CITY ISLAND, SEAPORT OF THE BRONX - NEW YORK
Then:

City Island, connected to Rodman’s Neck by the City Island Avenue causeway, is an important boatyard. The dull rubbed brass of sextants gleams in the shop windows, and white sloops stand like herons in the cradles of boatbuilders. Clam chowder and popcorn are sold.
—New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Now:

Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.
—The New York Times (2007)

° ° °
Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com. 
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CITY ISLAND, SEAPORT OF THE BRONX - NEW YORK
Then:

City Island, connected to Rodman’s Neck by the City Island Avenue causeway, is an important boatyard. The dull rubbed brass of sextants gleams in the shop windows, and white sloops stand like herons in the cradles of boatbuilders. Clam chowder and popcorn are sold.
—New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Now:

Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.
—The New York Times (2007)

° ° °
Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com. 
Zoom Info
CITY ISLAND, SEAPORT OF THE BRONX - NEW YORK
Then:

City Island, connected to Rodman’s Neck by the City Island Avenue causeway, is an important boatyard. The dull rubbed brass of sextants gleams in the shop windows, and white sloops stand like herons in the cradles of boatbuilders. Clam chowder and popcorn are sold.
—New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Now:

Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.
—The New York Times (2007)

° ° °
Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com. 
Zoom Info
CITY ISLAND, SEAPORT OF THE BRONX - NEW YORK
Then:

City Island, connected to Rodman’s Neck by the City Island Avenue causeway, is an important boatyard. The dull rubbed brass of sextants gleams in the shop windows, and white sloops stand like herons in the cradles of boatbuilders. Clam chowder and popcorn are sold.
—New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Now:

Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.
—The New York Times (2007)

° ° °
Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com. 
Zoom Info
CITY ISLAND, SEAPORT OF THE BRONX - NEW YORK
Then:

City Island, connected to Rodman’s Neck by the City Island Avenue causeway, is an important boatyard. The dull rubbed brass of sextants gleams in the shop windows, and white sloops stand like herons in the cradles of boatbuilders. Clam chowder and popcorn are sold.
—New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Now:

Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.
—The New York Times (2007)

° ° °
Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com. 
Zoom Info
CITY ISLAND, SEAPORT OF THE BRONX - NEW YORK
Then:

City Island, connected to Rodman’s Neck by the City Island Avenue causeway, is an important boatyard. The dull rubbed brass of sextants gleams in the shop windows, and white sloops stand like herons in the cradles of boatbuilders. Clam chowder and popcorn are sold.
—New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Now:

Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.
—The New York Times (2007)

° ° °
Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com. 
Zoom Info
CITY ISLAND, SEAPORT OF THE BRONX - NEW YORK
Then:

City Island, connected to Rodman’s Neck by the City Island Avenue causeway, is an important boatyard. The dull rubbed brass of sextants gleams in the shop windows, and white sloops stand like herons in the cradles of boatbuilders. Clam chowder and popcorn are sold.
—New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Now:

Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.
—The New York Times (2007)

° ° °
Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com. 
Zoom Info
CITY ISLAND, SEAPORT OF THE BRONX - NEW YORK
Then:

City Island, connected to Rodman’s Neck by the City Island Avenue causeway, is an important boatyard. The dull rubbed brass of sextants gleams in the shop windows, and white sloops stand like herons in the cradles of boatbuilders. Clam chowder and popcorn are sold.
—New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Now:

Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.
—The New York Times (2007)

° ° °
Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com. 
Zoom Info
CITY ISLAND, SEAPORT OF THE BRONX - NEW YORK
Then:

City Island, connected to Rodman’s Neck by the City Island Avenue causeway, is an important boatyard. The dull rubbed brass of sextants gleams in the shop windows, and white sloops stand like herons in the cradles of boatbuilders. Clam chowder and popcorn are sold.
—New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Now:

Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.
—The New York Times (2007)

° ° °
Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com. 
Zoom Info
CITY ISLAND, SEAPORT OF THE BRONX - NEW YORK
Then:

City Island, connected to Rodman’s Neck by the City Island Avenue causeway, is an important boatyard. The dull rubbed brass of sextants gleams in the shop windows, and white sloops stand like herons in the cradles of boatbuilders. Clam chowder and popcorn are sold.
—New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Now:

Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.
—The New York Times (2007)

° ° °
Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com. 
Zoom Info

CITY ISLAND, SEAPORT OF THE BRONX - NEW YORK

Then:

City Island, connected to Rodman’s Neck by the City Island Avenue causeway, is an important boatyard. The dull rubbed brass of sextants gleams in the shop windows, and white sloops stand like herons in the cradles of boatbuilders. Clam chowder and popcorn are sold.

New York City: Vol 1, New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Now:


Perhaps nowhere else in New York do natives have as strong a sense of themselves as they do on City Island, the sleepy speck of land ringed with sailboats and tacked to the eastern edge of the Bronx. The words clam digger and mussel sucker do not pop up every day, but City Islanders say they are well-known.

The New York Times (2007)

° ° °

Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts daily at americanroads.tumblr.com. 

OFF THE BEATEN PATH - LIT CRAWL NYC 2013

Tomorrow, Saturday, September 14th, The American Guide is delighted to be part of the Lit Crawl NYC 2013 line-up. We’ll be giving a sweeping, epic presentation covering the past, present and future of guidebooks. In 20 minutes. (It’s possible there will be a slight bias towards our favorite Federal Writers Project series.)

Joining us on the bill is the intrepid Moses Gates, author of Hidden Cities: Travels To the Secret Corners of the World’s Great Metropolises, who’ll be talking about the last frontier of travel—illegality. 

We’ll be at East Village institution Two Boots Pizzeria on Avenue A from 8:15-9pm. There are a bounteous plenty of awesome events for the evening. (We’re particularly looking forward to Ghost Stories With Lapham’s Quarterly at the Merchant’s House Museum.) 

Check out the full schedule here.

Drop on by, grab a slice, and we’ll see you at the afterparty! 

CONEY ISLAND - BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

Summer crowds are the essence of Coney Island. From early monrning, when the first throngs pour from the Stillwell Avenue subway terminal, humanity flows over Coney seeking relief from the heat of the city. Italians, Jews, Greeks, Poles, Germans, Negroes, Irish, people of every nationality; boys and girls, feeble ancients, mothers with squirming children, fathers with bundles, push and collide as they rush, laughing, scolding, sweating, for a spot on the sand. … From the boardwalk the whole beach may be viewed: bathers splash and shout in the turgid waters close to the shore; on the sand, children dig, young men engage in gymnastics and roughhouse each other, or toss balls over the backs of couples lying amorously intertwined. Luncheon combines the difficulties of a picnic with those of a subway rush hour; families sit in wriggling circles consuming food and drinking from thermos bottles brought in suitcases together with bathing suits, spare clothing, and water wings. …

After sunset the Island becomes the playground of a mixed crowd of sightseers and strollers. … [The] shouts of competing barkers become more strident, the crowds more compact. Enormous paintings in primitive colors advertise the freak shows, shooting galleries, and waxworks “Chamber of Horrors.” Riders are whirled, jolted, battered, tossed upside down by the Cyclone, the Thunderbolt, the Mile Sky Chaser, the Loop-o-Plane, the Whip, the Flying Turns, the Dodgem Speedway, the Chute-the-Chutes, and the Comet. Above the cacophony of spielers, cries, and the shrieks and laughter, carrousel organs pound out last year’s tunes, and roller coasters slam down their terrific inclines. …

About midnight, the weary crowds begin to depart, leaving a litter of cigarette butts, torn newspapers, orange and banana peel, old shoes and hats, pop bottles and soiled cardboard boxes, and an occasional corset. A few couples remain behind, with here and there a solitary drunk, or a sleepless old man pacing the boardwalk. The last concessionaire counts his receipts and puts up his shutters, and only the amiable roar of the forgotten sea is heard.

New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

* * *

Martina Albertazzi is a Guide to New York and New Jersey. She’s a freelance photographer who was born in Rome, but has now settled in New York City. Other than photography, her biggest interests are: her dog Ugo, people, good food, good wine, and books. Follow her on Tumblr at martina-albertazzi.tumblr.com.

CASTLES IN THE CITY - ARMORIES OF NEW YORK, NY

A city as old as New York contains layer upon layer of building types, each exhibiting its own architectural and social histories. Distinctive structures are therefore fairly pedestrian in that they are all around, popping up in the midst of indistinguishable rows of sameness that have their own charm. Turning a corner to see a castle, however, may not seem one of the more likely occurrences, regardless of your location on bustling Park Avenue or a quiet Hasidic Williamsburg block.
Armories and arsenals – generally massive masonry structures fashioned in the medieval Gothic style of fortresses (parapets and turrets included) – are scattered throughout the city. The WPA Guide to New York City mentions many armories briefly, four for their 50-cent badminton rates and others for their resident regiments’ performance in this or that war, though it definitely does not serve as a comprehensive source for the building form. In the 1930s, armories were noted pieces of a community, at once social clubs for men of the upper and upper-middle classes, training grounds for the State’s National Guard divisions, and symbols of government and military might that also sometimes doubled as civic centers. Today, their uses vary widely, as do their states of (dis)repair. In the current economy, one would have a hard time justifying the contemporary construction of such monumental structures on some of the most valuable real estate in the world. But these were quite expensive to construct back in the day as well, which begs the questions of why they were built initially and how these elephant-in-the-city holdovers from a previous era are being used today.

Wanting a bit more information on these behemoths designed to house guns and the people authorized to use them, I stumbled on the NY State Military Museum’s listing of still-existing and long-demolished armories across the state. This resource, coupled with Nancy Todd’s New York’s Historic Armories: An Illustrated History, gave me the bones of a plan to jaunt around the city and visit a few. Todd’s situation of form’s rise in the state within the larger context of the militia in the country’s history is fascinating. To paraphrase greatly, the state militias went from the military force of the colonies and newly minted states to a fairly equal partner with the centralized military, largely focused on domestic unrest, to a group of trained folks that serve overseas and scramble to action when disasters strike at home.

Armories grew in popularity when the state National Guard became a serious force. With industrialization giving rise to class inequality that seems quaint by today’s standards, labor-capital conflicts exploded in the 1870s to the 1890s and the National Guard – rallying out from its urban (and rural) castles – was the group that quashed the riots. The Guard’s consequence among the moneyed classes during that time figured prominently in the construction of more homes for Guard regiments across the city.

The reserve force we know today, which in the City rallied (to name only two instances) post-Sandy and post-9/11 for significant relief efforts, no longer requires structures from which to withstand siege. (Whether the necessity ever truly existed is a very valid question.) Largely beginning in the late 1960s, armories began to fall out of use by the Guard, sometimes due to the cost of upkeep when balanced against the true need for the structures. Ownership of some was transferred to the City, others maintained by the State, some to private groups, and most falling into some sort of disrepair. Many remain in such condition, though some have been repurposed, and plans are in the works for others to be put back to use.

The Central Park Arsenal at 5th Ave. and 64th St. is the oldest of the bunch I visited (constructed in 1848), and one of two structures within Vaux and Olmsted’s great park that predate its creation. As an arsenal, it was largely a warehouse for arms and over time saw many uses, including as a police precinct, a menagerie, the first home of the American Museum of Natural History, and, since Robert Moses assumed its helm in 1934, the City Department of Parks and Recreation.

To bring the regiments off of parade grounds into a weatherized space, the state moved away from the construction of simply arsenals to armories, which generally include an administrative structure, complete with fancy rooms in which cigar smoking would seem a fitting activity, backed by a massive drill shed used for military exercises. Todd calls the Seventh Regiment Armory, known also as the Park Avenue Armory, the “flagship of the building type” and dedicates a whole chapter in her book to its history. Sitting on Park Ave. between 66th and 67th, the 1880 building strikes a powerful image, thanks in part to its rehabilitation as the performance arts space it is today. The massive drill shed, the roof of which is held up by eleven wrought-iron arches, now hosts a range of performances. The space is so large as to permit feats like the reconstruction of an entire four-story theater in the round for a run of performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 (with ample space left over). The building’s management was not too keen on allowing me to take photos, so take a look at the armory’s interior here.

In the midst of one the nation’s largest Hasidic Jewish populations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sits the Forty-Seventh Regiment Armory at Marcy Ave. between Heyward and Lynch Streets. The juxtaposition between the Yiddish-speaking community, their school buses parked alongside the imposing brick walls of the armory, and the building itself makes for a particularly curious scene. Built in 1884 and expanded in 1899 (thus bringing together two different architectural styles utilized in the form), the space is used for major movie filming. I snuck a glance inside at the construction of sets for Spiderman 3, but again, no luck in a thorough look at the interior. Still owned by the State but promoted by the City as part of its Made in NYC film initiative, there has been talk of late of the sale of building, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic community seems first in line to purchase it for school and community space.

The Fort Washington Avenue Armory, which sits between 168th and 169th streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was constructed in 1911. After the National Guard regiment vacated the space, the city operated a homeless shelter in the drill hall from the late 1980s and early 1990s, as it did with a vast number of armories across the five boroughs. The armory now serves as a track and field center hosting area races as well as Olympic qualifying events, a track and field hall of fame, and community center. Oddly, despite being heavily renovated to accommodate the sloping turf surface of the track, it maintains an interior purpose not unlike that of the old drill sheds. The stands that now host supporters of the athletes racing around the track below may have more modern seats, but they look out from the same vantage point the people of the city would have had when surveying troops in full regalia. Some original flooring, molding, and stairways also remain.

Walking into the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem on 5th Ave. between 142nd and 143rd, I was promptly sized up by a camo-wearing guardsman. While the drill shed, built in 1924, is now used by the Harlem Children’s Zone, the administrative block, completed in 1933, is still home to the regiment that gives its name to the structure: originally the only black regiment in New York City and nicknamed the Harlem Hell Fighters. Built long after the boom in armory construction in the late 19th century, the 369th has a distinct style, incorporating many art-deco features in its floors and molding. Alas, I was asked to leave before I could snap photos, and the exterior is currently undergoing a restoration, but at the very least the thick, iron-girded doors are something to behold.

Much can be said about the architectural features and styles that define armories across the city, as could be about their changing uses and ownership. Fortunately, they will not likely be going anywhere soon, as most are either landmarked by the City or on the National Register of Historic Places.

To see how we utilize these spaces, designed for an entirely different function but no less useful for our own purposes today, provides a curious case study in adaptive reuse in a time when significant buildings are all too often slated for destruction, victims of real estate money-making schemes, or a lack of creativity in adapting their spaces. Armories also serve as a reminder of the past militarization of cities in a time when our police forces are increasingly equipped with technology and trained in tactics previously reserved for the professional federal military. Which makes me think: we are still building armories and arsenals in the city today. They do not, however, double as a social club relatively open to the outside or treat the eye to an anachronistic image of a castle out of medieval times, situated just around the corner from your local bodega. 
* * *

JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.
Zoom Info
CASTLES IN THE CITY - ARMORIES OF NEW YORK, NY

A city as old as New York contains layer upon layer of building types, each exhibiting its own architectural and social histories. Distinctive structures are therefore fairly pedestrian in that they are all around, popping up in the midst of indistinguishable rows of sameness that have their own charm. Turning a corner to see a castle, however, may not seem one of the more likely occurrences, regardless of your location on bustling Park Avenue or a quiet Hasidic Williamsburg block.
Armories and arsenals – generally massive masonry structures fashioned in the medieval Gothic style of fortresses (parapets and turrets included) – are scattered throughout the city. The WPA Guide to New York City mentions many armories briefly, four for their 50-cent badminton rates and others for their resident regiments’ performance in this or that war, though it definitely does not serve as a comprehensive source for the building form. In the 1930s, armories were noted pieces of a community, at once social clubs for men of the upper and upper-middle classes, training grounds for the State’s National Guard divisions, and symbols of government and military might that also sometimes doubled as civic centers. Today, their uses vary widely, as do their states of (dis)repair. In the current economy, one would have a hard time justifying the contemporary construction of such monumental structures on some of the most valuable real estate in the world. But these were quite expensive to construct back in the day as well, which begs the questions of why they were built initially and how these elephant-in-the-city holdovers from a previous era are being used today.

Wanting a bit more information on these behemoths designed to house guns and the people authorized to use them, I stumbled on the NY State Military Museum’s listing of still-existing and long-demolished armories across the state. This resource, coupled with Nancy Todd’s New York’s Historic Armories: An Illustrated History, gave me the bones of a plan to jaunt around the city and visit a few. Todd’s situation of form’s rise in the state within the larger context of the militia in the country’s history is fascinating. To paraphrase greatly, the state militias went from the military force of the colonies and newly minted states to a fairly equal partner with the centralized military, largely focused on domestic unrest, to a group of trained folks that serve overseas and scramble to action when disasters strike at home.

Armories grew in popularity when the state National Guard became a serious force. With industrialization giving rise to class inequality that seems quaint by today’s standards, labor-capital conflicts exploded in the 1870s to the 1890s and the National Guard – rallying out from its urban (and rural) castles – was the group that quashed the riots. The Guard’s consequence among the moneyed classes during that time figured prominently in the construction of more homes for Guard regiments across the city.

The reserve force we know today, which in the City rallied (to name only two instances) post-Sandy and post-9/11 for significant relief efforts, no longer requires structures from which to withstand siege. (Whether the necessity ever truly existed is a very valid question.) Largely beginning in the late 1960s, armories began to fall out of use by the Guard, sometimes due to the cost of upkeep when balanced against the true need for the structures. Ownership of some was transferred to the City, others maintained by the State, some to private groups, and most falling into some sort of disrepair. Many remain in such condition, though some have been repurposed, and plans are in the works for others to be put back to use.

The Central Park Arsenal at 5th Ave. and 64th St. is the oldest of the bunch I visited (constructed in 1848), and one of two structures within Vaux and Olmsted’s great park that predate its creation. As an arsenal, it was largely a warehouse for arms and over time saw many uses, including as a police precinct, a menagerie, the first home of the American Museum of Natural History, and, since Robert Moses assumed its helm in 1934, the City Department of Parks and Recreation.

To bring the regiments off of parade grounds into a weatherized space, the state moved away from the construction of simply arsenals to armories, which generally include an administrative structure, complete with fancy rooms in which cigar smoking would seem a fitting activity, backed by a massive drill shed used for military exercises. Todd calls the Seventh Regiment Armory, known also as the Park Avenue Armory, the “flagship of the building type” and dedicates a whole chapter in her book to its history. Sitting on Park Ave. between 66th and 67th, the 1880 building strikes a powerful image, thanks in part to its rehabilitation as the performance arts space it is today. The massive drill shed, the roof of which is held up by eleven wrought-iron arches, now hosts a range of performances. The space is so large as to permit feats like the reconstruction of an entire four-story theater in the round for a run of performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 (with ample space left over). The building’s management was not too keen on allowing me to take photos, so take a look at the armory’s interior here.

In the midst of one the nation’s largest Hasidic Jewish populations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sits the Forty-Seventh Regiment Armory at Marcy Ave. between Heyward and Lynch Streets. The juxtaposition between the Yiddish-speaking community, their school buses parked alongside the imposing brick walls of the armory, and the building itself makes for a particularly curious scene. Built in 1884 and expanded in 1899 (thus bringing together two different architectural styles utilized in the form), the space is used for major movie filming. I snuck a glance inside at the construction of sets for Spiderman 3, but again, no luck in a thorough look at the interior. Still owned by the State but promoted by the City as part of its Made in NYC film initiative, there has been talk of late of the sale of building, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic community seems first in line to purchase it for school and community space.

The Fort Washington Avenue Armory, which sits between 168th and 169th streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was constructed in 1911. After the National Guard regiment vacated the space, the city operated a homeless shelter in the drill hall from the late 1980s and early 1990s, as it did with a vast number of armories across the five boroughs. The armory now serves as a track and field center hosting area races as well as Olympic qualifying events, a track and field hall of fame, and community center. Oddly, despite being heavily renovated to accommodate the sloping turf surface of the track, it maintains an interior purpose not unlike that of the old drill sheds. The stands that now host supporters of the athletes racing around the track below may have more modern seats, but they look out from the same vantage point the people of the city would have had when surveying troops in full regalia. Some original flooring, molding, and stairways also remain.

Walking into the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem on 5th Ave. between 142nd and 143rd, I was promptly sized up by a camo-wearing guardsman. While the drill shed, built in 1924, is now used by the Harlem Children’s Zone, the administrative block, completed in 1933, is still home to the regiment that gives its name to the structure: originally the only black regiment in New York City and nicknamed the Harlem Hell Fighters. Built long after the boom in armory construction in the late 19th century, the 369th has a distinct style, incorporating many art-deco features in its floors and molding. Alas, I was asked to leave before I could snap photos, and the exterior is currently undergoing a restoration, but at the very least the thick, iron-girded doors are something to behold.

Much can be said about the architectural features and styles that define armories across the city, as could be about their changing uses and ownership. Fortunately, they will not likely be going anywhere soon, as most are either landmarked by the City or on the National Register of Historic Places.

To see how we utilize these spaces, designed for an entirely different function but no less useful for our own purposes today, provides a curious case study in adaptive reuse in a time when significant buildings are all too often slated for destruction, victims of real estate money-making schemes, or a lack of creativity in adapting their spaces. Armories also serve as a reminder of the past militarization of cities in a time when our police forces are increasingly equipped with technology and trained in tactics previously reserved for the professional federal military. Which makes me think: we are still building armories and arsenals in the city today. They do not, however, double as a social club relatively open to the outside or treat the eye to an anachronistic image of a castle out of medieval times, situated just around the corner from your local bodega. 
* * *

JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.
Zoom Info
CASTLES IN THE CITY - ARMORIES OF NEW YORK, NY

A city as old as New York contains layer upon layer of building types, each exhibiting its own architectural and social histories. Distinctive structures are therefore fairly pedestrian in that they are all around, popping up in the midst of indistinguishable rows of sameness that have their own charm. Turning a corner to see a castle, however, may not seem one of the more likely occurrences, regardless of your location on bustling Park Avenue or a quiet Hasidic Williamsburg block.
Armories and arsenals – generally massive masonry structures fashioned in the medieval Gothic style of fortresses (parapets and turrets included) – are scattered throughout the city. The WPA Guide to New York City mentions many armories briefly, four for their 50-cent badminton rates and others for their resident regiments’ performance in this or that war, though it definitely does not serve as a comprehensive source for the building form. In the 1930s, armories were noted pieces of a community, at once social clubs for men of the upper and upper-middle classes, training grounds for the State’s National Guard divisions, and symbols of government and military might that also sometimes doubled as civic centers. Today, their uses vary widely, as do their states of (dis)repair. In the current economy, one would have a hard time justifying the contemporary construction of such monumental structures on some of the most valuable real estate in the world. But these were quite expensive to construct back in the day as well, which begs the questions of why they were built initially and how these elephant-in-the-city holdovers from a previous era are being used today.

Wanting a bit more information on these behemoths designed to house guns and the people authorized to use them, I stumbled on the NY State Military Museum’s listing of still-existing and long-demolished armories across the state. This resource, coupled with Nancy Todd’s New York’s Historic Armories: An Illustrated History, gave me the bones of a plan to jaunt around the city and visit a few. Todd’s situation of form’s rise in the state within the larger context of the militia in the country’s history is fascinating. To paraphrase greatly, the state militias went from the military force of the colonies and newly minted states to a fairly equal partner with the centralized military, largely focused on domestic unrest, to a group of trained folks that serve overseas and scramble to action when disasters strike at home.

Armories grew in popularity when the state National Guard became a serious force. With industrialization giving rise to class inequality that seems quaint by today’s standards, labor-capital conflicts exploded in the 1870s to the 1890s and the National Guard – rallying out from its urban (and rural) castles – was the group that quashed the riots. The Guard’s consequence among the moneyed classes during that time figured prominently in the construction of more homes for Guard regiments across the city.

The reserve force we know today, which in the City rallied (to name only two instances) post-Sandy and post-9/11 for significant relief efforts, no longer requires structures from which to withstand siege. (Whether the necessity ever truly existed is a very valid question.) Largely beginning in the late 1960s, armories began to fall out of use by the Guard, sometimes due to the cost of upkeep when balanced against the true need for the structures. Ownership of some was transferred to the City, others maintained by the State, some to private groups, and most falling into some sort of disrepair. Many remain in such condition, though some have been repurposed, and plans are in the works for others to be put back to use.

The Central Park Arsenal at 5th Ave. and 64th St. is the oldest of the bunch I visited (constructed in 1848), and one of two structures within Vaux and Olmsted’s great park that predate its creation. As an arsenal, it was largely a warehouse for arms and over time saw many uses, including as a police precinct, a menagerie, the first home of the American Museum of Natural History, and, since Robert Moses assumed its helm in 1934, the City Department of Parks and Recreation.

To bring the regiments off of parade grounds into a weatherized space, the state moved away from the construction of simply arsenals to armories, which generally include an administrative structure, complete with fancy rooms in which cigar smoking would seem a fitting activity, backed by a massive drill shed used for military exercises. Todd calls the Seventh Regiment Armory, known also as the Park Avenue Armory, the “flagship of the building type” and dedicates a whole chapter in her book to its history. Sitting on Park Ave. between 66th and 67th, the 1880 building strikes a powerful image, thanks in part to its rehabilitation as the performance arts space it is today. The massive drill shed, the roof of which is held up by eleven wrought-iron arches, now hosts a range of performances. The space is so large as to permit feats like the reconstruction of an entire four-story theater in the round for a run of performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 (with ample space left over). The building’s management was not too keen on allowing me to take photos, so take a look at the armory’s interior here.

In the midst of one the nation’s largest Hasidic Jewish populations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sits the Forty-Seventh Regiment Armory at Marcy Ave. between Heyward and Lynch Streets. The juxtaposition between the Yiddish-speaking community, their school buses parked alongside the imposing brick walls of the armory, and the building itself makes for a particularly curious scene. Built in 1884 and expanded in 1899 (thus bringing together two different architectural styles utilized in the form), the space is used for major movie filming. I snuck a glance inside at the construction of sets for Spiderman 3, but again, no luck in a thorough look at the interior. Still owned by the State but promoted by the City as part of its Made in NYC film initiative, there has been talk of late of the sale of building, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic community seems first in line to purchase it for school and community space.

The Fort Washington Avenue Armory, which sits between 168th and 169th streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was constructed in 1911. After the National Guard regiment vacated the space, the city operated a homeless shelter in the drill hall from the late 1980s and early 1990s, as it did with a vast number of armories across the five boroughs. The armory now serves as a track and field center hosting area races as well as Olympic qualifying events, a track and field hall of fame, and community center. Oddly, despite being heavily renovated to accommodate the sloping turf surface of the track, it maintains an interior purpose not unlike that of the old drill sheds. The stands that now host supporters of the athletes racing around the track below may have more modern seats, but they look out from the same vantage point the people of the city would have had when surveying troops in full regalia. Some original flooring, molding, and stairways also remain.

Walking into the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem on 5th Ave. between 142nd and 143rd, I was promptly sized up by a camo-wearing guardsman. While the drill shed, built in 1924, is now used by the Harlem Children’s Zone, the administrative block, completed in 1933, is still home to the regiment that gives its name to the structure: originally the only black regiment in New York City and nicknamed the Harlem Hell Fighters. Built long after the boom in armory construction in the late 19th century, the 369th has a distinct style, incorporating many art-deco features in its floors and molding. Alas, I was asked to leave before I could snap photos, and the exterior is currently undergoing a restoration, but at the very least the thick, iron-girded doors are something to behold.

Much can be said about the architectural features and styles that define armories across the city, as could be about their changing uses and ownership. Fortunately, they will not likely be going anywhere soon, as most are either landmarked by the City or on the National Register of Historic Places.

To see how we utilize these spaces, designed for an entirely different function but no less useful for our own purposes today, provides a curious case study in adaptive reuse in a time when significant buildings are all too often slated for destruction, victims of real estate money-making schemes, or a lack of creativity in adapting their spaces. Armories also serve as a reminder of the past militarization of cities in a time when our police forces are increasingly equipped with technology and trained in tactics previously reserved for the professional federal military. Which makes me think: we are still building armories and arsenals in the city today. They do not, however, double as a social club relatively open to the outside or treat the eye to an anachronistic image of a castle out of medieval times, situated just around the corner from your local bodega. 
* * *

JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.
Zoom Info
CASTLES IN THE CITY - ARMORIES OF NEW YORK, NY

A city as old as New York contains layer upon layer of building types, each exhibiting its own architectural and social histories. Distinctive structures are therefore fairly pedestrian in that they are all around, popping up in the midst of indistinguishable rows of sameness that have their own charm. Turning a corner to see a castle, however, may not seem one of the more likely occurrences, regardless of your location on bustling Park Avenue or a quiet Hasidic Williamsburg block.
Armories and arsenals – generally massive masonry structures fashioned in the medieval Gothic style of fortresses (parapets and turrets included) – are scattered throughout the city. The WPA Guide to New York City mentions many armories briefly, four for their 50-cent badminton rates and others for their resident regiments’ performance in this or that war, though it definitely does not serve as a comprehensive source for the building form. In the 1930s, armories were noted pieces of a community, at once social clubs for men of the upper and upper-middle classes, training grounds for the State’s National Guard divisions, and symbols of government and military might that also sometimes doubled as civic centers. Today, their uses vary widely, as do their states of (dis)repair. In the current economy, one would have a hard time justifying the contemporary construction of such monumental structures on some of the most valuable real estate in the world. But these were quite expensive to construct back in the day as well, which begs the questions of why they were built initially and how these elephant-in-the-city holdovers from a previous era are being used today.

Wanting a bit more information on these behemoths designed to house guns and the people authorized to use them, I stumbled on the NY State Military Museum’s listing of still-existing and long-demolished armories across the state. This resource, coupled with Nancy Todd’s New York’s Historic Armories: An Illustrated History, gave me the bones of a plan to jaunt around the city and visit a few. Todd’s situation of form’s rise in the state within the larger context of the militia in the country’s history is fascinating. To paraphrase greatly, the state militias went from the military force of the colonies and newly minted states to a fairly equal partner with the centralized military, largely focused on domestic unrest, to a group of trained folks that serve overseas and scramble to action when disasters strike at home.

Armories grew in popularity when the state National Guard became a serious force. With industrialization giving rise to class inequality that seems quaint by today’s standards, labor-capital conflicts exploded in the 1870s to the 1890s and the National Guard – rallying out from its urban (and rural) castles – was the group that quashed the riots. The Guard’s consequence among the moneyed classes during that time figured prominently in the construction of more homes for Guard regiments across the city.

The reserve force we know today, which in the City rallied (to name only two instances) post-Sandy and post-9/11 for significant relief efforts, no longer requires structures from which to withstand siege. (Whether the necessity ever truly existed is a very valid question.) Largely beginning in the late 1960s, armories began to fall out of use by the Guard, sometimes due to the cost of upkeep when balanced against the true need for the structures. Ownership of some was transferred to the City, others maintained by the State, some to private groups, and most falling into some sort of disrepair. Many remain in such condition, though some have been repurposed, and plans are in the works for others to be put back to use.

The Central Park Arsenal at 5th Ave. and 64th St. is the oldest of the bunch I visited (constructed in 1848), and one of two structures within Vaux and Olmsted’s great park that predate its creation. As an arsenal, it was largely a warehouse for arms and over time saw many uses, including as a police precinct, a menagerie, the first home of the American Museum of Natural History, and, since Robert Moses assumed its helm in 1934, the City Department of Parks and Recreation.

To bring the regiments off of parade grounds into a weatherized space, the state moved away from the construction of simply arsenals to armories, which generally include an administrative structure, complete with fancy rooms in which cigar smoking would seem a fitting activity, backed by a massive drill shed used for military exercises. Todd calls the Seventh Regiment Armory, known also as the Park Avenue Armory, the “flagship of the building type” and dedicates a whole chapter in her book to its history. Sitting on Park Ave. between 66th and 67th, the 1880 building strikes a powerful image, thanks in part to its rehabilitation as the performance arts space it is today. The massive drill shed, the roof of which is held up by eleven wrought-iron arches, now hosts a range of performances. The space is so large as to permit feats like the reconstruction of an entire four-story theater in the round for a run of performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 (with ample space left over). The building’s management was not too keen on allowing me to take photos, so take a look at the armory’s interior here.

In the midst of one the nation’s largest Hasidic Jewish populations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sits the Forty-Seventh Regiment Armory at Marcy Ave. between Heyward and Lynch Streets. The juxtaposition between the Yiddish-speaking community, their school buses parked alongside the imposing brick walls of the armory, and the building itself makes for a particularly curious scene. Built in 1884 and expanded in 1899 (thus bringing together two different architectural styles utilized in the form), the space is used for major movie filming. I snuck a glance inside at the construction of sets for Spiderman 3, but again, no luck in a thorough look at the interior. Still owned by the State but promoted by the City as part of its Made in NYC film initiative, there has been talk of late of the sale of building, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic community seems first in line to purchase it for school and community space.

The Fort Washington Avenue Armory, which sits between 168th and 169th streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was constructed in 1911. After the National Guard regiment vacated the space, the city operated a homeless shelter in the drill hall from the late 1980s and early 1990s, as it did with a vast number of armories across the five boroughs. The armory now serves as a track and field center hosting area races as well as Olympic qualifying events, a track and field hall of fame, and community center. Oddly, despite being heavily renovated to accommodate the sloping turf surface of the track, it maintains an interior purpose not unlike that of the old drill sheds. The stands that now host supporters of the athletes racing around the track below may have more modern seats, but they look out from the same vantage point the people of the city would have had when surveying troops in full regalia. Some original flooring, molding, and stairways also remain.

Walking into the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem on 5th Ave. between 142nd and 143rd, I was promptly sized up by a camo-wearing guardsman. While the drill shed, built in 1924, is now used by the Harlem Children’s Zone, the administrative block, completed in 1933, is still home to the regiment that gives its name to the structure: originally the only black regiment in New York City and nicknamed the Harlem Hell Fighters. Built long after the boom in armory construction in the late 19th century, the 369th has a distinct style, incorporating many art-deco features in its floors and molding. Alas, I was asked to leave before I could snap photos, and the exterior is currently undergoing a restoration, but at the very least the thick, iron-girded doors are something to behold.

Much can be said about the architectural features and styles that define armories across the city, as could be about their changing uses and ownership. Fortunately, they will not likely be going anywhere soon, as most are either landmarked by the City or on the National Register of Historic Places.

To see how we utilize these spaces, designed for an entirely different function but no less useful for our own purposes today, provides a curious case study in adaptive reuse in a time when significant buildings are all too often slated for destruction, victims of real estate money-making schemes, or a lack of creativity in adapting their spaces. Armories also serve as a reminder of the past militarization of cities in a time when our police forces are increasingly equipped with technology and trained in tactics previously reserved for the professional federal military. Which makes me think: we are still building armories and arsenals in the city today. They do not, however, double as a social club relatively open to the outside or treat the eye to an anachronistic image of a castle out of medieval times, situated just around the corner from your local bodega. 
* * *

JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.
Zoom Info
CASTLES IN THE CITY - ARMORIES OF NEW YORK, NY

A city as old as New York contains layer upon layer of building types, each exhibiting its own architectural and social histories. Distinctive structures are therefore fairly pedestrian in that they are all around, popping up in the midst of indistinguishable rows of sameness that have their own charm. Turning a corner to see a castle, however, may not seem one of the more likely occurrences, regardless of your location on bustling Park Avenue or a quiet Hasidic Williamsburg block.
Armories and arsenals – generally massive masonry structures fashioned in the medieval Gothic style of fortresses (parapets and turrets included) – are scattered throughout the city. The WPA Guide to New York City mentions many armories briefly, four for their 50-cent badminton rates and others for their resident regiments’ performance in this or that war, though it definitely does not serve as a comprehensive source for the building form. In the 1930s, armories were noted pieces of a community, at once social clubs for men of the upper and upper-middle classes, training grounds for the State’s National Guard divisions, and symbols of government and military might that also sometimes doubled as civic centers. Today, their uses vary widely, as do their states of (dis)repair. In the current economy, one would have a hard time justifying the contemporary construction of such monumental structures on some of the most valuable real estate in the world. But these were quite expensive to construct back in the day as well, which begs the questions of why they were built initially and how these elephant-in-the-city holdovers from a previous era are being used today.

Wanting a bit more information on these behemoths designed to house guns and the people authorized to use them, I stumbled on the NY State Military Museum’s listing of still-existing and long-demolished armories across the state. This resource, coupled with Nancy Todd’s New York’s Historic Armories: An Illustrated History, gave me the bones of a plan to jaunt around the city and visit a few. Todd’s situation of form’s rise in the state within the larger context of the militia in the country’s history is fascinating. To paraphrase greatly, the state militias went from the military force of the colonies and newly minted states to a fairly equal partner with the centralized military, largely focused on domestic unrest, to a group of trained folks that serve overseas and scramble to action when disasters strike at home.

Armories grew in popularity when the state National Guard became a serious force. With industrialization giving rise to class inequality that seems quaint by today’s standards, labor-capital conflicts exploded in the 1870s to the 1890s and the National Guard – rallying out from its urban (and rural) castles – was the group that quashed the riots. The Guard’s consequence among the moneyed classes during that time figured prominently in the construction of more homes for Guard regiments across the city.

The reserve force we know today, which in the City rallied (to name only two instances) post-Sandy and post-9/11 for significant relief efforts, no longer requires structures from which to withstand siege. (Whether the necessity ever truly existed is a very valid question.) Largely beginning in the late 1960s, armories began to fall out of use by the Guard, sometimes due to the cost of upkeep when balanced against the true need for the structures. Ownership of some was transferred to the City, others maintained by the State, some to private groups, and most falling into some sort of disrepair. Many remain in such condition, though some have been repurposed, and plans are in the works for others to be put back to use.

The Central Park Arsenal at 5th Ave. and 64th St. is the oldest of the bunch I visited (constructed in 1848), and one of two structures within Vaux and Olmsted’s great park that predate its creation. As an arsenal, it was largely a warehouse for arms and over time saw many uses, including as a police precinct, a menagerie, the first home of the American Museum of Natural History, and, since Robert Moses assumed its helm in 1934, the City Department of Parks and Recreation.

To bring the regiments off of parade grounds into a weatherized space, the state moved away from the construction of simply arsenals to armories, which generally include an administrative structure, complete with fancy rooms in which cigar smoking would seem a fitting activity, backed by a massive drill shed used for military exercises. Todd calls the Seventh Regiment Armory, known also as the Park Avenue Armory, the “flagship of the building type” and dedicates a whole chapter in her book to its history. Sitting on Park Ave. between 66th and 67th, the 1880 building strikes a powerful image, thanks in part to its rehabilitation as the performance arts space it is today. The massive drill shed, the roof of which is held up by eleven wrought-iron arches, now hosts a range of performances. The space is so large as to permit feats like the reconstruction of an entire four-story theater in the round for a run of performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 (with ample space left over). The building’s management was not too keen on allowing me to take photos, so take a look at the armory’s interior here.

In the midst of one the nation’s largest Hasidic Jewish populations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sits the Forty-Seventh Regiment Armory at Marcy Ave. between Heyward and Lynch Streets. The juxtaposition between the Yiddish-speaking community, their school buses parked alongside the imposing brick walls of the armory, and the building itself makes for a particularly curious scene. Built in 1884 and expanded in 1899 (thus bringing together two different architectural styles utilized in the form), the space is used for major movie filming. I snuck a glance inside at the construction of sets for Spiderman 3, but again, no luck in a thorough look at the interior. Still owned by the State but promoted by the City as part of its Made in NYC film initiative, there has been talk of late of the sale of building, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic community seems first in line to purchase it for school and community space.

The Fort Washington Avenue Armory, which sits between 168th and 169th streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was constructed in 1911. After the National Guard regiment vacated the space, the city operated a homeless shelter in the drill hall from the late 1980s and early 1990s, as it did with a vast number of armories across the five boroughs. The armory now serves as a track and field center hosting area races as well as Olympic qualifying events, a track and field hall of fame, and community center. Oddly, despite being heavily renovated to accommodate the sloping turf surface of the track, it maintains an interior purpose not unlike that of the old drill sheds. The stands that now host supporters of the athletes racing around the track below may have more modern seats, but they look out from the same vantage point the people of the city would have had when surveying troops in full regalia. Some original flooring, molding, and stairways also remain.

Walking into the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem on 5th Ave. between 142nd and 143rd, I was promptly sized up by a camo-wearing guardsman. While the drill shed, built in 1924, is now used by the Harlem Children’s Zone, the administrative block, completed in 1933, is still home to the regiment that gives its name to the structure: originally the only black regiment in New York City and nicknamed the Harlem Hell Fighters. Built long after the boom in armory construction in the late 19th century, the 369th has a distinct style, incorporating many art-deco features in its floors and molding. Alas, I was asked to leave before I could snap photos, and the exterior is currently undergoing a restoration, but at the very least the thick, iron-girded doors are something to behold.

Much can be said about the architectural features and styles that define armories across the city, as could be about their changing uses and ownership. Fortunately, they will not likely be going anywhere soon, as most are either landmarked by the City or on the National Register of Historic Places.

To see how we utilize these spaces, designed for an entirely different function but no less useful for our own purposes today, provides a curious case study in adaptive reuse in a time when significant buildings are all too often slated for destruction, victims of real estate money-making schemes, or a lack of creativity in adapting their spaces. Armories also serve as a reminder of the past militarization of cities in a time when our police forces are increasingly equipped with technology and trained in tactics previously reserved for the professional federal military. Which makes me think: we are still building armories and arsenals in the city today. They do not, however, double as a social club relatively open to the outside or treat the eye to an anachronistic image of a castle out of medieval times, situated just around the corner from your local bodega. 
* * *

JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.
Zoom Info
CASTLES IN THE CITY - ARMORIES OF NEW YORK, NY

A city as old as New York contains layer upon layer of building types, each exhibiting its own architectural and social histories. Distinctive structures are therefore fairly pedestrian in that they are all around, popping up in the midst of indistinguishable rows of sameness that have their own charm. Turning a corner to see a castle, however, may not seem one of the more likely occurrences, regardless of your location on bustling Park Avenue or a quiet Hasidic Williamsburg block.
Armories and arsenals – generally massive masonry structures fashioned in the medieval Gothic style of fortresses (parapets and turrets included) – are scattered throughout the city. The WPA Guide to New York City mentions many armories briefly, four for their 50-cent badminton rates and others for their resident regiments’ performance in this or that war, though it definitely does not serve as a comprehensive source for the building form. In the 1930s, armories were noted pieces of a community, at once social clubs for men of the upper and upper-middle classes, training grounds for the State’s National Guard divisions, and symbols of government and military might that also sometimes doubled as civic centers. Today, their uses vary widely, as do their states of (dis)repair. In the current economy, one would have a hard time justifying the contemporary construction of such monumental structures on some of the most valuable real estate in the world. But these were quite expensive to construct back in the day as well, which begs the questions of why they were built initially and how these elephant-in-the-city holdovers from a previous era are being used today.

Wanting a bit more information on these behemoths designed to house guns and the people authorized to use them, I stumbled on the NY State Military Museum’s listing of still-existing and long-demolished armories across the state. This resource, coupled with Nancy Todd’s New York’s Historic Armories: An Illustrated History, gave me the bones of a plan to jaunt around the city and visit a few. Todd’s situation of form’s rise in the state within the larger context of the militia in the country’s history is fascinating. To paraphrase greatly, the state militias went from the military force of the colonies and newly minted states to a fairly equal partner with the centralized military, largely focused on domestic unrest, to a group of trained folks that serve overseas and scramble to action when disasters strike at home.

Armories grew in popularity when the state National Guard became a serious force. With industrialization giving rise to class inequality that seems quaint by today’s standards, labor-capital conflicts exploded in the 1870s to the 1890s and the National Guard – rallying out from its urban (and rural) castles – was the group that quashed the riots. The Guard’s consequence among the moneyed classes during that time figured prominently in the construction of more homes for Guard regiments across the city.

The reserve force we know today, which in the City rallied (to name only two instances) post-Sandy and post-9/11 for significant relief efforts, no longer requires structures from which to withstand siege. (Whether the necessity ever truly existed is a very valid question.) Largely beginning in the late 1960s, armories began to fall out of use by the Guard, sometimes due to the cost of upkeep when balanced against the true need for the structures. Ownership of some was transferred to the City, others maintained by the State, some to private groups, and most falling into some sort of disrepair. Many remain in such condition, though some have been repurposed, and plans are in the works for others to be put back to use.

The Central Park Arsenal at 5th Ave. and 64th St. is the oldest of the bunch I visited (constructed in 1848), and one of two structures within Vaux and Olmsted’s great park that predate its creation. As an arsenal, it was largely a warehouse for arms and over time saw many uses, including as a police precinct, a menagerie, the first home of the American Museum of Natural History, and, since Robert Moses assumed its helm in 1934, the City Department of Parks and Recreation.

To bring the regiments off of parade grounds into a weatherized space, the state moved away from the construction of simply arsenals to armories, which generally include an administrative structure, complete with fancy rooms in which cigar smoking would seem a fitting activity, backed by a massive drill shed used for military exercises. Todd calls the Seventh Regiment Armory, known also as the Park Avenue Armory, the “flagship of the building type” and dedicates a whole chapter in her book to its history. Sitting on Park Ave. between 66th and 67th, the 1880 building strikes a powerful image, thanks in part to its rehabilitation as the performance arts space it is today. The massive drill shed, the roof of which is held up by eleven wrought-iron arches, now hosts a range of performances. The space is so large as to permit feats like the reconstruction of an entire four-story theater in the round for a run of performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 (with ample space left over). The building’s management was not too keen on allowing me to take photos, so take a look at the armory’s interior here.

In the midst of one the nation’s largest Hasidic Jewish populations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sits the Forty-Seventh Regiment Armory at Marcy Ave. between Heyward and Lynch Streets. The juxtaposition between the Yiddish-speaking community, their school buses parked alongside the imposing brick walls of the armory, and the building itself makes for a particularly curious scene. Built in 1884 and expanded in 1899 (thus bringing together two different architectural styles utilized in the form), the space is used for major movie filming. I snuck a glance inside at the construction of sets for Spiderman 3, but again, no luck in a thorough look at the interior. Still owned by the State but promoted by the City as part of its Made in NYC film initiative, there has been talk of late of the sale of building, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic community seems first in line to purchase it for school and community space.

The Fort Washington Avenue Armory, which sits between 168th and 169th streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was constructed in 1911. After the National Guard regiment vacated the space, the city operated a homeless shelter in the drill hall from the late 1980s and early 1990s, as it did with a vast number of armories across the five boroughs. The armory now serves as a track and field center hosting area races as well as Olympic qualifying events, a track and field hall of fame, and community center. Oddly, despite being heavily renovated to accommodate the sloping turf surface of the track, it maintains an interior purpose not unlike that of the old drill sheds. The stands that now host supporters of the athletes racing around the track below may have more modern seats, but they look out from the same vantage point the people of the city would have had when surveying troops in full regalia. Some original flooring, molding, and stairways also remain.

Walking into the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem on 5th Ave. between 142nd and 143rd, I was promptly sized up by a camo-wearing guardsman. While the drill shed, built in 1924, is now used by the Harlem Children’s Zone, the administrative block, completed in 1933, is still home to the regiment that gives its name to the structure: originally the only black regiment in New York City and nicknamed the Harlem Hell Fighters. Built long after the boom in armory construction in the late 19th century, the 369th has a distinct style, incorporating many art-deco features in its floors and molding. Alas, I was asked to leave before I could snap photos, and the exterior is currently undergoing a restoration, but at the very least the thick, iron-girded doors are something to behold.

Much can be said about the architectural features and styles that define armories across the city, as could be about their changing uses and ownership. Fortunately, they will not likely be going anywhere soon, as most are either landmarked by the City or on the National Register of Historic Places.

To see how we utilize these spaces, designed for an entirely different function but no less useful for our own purposes today, provides a curious case study in adaptive reuse in a time when significant buildings are all too often slated for destruction, victims of real estate money-making schemes, or a lack of creativity in adapting their spaces. Armories also serve as a reminder of the past militarization of cities in a time when our police forces are increasingly equipped with technology and trained in tactics previously reserved for the professional federal military. Which makes me think: we are still building armories and arsenals in the city today. They do not, however, double as a social club relatively open to the outside or treat the eye to an anachronistic image of a castle out of medieval times, situated just around the corner from your local bodega. 
* * *

JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.
Zoom Info
CASTLES IN THE CITY - ARMORIES OF NEW YORK, NY

A city as old as New York contains layer upon layer of building types, each exhibiting its own architectural and social histories. Distinctive structures are therefore fairly pedestrian in that they are all around, popping up in the midst of indistinguishable rows of sameness that have their own charm. Turning a corner to see a castle, however, may not seem one of the more likely occurrences, regardless of your location on bustling Park Avenue or a quiet Hasidic Williamsburg block.
Armories and arsenals – generally massive masonry structures fashioned in the medieval Gothic style of fortresses (parapets and turrets included) – are scattered throughout the city. The WPA Guide to New York City mentions many armories briefly, four for their 50-cent badminton rates and others for their resident regiments’ performance in this or that war, though it definitely does not serve as a comprehensive source for the building form. In the 1930s, armories were noted pieces of a community, at once social clubs for men of the upper and upper-middle classes, training grounds for the State’s National Guard divisions, and symbols of government and military might that also sometimes doubled as civic centers. Today, their uses vary widely, as do their states of (dis)repair. In the current economy, one would have a hard time justifying the contemporary construction of such monumental structures on some of the most valuable real estate in the world. But these were quite expensive to construct back in the day as well, which begs the questions of why they were built initially and how these elephant-in-the-city holdovers from a previous era are being used today.

Wanting a bit more information on these behemoths designed to house guns and the people authorized to use them, I stumbled on the NY State Military Museum’s listing of still-existing and long-demolished armories across the state. This resource, coupled with Nancy Todd’s New York’s Historic Armories: An Illustrated History, gave me the bones of a plan to jaunt around the city and visit a few. Todd’s situation of form’s rise in the state within the larger context of the militia in the country’s history is fascinating. To paraphrase greatly, the state militias went from the military force of the colonies and newly minted states to a fairly equal partner with the centralized military, largely focused on domestic unrest, to a group of trained folks that serve overseas and scramble to action when disasters strike at home.

Armories grew in popularity when the state National Guard became a serious force. With industrialization giving rise to class inequality that seems quaint by today’s standards, labor-capital conflicts exploded in the 1870s to the 1890s and the National Guard – rallying out from its urban (and rural) castles – was the group that quashed the riots. The Guard’s consequence among the moneyed classes during that time figured prominently in the construction of more homes for Guard regiments across the city.

The reserve force we know today, which in the City rallied (to name only two instances) post-Sandy and post-9/11 for significant relief efforts, no longer requires structures from which to withstand siege. (Whether the necessity ever truly existed is a very valid question.) Largely beginning in the late 1960s, armories began to fall out of use by the Guard, sometimes due to the cost of upkeep when balanced against the true need for the structures. Ownership of some was transferred to the City, others maintained by the State, some to private groups, and most falling into some sort of disrepair. Many remain in such condition, though some have been repurposed, and plans are in the works for others to be put back to use.

The Central Park Arsenal at 5th Ave. and 64th St. is the oldest of the bunch I visited (constructed in 1848), and one of two structures within Vaux and Olmsted’s great park that predate its creation. As an arsenal, it was largely a warehouse for arms and over time saw many uses, including as a police precinct, a menagerie, the first home of the American Museum of Natural History, and, since Robert Moses assumed its helm in 1934, the City Department of Parks and Recreation.

To bring the regiments off of parade grounds into a weatherized space, the state moved away from the construction of simply arsenals to armories, which generally include an administrative structure, complete with fancy rooms in which cigar smoking would seem a fitting activity, backed by a massive drill shed used for military exercises. Todd calls the Seventh Regiment Armory, known also as the Park Avenue Armory, the “flagship of the building type” and dedicates a whole chapter in her book to its history. Sitting on Park Ave. between 66th and 67th, the 1880 building strikes a powerful image, thanks in part to its rehabilitation as the performance arts space it is today. The massive drill shed, the roof of which is held up by eleven wrought-iron arches, now hosts a range of performances. The space is so large as to permit feats like the reconstruction of an entire four-story theater in the round for a run of performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 (with ample space left over). The building’s management was not too keen on allowing me to take photos, so take a look at the armory’s interior here.

In the midst of one the nation’s largest Hasidic Jewish populations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sits the Forty-Seventh Regiment Armory at Marcy Ave. between Heyward and Lynch Streets. The juxtaposition between the Yiddish-speaking community, their school buses parked alongside the imposing brick walls of the armory, and the building itself makes for a particularly curious scene. Built in 1884 and expanded in 1899 (thus bringing together two different architectural styles utilized in the form), the space is used for major movie filming. I snuck a glance inside at the construction of sets for Spiderman 3, but again, no luck in a thorough look at the interior. Still owned by the State but promoted by the City as part of its Made in NYC film initiative, there has been talk of late of the sale of building, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic community seems first in line to purchase it for school and community space.

The Fort Washington Avenue Armory, which sits between 168th and 169th streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was constructed in 1911. After the National Guard regiment vacated the space, the city operated a homeless shelter in the drill hall from the late 1980s and early 1990s, as it did with a vast number of armories across the five boroughs. The armory now serves as a track and field center hosting area races as well as Olympic qualifying events, a track and field hall of fame, and community center. Oddly, despite being heavily renovated to accommodate the sloping turf surface of the track, it maintains an interior purpose not unlike that of the old drill sheds. The stands that now host supporters of the athletes racing around the track below may have more modern seats, but they look out from the same vantage point the people of the city would have had when surveying troops in full regalia. Some original flooring, molding, and stairways also remain.

Walking into the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem on 5th Ave. between 142nd and 143rd, I was promptly sized up by a camo-wearing guardsman. While the drill shed, built in 1924, is now used by the Harlem Children’s Zone, the administrative block, completed in 1933, is still home to the regiment that gives its name to the structure: originally the only black regiment in New York City and nicknamed the Harlem Hell Fighters. Built long after the boom in armory construction in the late 19th century, the 369th has a distinct style, incorporating many art-deco features in its floors and molding. Alas, I was asked to leave before I could snap photos, and the exterior is currently undergoing a restoration, but at the very least the thick, iron-girded doors are something to behold.

Much can be said about the architectural features and styles that define armories across the city, as could be about their changing uses and ownership. Fortunately, they will not likely be going anywhere soon, as most are either landmarked by the City or on the National Register of Historic Places.

To see how we utilize these spaces, designed for an entirely different function but no less useful for our own purposes today, provides a curious case study in adaptive reuse in a time when significant buildings are all too often slated for destruction, victims of real estate money-making schemes, or a lack of creativity in adapting their spaces. Armories also serve as a reminder of the past militarization of cities in a time when our police forces are increasingly equipped with technology and trained in tactics previously reserved for the professional federal military. Which makes me think: we are still building armories and arsenals in the city today. They do not, however, double as a social club relatively open to the outside or treat the eye to an anachronistic image of a castle out of medieval times, situated just around the corner from your local bodega. 
* * *

JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.
Zoom Info
CASTLES IN THE CITY - ARMORIES OF NEW YORK, NY

A city as old as New York contains layer upon layer of building types, each exhibiting its own architectural and social histories. Distinctive structures are therefore fairly pedestrian in that they are all around, popping up in the midst of indistinguishable rows of sameness that have their own charm. Turning a corner to see a castle, however, may not seem one of the more likely occurrences, regardless of your location on bustling Park Avenue or a quiet Hasidic Williamsburg block.
Armories and arsenals – generally massive masonry structures fashioned in the medieval Gothic style of fortresses (parapets and turrets included) – are scattered throughout the city. The WPA Guide to New York City mentions many armories briefly, four for their 50-cent badminton rates and others for their resident regiments’ performance in this or that war, though it definitely does not serve as a comprehensive source for the building form. In the 1930s, armories were noted pieces of a community, at once social clubs for men of the upper and upper-middle classes, training grounds for the State’s National Guard divisions, and symbols of government and military might that also sometimes doubled as civic centers. Today, their uses vary widely, as do their states of (dis)repair. In the current economy, one would have a hard time justifying the contemporary construction of such monumental structures on some of the most valuable real estate in the world. But these were quite expensive to construct back in the day as well, which begs the questions of why they were built initially and how these elephant-in-the-city holdovers from a previous era are being used today.

Wanting a bit more information on these behemoths designed to house guns and the people authorized to use them, I stumbled on the NY State Military Museum’s listing of still-existing and long-demolished armories across the state. This resource, coupled with Nancy Todd’s New York’s Historic Armories: An Illustrated History, gave me the bones of a plan to jaunt around the city and visit a few. Todd’s situation of form’s rise in the state within the larger context of the militia in the country’s history is fascinating. To paraphrase greatly, the state militias went from the military force of the colonies and newly minted states to a fairly equal partner with the centralized military, largely focused on domestic unrest, to a group of trained folks that serve overseas and scramble to action when disasters strike at home.

Armories grew in popularity when the state National Guard became a serious force. With industrialization giving rise to class inequality that seems quaint by today’s standards, labor-capital conflicts exploded in the 1870s to the 1890s and the National Guard – rallying out from its urban (and rural) castles – was the group that quashed the riots. The Guard’s consequence among the moneyed classes during that time figured prominently in the construction of more homes for Guard regiments across the city.

The reserve force we know today, which in the City rallied (to name only two instances) post-Sandy and post-9/11 for significant relief efforts, no longer requires structures from which to withstand siege. (Whether the necessity ever truly existed is a very valid question.) Largely beginning in the late 1960s, armories began to fall out of use by the Guard, sometimes due to the cost of upkeep when balanced against the true need for the structures. Ownership of some was transferred to the City, others maintained by the State, some to private groups, and most falling into some sort of disrepair. Many remain in such condition, though some have been repurposed, and plans are in the works for others to be put back to use.

The Central Park Arsenal at 5th Ave. and 64th St. is the oldest of the bunch I visited (constructed in 1848), and one of two structures within Vaux and Olmsted’s great park that predate its creation. As an arsenal, it was largely a warehouse for arms and over time saw many uses, including as a police precinct, a menagerie, the first home of the American Museum of Natural History, and, since Robert Moses assumed its helm in 1934, the City Department of Parks and Recreation.

To bring the regiments off of parade grounds into a weatherized space, the state moved away from the construction of simply arsenals to armories, which generally include an administrative structure, complete with fancy rooms in which cigar smoking would seem a fitting activity, backed by a massive drill shed used for military exercises. Todd calls the Seventh Regiment Armory, known also as the Park Avenue Armory, the “flagship of the building type” and dedicates a whole chapter in her book to its history. Sitting on Park Ave. between 66th and 67th, the 1880 building strikes a powerful image, thanks in part to its rehabilitation as the performance arts space it is today. The massive drill shed, the roof of which is held up by eleven wrought-iron arches, now hosts a range of performances. The space is so large as to permit feats like the reconstruction of an entire four-story theater in the round for a run of performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 (with ample space left over). The building’s management was not too keen on allowing me to take photos, so take a look at the armory’s interior here.

In the midst of one the nation’s largest Hasidic Jewish populations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sits the Forty-Seventh Regiment Armory at Marcy Ave. between Heyward and Lynch Streets. The juxtaposition between the Yiddish-speaking community, their school buses parked alongside the imposing brick walls of the armory, and the building itself makes for a particularly curious scene. Built in 1884 and expanded in 1899 (thus bringing together two different architectural styles utilized in the form), the space is used for major movie filming. I snuck a glance inside at the construction of sets for Spiderman 3, but again, no luck in a thorough look at the interior. Still owned by the State but promoted by the City as part of its Made in NYC film initiative, there has been talk of late of the sale of building, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic community seems first in line to purchase it for school and community space.

The Fort Washington Avenue Armory, which sits between 168th and 169th streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was constructed in 1911. After the National Guard regiment vacated the space, the city operated a homeless shelter in the drill hall from the late 1980s and early 1990s, as it did with a vast number of armories across the five boroughs. The armory now serves as a track and field center hosting area races as well as Olympic qualifying events, a track and field hall of fame, and community center. Oddly, despite being heavily renovated to accommodate the sloping turf surface of the track, it maintains an interior purpose not unlike that of the old drill sheds. The stands that now host supporters of the athletes racing around the track below may have more modern seats, but they look out from the same vantage point the people of the city would have had when surveying troops in full regalia. Some original flooring, molding, and stairways also remain.

Walking into the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem on 5th Ave. between 142nd and 143rd, I was promptly sized up by a camo-wearing guardsman. While the drill shed, built in 1924, is now used by the Harlem Children’s Zone, the administrative block, completed in 1933, is still home to the regiment that gives its name to the structure: originally the only black regiment in New York City and nicknamed the Harlem Hell Fighters. Built long after the boom in armory construction in the late 19th century, the 369th has a distinct style, incorporating many art-deco features in its floors and molding. Alas, I was asked to leave before I could snap photos, and the exterior is currently undergoing a restoration, but at the very least the thick, iron-girded doors are something to behold.

Much can be said about the architectural features and styles that define armories across the city, as could be about their changing uses and ownership. Fortunately, they will not likely be going anywhere soon, as most are either landmarked by the City or on the National Register of Historic Places.

To see how we utilize these spaces, designed for an entirely different function but no less useful for our own purposes today, provides a curious case study in adaptive reuse in a time when significant buildings are all too often slated for destruction, victims of real estate money-making schemes, or a lack of creativity in adapting their spaces. Armories also serve as a reminder of the past militarization of cities in a time when our police forces are increasingly equipped with technology and trained in tactics previously reserved for the professional federal military. Which makes me think: we are still building armories and arsenals in the city today. They do not, however, double as a social club relatively open to the outside or treat the eye to an anachronistic image of a castle out of medieval times, situated just around the corner from your local bodega. 
* * *

JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.
Zoom Info

CASTLES IN THE CITY - ARMORIES OF NEW YORK, NY

A city as old as New York contains layer upon layer of building types, each exhibiting its own architectural and social histories. Distinctive structures are therefore fairly pedestrian in that they are all around, popping up in the midst of indistinguishable rows of sameness that have their own charm. Turning a corner to see a castle, however, may not seem one of the more likely occurrences, regardless of your location on bustling Park Avenue or a quiet Hasidic Williamsburg block.

Armories and arsenals – generally massive masonry structures fashioned in the medieval Gothic style of fortresses (parapets and turrets included) – are scattered throughout the city. The WPA Guide to New York City mentions many armories briefly, four for their 50-cent badminton rates and others for their resident regiments’ performance in this or that war, though it definitely does not serve as a comprehensive source for the building form. In the 1930s, armories were noted pieces of a community, at once social clubs for men of the upper and upper-middle classes, training grounds for the State’s National Guard divisions, and symbols of government and military might that also sometimes doubled as civic centers. Today, their uses vary widely, as do their states of (dis)repair. In the current economy, one would have a hard time justifying the contemporary construction of such monumental structures on some of the most valuable real estate in the world. But these were quite expensive to construct back in the day as well, which begs the questions of why they were built initially and how these elephant-in-the-city holdovers from a previous era are being used today.

Wanting a bit more information on these behemoths designed to house guns and the people authorized to use them, I stumbled on the NY State Military Museum’s listing of still-existing and long-demolished armories across the state. This resource, coupled with Nancy Todd’s New York’s Historic Armories: An Illustrated History, gave me the bones of a plan to jaunt around the city and visit a few. Todd’s situation of form’s rise in the state within the larger context of the militia in the country’s history is fascinating. To paraphrase greatly, the state militias went from the military force of the colonies and newly minted states to a fairly equal partner with the centralized military, largely focused on domestic unrest, to a group of trained folks that serve overseas and scramble to action when disasters strike at home.

Armories grew in popularity when the state National Guard became a serious force. With industrialization giving rise to class inequality that seems quaint by today’s standards, labor-capital conflicts exploded in the 1870s to the 1890s and the National Guard – rallying out from its urban (and rural) castles – was the group that quashed the riots. The Guard’s consequence among the moneyed classes during that time figured prominently in the construction of more homes for Guard regiments across the city.

The reserve force we know today, which in the City rallied (to name only two instances) post-Sandy and post-9/11 for significant relief efforts, no longer requires structures from which to withstand siege. (Whether the necessity ever truly existed is a very valid question.) Largely beginning in the late 1960s, armories began to fall out of use by the Guard, sometimes due to the cost of upkeep when balanced against the true need for the structures. Ownership of some was transferred to the City, others maintained by the State, some to private groups, and most falling into some sort of disrepair. Many remain in such condition, though some have been repurposed, and plans are in the works for others to be put back to use.

The Central Park Arsenal at 5th Ave. and 64th St. is the oldest of the bunch I visited (constructed in 1848), and one of two structures within Vaux and Olmsted’s great park that predate its creation. As an arsenal, it was largely a warehouse for arms and over time saw many uses, including as a police precinct, a menagerie, the first home of the American Museum of Natural History, and, since Robert Moses assumed its helm in 1934, the City Department of Parks and Recreation.

To bring the regiments off of parade grounds into a weatherized space, the state moved away from the construction of simply arsenals to armories, which generally include an administrative structure, complete with fancy rooms in which cigar smoking would seem a fitting activity, backed by a massive drill shed used for military exercises. Todd calls the Seventh Regiment Armory, known also as the Park Avenue Armory, the “flagship of the building type” and dedicates a whole chapter in her book to its history. Sitting on Park Ave. between 66th and 67th, the 1880 building strikes a powerful image, thanks in part to its rehabilitation as the performance arts space it is today. The massive drill shed, the roof of which is held up by eleven wrought-iron arches, now hosts a range of performances. The space is so large as to permit feats like the reconstruction of an entire four-story theater in the round for a run of performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 (with ample space left over). The building’s management was not too keen on allowing me to take photos, so take a look at the armory’s interior here.

In the midst of one the nation’s largest Hasidic Jewish populations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sits the Forty-Seventh Regiment Armory at Marcy Ave. between Heyward and Lynch Streets. The juxtaposition between the Yiddish-speaking community, their school buses parked alongside the imposing brick walls of the armory, and the building itself makes for a particularly curious scene. Built in 1884 and expanded in 1899 (thus bringing together two different architectural styles utilized in the form), the space is used for major movie filming. I snuck a glance inside at the construction of sets for Spiderman 3, but again, no luck in a thorough look at the interior. Still owned by the State but promoted by the City as part of its Made in NYC film initiative, there has been talk of late of the sale of building, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic community seems first in line to purchase it for school and community space.

The Fort Washington Avenue Armory, which sits between 168th and 169th streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was constructed in 1911. After the National Guard regiment vacated the space, the city operated a homeless shelter in the drill hall from the late 1980s and early 1990s, as it did with a vast number of armories across the five boroughs. The armory now serves as a track and field center hosting area races as well as Olympic qualifying events, a track and field hall of fame, and community center. Oddly, despite being heavily renovated to accommodate the sloping turf surface of the track, it maintains an interior purpose not unlike that of the old drill sheds. The stands that now host supporters of the athletes racing around the track below may have more modern seats, but they look out from the same vantage point the people of the city would have had when surveying troops in full regalia. Some original flooring, molding, and stairways also remain.

Walking into the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem on 5th Ave. between 142nd and 143rd, I was promptly sized up by a camo-wearing guardsman. While the drill shed, built in 1924, is now used by the Harlem Children’s Zone, the administrative block, completed in 1933, is still home to the regiment that gives its name to the structure: originally the only black regiment in New York City and nicknamed the Harlem Hell Fighters. Built long after the boom in armory construction in the late 19th century, the 369th has a distinct style, incorporating many art-deco features in its floors and molding. Alas, I was asked to leave before I could snap photos, and the exterior is currently undergoing a restoration, but at the very least the thick, iron-girded doors are something to behold.

Much can be said about the architectural features and styles that define armories across the city, as could be about their changing uses and ownership. Fortunately, they will not likely be going anywhere soon, as most are either landmarked by the City or on the National Register of Historic Places.

To see how we utilize these spaces, designed for an entirely different function but no less useful for our own purposes today, provides a curious case study in adaptive reuse in a time when significant buildings are all too often slated for destruction, victims of real estate money-making schemes, or a lack of creativity in adapting their spaces. Armories also serve as a reminder of the past militarization of cities in a time when our police forces are increasingly equipped with technology and trained in tactics previously reserved for the professional federal military. Which makes me think: we are still building armories and arsenals in the city today. They do not, however, double as a social club relatively open to the outside or treat the eye to an anachronistic image of a castle out of medieval times, situated just around the corner from your local bodega. 

* * *

JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.

NEW YORK CITY GUIDE: 1939’s CHINATOWN and LOWER EAST SIDE

Though the Bowery Mission is still around today, there aren’t too many remnants left of New York’s Depression-era Lower East Side. It was a place full of pawnshops, beer saloons, flophouses and Jesus-saves welfare institutions. Masses of people lived on top of each other in slums. But in the hard times, a unique city culture — made up of small business owners, politicians, artists, gangsters, composers, prize fighters and labor leaders — was created. The neighborhood was the melting pot of the city.

With A/G coming to the Downtown Literary Festival on April 14 at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe — located at 126 Crosby Street — take the WPA time machine to 1939’s Chinatown and Lower East Side and see the neighborhood’s past.

Guide Note: Follow the link to download or print the complete New York City Guide: 1939’s Chinatown and Lower East Side. Right-click or cmd-click the map above for a large version to use as your guide. The following passages are excerpted from the NYC Guide.

- CHINATOWN -

New York’s Chinatown is trying to live down a myth; a myth kept alive by the sight-seeing companies that pile tourists into Chinatown busses, transport them to prepared points of interest, and frequently prime them with tales of mystery and crime. The truth is (and the policemen on the beat will verify it) that no safer district is to be found in New York City. Yet guides have been known to warn tourists to “hold hands while walking through the narrow streets.”

Historians differ as to the identity of the first Chinese resident of New York City. Some say it was Quimbo Appo, who came to San Francisco in 1844 and arrived here a few years later; others state it was Ah Ken, a Cantonese merchant who made his home on Mott Street in 1858. Still others contend it was Lou Hoy Sing, a sailor who shook off his wanderlust and settled in New York in 1862. (He married an Irish lass who bore him two stalwart sons, one of whom became a policeman and the other a truck driver.)

1939 TOUR

SEE MAP INSERT. “Tongs,” the Chinese equivalent of American fraternal societies, ruled the quarter with iron discipline and fought each other with hired gunmen.

The headquarters of the (#79) HIP SING TONG are situated appropriately near the corner of Pell and Doyers Streets, for just beyond is the (#78) BLOODY ANGLE, the bend in Doyers Street where henchmen of this tong fought the powerful (#75) ON LEONG TONG in the early 1900s. The Hip Sings, led by Mock Duck, a gambler, battled the On Leongs, captained by Tom Lee, for control of the lucrative gambling and opium rackets.

- LOWER EAST SIDE and THE BOWERY-

The dramatic, intensely human story of the Lower East Side is a familiar chapter in the epic of America; a host of writers some seeking out the Lower East Side and others originating there have described its people. Here have dwelt the people whose hands built the city’s elevateds, subways, tubes, bridges, and skyscrapers. Its two square miles of tenements and crowded streets magnify all the problems and conflicts of big-city life. Crowded, noisy, squalid in many of its aspects, no other section of the city is more typical of New York.

The Bowery today is chiefly given over to pawnshops, restaurant equipment houses, beer saloons, and miscellaneous small retail shops. Here flophouses offer a bug-infested bed in an unventilated pigeonhole for twenty-five cents a night, restaurants serve ham and eggs for ten cents, and students in barber “colleges” cut hair for fifteen cents. Thousands of the nation’s unemployed drift to this section and may be seen sleeping in all-night restaurants, in doorways, and on loading platforms, furtively begging, or waiting with hopeless faces for some bread line or free lodging house to open. No agency, at present (1939), provides adequate food, shelter, and clothing for these wanderers. Missions furnish food and lodging for a few, and try by sermon and song to touch the souls of the down-and-outers and the sympathies of generous tourists.

1939 TOUR

SEE MAP. In the incongruous setting of the theater and restaurant district is (#31) ST. MARK’S IN-THE-BOUWERIE, Second Avenue and Stuyvesant (East Tenth) Street. Erected in 1660, as a Dutch chapel, on the farm of Governor Peter Stuyvesant, it was rebuilt in 1799. The steeple and portico were added in 1826 and in 1858. Pagan-looking frescoes fill the pediment above the porch. They recall the pastorate of Dr. William Norman Guthrie. In an effort to make the church attractive to progressive parishioners, Dr. Guthrie worked out a ritual based on the theory of the essential unity of all religions, which included Greek folk dancing, American Indian chants, and many other things which the conservative element in the diocese heatedly declared to have no place in an Episcopalian church. A Body and Soul Clinic was attached to the church with the aim of combining physical and spiritual treatment.

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Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.

ROAD TRIP WITH THE AMERICAN GUIDE 

What: Downtown Literary Festival

Where: Housing Works Bookstore Cafe - NYC

When: Sunday - April 14 - 2:30PM 

Facebook: RSVP

For a visitor to New York City in the 1940s, no guide was more comprehensive than the WPA Guide to New York City, a block-by-block encyclopedia of the neighborhoods, covered by some of the city’s most talented writers. The book was a part of the “American Guide Series,” published by the Federal Writers Project between 1935 and 1943, which encouraged Depression-weary Americans to explore their own backyard.

For our exploration of the American Guide, we’re joined by Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara, creators of the The American Guide Tumblr, which aims to capture the spirit of travel and discovery fostered by the original guide. Also joining us is Gabriel Kahane, composer of Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States, a suite based on the American Guide, which will have its world premiere at Carnegie Hall on April 27th. Discussion moderated by Michelle Legro of Lapham’s Quarterly.

Guide Note: Follow your guide and hear about 1939’s Lower East Side. See The Bowery, “sinister street of lurid fiction and drama,” and its pawnshops, beer saloons, flophouses and missions. (The Bowery “Salvation” and “Rain” illustrations by Eli Jacobi, WPA.)

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Road Trip With The American Guide is a part of the inaugural Downtown Literary Festival in New York City, from McNally Jackson and Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. It’s a daylong celebration of the literary culture of the city. The festival will take place at both bookstores simultaneously throughout the day on Sunday, April 14, 2013. 

TOMORROWLAND - QUEENS, NEW YORK

In the New York City borough of Queens, the future was once on grand display. In 1939 and 1964, New York hosted the World’s Fairs at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The events attracted millions of visitors to marvel at the epoch of innovation and industrialization. Today, the site and some structures from the 1964 exposition — dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” — are still easily accessible, though rapidly showing their age.

A few buildings are still in use, such as The New York Hall of Science — a wonderful hands-on science museum with grounds decorated by rockets and quirky, retro, science-related sculptures. Walking through the park you can peek through the chain-link fence into the Queens Zoo and see a large geodesic dome that was built for the fair and now serves as an aviary. But surely the most interesting structures are the Unisphere and the sadly decaying Queens Theatre, which has fallen into disrepair, but still leaves an imposing impression. The park is a reminder of the optimism and excitement of the ’60s — when utopian futures seemed a sure and easy bet — and of how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go.

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New York City Guide LYDIA WHITE was born on the 4th of July and has been an independent spirit ever since. Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she moved to Brooklyn in 2010. When not working as an interactive art director, she spends her free time exploring what NYC and the surrounding areas have to offer. White has been photographing interesting people and unusual landscapes for nearly a decade.

Follow her on Tumblr at lydia makes pictures or on her website, LydiaWhitePhotography.com.

BROOKLYN NAVY YARD - NEW YORK

“The United States Navy Yard, Navy Street, Flushing and Clinton Avenues, better known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, skirts Wallabout Bay, a semicircular elbow of the East River opposite Corlear’s Hook, Manhattan. This busy naval city covers a total of 197 acres, 118 on land, 79 on water, and is surrounded by forbidding brick walls with massive iron gateways.” – New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Biking down Flushing Avenue, dubbed the Hipster Highway for its convenient bike connection between the neighborhoods of DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, any sense of neighborhood evades you. Warehouses and auto parts stores are countered by an expanse of quiet industrialism along the East River waterfront. The district now seems to lack the pulsating energy of intensive production in the Navy Yard’s past: from 1801 to 1966, the Navy Yard was one of the foremost shipbuilding and provisioning centers in the nation with a workforce upwards of 70,000 employees during World War II. Now owned by the city and operated as an industrial park, the gates remain and entry is restricted - an anomaly of the street grid with a smattering of competing building styles and orientations, punctuated by half empty parking lots that give the impression of just another industrial waterfront awaiting redevelopment.

“The yard (…) contains four drydocks ranging in length from 326 to 700 feet, two huge steel shipways, and six big pontoons and cylindrical floats for salvage work (…) numerous foundries, machine shops, and warehouses (…) barracks for marines, a power plant, a large radio station, and a railroad spur. (…) Beyond the dull waters of the East River looms the New York sky line, like the backdrop of a stage set.” – New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Despite its guarded, dulling presentation to the outside, the Navy Yard thrives. Now one of the fastest growing green manufacturing centers in the nation, the Yard also houses artists, an urban farm, the city’s oldest current operating whiskey distillery (a few years old), woodworkers, architects, a pioneering modular construction firm, and remnants of its ship-centric past operating the gargantuan dry docks reaching inland. The steel hull of Building 128 - just months ago a bygone shipbuilding factory shrouded in caution tape and rust - is slowly shaping into a Collaborative Design and Fabrication Center. Steiner Studios, the largest film studio complex outside of Hollywood and home to the largest sound stage on the East Coast, provides a backdrop ripe for the silver screen: the Empire State Building, the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, and the new World Trade Center building all rise in the distance.

“At the south end, facing Flushing Avenue are the officer’s quarters, two-story buildings of painted brick, scrupulously neat despite their age (some were built before the Civil War), and bordered by gardens, tennis courts, and carefully kept walks.” – New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

The past and the present meet frequently in New York, but rarely do the past and the future coalesce so nearly as they do in the Navy Yard. Bordered by the crumbling facades of Admiral’s Row and the regally decrepit former hospital, industry is adapting to the constraints and needs of the current environment. The nonprofit development corporation that manages the site has made the rich history of the Navy Yard’s past and present available through BLDG 92, a museum, job placement center, and community space housed in the adaptively reused Marine Commandant’s Residence. It may not look like much from the outside, but the Navy Yard stands in stark contrast to an economy founded on real estate booms and the fluctuations of Wall Street, and is much more impressive and intriguing for it.
Guide Note: While admission to BLDG 92 is free, tours of the Navy Yard itself run to at least $20. I highly suggest a visit to the distillery followed by some slightly illicit exploration of the grounds, by bike if possible.
* * *
JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. 
Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.
Zoom Info
BROOKLYN NAVY YARD - NEW YORK

“The United States Navy Yard, Navy Street, Flushing and Clinton Avenues, better known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, skirts Wallabout Bay, a semicircular elbow of the East River opposite Corlear’s Hook, Manhattan. This busy naval city covers a total of 197 acres, 118 on land, 79 on water, and is surrounded by forbidding brick walls with massive iron gateways.” – New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Biking down Flushing Avenue, dubbed the Hipster Highway for its convenient bike connection between the neighborhoods of DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, any sense of neighborhood evades you. Warehouses and auto parts stores are countered by an expanse of quiet industrialism along the East River waterfront. The district now seems to lack the pulsating energy of intensive production in the Navy Yard’s past: from 1801 to 1966, the Navy Yard was one of the foremost shipbuilding and provisioning centers in the nation with a workforce upwards of 70,000 employees during World War II. Now owned by the city and operated as an industrial park, the gates remain and entry is restricted - an anomaly of the street grid with a smattering of competing building styles and orientations, punctuated by half empty parking lots that give the impression of just another industrial waterfront awaiting redevelopment.

“The yard (…) contains four drydocks ranging in length from 326 to 700 feet, two huge steel shipways, and six big pontoons and cylindrical floats for salvage work (…) numerous foundries, machine shops, and warehouses (…) barracks for marines, a power plant, a large radio station, and a railroad spur. (…) Beyond the dull waters of the East River looms the New York sky line, like the backdrop of a stage set.” – New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Despite its guarded, dulling presentation to the outside, the Navy Yard thrives. Now one of the fastest growing green manufacturing centers in the nation, the Yard also houses artists, an urban farm, the city’s oldest current operating whiskey distillery (a few years old), woodworkers, architects, a pioneering modular construction firm, and remnants of its ship-centric past operating the gargantuan dry docks reaching inland. The steel hull of Building 128 - just months ago a bygone shipbuilding factory shrouded in caution tape and rust - is slowly shaping into a Collaborative Design and Fabrication Center. Steiner Studios, the largest film studio complex outside of Hollywood and home to the largest sound stage on the East Coast, provides a backdrop ripe for the silver screen: the Empire State Building, the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, and the new World Trade Center building all rise in the distance.

“At the south end, facing Flushing Avenue are the officer’s quarters, two-story buildings of painted brick, scrupulously neat despite their age (some were built before the Civil War), and bordered by gardens, tennis courts, and carefully kept walks.” – New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

The past and the present meet frequently in New York, but rarely do the past and the future coalesce so nearly as they do in the Navy Yard. Bordered by the crumbling facades of Admiral’s Row and the regally decrepit former hospital, industry is adapting to the constraints and needs of the current environment. The nonprofit development corporation that manages the site has made the rich history of the Navy Yard’s past and present available through BLDG 92, a museum, job placement center, and community space housed in the adaptively reused Marine Commandant’s Residence. It may not look like much from the outside, but the Navy Yard stands in stark contrast to an economy founded on real estate booms and the fluctuations of Wall Street, and is much more impressive and intriguing for it.
Guide Note: While admission to BLDG 92 is free, tours of the Navy Yard itself run to at least $20. I highly suggest a visit to the distillery followed by some slightly illicit exploration of the grounds, by bike if possible.
* * *
JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. 
Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.
Zoom Info
BROOKLYN NAVY YARD - NEW YORK

“The United States Navy Yard, Navy Street, Flushing and Clinton Avenues, better known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, skirts Wallabout Bay, a semicircular elbow of the East River opposite Corlear’s Hook, Manhattan. This busy naval city covers a total of 197 acres, 118 on land, 79 on water, and is surrounded by forbidding brick walls with massive iron gateways.” – New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Biking down Flushing Avenue, dubbed the Hipster Highway for its convenient bike connection between the neighborhoods of DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, any sense of neighborhood evades you. Warehouses and auto parts stores are countered by an expanse of quiet industrialism along the East River waterfront. The district now seems to lack the pulsating energy of intensive production in the Navy Yard’s past: from 1801 to 1966, the Navy Yard was one of the foremost shipbuilding and provisioning centers in the nation with a workforce upwards of 70,000 employees during World War II. Now owned by the city and operated as an industrial park, the gates remain and entry is restricted - an anomaly of the street grid with a smattering of competing building styles and orientations, punctuated by half empty parking lots that give the impression of just another industrial waterfront awaiting redevelopment.

“The yard (…) contains four drydocks ranging in length from 326 to 700 feet, two huge steel shipways, and six big pontoons and cylindrical floats for salvage work (…) numerous foundries, machine shops, and warehouses (…) barracks for marines, a power plant, a large radio station, and a railroad spur. (…) Beyond the dull waters of the East River looms the New York sky line, like the backdrop of a stage set.” – New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Despite its guarded, dulling presentation to the outside, the Navy Yard thrives. Now one of the fastest growing green manufacturing centers in the nation, the Yard also houses artists, an urban farm, the city’s oldest current operating whiskey distillery (a few years old), woodworkers, architects, a pioneering modular construction firm, and remnants of its ship-centric past operating the gargantuan dry docks reaching inland. The steel hull of Building 128 - just months ago a bygone shipbuilding factory shrouded in caution tape and rust - is slowly shaping into a Collaborative Design and Fabrication Center. Steiner Studios, the largest film studio complex outside of Hollywood and home to the largest sound stage on the East Coast, provides a backdrop ripe for the silver screen: the Empire State Building, the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, and the new World Trade Center building all rise in the distance.

“At the south end, facing Flushing Avenue are the officer’s quarters, two-story buildings of painted brick, scrupulously neat despite their age (some were built before the Civil War), and bordered by gardens, tennis courts, and carefully kept walks.” – New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

The past and the present meet frequently in New York, but rarely do the past and the future coalesce so nearly as they do in the Navy Yard. Bordered by the crumbling facades of Admiral’s Row and the regally decrepit former hospital, industry is adapting to the constraints and needs of the current environment. The nonprofit development corporation that manages the site has made the rich history of the Navy Yard’s past and present available through BLDG 92, a museum, job placement center, and community space housed in the adaptively reused Marine Commandant’s Residence. It may not look like much from the outside, but the Navy Yard stands in stark contrast to an economy founded on real estate booms and the fluctuations of Wall Street, and is much more impressive and intriguing for it.
Guide Note: While admission to BLDG 92 is free, tours of the Navy Yard itself run to at least $20. I highly suggest a visit to the distillery followed by some slightly illicit exploration of the grounds, by bike if possible.
* * *
JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently. 
Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.
Zoom Info

BROOKLYN NAVY YARD - NEW YORK

“The United States Navy Yard, Navy Street, Flushing and Clinton Avenues, better known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, skirts Wallabout Bay, a semicircular elbow of the East River opposite Corlear’s Hook, Manhattan. This busy naval city covers a total of 197 acres, 118 on land, 79 on water, and is surrounded by forbidding brick walls with massive iron gateways.” New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Biking down Flushing Avenue, dubbed the Hipster Highway for its convenient bike connection between the neighborhoods of DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, any sense of neighborhood evades you. Warehouses and auto parts stores are countered by an expanse of quiet industrialism along the East River waterfront. The district now seems to lack the pulsating energy of intensive production in the Navy Yard’s past: from 1801 to 1966, the Navy Yard was one of the foremost shipbuilding and provisioning centers in the nation with a workforce upwards of 70,000 employees during World War II. Now owned by the city and operated as an industrial park, the gates remain and entry is restricted - an anomaly of the street grid with a smattering of competing building styles and orientations, punctuated by half empty parking lots that give the impression of just another industrial waterfront awaiting redevelopment.

“The yard (…) contains four drydocks ranging in length from 326 to 700 feet, two huge steel shipways, and six big pontoons and cylindrical floats for salvage work (…) numerous foundries, machine shops, and warehouses (…) barracks for marines, a power plant, a large radio station, and a railroad spur. (…) Beyond the dull waters of the East River looms the New York sky line, like the backdrop of a stage set.” – New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

Despite its guarded, dulling presentation to the outside, the Navy Yard thrives. Now one of the fastest growing green manufacturing centers in the nation, the Yard also houses artists, an urban farm, the city’s oldest current operating whiskey distillery (a few years old), woodworkers, architects, a pioneering modular construction firm, and remnants of its ship-centric past operating the gargantuan dry docks reaching inland. The steel hull of Building 128 - just months ago a bygone shipbuilding factory shrouded in caution tape and rust - is slowly shaping into a Collaborative Design and Fabrication Center. Steiner Studios, the largest film studio complex outside of Hollywood and home to the largest sound stage on the East Coast, provides a backdrop ripe for the silver screen: the Empire State Building, the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, and the new World Trade Center building all rise in the distance.

“At the south end, facing Flushing Avenue are the officer’s quarters, two-story buildings of painted brick, scrupulously neat despite their age (some were built before the Civil War), and bordered by gardens, tennis courts, and carefully kept walks.” – New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

The past and the present meet frequently in New York, but rarely do the past and the future coalesce so nearly as they do in the Navy Yard. Bordered by the crumbling facades of Admiral’s Row and the regally decrepit former hospital, industry is adapting to the constraints and needs of the current environment. The nonprofit development corporation that manages the site has made the rich history of the Navy Yard’s past and present available through BLDG 92, a museum, job placement center, and community space housed in the adaptively reused Marine Commandant’s Residence. It may not look like much from the outside, but the Navy Yard stands in stark contrast to an economy founded on real estate booms and the fluctuations of Wall Street, and is much more impressive and intriguing for it.

Guide Note: While admission to BLDG 92 is free, tours of the Navy Yard itself run to at least $20. I highly suggest a visit to the distillery followed by some slightly illicit exploration of the grounds, by bike if possible.

* * *

JONATHAN TARLETON is a State Guide to New York. He was schooled in Georgia and North Carolina before moving on to denser pastures in Brooklyn. He currently helps out at Urban Omnibus where he researches and writes about the policy, art, peculiarities, and movements that make New York City so enticingly combative. He likes to be outside and to make things, preferably concurrently.

Follow him on Tumblr at jttarleton.tumblr.com.


New York City, chartered in 1898, consists of five boroughs, each also a county: Manhattan (New York County), the Bronx (Bronx County), Brooklyn (Kings County), Queens (Queens County), and Richmond, or Staten Island (Richmond County). Manhattan, the original New York City, founded 1626, is an island.
—New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

New York/New Jersey scenes for #AmericanGuideWeek from AG contributor Ed Goldberg.
Zoom Info

New York City, chartered in 1898, consists of five boroughs, each also a county: Manhattan (New York County), the Bronx (Bronx County), Brooklyn (Kings County), Queens (Queens County), and Richmond, or Staten Island (Richmond County). Manhattan, the original New York City, founded 1626, is an island.
—New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

New York/New Jersey scenes for #AmericanGuideWeek from AG contributor Ed Goldberg.
Zoom Info

New York City, chartered in 1898, consists of five boroughs, each also a county: Manhattan (New York County), the Bronx (Bronx County), Brooklyn (Kings County), Queens (Queens County), and Richmond, or Staten Island (Richmond County). Manhattan, the original New York City, founded 1626, is an island.

—New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)

New York/New Jersey scenes for #AmericanGuideWeek from AG contributor Ed Goldberg.

Good morning America: It’s #AmericanGuideWeek.

How do you see your country? From coast to coast. From borderline to borderline. North. South. East. And West.

Maybe it’s the typography on storefronts and billboards in a down but not out Detroit. Or portraits of friendly, bizarre, dangerous, wonderful people in the American South.

As our saying goes, follow your guide and see America. Throughout #AmericanGuideWeek, tell your guide where to find you.

Tag your Tumblr photos, illustrations and writing that describe the America you live in and the America you travel through — people, places and things. This is a collaboration, folks: a living, Tumblifying documentary about the USA. You’ll be reblogged or featured on The American Guide.

ABOUT THE PHOTOS

The American Guide on Tumblr is a revival of the Depression-era guidebook series by the same name. It’s part archive curation from back in the day, part documentary travel in the here and now.

The black and white photo on the left was taken by a WPA photographer on Lenox Ave. in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in the 1930s. The photo on the right is that same street (now also called Malcolm X Blvd.) in Harlem today.   

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Follow the link here for more on #AmericanGuideWeek. Click here for more on The American Guide media project; click here for more on how to become an American Guide.