The site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard was originally a mudflat and tidal marsh settled by the Canarsie Indians. The Dutch colonized the area in the early 17th century, and by 1637, Dutch settler Joris Jansen Rapelje purchased 335 acres (136 ha) of land around present-day Wallabout Bay from the Indians.:17 (PDF p. 21) The site later became his farm, though Rapelje himself did not reside on it until circa 1655. Rapelje was a Walloon from Belgium, and the area around his farm came to be known as "Waal-boght" or "Waal-bocht", which translates roughly into "Walloon's Bay"; this is probably where the name of Wallabout Bay was adapted from.:17 (PDF p. 21) The Rapelje family and their descendants had possession of the farm for at least a century afterward, and mostly farmed on the drained mudflats and tidal marshland. They built a grist mill and a mill pond on the site by 1710.:17 (PDF p. 21) The pond continued to be used through the 19th century. The Remsen family were the last descendants of the Rapeljes to own the farm, and they held possession of nearby land plots through the mid-19th century.:18 (PDF p. 22)
During the American Revolutionary War, the British kept prisoners of war inside decrepit ships which were moored in the bay. Many of the prisoners died and were subsequently buried in long, shallow trenches on nearby solid ground.:18 (PDF p. 22) Around 12,000 prisoners of war were said to have died by 1783, when all the remaining prisoners were freed. The Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument in nearby Fort Greene was built to honor these casualties. In 1781, shipbuilder John Jackson and two of his brothers acquired different parts of the Rapelje estate. Jackson went on to create the neighborhood of Wallabout, as well as a shipbuilding facility on the site.:20 (PDF p. 24) The first ship that Jackson built at the site was the merchant ship Canton, which he built in the late 1790s.:12
Development and early years
in the yard circa 1903
The Jacksons put the land up for sale in 1800, and the federal government soon learned about the sale. On February 7, 1801, federal authorities purchased the old docks and 40 acres (16 ha) of land from John Jackson for $40,000 through an intermediary, Francis Childs. Childs sold the site to the federal government sixteen days later.:20 (PDF p. 24) The purchase was part of outgoing U.S. president John Adams's plans to establish a series of naval yards in the United States. This particular site was chosen because it was thought that the plot's location near Lower Manhattan and New York Harbor would be ideal for placing military defenses; however, this never came to fruition.:4–5
The property went unused for several years because Adams's successor Thomas Jefferson opposed military build-up.:12 The Brooklyn Navy Yard became an active shipyard for the United States Navy in 1806, when the yard's first commandant Jonathan Thorn moved onto the premises. Even so, it took several decades before the Brooklyn Navy Yard was fully developed; for the most part, early development was focused around the western side of the current yard.:21, 24 (PDF pp. 25, 28) It was around the same time that Quarters A, the federal-style commandant's house, was built at the northwestern corner of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.:22 (PDF p. 26)
In 1810, the federal government acquired another 131 acres (53 ha) of land from the state of New York. Much of this land was underwater at high tide. During the War of 1812, the Brooklyn Navy Yard repaired and retrofitted more than one hundred ships, although it was not yet used for shipbuilding.:9
The first ship of the line built at Brooklyn Navy Yard was the USS Ohio, a wooden ship designed by Henry Eckford. Her keel was laid in 1817, and she was launched on May 30, 1820.:11 The yard's first receiving ship, a type of ship used to house new recruits for the Navy, was Robert Fulton's steam frigate, USS Fulton. The Fulton was initially called the Demologos and was designed as a floating battery to protect the New York Harbor. However, the steamship was deemed inadequate for that purpose, and when Fulton died in 1815, the vessel was rechristened the Fulton. The Fulton then served as a receiving ship, moored off the shoreline of the Navy Yard until she was destroyed in an explosion on June 4, 1829.
By the 1820s, the Navy Yard consisted of the commandant's house, a marine barracks building, several smaller buildings, and shiphouses on what is now the northwestern corner of the yard. Of these, the commandant's house is the only remaining structure. The Navy acquired an additional 25 or 33 acres (10 or 13 ha) from Sarah Schenck in 1824, on which it built the Brooklyn Naval Hospital. The same year, it was converted into a "first-class" yard. The hospital opened in 1838.
Admiral Matthew C. Perry arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1831, and was subsequently commandant from 1841 to 1843. Perry helped found the United States Naval Lyceum at the Navy Yard in 1833. The Lyceum, which was housed in a handsome brick building,:22 (PDF p. 26) published several magazines and maintained a museum of documents from around the world. Its membership included junior officers, lieutenants, midshipmen, and several U.S. presidents. When the Lyceum disbanded in 1889, its documents and artifacts were transferred to the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Maryland, and the museum building was subsequently demolished. In addition, when the U.S. Navy's first steam warship Fulton II was built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1837, Perry helped supervise the vessel's construction, and he later became her first commander.:23 Perry was also present during the construction of Dry Dock A, but he left his position as commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1843.
Early Brooklyn Navy Yard mechanics and laborers were per diem employees, paid by the day. As per diem employees they were rarely in a position to negotiate wages.[a] Wages fluctuated significantly based on the congressional apportionment for that year. The Brooklyn Navy Yard soon became a large employer because of the expansion of shipbuilding. In 1848, the yard had 441 employees who typically worked a ten hour day, six days a week.
Creation of street grid
In 1826, the United States Congress required all of the United States' naval yards to procure a master plan for future development. Because of various issues such as the muddy geography, the narrowness of the nearby shipping channel, the Brooklyn Navy Yard's small size, and the density of existing development in the surrounding area, the Navy was unable to submit a feasible master plan for the yard.
The engineer Loammi Baldwin Jr. was hired to create a design for building a dry dock at the yard in 1825. Baldwin's plan, published in 1826, created a street grid system for the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Two other dry docks were designed: Drydock One at the Boston Navy Yard, and Drydock One at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Because of a lack of funds, construction of the Brooklyn Navy Yard's dock was delayed until 1836, when the two other dry docks were completed. Construction on the dry dock started in 1841, and it was completed in 1851. In the mid-19th century, the boundaries of Wallabout Creek were placed in a channel, and the creek was dredged, contributing to the surrounding area's development as an industrial shipyard.:26 (PDF p. 30)
Mid- and late 19th century
By 1860, just before the American Civil War, many European immigrants had moved to Brooklyn, which had become one of the largest cities in the United States (it was not part of New York City until 1898). The yard had expanded to employ thousand of skilled mechanics with men working around the clock. At the start of the war, in 1861, the Brooklyn Navy Yard had 3,700 workers. The navy yard station logs for January 17, 1863, reflected 3,933 workers on the payroll. The yard employed 6,200 men by the end of the war in 1865.:13
During the Civil War, the Brooklyn Navy Yard manufactured 14 large vessels and retrofitted another 416 commercial vessels to support the Union's naval blockades against the Confederate Navy. The Monticello was rumored to have been retrofitted within less than 24 hours. For three months following President Lincoln's "75,000 volunteers" proclamation in April 1861, the Navy Yard was busy placing weapons and armaments on vessels, or refurbishing existing weapons and armaments. In an article published that July, The New York Times stated, "For several weeks hands have been kept at work incessantly, often at night and on the Sabbath." The screw steam sloop Oneida, launched on November 20, 1861, was the first vessel built at the Navy Yard that was specifically intended for the American Civil War. She participated in the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip in 1862, and in the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864. Another vessel that was outfitted at the Navy Yard was the Monitor, built at the Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and commissioned at Brooklyn Navy Yard on February 25, 1862. Later that year she fought the CSS Virginia (originally USS Merrimack) at the Battle of Hampton Roads. Other vessels built for the Union Navy during this time included the Adirondack, Ticonderoga, Shamrock, Mackinaw, Peoria,
, Maumee, Nyack, Wampanoag, and Miantonomoh.
Because of the Navy Yard's role in creating ships for Union blockades of the Confederacy, it was a target for Confederate supporters, who would attempt to ignite the yard's storage facilities.:102 After the Union Navy quickly realized the plot, it mobilized sailors and Brooklyn metropolitan police to keep watch around the yard, and the Confederates never tried to mount a real attack.:103
After the Civil War
The USS Florida
, seen at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1900
In 1866, following the end of the Civil War, there was a large decrease in the number of people working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, although the yard continued to finish off the vessels that were already under construction. Shipbuilding methods had improved greatly during the war's duration, and the shipbuilding technology that the Navy used was now obsolete; this was compounded by a series of other problems that the Navy faced in general, such as corruption. Likely as a result, the Brooklyn Navy Yard did not start construction on any vessels between 1866 and 1872. Some boats were launched during this period, such as the Kenosha, which was launched in 1868. By the late 1860s and early 1870s, the Navy Yard was creating steel steam vessels, as they were faster and easier to maneuver compared to wooden vessels.:9 An iron plating shop had been constructed for the construction of such vessels. The Trenton, launched in 1876, was the final wooden vessel with sails that was constructed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. During the late 19th century, there were calls to close the shipyard permanently, although these never came to fruition.
By 1872, there were 1,200 people on the Brooklyn Navy Yard's payroll, a number that could be increased fourfold in case of war. Workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, who were employees of the federal government, received employment protections that were considered novel at the time. For instance, an act passed in 1867 protected Navy Yard employees' rights to political free speech, and an act passed in 1872 restricted laborers, mechanics, and workmen from working more than eight hours per day.
By the end of the 1880s, the shipbuilding industry at Brooklyn Navy Yard was active again, as the Navy started expanding its fleet. The Navy Yard created larger battleships, as well as torpedo boats and submarines, and many of the vessels launched from the yard featured modern ordnance, propulsion systems, navigation, and armor. The new construction required expanded shipways for launching ships. Since 1820, the Brooklyn Navy Yard had used wooden shipways, with wooden ship houses above each shipway, which protected the wooden ships' hulls, but in the 1880s, these shipways were updated with granite girders.
The Navy also constructed two additional dry docks, both of which soon encountered problems. Dry Dock 2, originally a timber dry dock, was built in 1887 and soon encountered problems due to its poor construction quality. Dry Dock 2 collapsed in a severe storm in July 1899 and was subsequently rebuilt in masonry in 1901. Dry Dock 3, a timber dock, was similar in design to Dry Dock 2. It started construction in 1893 and was completed in 1897. Shortly afterward, Dry Dock 3 was found to be too short by four inches and too shallow by two feet, so it was fixed. The initial timber construction of Dry Docks 2 and 3 required a large maintenance cost, unlike for the masonry Dry Dock 1, which had required only one reconstruction in forty years. Both dry docks still exist, but are now inactive. To support the additional dry docks and shipway capacity, several structures such as large machine shops, an administration building, and a pattern building were constructed in the 1890s.
Unlike other U.S. Navy shipyards at this time, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was very active in shipbuilding. One of the most notable ships from the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the late 19th century was the Maine, which was launched from Building Way 1, the new shipway. Maine's keel was laid in 1888, launched in 1895, and subsequently destroyed in Cuba's Havana Harbor in 1898. The USS Cincinnati, laid down in 1892 and commissioned in 1894, was the lead cruiser of the Cincinnati-class cruisers.
Quarterwoman Mary Ann Woods and flag-makers making president's flag in 1914
The Brooklyn Navy Yard required large quantities of national flags, naval pendants and canvass gunpowder bags. The task of sewing these materials had historically been performed by men, but the yard began hiring women for the task due to a need for skilled labor. By the late 1890s, many of the yard's newly hired flag makers were women, and most of these women were widows of soldiers killed in war. The flag makers, working up to 14 hours a day, had to sew 30 to 40 flags per ship. One of these women was Mary Ann Woods, a seamstress flag maker first class who was hired in 1882 and promoted to "Quarterwoman Flag Maker" in 1898.
20th century operations
1900s and 1910s
After Brooklyn was annexed to New York City in 1898, it experienced rapid development, including the construction of the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges to Manhattan, as well as the first New York City Subway lines, which were constructed by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. The Brooklyn Navy Yard benefited from this, as it was very close to the Manhattan Bridge, and residents of Manhattan could easily access the Navy Yard. There was a large labor force, which was mainly composed of immigrants who had recently come to New York City through Ellis Island. Around this time, there was a proposal to move the Navy Yard to Communipaw, New Jersey, or simply close the yard altogether, but it did not succeed.
After the U.S. won the Spanish–American War of 1898, President Theodore Roosevelt, a former assistant secretary of the Navy, built up Navy presence. As such he arranged to build sixteen ships for a "goodwill tour" of the world. The main ship, the USS Connecticut, was laid down at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1903 and launched in 1904; she was also the flagship vessel of the Connecticut-class battleships. To accommodate the construction of the Connecticut, Building Way 1 was rebuilt in 1903. Another shipway, Building Way 2, was built in 1917, at the same time that Building Way 1 was enlarged. Building Ways 1 and 2 were collectively referred to as the Connecticut building ways. The shipways were used to launch dreadnoughts, large battleships with heavy guns. One such vessel was the USS Florida, the lead ship of the Florida-class battleships, which was launched in 1910. Other lead battleships launched from the Connecticut building ways include the New York in 1912, the Arizona in 1915, the New Mexico in 1917, and the Tennessee in 1919. By this time, all vessels at Brooklyn Navy Yard were constructed outdoors, rather than inside shipbuilding houses, as it was easier for overhead cranes.
During this time, the waterfront was rebuilt. Dry Dock 4, a brick-and-concrete dry dock with a capacity for ships of up to 717 feet (219 m) long, was planned in 1900 and constructed between 1905 and 1913. During construction, serious problems with quicksand ultimately killed 20 workers and injured 400 others. After the project was abandoned by five different private builders, the federal government intervened to complete Dry Dock 4, which became known as the "Hoodoo" dock. In conjunction with Dry Dock 4's construction, it was also proposed to lengthen the wooden Dry Dock 3 from 668 to 800 feet (204 to 244 m) long. A paymasters' office, a construction and repair shop/storehouse, and a locomotive shed for the Navy Yard's now-defunct railroad system were also constructed. By 1914, the Navy Yard comprised a 114-acre (46 ha) area.
Although World War I started in 1914, it had gone on for several years without American intervention prior to the American entry into World War I on April 6, 1917. The Brooklyn Navy Yard's workforce of 6,000 grew to 18,000 within a year, and a temporary camp was erected outside the Navy Yard's grounds. In preparation for the war, ID cards were issued to Navy Yard employees to prevent against sabotage, and Liberty Loan Rallies were held at the Navy Yard's boat shop. The Secretary of the U.S. Navy, Josephus Daniels, argued that the Brooklyn Navy Yard had to be expanded even further to the west to allow for more shipbuilding activities. In the meantime, non-essential activities were moved to the Bush Terminal in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Several new buildings were built in response to the U.S.'s entry into World War I, including a locomotive roundhouse, supply storehouse, boat shed, structural shop, and light machine shop, as well as Pier C and Machine Way 2. Most of these structures were connected to the four dry docks and two shipways via the Brooklyn Navy Yard's railroad system. By the end of 1918, the U.S. government had made $40 million of investment into the Navy Yard to date (equivalent to $666,000,000 in 2018).
During World War I, the six naval shipyards at Brooklyn, Boston, Charleston (South Carolina), Norfolk, Portsmouth (Maine), and Philadelphia started specializing in the construction of different vessel types for the war efforts. The Brooklyn Navy Yard specialized in creating battleships, manufacturing 49 of them in the span of eighteen months. World War I ended in 1919, and in the aftermath of the war, the Tennessee was the last World War I battleship constructed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. No new vessels were completed for ten years until the USS Pensacola in 1929.
1920s and 1930s
In 1920, after World War I ended, the Brooklyn Navy Yard started constructing the South Dakota and Indiana, both of the South Dakota-class of battleships. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1921–1922, a peace treaty between the United States and four other countries, limited the signatories' construction of battleships, battlecruisers, and aircraft carriers. As a result, there was no need to continue constructing the South Dakota and Indiana, nor to continue employing the shipbuilders who were working on these boats. Starting in 1921, large numbers of Navy Yard workers were fired, and by December 1921, ten thousand workers had been fired. Work on the partially completed South Dakota and Indiana was halted in February 1922, and both vessels were ordered to be scrapped. Congress did not allocate funding for the construction of any other ships. As such, until 1929, the workers who remained were tasked mostly with repairing ships at the dry docks.
The Pensacola, one of eight "treaty ships" authorized in 1924 after the Washington conference, was launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in April 1929. and she was completed and commissioned the next year. The completion of the Pensacola occurred at the start of the Great Depression, and as a result, the workforce of 4,000 was reduced by one-quarter immediately afterward. Due to delays in the signing of the London Naval Treaty, as well as a two-year extension of the Washington treaty, the keel of the next ship, the New Orleans, was not laid until 1931. However, the yard remained open for routine ship maintenance.
The election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, combined with fraying relations with Germany, Italy, and Japan, resulted in a resumption of shipbuilding activities for the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The USS Brooklyn, the lead ship in the Brooklyn-class cruisers, was laid at the yard in March 1935. By the end of 1935, ten naval cruisers were being constructed. Dry Dock 4 was lengthened slightly to accommodate the keel-laying of the battleship North Carolina in 1937.
The new construction required extra workers. By 1935, the Brooklyn Navy Yard had 4,000 workers. All were well-paid, receiving six days' worth of salary for every five-day workweek, and civilians received sizable retirement funds based on the length of their service. The Brooklyn Navy Yard employed 8,200 men by mid-1936, of which 6,500 were constructing ships and 1,700 were hired through WPA programs. By 1938, the yard employed about 10,000 men, of whom one-third received salaries from the WPA. At the time, the surrounding neighborhood was run-down with various saloons and dilapidated houses, as described in the Works Progress Administration (WPA)'s 1939 Guide to New York City. It was hoped that the extra work would help rehabilitate the area. Workers erected a garbage incinerator, garage, a coal plant office, and a seawall; in addition, they paved the Navy Yard's roads and laid new railroad tracks.
World War II
In preparation for World War II, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was extensively reconstructed. The Navy Yard was expanded slightly to the west by 1.5 acres (0.61 ha), bringing its total area to 356 acres (144 ha), and parts of the mid-19th-century street grid were eliminated in favor of new developments. These structures included the construction of a 800-by-100-foot (244 by 30 m), single-story turret-and-erection shop; the expansion of the Connecticut building ways; and lengthening of Dry Dock 4. By 1939, the yard contained more than five miles (8.0 km) of paved streets, four drydocks ranging in length from 326 to 700 ft (99 to 213 m), two steel shipways, and six pontoons and cylindrical floats for salvage work, barracks for marines, a power plant, a large radio station, and a railroad spur, as well as foundries, machine shops, and warehouses. The new construction involved extensive landfilling operations, some of which yielded artifacts that were centuries old. In one instance, a Civil War-era prison brig was found eight feet underground, while in another, workers unearthed a skeleton thought to be from one of the prison ship martyrs.
The naval shipyards in Brooklyn and Philadelphia were designated for the construction of battleships. The first World War II-era battleship built at Brooklyn Navy Yard was the North Carolina, which started construction in 1937 and was commissioned in April 1941. A second battleship, the Iowa, started construction at Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1939 and was completed in 1942. The third battleship to be constructed at Brooklyn Navy Yard was the Missouri, which was launched in 1944 and was became the site of the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945. After the completion of the battleships, two aircraft carrier orders were placed: one for the USS Bennington, laid down in December 1942, and one for the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, laid in 1944. According to the National Park Service, the Brooklyn Navy Yard eventually constructed "three battleships, two floating workshops, eight tank landing ships, and countless barges and lighters". The yard also outfitted 250 ships for battle, as well as made repairs to 5,000 ships.
To accommodate the construction of the battleships, dry docks 5 and 6 were constructed. The Navy re-acquired 25 acres (10 ha) of land, which had been sold to New York City in the 1890s to create Wallabout Market. The original plans were to build the dry docks in Bayonne, New Jersey, but that location was unsuitable due to its proximity to a munitions arsenal, and the dry docks at Brooklyn Navy Yard were approved in 1941. The docks would be 1,500 feet (460 m) long by 200 ft (61 m) wide and 60 ft (18 m) deep; at the time, there were no battleships that large. The docks were ultimately built at a length of 1,067 ft (325 m), which still made them longer than any of the other dry docks. Construction contracts were awarded in 1941. Several structures were demolished, including the market and the Cob Dock. Additionally, a branch of Wallabout Basin that led to the market was filled in, and about 2,300,000 cubic yards (1,800,000 m3) of silt was dredged from the basin. The neighboring Kent Avenue basin on the east side of the site was also filled in. Afterward, 13,000 piles were driven into the sandy bottom of the basin, and two hundred concrete forms were poured at a rate of 350 cubic yards (270 m3) per hour. Dry Dock 5 was completed by 1942. The work also entailed the construction of piers J and K, as well as a 350-short-ton (310-long-ton) hammerhead crane at Pier G, added in 1943.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard was employing 18,000 workers in December 1941, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Following Pearl Harbor, the U.S. officially entered World War II and the number of employees at Brooklyn Navy Yard increased. By June 1942, more than 42,000 workers were employed. The Brooklyn Navy Yard started 24/7 operations, and three shifts of eight hours were implemented. In addition to shipbuilding, workers at the yard created uniforms and flags, as well as packaged food and combat provisions for sailors and soldiers. During the peak of World War II, the yard employed 75,000 people and had a payroll of $15 million per month. The yard was nicknamed "The Can-Do Shipyard" because of its massive output in constructing dozens of ships and replacing hundreds more. Up until the war ended in 1945, the U.S. Navy awarded the Brooklyn Navy Yard an "E" for Excellence award annually.
During World War II, the navy yard began to train and employ women and minority workers in positions formerly held by white men who had since joined the armed forces. The women mainly built ships, aircraft, and weapons, as well as communications equipment, small arms, and rubber goods. Other women worked in the WAVES division where they operated communications equipment and decoded messages. There were 200 women employed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard by 1942. However, women working in the yard faced sex discrimination and a gender pay gap, which prevented them from advancing to higher-level positions,:315 and many women held "helper" positions to the remaining skilled male workers.:328 After the passage of the Fair Employment Practices Act of 1941, African Americans were also hired for trade work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a sector in which they previously had been banned from working. By January 1945, at peak employment, 4,657 women were working in skilled trades at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, such as pipe-fitters, electricians, welders, crane operators, truck drivers, and sheet metal workers.:320 Another 2,300 women worked in administrative jobs. Combined, women made up 10% of the Navy Yard's workforce, though this was lower than the industry-wide female employment rate of 11.5%;:321–322 minorities, mostly African Americans, made up 8% of the workforce. After the war, most of the women were terminated from their positions, and by 1946 the production workforce was composed entirely of men.:338 The minority workforce continued to grow through the 1960s, when minorities made up a fifth of all workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The Navy constructed at least 18 buildings at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, using any available land. These structures included a materials testing laboratory, a foundry, two sub-assembly shops, an ordnance machine shop, and a building trades shop. The sub-assembly structures were constructed at the end of each dry dock; they each measured 800 by 100 feet (244 by 30 m) in perimeter and 105 feet (32 m) tall. They fabricated sections of the ships before the completed pieces were joined to the hull, which, along with the introduction of welding, allowed for increased efficiency in the shipbuilding process. Another large structure constructed at the Navy Yard was Building 77, a sixteen-story building that served as the yard headquarters, as well as storage space. In addition, a housing development was built exclusively for Navy Yard workers in Fort Greene, a neighborhood located immediately south of the Navy Yard. The development, the Fort Greene Houses, was completed in 1942. A motion picture exchange for armed forces was constructed at the eastern end of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, near the naval hospital, and served to restore, review, and distribute films for use by U.S. Navy troops around the world.
After World War II
In November 1945, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was formally renamed the "New York Naval Shipyard", as per an order from the federal government. From the yard's establishment in 1801 until the name change, the yard had been officially named the "New York Navy Yard", but the public popularly referred to the yard as "Brooklyn Navy Yard", and the government called it "United States Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn". According to one naval officer, the name change was conducted because "it would lead to better efficiency".
Following the end of World War II in 1945, industrial demand in Brooklyn declined sharply, and many white families moved away from Brooklyn and to suburbs on Long Island. Public housing developments were built around the New York Naval Shipyard. The construction of the elevated Brooklyn–Queens Expressway to the south further isolated the shipyard from the surrounding community, although the segment of the expressway near the navy yard did not /open until 1960. The workforce was scaled down to approximately 10,000 people by the end of 1947. At the same time, the Navy was selling off unused fleet, and new contracts for Navy vessels were being awarded to private shipyards. The New York Naval Shipyard celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1951. By this time, the yard had mostly shifted to manufacturing aircraft carriers, three of which were under construction.
When the Korean War started in 1950, the New York Naval Shipyard temporarily became active again, and by 1953, the shipyard had 20,000 workers on its payroll. The yard started retrofitting aircraft carriers to accommodate jet aircraft. For instance, in 1952, the New York Naval Shipyard renovated the World War II-era Antietam into the United States' first angled-deck aircraft carrier. A contract for the construction of the Constellation, a super aircraft carrier, was awarded to New York Naval Shipyard in August 1952. The Naval Shipyard was also contracted to build the Saratoga and the Independence in the late 1950s, as well as six amphibious transports in the 1960s. Despite this increased activity, the New York Naval Shipyard lost about half of its workforce when Korean War hostilities ended in 1953.
The keel of the Constellation was laid in 1957. The Constellation was nearly complete when she was damaged in a large fire on December 19, 1960, killing 49 people and injuring another 323. This caused her commissioning to be delayed by several months, to October 1961. In addition to the damage suffered from the Constellation fire, the New York Naval Shipyard was gradually becoming technologically obsolete. Newer ships were too large to pass under the nearby Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, and so could not get to the yard. The number of workers at New York Naval Shipyard continued to decline, and in 1963, this attracted the attention of U.S. Senator Kenneth B. Keating, who attempted to preserve the 11,000 remaining jobs.
In 1963, Department of Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara started studying the feasibility of closing redundant military installations, especially naval ship yards, in order to save money. The Department of Defense announced in May 1964 that it was considering closing New York Naval Shipyard, as well as Fort Jay and the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Workers protested against the yard's proposed closure in Washington, D.C., as well as in Madison Square Garden. As a result of the shipyard's anticipated closure, new shipbuilding contracts were awarded to private shipbuilders rather than to the New York Naval Shipyard. In October 1964, after lobbying from yard workers and local politicians, the shipyard received several shipbuilding contracts; at the time, the number of employees was 9,100 and decreasing. However, the next month, McNamara announced that the New York Naval Shipyard would be one of nearly a hundred military installations that would be closed.
When the shipyard's closure was announced, it employed 10,600 civilian employees and 100 military personnel with an annual payroll of about $90 million. The closure was anticipated to save about $18.1 million annually. Many of the employees at New York Naval Shipyard were shipbuilders who were specially trained in that practice. Shipbuilders made a last-minute attempt to convince the Navy not to close the yard. Despite these attempts, in January 1965, officials announced that the yard's closure date was scheduled for June 30, 1966, and began laying off the remaining 9,500 workers. By the middle of the year, the New York Naval Shipyard only had 7,000 workers on payroll.
After the New York Naval Shipyard's closure was announced, several alternate uses were proposed, none of which were implemented. In early 1965, manufacturers started looking into the possibility of renting space at the yard. Seymour Melman, an engineering economist at the Columbia University's Graduate School of Engineering, devised came up with a detailed plan for converting the Brooklyn Navy Yard into a commercial shipyard which could have saved most of the skilled shipyard jobs. The administration of Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. looked to the auto industry to build a car plant inside the yard. Yet another plan called for a federal prison to be built on the site.
In August 1965, the Navy launched its last ship from the New York Naval Shipyard, the Austin-class amphibious transport dock Duluth. The last Navy ships were commissioned at the yard in December 1965. The formal closure of the New York Naval Shipyard was marked by a ceremony on June 25, 1966, and the Navy decommissioned the yard on June 30. Many of the workers subsequently found other work at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard or other locations.
Sale to city, commercial usage, and decline
In February 1966, the federal government announced that the Brooklyn Navy Yard was eligible for around $10 million in aid to help convert the yard into an industrial park. The state's bipartisan congressional delegation began negotiations with the federal government to receive this aid. Soon afterward, the city announced plans to purchase the yard and convert it into an industrial complex, despite challenges from several federal agencies who also wanted to use parts of the yard. In July 1966, the city moved to purchase the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The Johnson administration initially refused to sell the yard to the City of New York. The administration wanted to sell the yard at $55 million, while the city wanted a lower price. In May 1967, the federal government and city agreed on a sale price of $24 million. The Nixon administration, which took office in January 1969, was more amenable to selling the Brooklyn Navy Yard to the city, and offered to sell the yard at more than $1 million below the previously agreed sale price. The next month, ownership of the yard was transferred to the city. Final congressional agreement for the sale was given in November 1969, and the next month, the city received a formal contract to purchase the yard for $22.5 million. The city government made its first down payment for the property in June 1970.
Base housing at Ryerson Avenue gate
The Commerce Labor Industry Corporation of Kings (CLICK) had been established in 1966 as a nonprofit body to run the yard for the city. CLICK projected that it would create 30,000 to 40,000 jobs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard within ten years, which in turn was expected to revitalize Brooklyn's economy. The first lease inside the yard was signed in May 1968, even before the sale to the city had been finalized. By early 1969, there were 300 people working at four companies within the yard, and more companies were moving in. The yard's tenants operated in a variety of industries, such as manufacturing and distribution.
The city gave CLICK control of the Navy Yard once the city's purchase of the yard had been finalized. However, CLICK and the city soon came to an impasse in which CLICK refused to allow the city to participate in the management of the Navy Yard. There were allegations that CLICK executives favored granting jobs to local residents, rather than helping businesses move into the yard. In 1971, The New York Times reported that CLICK was operating at a net loss, and that CLICK had created less than half of the jobs that were originally promised for the end of 1970. By December 1971, CLICK and the city had a management agreement. CLICK management was completely overhauled with a board of 37 nonpartisan directors who all agreed that CLICK would be a "unified, businesslike organization", rather than a group influenced by politics.
Seatrain Shipbuilding, which was wholly owned by Seatrain Lines, was established in 1968 and signed a lease at Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1969. The lease had a provision that Seatrain hire local workers whenever possible, Seatrain became one of the largest tenants at Brooklyn Navy Yard, with 2,700 employees by 1973, most of whom lived in Brooklyn. Seatrain planned to build five very large crude carriers (VLCCs) and seven container ships for Seatrain Lines. It eventually built four VLCCs, which were the largest ships ever to be built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, as well as eight barges and one ice-breaker barge. Seatrain's first vessel, the turbo tanker Brooklyn, was launched in 1973. Coastal Dry Dock and Repair Corp. leased the three small dry docks and several buildings inside the yard from CLICK in 1972. Coastal Dry Dock only repaired and converted US Navy vessels.
Seatrain temporarily fired 3,000 employees in 1974 due to the 1973 oil crisis, resulting in a steep decline in the number of people employed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Soon after, Seatrain began venturing out of the shipbuilding business. The last ship to be built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard was the VLCC Bay Ridge, built by Seatrain; that vessel was renamed Kuito and is operating for Chevron off of the coast of Angola in 400 m (1,300 ft) of water in the Kuito oil field.
Employment inside the yard peaked in 1978. By that point, CLICK was leasing space inside the Brooklyn Navy Yard to 38 tenants, who collectively employed 5,500 tenants and occupied 3.5 million square feet (0.33×106 m2) of space. The yard had another 550,000 square feet (51,000 m2) of space, but only 6,000 square feet (560 m2) was considered to be usable at the time. Total occupancy at the Brooklyn Navy Yard was at 97%, up from 50% in 1972.
View from near Dry Dock 4
Despite the commercial success of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the former shipyard was also beset by accusations of corruption and racketeering. Additionally, the introduction of large container ships, which were too big to access the Brooklyn Navy Yard, meant that potential tenants operated in New Jersey instead, which had been investing in container shipping terminals As a result, most of the 30,000 to 40,000 jobs never materialized.
Seatrain endured a $13.5 million financial loss in 1978 because of various strikes and a decline in demand for oil tankers. In January 1979, Seatrain Lines suddenly closed down. More than 1,300 employees were fired, and only 150 were retained to finish any remaining projects. This caused a sharp decrease in the number of employees at the yard, and after Seatrain's employees had been terminated, the Brooklyn Navy Yard employed 3,970 people. After Seatrain closed down, Coastal Dry Dock became the largest tenant in the yard, with 600 to 1,000 workers at any given time.
The New York City Comptroller, Harrison J. Goldin, published a report on his office's audit of Brooklyn Navy Yard operations in July 1980. He concluded that the yard had been the victim of "a combination of fraud, mismanagement and waste" because of unnecessary or high expenses incurred by CLICK employees. After Goldin's report was published, CLICK's director was forced to resign. In subsequent reports, Goldin found that contracts were poorly managed, and that the city was not getting rent money from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The number of people working at the yard continued to decline, and by October 1980, the yard hired 2,900 people, of which nearly half worked at Coastal Dry Dock. The most optimistic estimates proposed that the Navy Yard would see 10,000 new jobs added if its redevelopment were to peak. Local residents expressed frustration about the lack of job creation in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, as well as concerns about CLICK's lack of transparency, since residents were prohibited from attending CLICK meetings. In addition, companies at the Navy Yard were accused of having exceedingly high job standards that disqualified most residents from positions at the yard. CLICK was replaced by the nonprofit Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation in 1981.
Coastal Dry Dock filed for bankruptcy in May 1986, and closed the following year. With the loss of Coastal Dry Dock, Brooklyn Navy Yard's revenue decreased by more than half. By 1987, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation failed in all attempts to lease any of the six dry docks and buildings to any shipbuilding or ship-repair company. However, the Navy Yard did have 83 tenants and 2,600 employees, who generated a combined $2.7 million per year for the yard. Another ship-repair company, Brooklyn Ship Repair, had a tentative contract to lease space at the Navy Yard, but withdrew in 1988. On the other hand, after a city bailout of the yard in 1986, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation started making its first-ever profit.
A garbage incinerator was proposed at Brooklyn Navy Yard as early as 1967. The city proposed that the incinerator double as a cogeneration plant, generating both heat and electricity from the burning of garbage, and supplying that heat and energy to utility company Consolidated Edison. The incinerator would not only reduce the amount of waste being placed in Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island and the
Fountain Avenue Landfill in eastern Brooklyn, but would also generate electricity for the city. In 1976, Mayor Abraham Beame proposed building a combined incinerator and power plant at Brooklyn Navy Yard. A contract was awarded later that year, at which point it was estimated that the incinerator would cost $226 million to construct. A "temporary" cogeneration plant, which generated steam for the Navy Yard's tenants, opened in late 1982 as a stopgap until a permanent incinerator was built.
The project garnered large community opposition from the Latino and Hasidic Jewish residents of nearby Williamsburg. Mayor Ed Koch withdrew two contract offers in 1982 due to objections from comptroller Goldin, who stated that the health effects of the proposed plant would be detrimental to the community. In December 1984, the New York City Board of Estimate narrowly approved the installation of the proposed incinerator in Brooklyn Navy Yard, one of five sites to be built in the city in the coming years. However, the state refused to grant a permit for constructing the plant for several years, citing that the city had no recycling plan. The proposed incinerator was a key issue in the 1989 mayoral election because the Hasidic Jewish residents of Williamsburg who opposed the incinerator were also politically powerful. David Dinkins, who ultimately won the 1989 mayoral election, campaigned on the stance that the Brooklyn Navy Yard incinerator plan should be put on hold. The state denied a permit for the incinerator in 1989, stating that the city had no plan for reducing ash emissions from the plant.
Once elected, Dinkins took actions that indicated he would not oppose the construction of the incinerator. In 1993, the state reversed its previous decision and granted a permit. By then, Rudy Giuliani had been elected as mayor, and he was opposed to the construction of the incinerator, instead preferring that the city institute a recycling plan. In 1995, his administration delayed the incinerator's construction by three years while the city procured a new solid-waste management plan. In November of that year, community members filed a lawsuit to block the incinerator's construction. Further investigation of the incinerator's proposed site found toxic chemicals were present in such high levels that the site qualified for Superfund environmental cleanup. The next year, the city dropped plans for the construction of the incinerator altogether, instead focusing on expanding its recycling program and closing Fresh Kills Landfill.
1990s and 2000s
Warehouses next to dry dock
After the decline of shipbuilding at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, it became an area of private manufacturing and commercial activity, though a naval detachment remained at the Brooklyn Navy Yard until 1993. By the early 1990s, there was a large increase in the number of small businesses at the yard due to its proximity to Manhattan, as well as a large availability of space at a relatively low cost. In 1990, twenty-two small businesses signed leases for 88,000 square feet (8,200 m2), and by the next year, the habitable portions of the Brooklyn Navy Yard were 97% leased. The Navy Yard had 180 tenants who hired a combined 3,500 employees by 1991. The redevelopment of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Brooklyn Army Terminal spurred ideas for revitalizing Brooklyn's waterfront. Because of community opposition, a medical-waste treatment plant at the Navy Yard was not built.
In 1995, construction started on a new cogeneration plant, the first in the United States to be constructed through the specifications of the federal Clean Air Act. The new cogen facility, located at Building 41, was to replace the temporary facility as well as the existing oil boiler plants at the site. It was completed in 1996 and is operated by ConEdison. Also in 1996, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation received $739,000 to study possible uses for the Navy Yard. Community leaders supported the construction of housing on the yard, while they opposed the construction of the proposed trash incinerator. The city started including the Navy Yard within its capital budget in 1997, taking over maintenance of the yard.
In April 1999, actor Robert De Niro and Miramax Films announced that they were studying the possibility of constructing a film studio at Brooklyn Navy Yard. However, the deal with De Niro's group fell through later that year, in part due to a lack of commitment. The city selected a new developer, Douglas C. Steiner, who signed a 70-year lease with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation in October 1999. The proposal was initially controversial among the Hasidic Jewish population of the surrounding area, whose leaders objected that the film industry was too immodest for the Hasidic Jewish principles. Ultimately, the movie studio was developed as Steiner Studios, which was built at a cost of $118 million and opened at the yard in 2004.
In early 2000, the New York City government launched a program called
Digital NYC to convince technology companies to move to seven "technology districts" around the city, including Brooklyn Navy Yard. Initially, this effort was not successful, since no companies signed up to move to Brooklyn Navy Yard at first. In 2004, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city would develop the western side of Brooklyn Navy Yard with 560,000 square feet (52,000 m2) of space for manufacturing, retail, and industrial uses. The development would cost $71 million, to be paid for by investors, while the city would also spend $60 million to upgrade infrastructure in the area. At this time, there was a wall enclosing much of the Navy Yard, but this was going to be partially demolished as part of the upgrade. The former main gate at Sands Street, on the western side of the yard, was to be restored, and the New York City Police Department (NYPD)'s tow pound there would be relocated.
The city broke ground on the expansion in 2006. During renovations, planners consulted some of the 32,000 blueprints in the Navy Yard's archive, some of which dated back two centuries. By 2007, the Navy Yard had over 230 businesses in 40 buildings, with about 5,000 employees between them. At that point, the Bloomberg administration had already spent $30 million on renovations and was proposing to spend an additional $180 million, representing the Navy Yard's largest expansion since World War II. Although the Navy Yard had been 99% occupied for the previous five years, it faced a few setbacks, such as its long distance from the nearest subway stations. Further upgrades to the Brooklyn Navy Yard called for spending $250 million to add 1,300,000 square feet (120,000 m2) of retail and manufacturing space as well as 1,500 jobs by 2009. As part of these upgrades, Admiral's Row was to be demolished and replaced with a supermarket and industrial tower, though a controversy developed over whether Admiral's Row should be preserved. There were about 40 preservation projects proposed for the Navy Yard by 2010, and the yard had a full-time archivist.
Dock 72 (seen in 2018), located on the northeast corner of Brooklyn Navy Yard, would house WeWork
offices when completed
In 2011, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation began a large-scale program to develop the Navy Yard. As part of the corporation's long-range plan, it proposed to renovate the Green Manufacturing Center, Building 77, the Admiral's Row site, and the Brooklyn Naval Hospital. That November, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, a museum dedicated to the yard's history and future, opened on Flushing Avenue.
By 2015, more than 330 businesses were located at the yard, collectively employing about 7,000 people. Brooklyn Grange Farms was operating a 65,000-square-foot (6,000 m2) commercial farm on top of Building 3. Steiner Studios had become one of the United States' largest production studios outside of Hollywood. Many artists had also leased space and established an association called Brooklyn Navy Yard Arts. Branding agency CO OP Brand Co had been hired to rebrand the area.
The redevelopment of Admiral's Row was ultimately approved in 2015; as part of the plan, most of Admiral's Row would be demolished and redeveloped. The 250,000-square-foot Green Manufacturing Center, inside former building 128, was completed in 2016. Dock 72, a 675,000-square-foot office building, topped out in October 2017 and houses offices for WeWork, a co-working space. A renovation of the 1,000,000 square feet (93,000 m2), 18-story Building 77 was undertaken at a cost of $143 million, and the building was reopened in November 2017. Construction on 399 Sands Street, a manufacturing complex on the site of Admiral's Row, started in June 2018, and it is expected to open in 2021. An adjacent Wegmans supermarket was expected to open in 2019, along with part of 399 Sands' parking lot. The Admiral's Row redevelopment would include 360,000 square feet (33,000 m2) of light industrial and office space and 165,000 square feet (15,300 m2) of retail space.
During the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders held a debate at Brooklyn Navy Yard in building 268, the Duggal Greenhouse. Clinton later held her victory party at the Navy Yard once she received the party's nomination.
In January 2018, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation released an updated master plan with an estimated cost of $2.5 billion. An additional 5,100,000 square feet (470,000 m2) of space would be added at Brooklyn Navy Yard; most of this would be manufacturing space, but a small portion of the space in each new building would be dedicated to office uses. This space, to be built as part of a new technology hub, would be able to accommodate 13,000 extra workers, and would roughly double the amount of manufacturing and office space within the Navy Yard. In fall 2018, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation and architectural firm WXY divulged further details about the master plan. The Brooklyn Navy Yard would include several vertical-manufacturing buildings, and various locations within the Navy Yard would be redeveloped to integrate it with the surrounding community. The development would be concentrated at three sites on Navy Street and Flushing and Kent Avenues. That December, the development corporation started soliciting applications to renovate the last undeveloped pier at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.