The Brooklyn Navy Yard: Past, Present and Future

A recent tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard (BNY), which flanks five Brooklyn neighborhoods, gave me a glimpse of the past, present and future of this historic site.

From 1801 to 1966 the Navy Yard was a manufacturing center for ship building and repair. At one point over 70,000 people were employed at the BNY and they built over 130 battle ships, each ship taking two to three years to build. Historic ships were built here including the USS Ohio, the first ship to use combined sail and steam power, and The Niagara, used to install the first transatlantic communication cable. The USS Arizona, the ship bombed at Pearl Harbor, was built and launched in the BNY.  

The BNY’s manufacturing history spans naval architecture, design and ingenuity combined with cutting edge industrial practices.

Plan of the City of New York showing “Brookland” as a mosaic of farms with shades bisected by Flatbush road. Wallabout Bay is shown just below the “E” in East River and is the location of the BNY. Rendition by Army Lieutenant Bernard Ratzer, 1770.

Women iron workers leaving the BNY through the Sands Street entrance. Note the carton of milk in her hand. Physicians used to recommend drinking milk to help with the soldering fumes.

USS Arizona in the East River, named for the recently admitted 48th state, was destroyed in the attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.

In 1966 the federal government decommissioned the Navy Yard and subsequently sold it in 1967 to the City of New York for 23.5 million dollars. In 1981 the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC) was established with the following purposes: to improve the yards infrastructure, become economically self-sufficient and to create manufacturing jobs in New York City.

With over 4 million sf, the BNY is home to a wide array of industries with more on the way. Building 92 is the exhibition and visitor center. The LEED certified building has a beautiful perforated metal solar screen on its Flushing Ave. facade depicting the 1936 launch of the USS Brooklyn.

Building 92 Exhibition and Visitor Center

Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm

Brooklyn Grange, theLargest Rooftop Soil Farm

A stones throw from Building 92 is Building 3, home to Brooklyn Grange. Along with its Queens location, it is the worlds largest rooftop soil farm producing over 50,000 pounds of organically-cultivated produce per year. Fifty-thousand-pounds!

Building 77 is the last to be redeveloped within the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was originally built to serve the dual purpose of storing munitions and housing the office of the Yard’s Commandant, Public Works Design Branch, Naval Intelligence Office, and several other departments central to the operation of the Yard, the building functioned as the nerve center of the Yard until 1966. Since then, Building 77 has continued to operate as a warehouse and office facility. It is currently under renovation and is scheduled to be completed this year.

In May, the Brooklyn Brewery announced it would be an anchor tenant in the building alongside Russ and Daughter's. They plan to open a brewery on the ground floor, a beer garden on the roof and offices on the 9th floor by early 2018. Spacesmith, as interior design and programming consultants, is collaborating with Davis Brody Bond on this great project.

The Kings County Distillery also calls the Brooklyn Navy Yard its home. This distillery has a tasting room and bar offering tours of their Kentucky-Style Bourbon production facility.  They are housed within Building 121, which was the former paymaster building. 

Building 77, Marvel Architects Rendering

Brooklyn Brewery Rooftop,  Davis Brody Bond Rendering

Brooklyn Brewery Rooftop, Davis Brody Bond Rendering

King County Distillery Building 121

King County Distillery Building 121

Recently I visited Building 275 where Rooftop Reds, the world’s first commercially viable rooftop vineyard is located. I was there to catch a glimpse of Duke Riley’s public art performance titled Fly By Night.

Building 275

Building 275

The performance took place at dusk when a 2,000 plus flock of pigeons spun, swooped and soared above the East River. At the call of a whistle, thousands of birds emerged from their coops aboard the historic Bay Lander boat which was used to teach pilots how to land helicopters on boats. The pigeons circled above the river as the sun set over Manhattan and small leg bands, historically used to carry messages, were replaced with tiny LED lights, illuminating the sky.  

Fly By Night: Duke Riley’s public art performance of unprecedented scale and beauty.  This project pays homage to pigeon keeping, both in New York and farther afield. Pigeons have been domesticated for thousands of years and kept by people around the world for their companionship, sport and service.

While property development and population shifts have caused the practice to wane, Fly By Night reflected back on and made visible this largely forgotten culture.

In 2017, Mayor de Blasio's new Citywide Ferry Service throughout NYC will begin. This area will be used to dock ferries after operational hours. It is located in front of the Duggal Greenhouse which recently held the Democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Dismantling of the dock, this area will be used to dock ferries after operational hours.

The Billion Oyster Project initiative along the waterfront (BOP),  is a long-term, large-scale plan to restore live oysters to New York Harbor. 

The beloved Mast Brothers Chocolatier will be moving into a high volume interior space at the BNY.

There are many small to mid scale businesses in the Yard.  Refoundry trains formerly incarcerated people to repurpose and refurbish discarded materials into unique home furnishings and accessories. , a surfacing material made out of recycled glass, is fabricated here. Building 293 served as the assembly space for all CITI bikes before their roll out and is now the largest site for photovoltaics in city.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard is a unique place filled with much history, economic generation, sustainability, education and manufacturing. I highly encourage a visit! You'll get to know some of the people that are building its future.

As they say at the Brooklyn Navy Yard...we used to launch ships now we launch businesses.


Ambar Margarida
— Associate