BAY RIDGE – As New York homes became equipped with residential gas lines, starting in the mid 19th century, gas companies erected all over the city monstrous gas tanks, round towers that dominated local skylines and established their immediate surroundings as industrial. They “were built to provide constant pressure in residential gas lines during high demand,” the Times explained, in 2001, when the last tanks (in Greenpoint) were torn down. “Fluctuations in gas flow in homes can cause pilot lights to go out, causing risk of explosion and poisoning.” Manhattan had a whole “Gas House District,” dominated by the Gas House Gang, a real street gang before it became a sobriquet applied to the 1934 Saint Louis Cardinals.
The areas around gas houses were among the least desirable to live, polluted industrial zones one comic from the 1950s posits as the antithesis of the penthouse, that representation of upper-class sophistication. Still, almost every neighborhood had such gas tanks in the 20th century; they were essential components of the modern infrastructure.
Bay Ridge’s were located on almost an entire city block between Eighth and Ninth avenues, 65th and 66th streets, across from what became Leif Ericson Park. By the time they were dismantled, the tanks were the Bay Ridge Towers of their day, about 25 stories tall and visible from everywhere: they show up in an old photograph of the Kallman Home, which became Adelphi Academy, on 86th and Ridge, and another of McKinley Park, from Fort Hamilton Parkway and 78th Street. The tanks would have been familiar and recognizable to everyone.