Gothamist's first office was in DUMBO, and on my way to work every day the B61 would pass by the old, dilapidated Admiral's Row in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where my grandfather once worked. At this point, a lush green landscape had formed around the abandoned houses, once the homes of high-ranking officers and their families. The overgrown area could only really be accessed by climbing a wall, but what you could see from the street was enough—an entire history preserved, peeking out over the red brick that divided it from modern day. It felt like passing by a time capsule, at times surreal and magical... but everyone knew what was coming.

The homes were falling apart, and it seemed obvious that most would eventually collapse or get torn down, the large swath of land used for something new. Gothamist's Jake Dobkin photographed the area before that happened (see photos above). While it took some time, as of this past weekend, a Wegmans grocery store and—in an on-the-nose nod to that old Joni Mitchell tune—a 700-spot parking lot/garage have taken over the area.

Steiner NYC, the developer of the lot, says they spent over $15 million restoring historic buildings, $65 million restoring 25 Washington Avenue, and that they intend to restore another dozen buildings at the Naval Hospital Annex. They also point out that they spent over $100,000 to preserve rare elm trees and a pin oak, each over 50 years old.

Inside one of the homes

Inside one of the homes

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Inside one of the homes
Jake Dobkin / Gothamist

Other urban explorers also documented the Navy Yard during those death rattle years, and Nate Dorr and Nathan Kensinger captured it through still photography and film from 2008 through 2015. When Wegmans opened, they projected an edit of that footage (titled "Admiral’s Row, 1864 - 2016") on to the side of the store. This was a guerilla video installation as well as part of an ongoing documentary film project about the transformation of the landscape around Admiral’s Row. You can see some of that in this new video they shared with Gothamist:

We asked Dorr and Kensinger a few questions about their project over email:

Brooklyn gained a Wegmans, which in turn brought many jobs to the area, but what outcome would you have preferred to see?

Our video installation was a memorial to Admiral’s Row, and to what was lost by demolishing this important piece of Brooklyn’s history. A lot of people were there this weekend to celebrate the opening of the supermarket and its parking lot, but many others in the community were also mourning the death of these historic buildings and the forest around them. Those buildings had been a part of the neighborhood fabric for more than a century, and their destruction was a great loss for Brooklyn. We wanted to acknowledge that sense of loss, by bringing Admiral’s Row back to its original location and projecting its story onto the structures that replaced it. 

In terms of outcomes, our piece asks viewers to reflect on whether a sprawling suburban-style supermarket and 700-car parking lot are the best use of that space, or of any urban space. A huge forest with hundred-year-old trees was bulldozed and replaced by a field of asphalt-covered in cars. Is that the best possible use of that area?

Do you think Admirals Row should have been restored, could it have been? 

More of Admiral’s Row should have been preserved. Think of what could have been created if all 10 homes there were saved decades ago, instead of just one, and if the forest had been allowed to continue growing. But the city purposefully let those buildings fall into a state beyond repair. That was a decision made by the government many, many years ago, and the homes there were allowed to decay until pulling them down became the only option. Now, the Brooklyn Navy Yard can point to the one home that was saved, to show their important preservation work, but that is a misdirection. The erasure of Admiral’s Row was a monumental loss for Brooklyn’s history. 

In 1904

In 1904

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In 1904

Are you unhappy with the development of the Navy Yard overall? What could have been done differently?

It would be great if the Brooklyn Navy Yard could find a better balance between historical preservation, ecological concerns, and local economic benefits. The Navy Yard is currently going through some radical changes, and inserting some very tall towers into the heart of one of the city’s last manufacturing centers and ship repair facilities. How will this drastic new development impact the surrounding communities, in terms of gentrification? And how will building all of these new concrete, glass, and asphalt structures in a flood zone impact the environment?  The Navy Yard should be focused on creating more green spaces, not more towers, and on finding a resilient solution to sea-level rise, before it is completely flooded.