When you look up Erie Basin Park, Google is going to tell you that it’s “permanently closed.” Google is lying to you. There is nothing barring you from visiting this quirky, semi-educational playground, except, perhaps, your self-consciousness about letting out your inner-child in front of the mile-long line of people waiting to get into IKEA. If you have schlepped all the way to Red Hook, Brooklyn, whether to shop at IKEA or to visit this park, you owe it to yourself to enjoy every inch of Erie Basin Park.
I wouldn’t blame you if you are initially confused when you arrive at Erie Basin Park. When I first crossed the IKEA parking lot to get there, I thought I stumbled upon the remains of an old industrial site. In a way, I had. Before this patch of land was rechristened Erie Basin Park, it was called Todd Shipyard and was used to repair cargo ships. The dock dated all the way back to 1864, so historic preservationists had their eyes on making it a landmark. But in 2008 IKEA decided that this waterfront property would be the perfect site for their 346,000 square-foot store. Of course, the preservationists were pissed, but as a concession to them, IKEA agreed to create a shipyard-themed park, making use of the leftover industrial equipment to make eye catching displays that give insight into the dock’s history.
Because it’s IKEA, these displays have a touch of Scandinavian quirk to them. Metal circles enclose brightly painted thingamajigs which served some function on the dock in its heyday. Plaques that line the dock’s railings set the scene with tales of what it was like to work at this shipyard. My favorite story is the one of the person who was so eager to be working at the dock that he started work on his 17th birthday. To be honest, this park isn’t as heavy on Brooklyn’s waterfront history as the nearby Waterfront Museum would be, but there’s still enough for history-lovers to appreciate.
If the yellow pegs and giant balls of rope don’t do it for you, perhaps the waterfront view will. There is something awe-inspiring about huge machinery looming over you, while an old dock decays right before your eyes. From this distance, the city seems far away. I think Erie Basin Park is at its best on a cloudy day. It’s the perfect place to sit and think before you enter the home goods onslaught that is IKEA.
Check this place out the next time you’re in Red Hook and let me know what you think of it! And if you thought this article was worthwhile, sign up for my email list and follow me on social media to receive more interesting tidbits about NYC. Thanks for reading!