A few weekends ago, an urban exploring friend and I checked out Admiral’s Row in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Second Empire mansions were built between 1864 and 1901, and the block used to be home to high ranking military officers and their families, such as Commodore Matthew Perry, who encouraged the opening of Japan to the West. Now Admiral’s Row is abandoned, the buildings in disrepair, the stately iron gates and brick walls now keeping out trespassers rather than serving as a barrier between the wealthy oasis and the busy street.
Although Admiral’s Row has been entirely abandoned only since the 1970s, the homes have deteriorated significantly. Looking through broken windows, we could seem that entire floors had fallen and roofs had caved in. One thing I found odd about the place was that there wasn’t really any trash behind the fence. Usually with abandoned places, there are beer cans or other evidence of people who’d wandered in to explore or party…but there was nothing. It was kind of creepy and made me think twice of even examining the possibility of climbing the fence.
I read that there is a tennis court, and also a greenhouse, on the Admiral’s Row grounds, but I didn’t spot them from the sidewalk. It’s hard to convey with pictures, but these buildings are just sitting facing a street, across from a mostly concrete “park.” There is little foot traffic going by them, but they are not at all hidden or cut off from the rest of the city. I can’t think of anywhere else in New York that is so plainly abandoned, forgotten, in plain sight. Tangible ghosts of a past that has mostly been bulldozed over.
So what is the fate of Admiral’s Row? The site is owned by the National Guard, and the city has plans to raze the buildings and put in a grocery store. But there has been a strong effort to get the buildings restored, and preserving a structure called the Timber Shed that was used to store ship masts is part of the city’s development plan, although there was a threat it would collapse from the snow. (I’ve been unable to find out whether it did or not.) There has been a strong effort for landmarking, but considering what has happened recently with Coney Island and New York’s history of destroying to build rather than rehabilitating its existing buildings, I’m not optimistic. And yet, if people keep documenting the fragile, decaying beauty of Admiral’s Row, maybe there will be enough interest to bring back some of its grandeur.