From The Archives: Historians, Developers Wage Campaigns Over Navy Yard Site (December 2008)

Editor’s Note: “From The Archives” is a new series featuring articles written by me that either never made publication before now or were published and have been lost in a digital black hole. The following article falls under the category of the former. This piece was originally created in December of 2008 for my Interactive I class during my first semester of graduate studies at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

One of the former Admiral's Row houses, lifeless and destroyed.  Photo: Gabriele Stabile The New York Times

One of the former Admiral's Row houses, lifeless and destroyed. Photo: Gabriele Stabile The New York Times

Signs of revitalization litter the Flushing Avenue side of the famed Brooklyn Navy Yard: construction workers, surrounded by orange cones and warning messages, shake and rattle as they drill into the exposed thoroughfare, in preparation of the coming dark asphalt and white chalk lines that comprise a finished street. Cars carefully maneuver around the work area in an effort to prevent delays to their normal daily commute. And pedestrians do their best to avoid the hot zones and not to get caught in the wake of either group’s activities.

While New York City pumps life back into the pavement with each jackhammer blast and bulldozer scoop, the adjacent former Naval living quarters known as Admiral’s Row remains lifeless and vacant, almost serving as memorial for a time long gone via its makeshift architectural catacombs.

Many residents of the surrounding Wallabout neighborhood want to salvage the houses, so much so they enlisted the assistance of the Historic Districts Council with the intent of land-marking the area.

However, in October 2006, Mayor Bloomberg and Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, the entity charged with re-structuring the surrounding land, launched a three-year, $250 million privately financed expansion of the Navy Yard with the hopes of using the land as a parking lot for a future supermarket.

The proverbial battle lines marked in the sand – – or this case, the asphalt – – caused many to take sides. “It can be saved,” said Scott Witter, a Wallabout resident and activist fighting for the Navy Yard’s stay of execution. “It is a small piece of Brooklyn’s history and it deserves to be protected, not destroyed.”

“They have to honor it somehow,” said Louise Greene, a former member of Fort Greene Land Use Community Task Force. “The men and women who lived there . . . their sacrifice contributed to the life we know today.”

Part 1 of this video series briefly details the current structural conditions of Admiral’s Row.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard does not allow outside visitors to tour the houses. Yet, Alexis Robie and Corie Trancho-Robie, the the creators of, had a chance to capture the area by photograph, a collection that depicts the neglected and ravaged conditions of Admiral’s Row.

Editor’s Note: The slideshow is no longer available. Instead, take a look at Emilio Guerra’s amazing Flickr slideshow of the Row.

In Part 2, Simeon Bankoff, the Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council, explains why these houses are significant and special.

Bankoff stated in the interview that the Historic Districts Council engaged in protests, press awareness campaigns and testified in a number of hearings on the land. Bankoff said they also hired a lawyer, who researched the actual property laws and environmental laws involved in the case in an effort to stop the Row’s destruction.

In Part 3 of the series, I detail the possible future of the Row, an outcome it seems the city is determined to realize.

In the meantime, Admiral’s Row stands in dire anticipation of the Army’s final verdict, sheltered behind its looming oak trees, slowly wasting away into historic obscurity.

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