If you’re like me, when you see an interesting restricted area, your first thought is “how can I gain access to this area without potentially being arrested?” Add a decaying structure to that restricted area and I am all for doing some amateur sleuthing. Along the waterfront in Wallabout Basin area in Brooklyn, NY sits one such area: The Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard was commissioned in 1801 by President John Adams after the American Revolution. Initially on 40 acres of land was acquired from shipbuilder John Jackson for $40,000. The first ship to come out of the Navy Yard was the USS Ohio launched in 1820. Ship construction at the Yard reached its peak during World War II; during this period, the Yard doubles in size, employed 70,000 people and operated 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The Yard would eventually encompass 300 acres across the Brooklyn waterfront and include a Hospital Annex, an Officer’s club, and other structures utilized for maritime purposes by Navy Yard personnel.
In 1966, President Johnson closed the Navy Yard and New York City bought the land. The City invested $3 million dollars in the Yard and reopened it for private ship construction. The largest tenant was Seatrain Shipbuilding, which closed in 1979, ending the long era of ship construction on the Brooklyn waterfront.
For 20 years, the property lay dormant. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the city began to reinvest in the property with an infusion of $250 million. Private industry also invested over $750 million making the Yard a large industrial complex. The Yard, managed by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporations, is now to Steiner Studies, the FDNY water division and many other small business and artists that rent out space within the sprawling complex.
Currently, the only building open to the public is BLDG 92 (Building 92). Originally built in 1857, the restored structure, which is comprised of old and new features, was officially reopened on November 11, 2011. This structure serves as an employment center, office space, classrooms and event/meeting space. It also host a visiting artist program for 92 independent artists who have access to the Yard’s grounds. BLDG 92 also has an exhibition which contains photos, replicas of ship built, a watercolor mural, an interactive model of the development of the Navy Yard, and an exhibit space about the current tenants at the Yard.
To tour other parts of the Navy Yard, I signed up with two of my friends for Turnstile Tours’ Seasonal Photography Tour. This 2-hour tour travels around the Navy Yard by bus. The tour stops at 3-4 different locations including the Hospital Campus, the pier with views of the Manhattan skyline and the historic dry dock, which is still used for ship repair.
First stop: Navy Hospital Campus
In 1824 the Schenck Farm, which was adjacent to the Navy Yard, was sold to the Navy Yard. This plot of land would become the Navy Yard Hospital Annex. Construction of the Hospital began in 1830 and the main portion was completed in 1838. The complex at this time included a laboratory, a morgue, and a cemetery. During the Civil War, the hospital provided up to a third of the medical supplies for the front line of the war. The Annex would also provide care, research and medicine production for several more wars.
At the end of World War II, though, the medical operations at the Hospital Annex were decommissioned. When the Navy Yard was decommissioned in 1966, the Annex remained under the control of the Navy and was used for support and administrative purposes. The 30 or so remaining buildings/structures became living quarters for navy officers and enlisted men. Finally in 1989, the Navy disposed of the complex. The Hospital and Surgeon’s quarters was stabilized and would eventually become landmarks. In 1993, the property was acquired by the Navy Yard. Since 2010, Steiner Studios, a production facility, purchased the complex and plans to expand their studio space.
Second stop: Waterfront
The second stop of the tour was the waterfront. This section of the Navy Yard was added around WWII and rest on landfill built on top of pylons. From the waterfront, there are view of the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges and of the New York City skyline.
This section included storage for the FDNY rescue boats and vehicles and a view of a ship unloading either sand or salt. This was a beautiful spot to take photos.
Third Stop: Dry Dock #1
Dry docks are utilized as a way to repair damage to ships without interference of water. The way a dry dock works is that a vessel is loaded into the dock, then a uniquely designed gate closes, the dock is drained and repairs are made to the vessel. Once the repairs are completed, the dock is filled with water again and the vessel can depart.
The dry dock that is part of the tour was completed in 1851, one of the oldest ever built. Over 164 years later, the dock is still in operation.
Thus ended the accessible part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard tour with Turnstile.
As my friends and I walked along Flushing Avenue outside of the Navy Yard, walking past a scaffolding and a painted green barrier, more decaying structures could be seen popping their head over the fence like ghostly relics in various states of disrepair.
Periodically in the barrier, there were plexiglass cut outs where you could see details behind the barrier. From here, you cold see nature reclaiming its property one ivy strand and over grown bush at a time. It was absolutely fascinating.
My biggest dream of dreams would be to be able to explore what lies behind this green fence. Alas, this is not to be, but one can dream. In the interim, though, I will content myself with the wonderful section of the Navy Yard I was able to tour with Turnstile Tours.