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Secrets of New York

The ultimate insider's guide to the best-kept secrets of NYC's must-see places and buzzed-about people.

The entrance to the Brooklyn Navy Yard at

The entrance to the Brooklyn Navy Yard at Sands and Navy Streets. (Credit: Caroline Linton)

landmarks

Secrets of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

63 Flushing Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11205

Three hundred acres across Brooklyn's waterfront belong to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the massive industrial park created in what was once a thriving naval base that also included a hospital and once employed 70,000 people in its peak.

The federal government closed the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1966, and private ship building continued until 1979. Although NYC bought the 300-acre site after the Navy Yard closed, the area lay dormant for 20 years, devastating the surrounding neighborhoods. Between 1966 and 1996, New York City only invested $3 million into the Navy Yard. In the late '90s and early '00s, the city began to take on the site again, and since then, $250 million has been invested from public funds (mainly from the city). There has also been some $750 million in private money invested in the site.

Given its huge size and current powerhouse of business, there's plenty to learn. With the help of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (which manages the site), we took a tour behind the scenes to learn some of its secrets.

President John Adams first commissioned the Brooklyn Navy

Credit: Caroline Linton

John Adams first comissioned the Navy Yard, but it's older than that

President John Adams first commissioned the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1801, but activity at Wallabout Basin actually dates back to before then. In fact, long before then: The deed for the sale of Wallabout Basin dates back to 1637. The Dutch and the British used the shipyard for mercantile shipping.

After the American Revolution, the federal government bought 40 acres of land for $40,000 from shipbuilder John Jackson, who also founded the neighborhood Vinegar Hill.

While plenty of lively, um, spirits were created

Credit: Caroline Linton

The inventor of ether ran the Naval Hospital

While plenty of lively, um, spirits were created in nearby Vinegar Hill, one of the greatest medical innovations for anesthesia was dreamed up by the former head of the Naval Hospital. Edward Robinson Squibb, known as ER Squibb, was appointed to the Brooklyn Naval Hospital in 1851, and he lived in the surgeon's residence, pictured. Starting in 1852, he perfected the distilling of ether. He refused to get a patent on his product, but he left the Naval Hospital in 1857 to form his own pharmaceutical company, which ended up providing a majority of the medical supplies during the Civil War. Squibb's company, Squibb and Sons, would eventually become Bristol-Myers Squibb.

A native of Pennsylvania, Squibb obviously was enamored with Brooklyn: He based his pharmaceutical company in the borough and he lived there until his death in 1900.

If you are going to a building at

Credit: Caroline Linton

The entire Navy Yard is off the grid

If you are going to a building at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, good luck if you plan on asking Siri. The entire Brooklyn Navy Yard is listed with the address of 63 Flushing Ave., so there could be a lot of walking involved. (Which one reporter may have learned the hard way. Not naming names.)

More practically, being off the grid means that Brooklyn Navy is responsible for its own snow removal and sanitation services and they have their own parking and unloading rules.

Vinegar Hill is not just the neighbor of

Credit: Flickr/franksinks

The Navy Yard and Vinegar Hill are closely related

Vinegar Hill is not just the neighbor of the Brooklyn Navy Yard--the two neighborhoods have a shared history. The neighborhoods have the same founder, ship builder John Jackson. Although there are many theories as to how the neighborhood got its name, Jackson actually named it after the Battle of Vinegar Hill, a battle in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Jackson sold 40 acres to the federal government in 1801, which became part of the Navy Yard (although it grew to 300 acres in time).

Additionally, Vinegar's Hill's privately-owned Federal Mansion was first constructed in 1806 as the home for the Navy commandant.

While Vinegar Hill and the Navy Yard no longer share a border (thanks to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway), the Navy Yard turned Vinegar Hill into quite the neighborhood as production grew at the Navy Yard in the 19th century. In the 1820s, 25% of all properties in Vinegar Hill were tavern proprietors. Sounds fun, no? But by the time the Civil War ended, the neighborhood became infamous--and the Navy Yard was not pleased.

The first ship built at the Brooklyn Navy

Credit: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Ships were built at the Navy Yard from 1820-1979

The first ship built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard was the USS Ohio, launched in 1820. Ship construction reached its peak during World War II, when the Yard doubled in size and employed 70,000 people and operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The bustling production pushed out Wallabout Market, which had been the second-largest wholesale food market in the world, to Fulton Market in the Bronx. The picture above features female workers at the Navy Yard--an exhibit at Building 92 is dedicated to the stories of people who fell in love at the Navy Yard.

After the war, activity slowed down at the Navy Yard. In 1966, the Johnson administration closed the Navy Yard, along with 90 other military bases and installations. New York City bought the land, and it reopened with private ship construction, managed by a nonprofit organization, Commerce Labor and Industry in the County of Kings (CLICK). Despite federal investment in the 1970s, the largest tenant, Seatrain Shipbuilding, closed in 1979, ending the era of ship construction at Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Not all of the Navy Yard is dedicated

Credit: Caroline Linton

There is plenty of art around

Not all of the Navy Yard is dedicated to work. The Brooklyn Navy Yard at Building 92 has a visiting artist program, which has artists work on-site creating photography, paintings, music, dance, sculptures, writing and more. Artists receive independent access for the program.

The only part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Credit: Caroline Linton

This building is a thoroughly modern dedication to the past

The only part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard open to the public is Building 92, which opened on Nov. 11, 2011. Built by architect Thomas Ustick Walker (the designer of the original U.S. Capitol) in 1857, Building 92 was in disrepair before the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, the non-profit corporation that manages the Navy Yard, came in. Despite being such an old building, it is now a compromise of old and new: It's has platinum LEED status as a green building, Brooklyn's largest rooftop garden is there and the front facade depicts the launching the USS Brooklyn (look closely, you'll see it in this photo).

The lobby, too, highlights the old and the new: There is a massive anchor from the USS Austin, the second-to-last ship built at the Navy Yard and a solar-powered lamp (91 are installed throughout the Navy Yard, which saves an estimated $11,000 per year in electric costs).

Building 92 serves the BNYDC's employment center, offices, classrooms and event/meeting space. It also houses the exhibition "Brooklyn Navy Yard: Past, Present and Future," which has photos, replicas of ships built, a watercolor mural, an interactive model of the development at the Navy Yard, an interactive exhibit about the current tenants and much more.

After World War II ended, the slowdown at

Credit: Caroline Linton

Sweet'N Low is packaged here

After World War II ended, the slowdown at the Navy Yard meant a slowdown at Ben Eisenstadt's Brooklyn Navy Yard cafeteria. Eisenstadt and his wife, Betty, came up with the idea of individual packaging for sugar, and in 1957, Eisenstadt and his son, Marvin, came up with the idea for the sugar substitute, Sweet'N Low. Sweet'N Low is still packaged at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, at the site of Ben's original diner.

Just because a building is comprised of modular

Credit: Caroline linton

This is a modular apartment that will soon be nearby

Just because a building is comprised of modular apartments doesn't mean it isn't constructed in Brooklyn. Just take the Atlantic Yards development. The affordable-housing modular apartments are currently under construction at the Navy Yard (pictured). Made in Brooklyn after all.

No,

Credit: Twitter/ charlesthorp

There's a 'Saturday Night Live' connection

No, "Saturday Night Live" is not filmed at Steiner Studios, it's still "live from Studio 8H." But the sets for "SNL" are constructed by Stiegelbauer Associates, which operates out of the Navy Yard. Next time you are complaining about your job's demanding hours, think about this: All the sets are constructed in 48 hours. And of course sketches can be cut up until the last minute, but their sets would still have been built, so it seems most sets are made with blood, sweat and tears of disappointment.

An old warehouse (rumored to have once stored

Credit: Caroline Linton

This building could be home to as many as 3,000 jobs

An old warehouse (rumored to have once stored munitions), Building 77 is the largest building on the site, with 1 million square feet spread over 17 stories. If you want to visualize how big that is, think about your 500-square-foot apartment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in November a $140 million investment into making Building 77 fit for workspaces. When completed (likely to be in mid-2016), there will be 3,000 new jobs at Building 77.

Before the United States was even a country,

Credit: Caroline Linton

The British stored prisoners in ships off the Navy Yard

Before the United States was even a country, the British moored prison ships off Wallabout Bay. About 11,500 prisoners died aboard the ships (which is more than the number of American soldiers who died in battle), and their remains were left ashore in what is now the Navy Yard. A monument to "Prison Ships' Martyrs" now stands in Fort Greene Park.

During Vinegar Hill's, um, wild days, illegal whiskey

Credit: Caroline Linton; Caroline Linton

Whiskey is important in the past and present

During Vinegar Hill's, um, wild days, illegal whiskey was distilled there. In 1869-71, soldiers from the Navy Yard raided the neighborhood in the Brooklyn Whiskey Wars, closing down illegal distilleries and smashing the production, according to the Smithsonian. Whiskey ran in the streets as the soldiers attempted to crack down on the business who evaded taxes. The fake vinegar factories were so famous that many still believe that's how the neighborhood got the name Vinegar Hill, although the name long predates the whiskey production.

Eventually the raids demolished the production of whiskey, and things settled down. But there's whiskey being made now: The Kings County Distillery operates out of the Navy Yard, the first distillery in NYC since Prohibition.

The Navy Yard is home to a dry

Credit: Caroline Linton

There is a dry dock to service ships

The Navy Yard is home to a dry dock to service ships. Dry docks are used to flood and then drain water from ships for maintenance and construction.

One of the three major film studios in

Credit: Caroline Linton

Major film production happens at the Navy Yard

One of the three major film studios in NYC, Steiner Studios, operates out of the Navy Yard. "Girls" (big surprise), "Boardwalk Empire," "Damages, "30 Rock," "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Revolutionary Road," "Baby Mama" and "Spider-man 3" are among the television shows and movies filmed at Steiner. Steiner Studios opened at the Navy Yard in 2004, and they even opened five new sound stages in 2012, making it the largest studio on the East Coast.

In addition to the expansion of the Naval Annex, Brooklyn College will be opening the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Steiner Studios in the fall of 2015. It will be the only graduate-only public school of film in New York.

The site of the Brooklyn Naval Hospital, morgue

Credit: Caroline Linton

The abandoned hospital will be taken over by Steiner Studios

The site of the Brooklyn Naval Hospital, morgue and homes for nurses, doctors and more will be repurposed by Steiner Studios as a media center. The hospital, pictured, is designated as a New York City landmark, so the structure will remain--even if film production is taking place. Built in 1836, the hospital in its heyday provided 50% of the medical supplies to the front lines of World War II. It was an active hospital until 1966, when the Navy Yard shut down. The federal government didn't acquire the Naval Annex until 2001, so it will take a significant investment before it's ready for use, although several of the buildings have been featured on film sets.

Neighboring the Naval Annex is the Brooklyn Navy

Credit: Caroline Linton

There is a cemetery on site

Neighboring the Naval Annex is the Brooklyn Navy Yard Cemetery, which was actively used in the 19th century, and 2,000 military service members and their families were buried there. In 1926, the cemetery was disinterred and all the remains were moved to Cypress Hills Cemetery... or so they thought.

In 1997, someone kicked up a bone at the site. Now it is a memorial to the cemetery, and it will be turned into a park, with passive use only.

While there were never any battles at or

Credit: Caroline Linton

Ships that played crucial roles in several wars were built at the Navy Yard

While there were never any battles at or attacks on the Navy Yard, it has played a crucial role in several wars just by the ships built there. Ships that were constructed there include the USS Maine (yes, the Maine whose sinking became the justification and rallying cry for the Spanish-American War), the USS Arizona (which was bombed at Pearl Harbor in 1941, killing 1,177 officers and crew on board) and the USS Missouri (which was also at Pearl Harbor but is best known as being the site of the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on August 15, 1945, ending World War II). Pictured is a piece of the remains of the USS Arizona, which is on display at Building 92.