Arsenals of adaptation

In May I posted the piece below about a trip a friend and I took to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This month Architect: The Magazine of the American Institute of Architects has more on the BNY and similar facilities across the country. Adaptive reuse is a fascinating topic. Though I was not living in New York at the time, I am old enough to remember the bottom falling out here in the 1970s. Where I grew up in South Florida most of my classmates, including my best friend, were people whose families had escaped the Northeast. New York City was down for the count and whether it would ever revive was far from a forgone conclusion. I was at a gathering this past weekend and one of the guests, a delightful woman in her mid-60s, mentioned buying a Park Slope brownstone in 1968 for…$18,000. When she and her husband told their parents what they had done, the young couple’s folks laughed and laughed at their foolhardy decision.

When I moved to the city in 1997 the rotting piers were still a feature of the Brooklyn and Manhattan waterfronts. Fifteen years later that is just about a thing of the past. Much of the infrastructure in the Navy Yard dates to the Civil War. The site was still active in the decades after the Second World War until finally closing in the mid 1960s. Structural changes in the American economy had rendered it obsolete. It is good again see signs of life.

 

On what turned out to be the warmest day of the year so far, a friend and I ventured to the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Saturday. From 1801 until its closure in the mid-1960s the BNY was where most of the ships for the United States Navy were built and maintained. Its locale, Wallabout Bay, was also the site of the infamous British prison ships during the Revolutionary War. For decades the Navy Yard sat mostly vacant, but has been revitalized in recent years through adaptive reuse. The city of New York now owns the 300 acre site and has done much to lure local businesses. Furniture makers, high tech entrepreneurs, fashion designers, and even a movie studio are all part of the new economy.

The site has come a long way, but you can still see the old Navy Yard if you look hard and pay attention. Here is a building waiting for renovation.

…and another. As you might imagine, I’m a big fan of ruin porn.

Here is an old pipe.

Many will know that the USS Monitor was built at the Navy Yard. It is worth noting that Brooklyn was its own city at this time. It did not became part of New York until the merger in 1898.

The same year as the consolidation another ship built in the Navy Yard made history…

…the USS Maine. The museum had beautiful models of a number of ships built by Brooklynites over the decades.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the Navy Yard in March 1914. Note that he is standing without the assistance of others; he did not contract polio for another seven years. I had no idea how tall he was. Roosevelt exudes strength and virility. If I am not mistaken that is Andrew Carnegie standing on his left. Carnegie campaigned hard for peace before and during the Great War, but in one of history’s cruel ironies it was his steel that built many of the ships used in the war.

When Roosevelt talked about the Arsenal of Democracy as president he was referring in large part to the Navy Yard. This is the USS North Carolina on the site in April 1941. Navy Yard workers built the battleship in 1937.

And of course there was the USS Missouri, on whose decks the Japanese surrendered in September 1945.

This is the Navy Yard today.

(image/Jim Henderson)

Not a bad way to spend part of the weekend. We already have plans for other sites in the area. It is going to be a New York City summer for us.