After learning earlier this week that the Coney Island Aquarium bridge had been torn down, we couldn't help but feel a little melancholic. After all, we had used that bridge. We had walked over it many times over the course of our lives, appreciating not having to go down to the street level to get from the subway to the aquarium and boardwalk and beach. Was the bridge ugly? Sure. Was it unsafe? Apparently. That's the main reason it was dismantled. But did we still love it? Well, yes. We did. We loved it because we are irrationally sentimental about things that represent Brooklyn to us. Beautiful, iconic structures like the Brooklyn Bridge or the Williamsburgh Savings Bank mean "Brooklyn" to everyone, even if those people who have never visited and only have seen pictures. Would we be devastated if the beautiful things were to suddenly disappear? Of course. But for some reason, we take the little losses more personally. And so, we wanted to commemorate our favorite humble Brooklyn landmarks before they all get taken away from us too.
Air Vent for a Sewage Pump
This ornate black tower on the corner of Ocean Parkway and Avenue U might be one of the most mysterious landmarks in all of Brooklyn. I used to ride my bike past this corner with some frequency and always wondered what it was. It didn't seem to serve any purpose, but it was too deliberate looking to be purely decorative. It turns out that this thing is the air vent for an underground sewage pump located beneath the streets. So it does serve a pretty important—though maybe stinky?—purpose, and we'd be sorry to ever see it go. Plus, knowing what this mystery tower is all about is a great piece of Brooklyn trivia you can use to impress your friends.
Carroll Street Bridge
This humble bridge (also a favorite of Henry Stewart's) crosses over the toxic Gowanus Canal. While it might not be as iconic as the Brooklyn Bridge, or even the Manhattan Bridge, it has its own charm and allows you to inhale that specific Gowanus scent as you lean over its railing to take a picture of whatever weird debris is floating in the cloudy, bottle-green water of the Gowanus that day.
The Partially Dismantled Astrotower
Coney Island's Astrotower was deemed unsafe and partially dismantled last July. And we understood, we really did. It was rusty and swaying too much in the wind and had perhaps suffered foundational damage from Hurricane Sandy. Plus, it served no functional purpose and was not as aesthetically pleasing as, say, the still-standing parachute jump. But we still miss it.
The Pink House in Park Slope
So this is actually another cool, maybe aesthetically jarring landmark that has already disappeared. But while it lasted, the pink brownstone in Park Slope was one of the brightest spots in the whole neighborhood. We miss it. Especially because, as you can see in the image below, it looks even worse painted brown than it ever did painted pink. It's just not fun anymore. Depressing.
Whitehead Building at Brooklyn College
Brooklyn College has what some people consider a pretty campus. I tend to think that those people are only comparing BC's campus to NYU or something, because if you stack it up against, like, Princeton or Wesleyan or, I don't know, Claremont-McKenna, you won't really think Brooklyn College's campus is all that beautiful. Which, who cares, right? Sometimes it's the humble things that you grow most attached to, and so while the library at Brooklyn College is certainly nice enough, and the ivy-covered Boylan building has its charms, our favorite BC building is Whitehead. First of all, the name. The name is great. Going to class in a building named after a minor, pus-filled skin eruption is better than it sounds. But also, as you can see in the photo above, the lettering in the word Whitehead is irregular, with the second "h" being much smaller than the rest of the letters. This weird anomaly makes us love Whitehead even more. We hope they never change that "h."
The Red Hook Grain Terminal
This landmark is, of course, awe-inspiring and, as such, isn't exactly humble. But then again? It's also this odd abandoned industrial site that isn't something people immediately think of when they think "Brooklyn landmarks." We can't even contemplate how depressed we'd be if it was torn down or, like, converted into condos or something. Oh god, please never let that happen.
The rooftop water tower is one of the most iconic Brooklyn landmarks out there. I mean, it was even co-opted by Brooklyn Industries and everything! But, in our opinion, an even better Brooklyn landmark is the laundry smokestack. You can find them all over Brooklyn (Forgotten New York has a great round-up here), but the one we've long admired is the Cascade Laundry tower in Bed-Stuy on the corner of Myrtle and Marcy. The lettering is clear and the design on top adds an appreciated decorative note to such a functional structure.
Unused Railroad Tracks
These abandoned LIRR tracks that run through Midwood might not seem like much of a landmark. They're virtually impossible to see unless you are specifically looking for them, but it's the negative space they create (all throughout Midwood, Avenues H and I end in dead ends because of the tracks) that make them important. These tracks are an interesting, though humble, landmark because they are felt more than they are seen. And how many landmarks do you know that aren't in your face? Not many probably. We hope the city never builds over them, ruining what might be the most unobtrusive landmark on this list.
This gorgeous, dilapidated Victorian-era building located across the street from Green-Wood Cemetery on the corner of 25th Street and 5th Avenue used to house a florist shop where mourners could purchase bouquets to bring to their loved-ones' graves. Today though, the beautiful glass and wood structure shows the ravages of time and no longer serves as a florist (though the Weir family does still operate a florist shop in Brooklyn Heights), and was purchased last year by the cemetery so that it could be converted into a visitor's center and gift shop. So go visit this humble Brooklyn landmark while you still can.
Camperdown Elm in Prospect Park
Located near the boathouse in Prospect Park, this elm tree was planted in 1872 and is notable for growing horizontally rather than vertically, so that—as per the Prospect Park trees guide—"it resembles an oversized bonsai." The tree's branches are supported by a system of cables and it has been nursed back to health after suffering from pretty extreme decay, including having had ants and rats make homes for themselves in its trunk and suffering from an arboreal disease called "slime flux." The tree is the subject of a poem by Marianne Moore, the poem closes with the words "We must save it. It is our crowning curio." And we think that's how we should treat all humble, quirky Brooklyn landmarks—they are, after all, what distinguishes this borough and makes it special for visitors and residents alike.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen