This may be your last chance to save the Admirals Row. On Dec. 11, the National Guard, which still controls the 10 150-year-old mansions in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, will hold its first public hearing about the fate of the buildings, the embodiment of faded grandeur if ever there were one.
And supposedly, the public will have a say: Should we preserve history — or should we demolish it and build a grocery store, the city’s favored option right now? If all goes according to plan, the Navy Yard will raze Brooklyn history so that contemporary Brooklynites can have yet one more place to buy tomatoes.
Last week, during a press conference announcing the creation of a $15-million historic center in an old structure called “Building 92,” Navy Yard CEO Andrew Kimball confirmed preservationists’ fears: while the historic Commandant’s House will be restored, Admiral’s Row will be demolished.
“Those buildings essentially would have to be rebuilt from the ground up,” he said.
Kimball later elaborated in a statement that destroying the Row will “not only create additional jobs, but will provide the community with a desperately needed supermarket with fresh produce.Ã‚Â Furthermore, our Employment Center will be relocated there so the community will have direct access to job opportunities at some of the 230 businesses within the Yard.”
The Navy Yard’s plan is supported by Borough President Markowitz, local Councilmembers, the community boards, and tenant associations.
Perhaps, but there’s something sadly shortsighted about what we call progress in this city. We tend to pave over history and move on. And anyone who objects is ridiculed as someone who wants to fight “progress.”
Can’t stop that, can you?
There is a way, of course. If enough people cared about saving the Admirals Row, they would have to create such an uproar at the public hearing that the administration could decide that it’s impolitic to move ahead with the plan.
The upcoming hearing is one of the mandatory steps the National Guard must take to turn the land over to the city, so the administration can fulfill its mission of bulldozing the buildings.
“I believe if they have a process and open it to people interested in using the buildings, some if not all of the mansions could be restored,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council “There’s a lot of interest in the community.”
And preservationists insist these mansions are worth saving.
“These buildings go back to before the Civil War,” said Roger Lang, whose been following the issue closely for the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “There are not a lot of buildings like that around. …Ã‚Â If you look past the dilapidation and imagine them with their porches restored and their masonry pointed and cleaned, they are great examples of Federal architecture.”
For much of its existence, the Navy Yard was considered the most important ship-building site in the nation. But in 1966, the federal government closed it. The city purchased most of the Yard, but not the Row, the following year. Admirals Row ended up in the hands of the National Guard.
The mansions were occupied up through the 1970s, when they were abandoned. They haven’t been maintained since.
Despite their subsequent erosion, the mansions are “some of the best examples of second empire Italianate architecture that we had in Brooklyn and possibly in New York City,” Bankoff said.
Sounds like something worth saving to me. And, something that is surely salvageable.
“Buildings have to be pretty far gone to be beyond saving,” said Lang. “But that’s not an economic calculation, that’s an emotional and physical one.”
Dana Rubinstein is a staff writer for The Brooklyn Paper.
Admirals Row public hearing. PS 307 (209 York St., at Gold Street in DUMBO), Dec. 11, 7 pm. Call (718) 907-5900 for info.