February 28th, 2010 -
The Batcave once housed a massive squatter community on the banks of the Gowanus Canal. Situated inside a long-abandoned power plant, the squat was allegedly organized around a "communal way of life" with a "bike shop" and "rules about hard drugs and detrimental illegal activity." By 2006, however, the NY Daily News reported that the community had devolved into "a decadent drug culture consumed with vicious fighting" including "mainlined heroin" and "a homeless man... thrown from a window." In response to this lurid article, the building owners evicted the Batcave squatters and then "sealed the place off and posted a guard," according to Curbed.
Ironically, the owners of The Batcave had dreams to create their own community on the property, to be called The Gowanus Village. Revealed in 2004, their initial designs for this luxury housing development imagined "350 condominium and rental units... on a more than two-acre site," according to The Brooklyn Paper. The NY Times described it as "a collection of loft buildings and townhouses on the east bank of the canal." The Gowanus Village was just one of several large-scale housing developments planned in the neighborhood during the last decade. Other proposals included the Toll Brothers development, the Public Place project, and a Whole Foods Market to be located in a brownfield across the street from the Batcave.
Like much of the Gowanus Canal area, the land underneath the proposed Gowanus Village was considered extremely toxic. The property is officially designated as a brownfield, and in the past "included uses like a sulphur works and coal-fired power station, a paper mill, lumber yard, garage with gasoline storage tanks, an iron junk yard and auto repair shop," according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The Batcave building itself was once the Central Power Station of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT). Dating back to at least 1896, this coal fired power plant was "capable of moving 125 tons of coal per hour" which was used to power "the engine and dynamo room," according to Electric Power Plants by Thomas Edward Murray.
An initial visit to this empty powerhouse in 2007 revealed a surprisingly unique interior, with huge industrial halls dominated by hundreds of graffiti pieces. Many of the squatters' rooms remained intact, with beds, posters, prescriptions and needles left behind as evidence of a rushed eviction. This evocative space was soon featured in an award-winning film about a Brooklyn squatter, "Cave Flower" (2008) directed by Sam Fleischner. A second visit to the Batcave in 2010 revealed further natural decay. Additional holes in the slowly collapsing roof flood water into the building. Mold and rust have overtaken many surfaces. Like a tomb, the empty building still contains many squatters' belongings trapped inside.
The recent plans to build a new community on the banks of the toxic Gowanus Canal now seem to be part of a faded dream. As last decade's real estate boom collapsed in 2008, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that The "Gowanus Village property is back on the market.... the asking price is $27 million." By 2009, the NY Times had concluded that "New York is, after all, a city where people have proved themselves willing to live almost anywhere, where no location, be it smelly or notorious... seems to be beyond the reach of gentrification. But the case of the Gowanus Canal has put that assumption to an extreme test.... the Gowanus Canal has been left to wait on the verge of metamorphosis, no longer one thing but not yet another."
To date, no one has stepped forward to buy The Gowanus Village property. The land remains abandoned. The Batcave is now being offered for sale by realtor Massey Knakal, which writes simply "Make an Offer."
For additional photos from this expedition, see Bluejake.