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The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company's Power Station first opened during the turn of the 20th century. Located on the Gowanus Canal, this smokestack-topped red brick building, which had surprisingly ornate inner staircases, powered the newly electrified transit lines to New York's outer boroughs. At its peak, the power station housed a conveyor system capable of moving 125 tons of coal an hour and enough boilers to fuel the eight 4,000-horsepower steam engine generators inside.
After technology passed the power station by, it fell into a state of disuse. The building had a brief reincarnation as a paper recycling plant, but after that the history became murky. The property has been in its abandoned state since the 1950s.
Somewhere in the early 2000s, the building was rediscovered and turned into an initially peaceful self-governed squat by runaway teens. The punk rock residents founded their community based on cooperative work (for a time there was even a bike shop inside) and "laws" against heavy drug use and violence. Squatters set up their own rooms, using colorful graffiti to decorate both common spaces and individual areas.
The squat was nicknamed the Batcave for the creatures living in the collapsed roof of the building. The top floor existed in a permanent haze of mist and rainwater, but was described as being quite beautiful and peaceful by residents at the time.
Unfortunately, heavy drug users and violent acts eventually pervaded the squat. The site was raided and residents were cleared out. The graffiti is all that is left of this colorful period in the building's history.
In the years since the squat was disbanded, several investors came forward with plans to reinvigorate the old power station. Initially, the site was slated for use as luxury lofts, condos, and townhouses, but the deal fell through. Next, it was considered for use as a cycling velodrome and artist studios, but, once again, the plan failed to take hold.
Finally, an actionable idea was hit upon by the Powerhouse Environmental Art Foundation. They commissioned the Swiss architecture firm that designed London's Tate Modern art gallery to build new art creation and fabrication studios on the former site of the Batcave. The project is slated for completion in 2020. Best of all, every piece of graffiti that can be saved and restored will remain intact to serve as inspiration for artists and fabricators at the new facility.
Cover photo by Batty_1 via Flicker