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Historic, Industrial, Military

Inside the Brooklyn Army Terminal

The Brooklyn Army Terminal's Building B stretches toward the horizon.

The Brooklyn Army Terminal’s Building B stretches toward the horizon.

Let me be the first to point out that the Brooklyn Army Terminal is far from abandoned. It’s actually one of the most vibrant hubs of industry remaining on a Brooklyn waterfront that was once dominated by factories, warehouses, and refineries, many of which have fallen into decay or been renovated into luxury condos.  Along with the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the neighboring Bush Terminal, and nearby Industry City, the Army Terminal is proving every day that industry can not only survive, but thrive, on the Brooklyn waterfront.

I’m often asked why abandoned buildings in New York aren’t just turned into housing for the homeless, offered up to local artists, or repurposed as museums, and the truth is it’s never, ever that simple.  But here’s an example of a historic building that has been painstakingly brought back from the brink of decay–over a period of 35 years with $150 million in public and private investment–to become a viable source of job creation.  Luckily, the Brooklyn Army Terminal has managed to retain a palpable connection to its history, and in some areas, a pleasing patina of decay in keeping with its old age.

At almost 100 acres, the property covers the length of several city blocks.

At almost 100 acres, the property covers the length of several city blocks.

The Terminal was the largest concrete building in the world at the time it was built.

The Terminal was the largest concrete building in the world at the time it was built.

Overall, the structure reflects the austerity and efficiency one might expect given its military origins, and sure enough, nearly every architectural embellishment turns out to serve a practical purpose.  Seemingly decorative studs lining the top of the facade actually function as a simple but effective drainage system for the roof.  It’s a testament to the genius of its architect that such a utilitarian building can attain such elegance.  The designer, Cass Gilbert, is best known for masterminding some of New York’s most beautiful and ornate structures, like the iconic Woolworth Building or the majestic Customs House, not to mention the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC.

The construction of the Brooklyn Army Terminal began in 1918 under the direction of the federal government, with the goal of establishing a more efficient means of dispatching supplies and personnel to military fronts around the world.  The four million sq ft complex of warehouses, offices, piers, and railroads was built over a period of only 17 months.  Though the First World War had ended by the time the structure was completed, the Terminal proved indispensable during WWII, employing over 20,000 military personnel and civilians.  It acted as the headquarters of the New York Port of Embarkation, which collectively moved 3.2 million troops and 37 million tons of supplies to army outposts around the globe during the war. Hundreds of thousands of men passed through the terminal on their way to serve overseas, arriving by trains that dropped them off a few paces from the ramps of outgoing ships. The most famous visitor was Elvis Presley, who stayed longer than most, holding a press conference in front of a crowd of photographers, reporters, and fans before embarking on an 18 month tour of Germany in 1958. He had been drafted the previous year.

Restoration is progressing on a previously abandoned admin building.

Restoration is progressing on a previously abandoned admin building.

A bathroom mirror and friendly reminder were left behind in the gutted interior.

A bathroom mirror and friendly reminder left behind in the gutted interior.

Utility room on the roof of the annex.

Utility room on the roof of the annex.

The Terminal’s design was easily adapted to a variety of uses in peace time.  During prohibition, it warehoused confiscated liquor from NYC speakeasies, and after the facility was decommissioned in 1966, the USPS moved operations into the ground floor following a fire in a prominent Manhattan branch.  But through much of the 60s and 70s, the facility fell into a period of decay and decline.  Ownership transferred to the city of New York in 1981, and the monumental task of restoring the structure for modern industrial use began in earnest when the NYC Economic Development Corporation stepped in to manage the building.

The job was split into discrete stages, tackling one section of the massive complex at a time.  An upcoming renovation project dubbed “Phase 5” will complete the restoration of the two largest structures by revitalizing the last 500,000 sq ft of Building A, thanks to a $100 million dollar grant from the De Blasio administration announced last May.  Today the leasable space boasts a 99% occupancy rate, with a diverse list of tenants including furniture builders, jewelry makers, and chocolatiers.

If you’re lucky enough to pay a visit, the highlight of the trip is Building B’s jaw-dropping atrium. (It’s generally closed to the public, but Turnstile Tours and Untapped Cities offer regular guided tours.) Freight cars would pull directly into the building and unload supplies with a five ton moveable crane that traveled the atrium from end to end, spanning the length of three football fields. Now the area serves as a walkway for tenants, and loading docks have been repurposed as balconies and container gardens. Recently, the location has been wildly popular for film and photo shoots, which is no surprise. It’s one of the most remarkable interiors in all of New York City.

The Brooklyn Army Terminal Atrium.

The Brooklyn Army Terminal Atrium.

Loading platforms were staggered to allow the cranes to access each level.

Loading platforms were staggered to allow the crane to access each level.

Vintage LIRR trains marooned on the tracks are just for show.

Vintage LIRR trains marooned on the tracks are just for show.

Platforms and railroad tracks run the length of the atrium.

Platforms and railroad tracks run the length of the atrium.

The glass ceiling was removed in the 1980s due to the high cost of maintenance.

A glass ceiling was removed in the 1980s due to the high cost of maintenance.

Afternoon light penetrates the west wall of the atrium.

Afternoon light penetrates the west wall of the atrium.


Book stuff is starting to wind down, but I do have a couple events on the horizon for anyone interested in attending.  As always, you can pick up a signed copy directly through me at this website, it’s the best way to support what I do.

Coming Up:

  • Brooklyn Brainery, April 15th 8:30-10:00, $7 (Sold Out)
  • Mid-Manhattan Library, May 7th, 6:30-8:00, Free!

Discussion

14 thoughts on “Inside the Brooklyn Army Terminal

  1. Hey Will, great post and great to have a new one (I know you are busy with book related activities). This one is really interesting and the photos are great. Hope all is well and that book sales are skyrocketing.

    Like

    Posted by Frank Brennan | 3-20-15., 2:10 pm
  2. hey – the event on may 7 doesn’t have the right link and doesn’t appear on the nypl website!

    Like

    Posted by Janice Tan | 3-20-15., 5:21 pm
  3. Hi i tried signing up for the event on May 7th but it doesnt exist on the NY public library site. Could you please point me in the right direction?

    thanks

    jack

    Like

    Posted by jack ben-harari | 3-20-15., 6:13 pm
  4. these images are awesome, great captures of this place

    Like

    Posted by Matt Coglianese | 3-30-15., 9:52 pm
  5. I worked there for about 6 1/2 years. It’s a great building when you stop and look at all the nooks and crannies and realize it’s history. Your pictures are great – they actually make it look a little better than it really does ( or did until I left last year) though bit by bit they’ve tried to spruce it up. Building B in particular looks a bit like a prison as you approach it. Building A has had the most cosmetic work inside so far and looks far more “modern”

    Like

    Posted by Dave | 6-21-15., 9:24 pm
  6. This place is great. The atrium was locked the day we went on tour. We hope to go back in Fa.We followed up this tour with the Woolworth building. I know this one is way plainer compared to the Woolworth but I think there’s a simplistic beauty to it. It was really nice being able to compare two of Cass Gilbert’s buildings.

    Like

    Posted by jebusandandrea | 6-22-15., 3:50 pm
  7. I WOULD LIKE TO MAKE IT A SHOPPING CENTER AND FOOD COURT. CAN YOU CALL ME AT 212-426-1020 ASK FOR BRANISLAV LUCIC. ALSO WRITE TO BRANISLAVL@AOL.COM

    Like

    Posted by BRANISLAV | 12-14-15., 12:25 pm
  8. I was stationed at the BAT while in the Navy. My ship, the Gen. Darby, transported Army troops and dependents to West Germany in the 60’s. What a great building.

    Like

    Posted by Frank R. Bartolotta | 12-24-15., 3:52 pm
  9. Aha, my dad actually worked here a while ago! His company is still there and they’re friendly so I’ll definitely see if I can get a glimpse in 😉 The subway tracks nearby are also amazing, as well as the port and loading dock. Nothing too special, but fun to see!

    Like

    Posted by Maria | 5-7-16., 11:53 pm
  10. when man landed on the moon , on the exact moment of the impact, i was there, working in the parcel post section in the third floor,it was already dubbed into a post office terminal after the devastating fire of midtown Morgan station of Manhattan.on that day i believe it was july 20,1969 every one froze for a minute including our supervisor,i still remember his name,mr Leonard,we all held our breaths, erupted into wild cheers on touchdown.i worked there in every floor in every department, i was there until the last day when the post office moved to a more appropriate site in Seacaucus NJ ,instead of following i chose to move to GPO Manhattan. of BAT i have many memories good and bad,mostly good,it always seems to come back now and then in my dreams, if i can in the nearby future will try to visit one more time and put the memories to rest.

    Like

    Posted by SALVATORE CENTO | 5-31-16., 3:50 pm

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Thanks to @6sqft for featuring my Staten Island project "Arthur Kill Road" on their Urban Lens series today. Head to the link in my bio to check out the interview.
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Pictured here: A foggy morning under the Verrazano Bridge at Fort Wadsworth.
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#arthurkillroad #nyc #statenisland #abandonednyc #somewheremagazine #explore #verrazanobridge #fortwadsworth #outerboroughs Another view of the Kreischer Street worker's houses through the seasons.
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A row of landmarked workers' houses stand frozen in time on Kreischer Street, in view of the famous (and haunted) Kreischer Mansion in Charleston, SI. They were provided to employees of the Kreischer Brick Works, which operated on the waterfront here in the late 19th century.
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Check out the blog for more on the history of "Kreischerville." (link in profile)
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#arthurkillroad #arthurkill #nyc #outerboroughs #somewheremagazine  #picketfence #abandonednyc #oldhouses #oldhouse #oldhouselove #nylandmarks #nyclandmark (2/2) Enterprising beachcombers can still find colorful Atlantic tiles if they hunt long enough, but regular bricks are more common.  Strangely, their manufacturer's marks point to a wide range of origins, some from as far away as Texas and Missouri.
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(🔗 in profile for more views of NYC's "South Pole")
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#brickcollecting #brickhunting #beachcombing #tottenville #arthurkill #abandonednyc #abandonedplaces #statenisland #urbanexpliration #abandoned #nychistory #nyhistory (1/2) This unassuming patch of waterfront in Tottenville holds the remains of the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, which made colorful architectural ornaments for many notable NYC buildings, including the Woolworth and the Flatiron.  The rubble was piled up on the edge of the Arthur Kill after the factory was demolished in the 1940s.
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(🔗 in profile for more views of NYC's "South Pole")
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#brickcollecting #brickhunting #beachcombing #tottenville #arthurkill #abandonednyc #abandonedplaces #statenisland #urbanexpliration #abandoned #nychistory #nyhistory A view of the Arthur Kill at dusk, with Outerbridge on the horizon.
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The name of the waterway is an anglicized version of the Dutch "achter kill" meaning back river or channel, referring to its position at the "back" of Staten Island.
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In an area rife with supposed hauntings, the Arthur Kill is itself a kind of ghost. The route was formed by an ancestral iteration of the Hudson River.
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Glacial activity altered the course to its current position but the vestigial strait remained, isolating a sneaker-shaped landmass. Staten Island was born.
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The Arthur Kill is home to several lesser-known "boat graveyards" in addition to the world-famous ship graveyard in Rossville.  This one sits off the Charleston waterfront.
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More photos and history on the blog (link in profile)
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#abandoned #abandonednyc #abandonedplaces #shipgraveyard #lostplaces #urbanexploration #urbex #outerboroughs #statenisland #silive #shipwreck #boatgraveyard #originstory #arthurkill #arthurkillroad #nycprimeshot #nyhistory #nyhistoricalsociety #nyc #newyork Outerbridge Crossing happens to be the outermost bridge in NYC, but it's named for Eugenius Outerbridge, first chairman of the Port of New York Authority, now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "Outerbridge Bridge" wouldn't do, so they deemed it a crossing.
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See more in my latest post on the blog outlining the remote edges of Tottenville and Charleston, the "South Pole" of New York State. (Link in profile)
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#urbanexploration #bridges #nycbridges #bridgesofinstagram #arthurkill #tottenville #urbanwilderness #nyc #newyorkcity #silive #urbex #underthebridge #longexposure #daylightlongexposure #topnewyorkphoto #statenisland #outerboroughs #newyork_ig New post up on the blog today highlights a few areas of interest near the "South Pole" of New York, including this little-known bus graveyard. 🏚🚌 (link in profile)
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I might not have been the first to discover this place, but it was new to me when I stumbled across it in May 2015.  I revisited a few times to capture it in different seasons, it's a beautiful scene any time of year.
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#abandoned #abandonedplaces #urbex #urbanexploration #graveyard #exploreeverything #nyc #statenisland #abandonedworld #seasons #snow #urbandecay #abandonednyc Disappearing into fog, from the Brooklyn side... Any Bay Ridgeites remember what used to be on these signs?

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Country roads meandered through sweeping forests, quiet beach communities, and open expanses of farmland crawling with nanny goats.
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#newyork_ig #nycprimeshot #newyorknewyork #nyhistory #nyc #statenisland #bridgeporn #verrazanobridge #newyork #topnewyorkphoto #fiveboroughs #bridgestagram #underthebridge The city of New York took over the Staten Island Ferry in 1905 after a series of deadly disasters on privately-run lines. 🌊💀🔥 The 1871 "Westfield" disaster was the worst of them.  Nearly 100 passengers lost their lives when a boat's boiler exploded in its slip at Whitehall.  Jacob Vanderbilt, head of SI Railway at the time, was charged with murder, but never convicted.

More history up on the blog (🔗 in profile)

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