Close-Up on Brooklyn’s Navy Yard


Here’s the difference between the Navy Yard and most other neighborhoods you’ll meet: No one wants to have their picture taken. Not the men holding their hats like shields as they duck out of the United Talmudical Academy; definitely not the uniformed man in the truck pulling out from behind blocks of barbed wire fences. Those fences enclose what was, from 1801 until 1966, a hub of federally-mandated activity—over five miles worth of barracks, shipways, foundries, and machine shops. Today, the Yard, owned by the city since ’66, is a wreck, or a new outpost of commerce (with over 200 tenants), or a neighborhood, depending on how you look at it.

There’s everything to see and nothing to do, in those five miles of Yard and the five blocks beside them—just a lot of warehouses, deserted from the outside, possibly hectic within, and near Navy Street a series of spectacularly abandoned officers’ houses. Is this near-to-last Brooklyn frontier how Dumbo looked, before its cinematic-industrial aesthetic became the stuff of real-estate legend?

At present, there’s both utter vacancy and the height of gentrification, and not even a bodega in between. One worker hauling lumber out of a former factory all but laughs at the idea of calling this a neighborhood. Meanwhile, Wonka-style, a chocolate factory next door holds a beehive of renovated lofts. Who needs a frontier population of artists anymore to popularize a location, when you’ve got an empty warehouse? Dozens of working professionals prowl the halls of the Chocolate Factory, at least one with a mutt.

Tom Cruise would do better to chill over here.
photo: Carla Blumenkranz

Mass Transit: This is tricky. The G will take you to Clinton-Washington, which isn’t too far. Otherwise, it’s the A/C to High Street, then the B69 to Cumberland and Flushing, or the F to York Street, followed by the B61 to Vanderbilt and Park. Navy Yard officials suggest you ask for help getting past their gates.

Main Drags: Define the term “main drag.” Flushing Avenue, which runs along the Yard, is the point of entry for anyone who makes it. To your north, there’s the nebulous compound of buildings that makes up the Yard. To the south, there’s the nearly blank offshoots ranging from Elliot Place to Steuben Street. The United Talmudical Academy and the Chocolate Factory rank the highest in comings and goings.

Boundaries: Navy Street to the west, the East River to the north, and the BQE everywhere else.

Average Rent: Lofts in the Chocolate Factory range from studios to three-bedrooms, but are priced more according to size—renting for between $1,700 and $2,500.

Average Price to Buy: There are more condos under construction than up for sale at the moment. But they look to go in the coming months for between $500,000 and $900,000.

Cultural Institutions: The gleaming white building that makes up the Steiner Studios can be seen from the roof of the Chocolate Factory. This gigantic “production factory,” named for its shopping center tycoon owners, covers 15 acres of the yard. Movies such as The Producers and Spike Lee’s upcoming The Inside Man have been filmed there; Navy Yard security officers report they’ve been asked on one occasion to protect Tom Cruise’s privacy.

Green Spaces: This is the best part. For an unrecorded period of time, between the 1860s and the 1960s, a row of houses along the western border was home to the cream of the Navy’s crop. All signs point to an insulated, manicured community straight out of some unwritten naval comedy of manners: expansive, porch-fronted houses and reports of well-attended garden parties and weddings. Today, Officer’s Row is the best specimen of deriliction you’ll find in all the city. Every window is broken, ivy crawls in and out of them; boards are literally crumbling and covered in dust. Navy Yard policy says you won’t get in without a permit, and if you’re not convinced, take a look at that barbed wire.

Restaurants: The Chocolate Factory has spawned a Cuban restaurant, Mojitos, and the Chocolate Bar and Lounge. A few blocks down, the Hall Street Kosher Cafe makes the best egg salad sandwiches, often for Talmudical Academy affiliates.

Politicians: All Democrats, here. Sara M. Gonzalez represents City Council’s 38th District, covering all the waterfront. Velmanette Montgomery and Feliz Ortiz are in State Senate and Assembly, respectively. Edolphus Towns, who’s been expressing some concern about the Dubai port deal, represents the 10th congressional district.

Crime stats: Brooklyn’s 88th Precinct reported one murder, seven rapes, 318 robberies, 141 felony assaults, 232 burglaries, and 443 grand larcenies for 2005.