Brooklyn Navy Yard

Brooklyn Navy Yard
Brooklyn, New York City, New York
New York Navy Yard aerial photo 1 in April 1945.jpg
New York Navy Yard aerial photo April 1945
Site information
Controlled byUnited States Navy
Site history
In use1806–1966
Brooklyn Navy Yard Historic District
Brooklyn Navy Yard is located in New York City
Brooklyn Navy Yard
Brooklyn Navy Yard is located in New York
Brooklyn Navy Yard
Brooklyn Navy Yard is located in the US
Brooklyn Navy Yard
LocationNavy Street and Flushing and Kent Avenues
Brooklyn, New York
Coordinates40°42′7.2″N 73°58′8.4″W / 40°42′7.2″N 73°58′8.4″W / 40.702000; -73.969000
Area225.15 acres (91.11 ha)
Architectural styleEarly Republic, Mid-19th Century, Late Victorian, Modern Movement
NRHP reference #14000261[1]
Added to NRHPMay 22, 2014

The Brooklyn Navy Yard (originally known as the New York Navy Yard) is a shipyard located in Brooklyn, New York City. The Navy Yard was created in 1801 and was active until 1966, when it was decomissioned. The Brooklyn Navy Yard is located on the East River in Wallabout Basin, a semicircular bend of the river across from Corlears Hook in Manhattan. It is bounded by Navy Street and Flushing and Kent Avenues. The site, which covers 225.15 acres (91.11 ha), is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the course of its history, the Brooklyn Navy Yard has expanded several times. At the height of its production of warships for the United States Navy, it covered over 200 acres (0.81 km2). The efforts of its 70,000 workers during World War II earned the yard the nickname "The Can-Do Shipyard".[2] After being decommissioned, the Brooklyn Navy Yard continued to be used by private industries. The facility now houses an industrial and commercial complex, both related to shipping repairs and maintenance and as office and manufacturing space for non-maritime industries.



The site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard was originally settled by the Canarsie Indians. The Dutch colonized the area in the early 17th century, and by 1637, Joris Jansen Rapelje purchased 335 acres (136 ha) of land around present-day Wallabout Bay from the Indians.[3] The site later became his farm, though Rapelje himself did not reside on it until circa 1655.[4] The Rapelje family, and their descendants the Remsens, had possession of the farm for at least a century afterward. They built a mill and a mill pond on the site.[3][5]

During the American Revolutionary War, the British kept prisoners of war inside decrepit ships which were moored in the bay.[5] 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.[6][7] 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.[8] The first ship that Jackson built at the site was the merchant ship Canton, which he built in the late 1790s.[8][9]:12[10]

Development and early years

The screw sloop-of-war Enterprise docked at the shipyard, circa 1890
Oregon in the Yard in 1898
Texas in the Yard circa 1903
Connecticut and Nebraska in the yard in 1909

The Jacksons put the land up for sale in 1800.[8] The following year, federal authorities purchased the old docks and 40 acres (16 ha) of land from John Jackson for $40,000 through an intermediary, Francis Childs. The purchase was part of outgoing U.S. president John Adams's plans to establish a series of naval yards in the United States.[8][11][12] However the property then went unused for several years because Adams's successor Thomas Jefferson opposed military build-up.[9]: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.[8][13][14]

In 1810, the federal government acquired another 131 acres (53 ha) of land from the state of New York.[12][15] Much of this land was underwater at high tide.[15] 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.[15][9]: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.[9]:11[16][17] The yard's first receiving ship, a type of ship used to house new recruits for the Navy, was Robert Fulton's steam frigate, 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.[16]

By the 1820s, the Navy Yard consisted of a commandant's house (Quarters A), 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.[18] 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.[19][18][20] The same year, it was converted into a "first-class" yard.[21][18] The hospital opened in 1838.[22]

Admiral Matthew C. Perry arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1831, and was subsequently commandant from 1841 to 1843.[23] Perry helped found the United States Naval Lyceum at the Navy Yard in 1833.[23][24][25] The Lyceum 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.[24] When the Lyceum disbanded in 1889, its documents and artifacts were transferred to the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Maryland,[24] and the museum building was subsequently demolished.[23] 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.[9]:23[23]

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.[18]

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.[18] Two other dry docks were designed in Boston, Massachusetts and Norfolk, Virginia. 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 1840 and was completed in 1851.[26][27]


Early Brooklyn Navy Yard mechanics and laborers were per diem employees, paid by the day. Wages fluctuated significantly based on the congressional apportionment for that year. For instance, a letter from Commodore John Rodgers to Captain Samuel Evans dated May 24, 1820, stated: "From and after the 1st day of June 1820 the pay of the Carpenters, Joiners &c in the Yard under your Command must be reduced & regulated by the following rates: carpenters $1.62.5 per day to $ 1.25, blacksmiths 162.5 to 1.12 and laborers 90 cents to 75 cents per day."[28]

The Brooklyn Navy Yard soon became the city's largest employer because of the expansion of shipbuilding. In 1848, the yard had 441 employees, with a median daily wage of $1.00. Highly skilled trades such as ship carpenters earned $2.25. The navy yard employees typically worked a ten hour day, six days a week.[29] By the American Civil War, the yard had expanded to employ thousand of skilled mechanics with men working around the clock. On January 17, 1863 the navy yard station logs reflected 3,933 workers on the payroll,[30] with up to 6,000 men by the end of the war. In 1890, the ill-fated Maine was launched from the yard.

Following the Civil War, 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. As such, most of the yard's newly hired flag makers were widows of soldiers killed in war. One of these women was Mary Ann Woods,[31] a seamstress flag maker first class who was hired in 1882 and promoted to "Quarterwoman Flag Maker" in 1898.[32][33][34] In 1910 her wage was $3.04 per day.[35]

20th century through World War II

Mary Ann Woods Quarterwoman and flag-makers making president's flag 1914

On the eve of World War II, the yard contained more than five miles (8.0 km) of paved streets, four drydocks[36] 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 the expected foundries, machine shops, and warehouses. In 1937, the battleship North Carolina was laid down. In 1938, the yard employed about 10,000 men, of whom one-third were Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers. The battleship Iowa was completed in 1942, followed by Missouri, which became the site of the Surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945. On January 12, 1953, test operations began on Antietam, which emerged in December 1952, from the yard as America's first angled-deck aircraft carrier.

At its peak, during World War II, the yard employed 70,000 people, 24 hours a day.[37][38] During World War II, the navy yard began to train and employ women in positions formerly held by males. In January 1945 at peak employment 4,657 female wage earners were working as pipe-fitters, electricians, welders, crane operators, truck drivers and sheet metal workers. The women typically worked the same ten hour day six days a week as their male counterparts, The women's average wage was reported as $ 47.68 per week in November 1944.[39] During World War II, the pedestrian walkways on the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges spanning the East River offered a clear overhead view of the navy yard, and were therefore encased to prevent espionage.

Closure and sale to city

Clinton Avenue gate

A study initiated by the Department of Defense under Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara in late 1963, sought to accomplish savings through the closure of unneeded or excess military installations, especially naval ship yards. The Department of Defense announced in May 1964 that it was considering closing Brooklyn Navy Yard, as well as Fort Jay and the Brooklyn Army Terminal as part of an effort to downsize unnecessary military installations and to save money.[40]

Despite advocacy efforts to save the base from closure, McNamara announced in November 1964 that the Brooklyn Navy Yard would be one of nearly a hundred military installations that would be closed.[41][42] At the time, the yard 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.[41] Many of the employees at Brooklyn Navy Yard were shipbuilders who were specially trained in that practice.[43] Shipbuilders made a last-minute attempt to convince the Navy not to close the yard.[44]

After the Brooklyn Navy Yard's closure was announced, manufacturers tentatively started looking into the possibility of renting space at the yard.[43] 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.[45] The administration of Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. looked to the auto industry to build a car plant inside the yard.[46] Yet another plan called for a federal prison to be built on the site.[47] None of these plans were implemented.

In August 1965, the Navy launched its last ship from the yard, the Austin-class amphibious transport dock Duluth.[48] The last Navy ships were commissioned at the yard in December 1965.[49] The formal closure of the yard was marked by a ceremony on June 25, 1966,[50] and the Navy decommissioned the yard on June 30.[51]

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.[52] The state's bipartisan congressional delegation began negotiations with the federal government to receive this aid.[53] Soon afterward, the city announced plans to purchase the yard and convert it into an industrial complex,[54] despite challenges from several federal agencies who also wanted to use parts of the yard.[55] In July 1966, the city moved to purchase the Brooklyn Navy Yard.[56][57][58] 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.[59] In May 1967, the federal government and city agreed on a sale price of $24 million.[60] When the new Nixon administration came into power, they signed the papers to sell the yard to the city. Leases were signed inside the yard even before the sale to the city was finalized..

Commercial usage and decline

Base housing at Ryerson Avenue gate

In 1966, Commerce Labor Industry Corporation of Kings (CLICK) was established as a nonprofit body to run the yard for the city.[61] CLICK projected that it would create 30,000 to 40,000 jobs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard within ten years.[62][63] 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.[61] There were allegations that CLICK executives favored granting jobs to local residents, rather than helping businesses move into the yard.[64] By December 1971, CLICK and the city had a management agreement.[61] 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.[65]

Seatrain Shipbuilding, which was wholly owned by Seatrain Lines, was established in 1968[66] and signed a lease at Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1969.[67] The lease had a provision that Seatrain hire local workers whenever possible,[68] Seatrain became one of the largest tenants at Brooklyn Navy Yard, with 2,700 employees by 1973, most of whom lived in Brooklyn.[69] 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.[66] Seatrain's first vessel, the turbo tanker Brooklyn, was launched in 1973.[69][70][51] 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.[71][72]

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.[73] Soon after, Seatrain began venturing out of the shipbuilding business.[74][51] The last ship to be built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard was the VLCC Bay Ridge, built by Seatrain;[75] 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.[76]

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 (0.33×10^6 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.[61] However, Seatrain endured large financial losses that year because of various strikes and a decline in demand for oil tankers.[68] In January 1979, Seatrain Lines suddenly closed down because of a $13.5 million loss sustained in 1978. More than 1,300 employees were fired, and only 150 were retained to finish any remaining projects.[77][74] 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.[64]

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.[64] After Goldin's report was published, CLICK's director was forced to resign.[78] In subsequent reports, Goldin found that contracts were poorly managed,[79] and that the city was not getting rent money from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.[80] 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.[63] 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.[81]

CLICK was replaced by the nonprofit Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation in 1981.[82] Coastal Dry Dock filed for bankruptcy in May 1986,[83][72] and closed the following year.[71][72] With the loss of Coastal Dry Dock, Brooklyn Navy Yard's revenue decreased by more than half.[72] 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.[83]

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 a proposed trash incinerator.[84]

Incinerator plan

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.[85] 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.[86] In 1976, Mayor Abraham Beame proposed building a combined incinerator and power plant at Brooklyn Navy Yard.[87] A contract was awarded later that year, at which point it was estimated that the incinerator would cost $226 million to construct.[88] 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.[82]

The project garnered large community opposition from the Latino and Hasidic Jewish residents of nearby Williamsburg.[89] 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.[90] 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.[91] However, the state refused to grant a permit for constructing the plant for several years, citing that the city had no recycling plan.[92] 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.[93] 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.[94] The state denied a permit for the incinerator in 1989, stating that the city had no plan for reducing ash emissions from the plant.[95]

Once elected, Dinkins took actions that indicated he would not oppose the construction of the incinerator.[96][97] In 1993, the state reversed its previous decision and granted a permit.[98] 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.[97] In 1995, his administration delayed the incinerator's construction by three years while the city procured a new solid-waste management plan.[99] In November of that year, community members filed a lawsuit to block the incinerator's construction.[100][101] 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.[97] 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.[102]



The Brooklyn Navy Yard has become an area of private manufacturing and commercial activity.[103] As of 2015, more than 330 businesses operate at the yard and employ about 7,000 people.[37] Brooklyn Grange Farms operates a 65,000-square-foot (6,000 m2) commercial farm on top of Building 3.[104] Steiner Studios is one of the yard's tenants with one of the largest production studios outside of Los Angeles. Many artists also lease space and have established an association called Brooklyn Navy Yard Arts. Branding agency CO OP Brand Co was brought on to rebrand the area. [105]

In November 2011, Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, a museum dedicated to the yard's history and future, opened.[106][107] Following this, 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, Admiral's Row, and Steiner Studios.[108]

The 250,000-square-foot Green Manufacturing Center, inside former building 128, was completed in 2016.[109] Dock 72, a 675,000-square-foot office building, topped out in October 2017 and houses offices for WeWork, a co-working space.[110] A renovation of the 1,000,000 square feet (93,000 m2), 18-story Building 77 was undertaken at a cost of $143 million,[37] and the building was reopened in November 2017.[111] In January 2018, it was revealed that an additional 5,100,000 square feet (470,000 m2) of space would be added at the Brooklyn Navy Yard at a cost of $2.5 billion. This space, to be built as part of a new technology hub, would be able to accommodate 13,000 extra workers.[112]

During the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders held a debate at the Navy Yard, in building 268, the Duggal Greenhouse.[113] Clinton later held her victory party at the Navy Yard once she received the party's nomination.[114]