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Dry Dock #4, Building #131 at left, Williamsburg Bridge center background

October 2010 Newsletter:
My Studio Relocates to Brooklyn Navy Yard!

In March 2010 I moved my studio to the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. I'm on the third floor of a 1903 structure. It's building #131 which my friend John Bartelstone told me was a former riggers shop. The east-facing windows in my space look out on an enormous sky, dry docks, Steiner Studios, and Wallabout Bay.

Every day I notice something new. Bright green tugboats push a tanker in for repairs. The recently purchased red and white FDNY fire ship sits at its Fire Department dock ready to address a water emergency. One of the six dry dock cranes on very tall legs creeps back and forth. On the dry dock outside my windows, two unused hulking and rusted 1935 diesel-electric cranes stand waiting in their tracks for some future duty. Ducks and geese swim in the dry dock, loons dive for food. A scrubby butterfly bush with lavender flowers and a vigorous Mimosa bloom profusely and fragrantly from cracks in the asphalt. Workers at the Sweet 'n Low plant wear hair nets and eat breakfast in the shade at a quilted silver coffee truck at 8:30 in the morning. In the blistering July sun Lucy and Arantxa pant heavily on the hot dusty parking lot hoping to find something exciting to sniff and are then ecstatic to come upon evidence of canine existence (usually their own.)

A former U.S. Navy shipyard (1801-1966) the Navy Yard was where numerous warships like the early 1831 Enterprise, a 10-gun schooner, and the Civil War era Kalamazoo, a 1863 double-turreted monitor were launched. Scores of battleships and destroyers were built in the first three decades of the twentieth century, including the Maine and the Arizona. However, it wasn't until after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that the Navy Yard really went into high gear:

. . . Although two battleships, two aircraft carriers, eight tank-landling ships, and floating workshops were launched and commissioned at BNY [Brooklyn Navy Yard] during the war, BNY's primary responsibility was ship repair. More than 5,000 bomb- and torpedo-damaged ships from many Allied nations steamed into New York Harbor for repairs, and an additional 240 ships were converted from civilian to wartime use. By the end of the war, BNY was the largest shipyard in the world employing over 75,000 workers, with a monthly payroll of between $15 million and $16 million.*

After WW II, ship repair and building continued at a far more modest rate (several aircraft carriers and other smaller ships.) Some newer ships couldn't reach the Navy Yard because they were too high to pass under the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. This and the lack of other upgrades like the ability to build nuclear powered ships caused the Navy Yard to be rated "non-core" by the Johnson administration in the 1960's when budget cuts and politics doomed it and several other Defense Department shipyards.

Today the Navy Yard is a 300 acre industrial park with 4 million square feet of leasable space, more than 40 buildings large and small, new and historic. The Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation rents space to businesses such as Sweet 'n Low, Duggal, Icestone Countertops, Scott Jordan Furniture, B&H Photo, and Steiner Studios. These, as well as numerous plumbers, building contractors, architects, wood-workers, electricians, fresh fish companies, warehouses, and visual artists coexist in a lively landscape that still includes a ship repair company, GMD Shipyard, which makes good use of dry docks #1, #5, and #6.



My studio is on the third floor of this building, on the far right the photo is the Chrysler Building in Manhattan and
the Williamsburg Bridge. Dry dock #4, not currently in use, is in the foreground.

If you want to see more photography of the Navy Yard, see the book by photographer John Bartelstone, The Brooklyn Navy Yard, powerHouse Books, Brooklynn, NY, 2010.

*Quoted from: The Brooklyn Navy Yard, Images of America, by Thomas F. Berner, Arcadia Publishing, 1999, page 83.

Other historical information included on this page was found in Mr. Berner's and Mr. Bartelstone's books, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation website.

 

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