Buried under the vast 1400-space parking lot of Ikea, a major fixture of waterfront industry was lost after 120 years of continuous operation. The Red Hook Graving Dock employed 20,000 workers in its heyday and was one of the few places in the New York Harbor where the biggest ships could be repaired.
A graving dock, named for its coffin-like shape, allows boats to float in it while draining the water, exposing the hull for repair. 540 feet long when it was constructed in 1886, the Red Hook Graving Dock was extended twice in coming decades to its final length of 730 feet, earning it the designation by Scientific American as the longest dry dock in the country and possibly the world. It took 15 million gallons of water to fill it up.
In the mid-1880s, Red Hook was a natural site for such a massive maritime facility. At the junction of the Erie Canal and the Atlantic ocean, Red Hook could provide shipping traffic with repair services and a population to attend to the laborious tasks.
The terms under which Ikea got permission to pave over the dock met with great contestation from community groups and preservationists. The Swedish big-box retailer bought the property for 30 million dollars in 2005 and ignored alternative plans to save the graving docks from destruction. At the time of purchase, the dock was the only one big enough in New York to service some of the city’s own sanitation and sludge vessels. The paving over of the dock met with additional criticism in 2008 when the city released a report that New York’s maritime industry needed up to seven more graving docks to meet existing demand for big-boat repair services.