What a year it has been for Brooklyn! It has been a year of recovery and rebuilding as the Borough of Kings bounced back from Superstorm Sandy. It has been a year of politics and power, as two Brooklyn pols were elected to the top two offices in the city. Milestones great and small marked the final year in office of Borough President Markowitz, and Brooklyn’s development boom continued to roll forward.
Post-Xmas gift: Superstorm Sandy-battered Sheepshead Bay residents, who spent the holidays without heat or hot water, got what they really wanted for Christmas — a disaster recovery center. The Federal Emergency Management Agency finally opened a relief hub in the hard-hit neighborhood, three months after the hurricane wrecked homes and businesses, and left families without basic utilities.
Atlantic oddity: Boffins discovered a 20-foot-long metallic “anomaly” below Atlantic Avenue, adding fuel to an urban legend about a 19th-century steam locomotive rumored to be buried inside a long-abandoned tunnel. Engineering consultants detected the peculiar finding under the surface of the bustling street near Hicks Street, deep inside a half-mile tunnel built in 1844 as part of a planned route to Boston.
Sour deal: Famed chocolatier Jacques Torres gave Dumbo residents a sweet-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, although most of his prized treats won’t be made there any longer.
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 up on the beach in Coney Island.
Boondoggle finally opens: Marine Park was soon flush with happier news when the long-awaited Carmine Carro Community Center — a $16 million bathroom and meeting house under construction for 10 years — was unveiled with a pomp-filled ribbon cutting, attended by patrons and dignitaries who couldn’t wait to check out the new plumbing after a celebratory feast of hoagies and pasta.
Goop scoop: The feds proposed digging up sludge from the grimy 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, invite flooding, and soak the area with more unwanted businesses.
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 opa? 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, much as he did a classic A&W car-hop on the Rock. Moudatsos promised to keep the old flavor mostly intact, except for some new Mediterranean boosts to the menu and “Mike’s” attached to the awning.
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 rivaling the 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 soaring skyward and 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 parm, 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.
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, just weeks after the Beasties were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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 rival, the Staten Island Yankees — whose stadium on the Rock was also flooded — is sticking with grass.
Fin-draiser: Brooklyn bohemians were all shook up that the popular Mermaid Parade on Surf Avenue may go extinct because of Hurricane Sandy. But a tidal wave of donations poured into a Kickstarter campaign to help ice princesses, crusty pirates, scantily clad sirens, and other urban urchins wig out again at the nation’s largest art parade.
Alley oops: 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.”
Captain Kidd: The new Brooklyn Nets coach may have zero coaching experience, but he’s the only basketball player in National Basketball Association history with 15,000 points, 10,000 assists, and 7,000 rebounds. Retired NBA hoopster Jason Kidd was brought in as the 18th headman of his former team. From 2001 to 2007, Kidd revitalized the then-New Jersey Nets as a player, helping them to reach two NBA finals.
Circus catch: Quick-thinking Cristina Torre — daughter of Gold Glove winner and former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre — proved she’s a utility player by leaping into action to save a baby boy’s life. The 44-year-old good Samaritan from Bay Ridge spied the infant dangling from the awning of a frozen yogurt shop and immediately swooped under the tot to make the catch. The infant miraculously survived with just a bloody nose, while his parents were nabbed for reckless endangerment.
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.
Fowl play: A pair of good Samaritans helped three feathered friends avert their swan song in Prospect Park by rushing to their rescue after seeing them trapped in a cluster of barbed fishing hooks. Licensed wildlife rehabilitator Anne-Katrin Titze and her bird-watching friend Ed Bahlman released and treated the swans, but had some harsh words for the anglers responsible, who should not have been using the hooks in the first place.
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 prompted staffers and politicians to take to the streets. Ten blocked traffic and got arrested, including Councilman Brad Lander (D–Cobble HIll).
R-ed times: The Metropolitan Transit Authority halted R train service between Bay Ridge and Manhattan for more than a year to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy. But it replaced it with ferry service from 58th Street in Sunset Park through January 2014.
VM-A-zing: The MTV Video Music Awards invaded 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.
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 claims that it will continue to control the project even if it owns less than half of a stake.
Flip of the LICH: A judge tries 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 driven by a possible “sinister purpose to seize [the hospital’s] assets and dismantle” it.
Primary colors: Brooklyn was the clear winner in the primary election, with borough residents coming out on top in three of the hottest races in the city. Sloper Bill DeBlasio claimed the Democratic nomination for mayor, Brooklyn Heights boy Joe Lhota grabbed the Republican line, and Carroll Gardens state Sen. Daniel Squadron and Fort Greene Councilwoman Letitia James headed into an October runoff for public advocate.
Meanwhile, Council races provided high drama, with upstart Carlos Menchaca unseating incumbent Sara Gonzalez in Sunset Park, and Chaim Deutsch scored an upset victory in he crowded Sheepshead Bay race. Former Diana Reyna aide Antonio Reynoso took his boss’ seat and effectively stuck a fork in disgraced former assemblyman Vito Lopez’s comeback hopes.
Tragic: Roman Pirozek, 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, its first in the borough. The sanitation department is 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.
Aviator shutdown: Brooklynites had their fun curtailed and workers saw their paychecks lopped when Aviator Sports Complex became a casualty of the federal government shutdown on Oct. 1. D.C. dysfunction shuttered all national parks, including Gateway National Recreation Area, where Aviator is located. The rec palace returned to business when the government rebooted 16 days later.
Gowanus alert: It became the law of the land to dredge and clean the fetid Gowanus Canal, as part of the half-billion-dollar federal Superfund cleanup. 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. 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 twentysomething. A visit to Crown Heights’ Pathways for Technology Early College showcased the school, and the mayor’s policy of shoehorning schools into existng ones, and the commander-in-chief rounded out the tour with a trip to Junior’s Restaurant for 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.
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.
Wonder Rocket: The iconic Astroland Rocket — once the centerpiece of its eponymous, space-themed amusement mecca — is zooming off to a new home at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, where the legendary, decommissioned ride will be restored to its former glory, this paper announced. Wonder Wheel Park owners want to spiff up the attraction and keep its commemorative “Astroland Park” lettering intact. They hope the rehabbed rocket will be an astronomic draw at its history day in the summer of 2014.
Narwhal no more: Even Flipper was dying to visit Brooklyn. Borough residents shed a tear for yet another dead dolphin after swam into Coney Island Creek, never to see the open ocean again. The death marked the fifth cetacean fatality in Kings County in 2013. Experts said the beast was likely sick and loopy when it took its final trip on Coney Island’s most dangerous water ride.
New biz: Whole Foods snipped the ribbon on its first store in Brooklyn, bringing a rooftop bar and a bevvy 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 beset with enough complications to bring on agita.
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. Civil libertarian Chris Dunn insists that the information blockade will come to an end with the arrival of a new administration at One Police Plaza in January, but only time will tell.
Council loves development: The Council green-lights a slew of controversial developments ahead of a changing of the guard at City Hall, including Borough President Markowitz’s Childs building concert venue in Coney Island, the Domino Sugar factory redevelopment in Williamsburg, and the Greenpoint Landing tower town planned for the confluence of Newtown Creek and the East River.