Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital Complex


One of two grand staircases inside Naval Hospital building at daybreak.

The story of the Brooklyn Navy Yard hospital complex, historically known as the Hospital Annex and recently known as NAVSTA Brooklyn, begins in 1824 with the sale of the Schenck Farm to the secretary of the Navy. Adjacent to the Navy Yard (known then as the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard), the plot of land was envisioned as a hospital and support facility for the Yard. When first purchased, it was separated from the Yard proper by mudflats created by the Wallabout Bay; as the bay was filled in to extend the Yard, the boundary all but vanished.

Construction of the hospital facilities began in earnest in 1830; the main hospital building was completed in 1838. By 1850, the Annex was a self-contained parcel of land, walled-in, with a gatehouse, a laboratory, and a cemetery. In 1864, the Surgeon's Residence was constructed. During the Civil War, the hospital would supply over one third of the medicines used by Union troops, and the basement of the main hospital building would be used to confine and treat wounded Confederate prisoners. During this period, more space was needed, and needed quickly, and a wooden annex was added to the main hospital building. This allowed hundreds of additional beds in the facility; over 500 patients could be treated at once.


A map of the Hospital Annex during the Civil War. Note the annex attached to the rear of the originally C-shaped main building.

The Hospital Annex would serve the Navy through several more wars, providing care facilities, research, and medicine production. During the Second World War, the hospital was overburdened (treating over 4,700 patients in six months during the height of combat), and so after the war, in 1948, the Hospital Annex was decommissioned, with its functions transferred to the much larger Naval Hospital at St. Albans, Queens. Over the next forty years, substantial demolition would occur at the complex, leaving just over 30 buildings still standing.

In 1966, the Navy Yard was decommissioned. However, the Annex would remain in the hands of the Navy as NAVSTA Brooklyn, a support and administration facility. Many of the remaining buildings were transformed into quarters and offices for enlisted men and officers alike. The main hospital building would remain in abandonment. In 1989, the Navy disposed of NAVSTA Brooklyn. On their way out, they stabilized and abated the main hospital building and the Surgeon's Residence, both New York City landmarks. Since 1993, the property has belonged to the Brooklyn Navy Yard; recently, however, Steiner Studios has purchased the complex in order to expand their studio space. There are high hopes that, at the very least, some of the buildings (including the two landmarks) will receive new life.

Here is a look into a few of the buildings on this historic campus.

Building R95




Constructed 1830-1838
Original designation: Naval Hospital
Final designation: Naval Hospital


The main hospital building is truly a sight to behold. The superstructure, over 170 years old, is in remarkably good condition. Because of stabilization and abatement, the entire interior is whitewashed, leaving the place eerily monochromatic except when the prevailing daylight happens to paint color onto the walls.


The rising sun shines through a hole made in one of the boards to create negative pressure during abatement, creating a wash of orange on the walls.


Early morning light adds a yellow cast to some of the rooms. It is very dark inside the hospital, since most of the windows are boarded.


The hallway leading to the Northern grand stairwell.

The building was stabilized in 1989; while the stabilization has been largely successful, and there is little sign of imminent collapse, there has been some shifting. Hopefully, Steiner will quickly invest in re-stabilizing the building and patching the holes in the roof; water damage is becoming evident in a couple of areas.


The stabilized Northern stairwell.


A view up the stairwell showing stabilization beams.

The rooms have all been emptied of artifacts and abated; whitewash covers everything within, encapsulating the lead paint.


The light peeking in through a crack in a board creates a blue cast in this room. Photographing this hospital can be difficult - this was a 6.5 minute long exposure.


Most of the original lighting fixtures in the hospital were replaced by fluorescent fixtures as they came into vogue.


Hallway near the Southern stairwell; the original milk glass fixtures remain in place.


A typical patient room, illuminated by early morning light.


Nearly everything in the hospital - down to the radiators and light switches - was whitewashed. This is one of the few rooms where color is still visible beneath the white.


Even the doorknobs were whitewashed.


A typical dark room; the window being completely boarded over, the only light comes from the room across the hall.


Most rooms had fireplaces; many were removed and bricked over, presumably when it became illegal to use fireplaces in the Boroughs.


The central portion of the hospital, used for reception and internal functions. The hallways contain 18 foot high columns.


A breaker box in the basement allows the construction lights throughout the building to be turned on.


The rear of R95.

Building R1




Constructed 1864
Original designation: Surgeon's Residence
Final designation: Commandant's Residence


The beautiful French Second Empire styled Surgeon's Residence, with an elegant concave mansard roof, has been admirably preserved by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. Showing little sign of deterioration whatsoever, its interior details are remarkably intact.


The view from the main entrance to the residence.


The living room, with a view across the hall into the parlor.


The second floor hallway as seen from the landing.


Another view of this hallway.

Building RG




Constructed 1919
Original designation: Nurses Quarters
Final designation: Bachelor Officers' Quarters



This building, comprised of a central section and two perpendicular wings, was of a much more utilitarian construction than earlier buildings, and was heavily renovated when the campus became the NAVSTA Brooklyn support facility.


The main lobby, with stairs leading down to the Offficers' Bar and up to each wing.

What remains of the Officers' Bar.


Building RD




Constructed 1910
Original designation: Laboratory
Final designation: Bachelor Enlisted Quarters


Nearly pitch-black on the first two floors, the distinguishing feature of the old laboratory building are the extensive (and intact) skylights on the top floor. This would provide abundant natural light for surgeries and examinations.

65 comments:

Jeremy Harris Photography said...

Beautiful work, Mr. Nickel.

Kirkbride said...

I agree, beautiful work. A good write up, but your photography is getting really great. Number 10 from the top is a particular favorite of mine. I never thought that kind of light fixture could be made interesting to look at.

ben said...

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Brenda from Flatbush said...

FABULOUS! These look like images from a dream! (at least one dreamed by a preservation wonk!)

Dathan Manning said...

I want to go to there.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post and your photos. I was born there in 1946 and later was treated at St. Albans Naval Hospital. I have always wondered what happened to the Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital and took it for granted it was torn down or badly neglected. Since I live in Europe, I am not able to do a walking tour to try to find out about it. Next time home, however, I will. Again thank you for this blog.

Adam said...

Wow - this is deeply impressive stuff with gorgeous photos. I will be back later when I have the necessary time that this blog requires and deserves.

Jeff said...

This is perhaps a bit off-topic, but I couldn't help notice your comment that fireplaces were bricked over "when it became illegal to use fireplaces in the Boroughs." Is it presently illegal to use any fireplaces?

Carolina Salguero said...

Really good photography, and a splendid documentation for posterity. Adds to our history of the waterfront. Such a joy for me to have seen as I live and breathe both photography and waterfront. Please get in touch
Carolina Salguero
www.PortSideNewYork.org
www.carolinasalguero.com

John H said...

Would like to know any technical data you can share(fstop, shutter, etc). Are you using silver based medium or have you gone digital?

Ann said...

Where is this hospital located? Is it accessible to the public?

redcountess said...

Here via the NY Today piece as I share an interest in urban archaeology. Love these photos and hope the buildings can be repurposed by Steiner although wonder if the lead in the main building would be a problem.

Ajlouny said...

You photos are amazing, I just coming back for more. This one building looks salvageable. It has a great architectural design. With the right construction company and vision, it would be incredible.

Ano said...

Early 1950's this Hospital was used as a TB Sanitarium. My Father-in-Law was sent here. It turns out that he never had TB at all.

makemineeclectic said...

I just ran accross your blog and wanted to say I think your photos and the buildings are breath-taking! I could look through your photos forever!

- bxn said...

I love these photo's. I lived in NY all my life (until 98) and I never even knew about North Brother Island until I saw it on a documentary. Visit my blog, I've nominated you for the Golden Heart Award.

kelley said...

The locations you find are stunning! The photographs make me want to be there. They seem like a surreal dream, like seeing through the eyes of a ghost.

Yvonne C said...

WOW! Your eye is fantastic - -I feel like you are able to capture the beauty of this place better than if I went and tried to grasp everything I was seeing at once. Great work

Bonbhere said...

I really enjoyed your photos. I was wondering if you could tell me what was the last year that there was any births there. I was born at the Naval Base in Long Island in Nov. 1956 but I'm unsure of the location. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanking you in advance. Sincerely, Bonita (Busker) Wilson aka Bonnie

Anonymous said...

I was born in the Navy Yard Hospital in 1945 so I would like to see more pictures

Matthew said...

Great work. Thanks.

Susan Johnson said...

LOVE YOUR WORK!

Anonymous said...

I remember when I was in boot camp,in 1965, in Great Lakes Naval Training Center, after the 2 months basic traing were up and we were assigned our duty stations, my friend got assigned to the Brookly Navy Yard and I was assigned to the Charleston Navy Yard. I was from Connecticut and he was from the South somewhere. Wouldnt you know it.I would have loved to have been assigned to the Brookly Navy Yard. Only a few hours away from where my family lived but instead I get assigned many hours away in South Carolina!

Water Damage Medford said...

Bldg. RG is simply fab!

Anonymous said...

This pictures are faboulous! But I got a question. I am a film student and I want to shoot my final film there. Is it possible to get into?Or I need a permission? Where to get that? where is that hospital?
this is my email cheggi80@gmail.com

I would really really appreciate if I got some info about that
Thanx

Anonymous said...

Nice work with those pics. Could be kind of crappy go to that place in which died a lot of persons. In fact my uncle used to work in a Hospital like that one and he told me that old guys always having dysfunctional problems. But I was wondering what if they had the opportunity to visit Viagra Online
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Anonymous said...

The photography was absolutely over the moon. I read, wide-eyed, the history of this wonderful complex....you see, I was born in March of 1945 at Bklyn. Navy Hospital and I just recently found your information through a friend of mine. Thank you for your research and your wonderful eye. I do hope they institute a tour program of this building....I do believe there are many more "Navy Brats" out there .
Thankyou Mr. Nickel. Jane Takis

Jen said...

Breathtaking photos...I am not only amazed by the photos but also those commenters who have personal connections with the locations. What a small world...

Anonymous said...

What wonderful pictures! The land beneath where the naval yard sits is the land of my ancestors who sold the land over to a Hendricks who then did with it as he wished, my ancestors were Joris & Catalina Raplije (Raplee, Rapile, alt spellings) they lived along the Wallabout Bay area before it was filled in. I was wondering if I could use your pictures as genealogical resources for my family genealogy tree book that I am writing for family? I would be most honored if you would grand our family this, please email me in regards:

Christina Cheek
art_design_studios@hotmail.com
RE: Naval Yard Hospital Pictures

Thank you ever so much!

Johann Benedikt Von Kessler said...

The second picture of the interior of the Surgeon's Residence, the room with the green silk brocade on the walls, that's actually the dinning room, you were standing in front of the butler's pantry door when you took the picture right?...beautiful pictures, by the way

msshahn said...

I write ekphrastic poetry -- mainly using photographs as the basis for my work. I am publishing one book this spring. I am interested in perhaps using your photos of the Navy Yard for a new book, maybe for something more ambitious that could be presented at a scholarly level. I am of an academic background in visual and verbal art. My email is missamy3@verizon.net -- I really appreciate your work and its filmic, suggestive qualities. Also, as a personal sidenote, my father is a Navy man. Thanks.

Cap'n Bob said...

I was born there in 1947 and was sure I'd find it had long since been demolished. Glad to see some of it still intact. Thanks for the tour.

Anonymous said...

My mother told me that I was born at the booklyn Naval Hospital. That was April 7 1948. She had said that I was the last baby born before they closed down the maternity ward. Don't know how true that is. Very interesting pictures and structure.

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Linda Malaussena Robinson said...

I was born at this hospital in 1945.

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A wooden annex was added to the main hospital building. This allowed hundreds of additional beds in the facility..

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In 1864, the Surgeon's Residence was constructed. During the Civil War, the hospital would supply over one third of the medicines used by Union troops, and the basement of the main hospital building would be used to confine.

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Peggy F. said...

I just spent the past hour looking at your photos and reading about each of the structures you have documented and I must let you know that your work is amazing!! Please keep up your hard work,as you help to undone, or at
least record, the damage done by stupid men and water!As a lover of our history, I thank you!

Anonymous said...

Amazing blog, so glad I've foud it!
I've been exploring abandoned buildings (castles / palaces / mansions /churches in Poland -Lower Silesia) but in these places there's not much left, only great architecture walls and some paint patterns or destroyed altar inside or statue if I am lucky (apart from great stories of course)... but there around NY...there're so many fantastic places!

I'm stunt by trips to North Brother Island, Hart Island...

Thanx for sharing :))))

Funky Homo sapiens™ said...

Oh my, that surgeon's residence looks absolutely gorgeous, a dream house, phew! Thank you for the gorgeous photies! x x x

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Kathe W. said...

These photos are fabulous- I didn't realize some of the structures were still there. I was born at Brooklyn Naval Hospital during WWII - my dad was stationed there. After the war we moved to California and I was told the buildings had been torn down- glad to see some of them are still there. Next time we go to NYC I'll have to see if I can get over to see them. Thanks for having this blog!

ko chess said...

Thank you so much for this post and your photos. I was born there in 1946 and later was treated at St. Albans Naval Hospital. I have always wondered what happened to the Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital and took it for granted it was torn down or badly neglected. Since I live in Europe, I am not able to do a walking tour to try to find out about it. Next time home, however, I will. Again thank you for this blog. cheap nike jerseys
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Anonymous said...

Thank the New York Times for this link

joelgraber@nyc.rr.com said...

How wonderful that Steiner seems to respond to the architecture and history of this magical place.

Local Tourist said...

I've taken the tour of the Navy Yard, but was sad not to be able to enter these historic buildings. Thank you for the wonderful photos, and to the New York Times article for directing me to them.

Anonymous said...

Lovely photos. Thank you to the NY Times for the link to your blog.

Anonymous said...

hi how would i be able to enter the hostpital, is there any fee?

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Leo said...

Do you have a contact to get into these places? Want to shoot an editorial there!

Leo
leos@art-dept.com