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MAS Calls for Emergency Repairs to Admirals Row

MAS Calls for Emergency Repairs to Admirals Row

The Municipal Art Society 12/16/2010

The Municipal Art Society and The New York Landmarks Conservancy today called on the U.S. Army National Guard Bureau to take immediate action to stabilize two of the most historically significant buildings at the Admirals Row site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The buildings remain endangered despite the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation’s recently released plans to retain and restore them.

Both MAS and the Conservancy have spent years advocating for the preservation of the nineteenth century buildings at the site. The site is in the process of being transferred from the U.S. Army National Guard Bureau to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Throughout the multi-year process the National Guard has failed to follow through on its promises to undertake work that would prevent further decline or collapse of the two most significant buildings on the site, Building B and the Timber Shed. While the Navy Yard has agreed to restore the two buildings once it has ownership of the site, finalizing the land transfer may take a year or more. It is possible that the buildings could collapse before that time, making their restoration virtually impossible.

“The Municipal Art Society is deeply concerned that a heavy snow this winter could cause irreparable damage to the Timber Shed,” said Vin Cipolla, president of MAS. “The Timber Shed, which once housed wooden ship masts, is the only remaining building of its type in the nation, and it is of exceptional national significance. Once stabilized, the building is imminently reusable and would contribute tremendously to the sense of place and urban design of this development project.”

“The National Guard has been woefully negligent of its duty and promises to stabilize and preserve the Timber Shed,”
said Peg Breen, president of The New York Landmarks Conservancy. “Now that preservation engineer Robert Silman has determined that the building can be stabilized and eventually reused,” she added,” the National Guard must protect the Shed from potential damage this winter.”

Currently the buildings remain unprotected from the elements and vulnerable to further damage. With increasing urgency, members of the surrounding community, preservationists, and others have asked the National Guard to immediately stabilize and protect the buildings from needless deterioration, and to find a solution that would allow for their restoration and reuse.

The decades of sustained lack of action on the part of the National Guard could be considered “demolition by neglect,” which would mark a failure of the agency to uphold its responsibilities under federal historic preservation laws. In 2009, one of the significant houses on the site (Building C) collapsed after a heavy rain. Last year, after a heavy snowstorm, part of the Timber Shed’s roof collapsed. Despite that collapse, the prominent engineer Robert Silman has found the building to be restorable.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard has just begun the environmental review process that is necessary to rezone this site to allow for the development of a grocery store, retail buildings, parking and an industrial building. As part of the environmental review, the BNYDC released plans that retain the Timber Shed and Building B, which is a dramatic improvement to their 2007 plans of a suburban-style big box building surrounded by a sea of parking. The National Guard has made a condition of the land transfer a requirement that the Navy Yard to retain and restore the site’s most significant buildings; the Timber Shed and Building B.