If you walk along Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn, it’s hard not to wonder about this row of decrepit homes with blown-out windows. Starting today, developers will begin to demolish nine of these historic buildings on Admiral’s Row, a beautiful set of homes once inhabited by high-ranking naval officers during the latter half of the 18th century. Empty and decaying since the mid-1970s, the future of these buildings on the premises of the Brooklyn Navy Yard was in limbo until recently. Plans have been approved to build a supermarket and expand the availability of commercial and industrial space. Wholehearted attempts were made to save these dignified but severely weathered structures, but developers prevailed. It is too late to say goodbye.
Among the buildings that will be razed is Quarters B, one of the homes of Admiral Matthew C. Perry, Commodore of the US Navy during the War of 1812. He was influential in opening Japan to the Western world during the 1850s. When steam engines were invented, Perry advocated for the modernization of the United States Navy.
Quarters H and a timber shed are the only structures being saved from destruction. The timber shed was once used to store large sailing masts when the Yard was under Navy ownership. All the homes were surrounded by a high brick wall and the property featured a tennis court, ice-skating rink, communal vegetable garden and many varieties of fruit trees.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard has had an industrious and storied past. Located near the East River in what is known as Wallabout Bay, merchant seafaring vessels were built here during the Revolutionary era. The land was purchased by the US Navy in 1806 (for FIVE dollars!). During the Civil War, 6,000 men worked at the Navy Yard, many of them living nearby in neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Greenpoint.
During World War II, 70,000 workers worked around the clock at the Navy Yard and contributed to the design and assemblage of naval warships such as the USS Arizona. Pedestrian walkways along the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges had clear views of the Navy Yard and were enclosed to prevent espionage during the War.
Admiral Row’s buildings have sat empty for many years; the last families moved out in the mid-1970s. The remains are haunting reminders of an era when the US Navy had an established presence in New York City; nowadays the most naval activity residents will ever see is during Fleet Week. The houses are now empty shells with peeling paint, rotted timber, and vegetation wildly crawling along its exteriors–it even looks like a tree is growing through one of its roofs.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard is experiencing a re-birth as efforts have been made to attract new tenants. The Cumberland Packaging Corporation, which makes packaging for Sweet ‘N Low, is right outside one of the Yard’s main gates. Warehouses for B & H Photo’s exhaustive inventory are on-site. Steiner Studios has built a production facility for popular shows like Boardwalk Empire and 30 Rock.
Some individuals have recognized the significance of Admiral Row’s history and documented their research. The Officer’s Row Project showcases many haunting images of the dilapidated ruins and preserves the memories of a bygone era of industry that would be unfamiliar to most New Yorkers today.