This week Brian gives us the history of Admiral’s Row at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, along with an update on it’s current condition.
What makes a building suitable for historic preservation? According to the National Register of Historic Places, determining factors are location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. But one section of Brooklyn, in a small pocket of the Navy Yard, is a belt of structures that meet every requirement, yet have been neglected for decades.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard has been an integral part of Brooklyn’s East River waterfront since its construction at the turn-of-the-nineteenth century. But few Navy Yard structures hold as much importance as the housing segment named Admiral’s Row. Today’s Admiral’s Row, however, carries quite a different appearance than during its nineteenth-century heyday. Now, the vacant structures are overtaken by thick, wild ivy and several have undergone partial collapse. Disrepair and forces of nature continue to batter the buildings, and the structural deficiencies have prompted several groups to organize for its protection and any feasible rehabilitation.
Admiral’s Row is situated at the corner of Flushing Avenue and Navy Street, and was used as housing for naval officers from the mid-nineteenth century up to the 1970s. Out of the seven buildings, one is a timber shed, the only remaining one of its kind on U.S. soil. The rest are elegant townhouses whose grandeur had come and passed. Two of homes are believed to have been designed by the notorious Thomas Ustick Walter, who led the 1860s reconstruction of the United States Capitol Building. The structures reflect Second Empire architecture, named for the then-chic French architectural elements of the Second French Empire. The distinct features of this period include mansard roofing, gables, and dormers. Mature hardwood trees join the countless untamed vines in climbing up the buildings; enduring reminders of Civil War-era landscaping. Although in a ruin-like state, the properties are still gracefully detailed with their original, decorative iron fencing.
Brooklynites and preservationists were struck in the soft spot when, in April, the National Guard deemed the conditions of one of the townhomes and the Timber Shed “beyond repair.” The resulting outcry criticized the National Guard (who currently owns the Navy Yard) against missed preservation opportunities, asserting that stabilization could have been carried out before the winter of 2009-2010. But, unfortunately, the failure to begin rehabilitation allowed the damaging winter conditions to take its toll on the buildings. In fact, the Timber Shed’s state of disrepair had become so severe in early 2010 that the National Guard erected a large, resilient fence around it to prevent the building’s looming collapse from pouring into the street.
New York has a quite a collection of historical structures, each telling a different story of an era or way of life. Pieces of history are crumbling before our eyes, and many aren’t being rescued. Admiral’s Row is one of Brooklyn’s treasured properties, now embroiled in a battle over ownership and development rights. But while the fight continues, the structures are failing beyond repair, and the squabble of Admiral’s Row is becoming a lesson learned.
It’s unfortunate that these historic structures have been let to fall into this condition. While New York is a city constantly tearing down and reinventing itself, there are some structures of historic and architectural importance that should be preserved.