved to fly state-of-the-art remote-controlled helicopters was killed when his whirlybird spun out of control and hacked off the top of his head in Calvert Vaux Park. Roman Pirozek, 19, was performing a heli-trick at the greenspace, near the corner of Shore Parkway and Bay 44th Street, when the chopper spiraled earthward, killing him instantly.
Rot in our backyard: The city rolled out a pilot curb-side compost pick-up in Greenwood Heights and Windsor Terrace, the first in the borough. The sanitation department was eager to get people signed up for the voluntary program, but residents we spoke to said that they were not eager to add another bin to their trash regimen.
Tragedy on Prospect Park West: Samuel Cohen Eckstein, a 12-year-old boy, was killed by a van on Prospect Park West, three years after the city replaced a lane of car traffic with a two-way bike path in an effort to slow drivers.
Signed, sealed, and dredged: The Gowanus Canal’s half-billion-dollar federal Superfund clean-up became the law of the land. The Environmental Protection Agency stuck to its guns in the final plan, mandating that the city build massive, $78-million, underground holding tanks to stop millions of gallons of raw sewage from polluting the waterway. The city claimed the project was unnecessary because poop was the least of the canal’s problems. The plan’s authors dismissed the pleas as hogwash, claiming the tanks were essential to avoid future recontamination.
GoogaMooga gone: The city booted the controversial music and food festival that wrecked Prospect Park for two years in a row, stating the weekend-long Great GoogaMooga forced the Nethermead to close for costly clean-ups and infuriated park patrons who felt the big-ticket event and its rowdy, booze-soaked crowds did not belong in Brooklyn’s backyard.
Ba-chalk Obama: President Obama made a whirlwind visit to the borough and inadvertently shined the spotlight on Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial school co-location program in the process. The president kicked off the stop-over with a dramatic entrance, landing by helicopter in Prospect Park, just blocks from where he lived as a twenty-something. A visit to Crown Heights’ Pathways for Technology Early College showcased the school, and the mayor’s policy of shoehorning schools into existing ones, and the commander-in-chief rounded out the tour with a trip to Junior’s Restaurant to pick up cheesecake with then-mayoral hopeful Bill DeBlasio. The pairing came one week ahead of the citywide election and could not have hurt the progressive favorite DeBlasio’s chances.
Serious signage: Protesters strung fake 20-mile-per-hour speed limit signs along the length of Prospect Park West as part of an effort to demand a slower cap for cars in residential neighborhoods citywide. Samuel Cohen Eckstein’s parents joined the push for a lower limit, testifying before the Council and broadcasting the message that the law would have saved their son far and wide.
Brooklyn first: Brooklyn was the clear winner in November’s general election: Bill DeBlasio, the former public advocate and Park Slope councilman, was the first Democrat in 20 years to win the mayor’s race — and at 6-foot-5, the tallest mayor in living memory! Fort Greene Councilwoman Letitia James, the new public advocate, became the first African-American woman to hold a citywide position, and Borough President-elect Eric Adams and incoming District Attorney Ken Thompson were the first African Americans elected to their respective posts in Kings County.
Rock ’n roll murder-suicide: A musician shot and killed three of his fellow Iranian ex-pat indie rockers before turning the gun on himself at the band’s Williamsburg practice space and apartment. The gunman Ali Akbar Mahammadi Rafie, 29, and victims Ali Eskandarian, 35, and brothers Arash and Soroush Farazmand, 28 and 27, were political refugees who fled the Islamic theocracy in 2009 after appearing in a film about its forbidden underground music scene.
Narwhal no more: All year, Flipper was dying to visit Brooklyn. Borough residents shed a tear for yet another dead dolphin after it swam into Coney Island Creek, never to see the open ocean again. The death marked Kings County’s fourth dead dolphin for the year.
Going Whole hog: Whole Foods snipped the ribbon on its first store in Brooklyn, bringing a rooftop bar and a bevy of green features to a stretch of Gowanus land that was once home to a lumberyard, an auto repair shop, and an oil company. Opening day marked the end of an eight-year saga — and the beginning of another drama. Just three days after the big opening, the city slapped the grocery giant with a $3,000 fine for failing to fix up a historic building next door that it promised to renovate..
Council loves development: The Council green-lighted a slew of controversial developments ahead of a changing of the guard at City Hall, including outgoing Borough President Markowitz’s Childs building concert venue in Coney Island, the Domino Sugar factory project in Williamsburg, and the Greenpoint Landing tower town planned where the Newtown Creek meets the East River.
Blotter-ed out: The long-standing tradition of station houses providing reporters access to crime reports for weekly police blotters came to an abrupt end at the beginning of December due to pressure from NYPD headquarters, prompting a series of weekly articles seeking to get to the bottom of the blackout. The New York Civil Liberties Union insists that the information blockade will come to an end with the arrival of a new administration at One Police Plaza this week, but only time will tell.