By Dennis Holt
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — The marvelous renderings released by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation that show what the Admiral’s Row project will look like when completed are not only impressive, they also bring back memories of a secret mission I once undertook. It is a story I have never told.
It was about 1991, when I was working for Congressman Steve Solarz, when we first heard about the condition of the row of former officers’ houses called Admiral’s Row. Even then, there was a great discussion of what to do with them; they were already in horrible shape. Should we fix them up or tear them down?
The Navy Yard was in Solarz’s district, and I was assigned the job of making a report to Solarz. Simply to obscure the subject, I was first given a tour of the privately owned Commandant’s House, on a hill overlooking the Navy Yard. It was and is a magnificent structure, and remains in good shape.
The Navy Yard people, none of whom are any longer there and whose names I can’t recall, sternly told me I could not enter any of the Admiral’s Row buildings — it was simply too dangerous. I made the quite logical argument that I could not make a meaningful report to my boss by standing on the front yard.
There was a brief discussion, and one man finally told me that one house that was safer than the others. He then arranged to be called away. No one else was in sight, and I sneaked around and then slipped onto the front porch. I opened the door and entered.
It was clear that these houses could only be restored at great cost. What’s more, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation didn’t even own them. The Army Corps of Engineers did, and they were inclined to look the other way whenever the subject came up.
In my report to the congressman, I said what the Navy Yard people wanted to hear. It would simply cost too much to fix them up.
I remember being depressed when I stood back out on the sidewalk. It was a balmy day, and I could imagine the quality of life that those houses once provided. There was a tennis court across the street, and I could almost see a captain serving to a commodore, both of them dressed in white.
Afterward, the officers would have drinks on the front porch and reflect that being assigned to the Navy Yard was not tough duty.
Well, those days are gone, but a whole bunch of people are realizing that when the derelict houses are finally torn down and the new supermarket and other buildings are constructed on the site, the Navy Yard is only going to get better.