The Brooklyn Navy Yard, located in Wallabout Basin off the East River– part of the neighborhood of Fort Greene/Clinton Hill– was commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1801 as a military complex that included a ship-building facility and naval hospital. The complex over the years continued to develop, expand and reinvent itself in response to the military, economic, technological and social forces affecting the nation as a whole.
The complex played a vital role in the Civil War, World War I and II and the Korean War. At its height, during World War II, the Yard’s achievements can be described without exaggeration as heroic. The complex was decommissioned in 1966, at around the height of the Vietnam War. The federal government waited almost two years before deciding to finally sell the property to the City of New York. For decades, the complex remained essentially untouched and fell into disrepair, until 1988, when a redevelopment effort finally started. Since that time, the Brooklyn Navy Yard has transformed into a fast-developing industrial complex that houses creative businesses, private manufacturing plants, several offices and Steiner Studios.
On Saturday, The Brooklyn Reader took a photo tour of the facility with Turnstile Tours, which offers a variety of tours at the Navy Yard, to learn more about this re-developing historical landmark, located right in our backyard.
First stop: Building 92 (BLDG 92). BLDG 92 is, for most who do not work in the complex, the first destination for all entering the yard. The center was built to be meticulously sustainable and environmentally friendly, as a re-introduction to the community to celebrate the Navy Yard’s past, present and future. BLDG 92 is an exhibition, visitors and employment center that is operated as a program of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC), the non-profit corporation that manages the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
BNYDC’s mission is to promote local economic development and job creation, develop underutilized areas and oversee modernization of the Yard’s infrastructure and assets while maintaining its historical integrity.
Next stop: The abandoned U.S. Naval Hospital and Surgeon’s House. Designed by Martin E. Thompson and completed in 1838, the 60,000 square feet main campus that houses the naval hospital was incredibly active beginning during the Civil War, all the way through World War II. In fact, the Naval Hospital supplied more than half of the medicines used by Union Troops during the Civil War and remained in active use until 75 years ago, in 1948, when operations moved to the St. Albans Naval Hospital in Queens. Now Steiner Studios this year plans to take over the landmarked property and turn the hospital building into an entertainment and media campus.
Next to the main hospital is the Surgeon’s Residence, a Nurses Quarters, a laboratory and other living quarters. One of the most well known physicians in medicine, Dr. E. R. Squibb, worked out of the naval hospital for years developing techniques for physical therapy and experimenting with the development of anesthesia. His discoveries were invaluable to the pain numbing techniques we appreciate today.
Final Stop: The Waterfront and Dry Dock Area. The waterfront is the end facing the East River with a clear, beautiful view of downtown and midtown Manhattan. FDNY emergency barges are stationed here for water emergencies. And of course the entire docking area can be used to transport heavy materials via the waterway.
Although the yard is no longer used to build ships, it is still used to repair ships in what is called a “dry dock.” In fact, the Navy Yard houses three of the remaining four dry docks along the eastern seaboard. What is a dry dock? It’s basically a large, sunken basin with a floating door (is hallow inside) at one end that functions much like a canal lock. When filled, the water level is the same as the surrounding water, allowing a ship to drive into it. Once the ship is in position, the door is closed, the water is pumped out, and the ship can settle high and dry into a pre-fabricated cradle so that its underside can be worked on. Here at these dry docks is where the Navy Yard works on repairing tugboats, barges and ferries.
If you’re interested in taking a tour of the Navy Yard, contact Turnstile Tours, which features a list of longstanding popular tours– The “Past, Present & Future Tour,” the “Photography Tour,” the “World War II Tour,” and their “Sustainable Architecture & Industry” bicycle tour, visit the website here. Most tours are two-hour bus tours conducted over the weekend and cost between $20-$30.
One of their newest tours to debut in February, “Making it in NYC,” is a walking tour of a manufacturing facility, offering an inside look at materials manufacturing right on site. For example, the upcoming tour of SITU Fabrication offers a behind-the-scenes view of a facility that manufactures suits for commercial space exploration!
*Unless otherwise indicated, all photo credits go to The Brooklyn Reader