The Bat Cave/Gowanus Canal Graffiti Gallery & Squat

May 25th, 2006 by

(Writeup from spring, 2013 - Photos and original publication date: 5/25/2006)

In the mid 2000s, a decent portion of my explorations were fueled by a heavy desire to get away from the psychotic women who were desperately trying to cling to me like rats to a life raft as their broken lives went underwater. (Pro tip: never try to save someone drowning from the stupidity of their own bad decisions - they will only drag you down. No good deed ever goes unpunished.)

The first night I went to the bat cave, it was one of those turn off the phone and get away from these demented bitches nights. I was hitting up subway spots around Carroll gardens and figured that a little late night solo rooftoping might be in order as well.

Upon arrival, I found easy parking and a simple entrance to he property. Just hop off the bridge, walk along the shire down a desolate trash filled path, follow that path up to and over a wall - and boom. Your behind the powerhouse.

The amount of debris back here was a little surprising for 2005 standards. The blown out trucks and caddy by the door just made this place all the more inviting. One of the rear roll down gates was wide open. Inside, a dark abyss.

I enter, using my weak ass flashlight batteries were nearly dead from hours of subway tunneling. I went into the pitch black and turned it off. Best to save some power. And also listen. Much like in a subway tunnel your ears can tell you much more than your eyes in the darkness. What I heard disturbed me.

Often the sound of water dripping can be perceived as voices. Anyone who's been in a subway tunnel is familiar with this affect. So naturally, when I heard voices in the distance I assumed it was just water dripping. Still, it put me on low-level alert. I crept forward - and as I went, I'd keep hearing something distinctly less water drip and more voice-like. Who's in here?


I say this out loud and am greeted by a response of nothing.

Creeping in I went. This slow crawl ended when I heard sudden screams, from high above.

I didn't bother to light up my flashlight. I merely backed out. One creepy step at a time. That's not water dripping. It's someone actually screaming as if they're being murdered.

This slow crawl ended when I heard sudden screams, from high above.

The screams ended sharply before I got to the door. I couldn't decide if it was some seriously aggressive sex going down or something more sinister.

I waited around behind the building in a strategic position. Armed only with my 4 d cell mag light. No one came or went. No more signs of life or death.

I left. I briefly considered a call to the police but it was a Saturday night, in Brooklyn. Even if something evil was brewing it would be hard to convince officers to enter this place, and I would be putting my neck at risk for an obvious trespass charge. The old New Yorker mindset of 'don't get involved' kicked in, and away I drove. Fuck it. Not my problem. Having seen endless muggings and fights growing up in 70s and 80s NYC, and with these psychotic women trying to be in my life, I learned you definitely can't save everyone. Darwin's name persists for a reason.

A week later I went back with Cassandra.

Going back to such a place with a woman might seem counterintuitive but Cass is hardcore, and it was daylight. Plus I was better armed to boot. I could have mustered a whole crew but we were in the neighborhood, so fuck it.

Before we got off the bridge we saw crusty punk squatters coming down the path. We waited for them on the bridge and made small talk to gather intel. As a veteran of the 1990s lower east side squatter wars, crusty punks are my kind of people.

You can find a lot of write ups online that describe the people who live in and seek out locations such as this one as ' dark' 'lonely' and depraved. These are words written by clueless reporters and bloggers trying to romanticize something 'different'. These are not unfortunate souls. Nothing could be further than the truth. Squatters usually choose their lifestyle, rejecting the normal rules of society. Usually they are extremely young, though all are free of the workaholic grind that dominate American society in the early 21 century. Maybe some day we will become a society that tolerates and encourages seekers to thrive - a society where knowledge and living are valued more than conformity and money. Until then, there will always be buildings such as this one where those who choose can make a nest for the night.

Entering the building, I'm surprised by all of the natural light filtering through the graffitied and broken out windows. Stairs upward are immediately available to the left, so we take them.

On the second floor we encounter our next squatter. I totally forget his name. He greeted us, asked us what we're up to and again implored is not to post any details about the place online. I didn't. I threw up some internal photos later on under a post titles 'Go squat' - knowing a few explorers around town would figure it out but not the mass public or press.

Unlike many bloggers out there, I know when to keep my mouth shut, and the cost that loose lips have on ships. It is why we never posted the name of this place (until now, 2013 - nearly 10 years after exploring this building - well after the squatters were kicked out).

We also didn't do huge roller tags off the roof which would have invited attention. We certainly could have, but blowing up someone else's spot and home just isn't put bag. And yes, that is a dig at some of the street art people who used the roof of this building as a canvas for their own self-important promotion.

Christ. Who do we look like? Clueless location scouts?

Anyway, the further up into the building we went, the more squatters we met. At the top floor were the remains of a giant ballroom. The yellow walls long battered by decay and covered in layers of graffiti.

When we finally popped onto the roof to chill out for awhile, another squatter came up to lecture us not to post it online. Christ. Who do we look like? Clueless location scouts?

Eventually we made our way out. I came back here several times over the years. Towards the end you had to break in via climbing up the side of the building, and into either a fire escape door or window.

Today, some rich hipster guy owns the building and is apparently bent on doing something interesting with it. After 2 decades of extreme neglect, we will see if this latest owner puts his money where his mouth is.

This power plant was originally known as the 'Central Power Station of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit co". As the name implies, the main purpose for this station was to power the trolleys and elevated subways of the BRT (which was later absorbed into the BMT, and today's NYC MTA). It was a coal fired power plant, fueled by coal barges brought up the Gowanus Canal. Built around 1896, it ceased operations in 1974.

Some say that it was given to the Jewish Press in 1969 by Mayor Lindsay to buy votes. It was a Jewish entertainment center during the 1970’s and abandoned by the 1990’s. It became a squatter settlement for drug addicts, which earned it it’s local nickname as the Bat Cave.

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  • About The Author

    Bad Guy Joe

    Bad Guy Joe
    Bad Guy Joe knows more about the NYC underground than anyone else on or below the surface of this planet. He has spent nearly 30 years sneaking into NYC's more forbidden locations. When not underground, he's probably bitching about politicians or building something digital. 
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