FORT GREENE SCENES at the Navy Yard and Brooklyn Tech

During the fall (2007) I visited one of my favorite parts of Brooklyn, Fort Greene, which has evolved from a place where you would need a tank to ride in for safety in my youth to a place I couldn’t afford without a MegaMillions victory today, and passed two places in particular: Brooklyn Tech along DeKalb Avenue and Fort Greene Park, and Flushing Avenue along the Navy Yard where the remains of Admirals Row (or if you prefer, Officers’ Row), the commissioned officers’ families’ homes that are now in utter ruin.












I have no direct connection to Brooklyn Technical High School other than my cousin Jim, who attended it back in the Swingin’ Sixties. I’ve never been inside.

The school opened in 1922 at 49 Flatbush Avenue Extension (near Fulton Street) in a converted warehouse. It moved to its present building, a 12-story structure at 28 Fort Greene Place, in 1933. It’s one of NYC’s marvels you don’t read or hear much about.

For example, according to its wikipediaentry, Brooklyn Tech features an Olympic-size swimming pool; foundry; a materials testing lab; an aeronautical lab; an 18,000-watt radio transmitter (and a 456-ft transmitter tower, when combined with the building’s 145-ft. height, makes Brooklyn Tech the tallest combined structure in Brooklyn); the 3,000 seat auditorium; the robotics lab…

Given all that, how it isn’t landmarked is surprising, though it’d obviously in no danger at present. Alumni include Harry Chapin, the late storytelling pop singer, US Congressmen Gary Ackerman and Anthony Weiner, computer magnate Charles Wang and author Richard Matheson, of “I Am Legend” fame. I wonder if Open House New York features it, or plans to.

On my stroll past on DeKalb, though, I was arrested by the bas-reliefs of great engineers, inventors and scientists that are arrayed above the corner window; among them areRobert Fulton, the steamship and submarine engineer, for whom Fulton Street is named; the father and son team who engineered the Brooklyn Bridge, John and Washington Roebling, the architects of the Brooklyn Bridge (a street in Williamsburg is named for them); and Thomas Alva Edison, inventor nonpareil.

If anything, the Brooklyn Bridge may be overrepresented in NYC lore. Here’s a look at John A. Roebling’s 1866 Cincinnati, OH-Covington, KY bridge, which predates the Brooklyn…and some might even say the Brooklyn is a copycat design of the Cincinnati bridge! John Roebling died of tetanus after sustaining an injury at the bridge site, and his son Washington took over for him but then succumbed to the bends after working in the caissons under the East River that supported the bridge towers. Thereafter, his wife Emily took over its day to day supervision. (Her brother, Civil War general Gouverneur Kemble Warren, is honored by a statue at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza.)

The Brooklyn Navy Yard‘s ten remaining old officer’s quarters facing Flushing Avenue east of Navy Street, known as Admirals’ Row or Officers’ Row, some dating from the mid-to-late 19th Century, have been allowed to severely deteriorate. They look out over Flushing Avenue between Navy Street and Carlton Avenue, their windows ivied and hollow, and in 2006 they were slated for demolition.

They were going to be replaced by a supermarket that was scheduled to be built on the north side of Flushing Avenue to serve the residents of the neighboring Ingersoll and Walt Whitman Houses. The supermarket, and the fate of the old houses, were in limbo as of early 2008 as the homes are reviewed to see if they can be restored.


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2 Responses to FORT GREENE SCENES at the Navy Yard and Brooklyn Tech

  1. Melvin Band says:

    I am a proud graduate(1959 )graduate of Brooklyn Tech. Several years ago, I tried to push the administration, Principal Randy Asher, the Alumni Association( the BTHS Foundation Inc.) and local City Councilwoman Lettica James to get Brooklyn Tech land marked which I thought would be easy, because of its unique history and architecture and the fact that Mayor Bloomberg was pro land marking. The reality was that the powers that be, the powerful Tech Alumni Foundation had other plans. They felt that land marking was too restrictive. Since they were knocking themselves out raising money, they didn’t want anyone to tell them what they could and could not do. As a result most of the old, historic, but in good shape, items were destroyed. I believe that the auditorium has been land marked .

  2. Melvin Band says:

    Regarding the selling of Brooklyn Tech to Bruce Ratner. That was on the table for a while. I actually spoke to Randy Weingarten prior to a NYC School Board meeting several years ago. I didn’t buy her sales pitch nor the union’s sales pitch for a moment. The union leadership couldn’t understand why. Here’s why(1) Brooklyn Tech would have been relocated to some God forsaken part of the city.(2) Brooklyn Tech Build in 1936 has stood the test of time for it was built with blood ,sweat and tears, while new construction is built with spit, graft and corruption. (3) As I told School Chan. Joel Klein at a school board meeting- what are the Mack brothers, who contributed $250,000 in their father’s name to renovate the school library supposed to do? Hire vans to cart the library to a new location? That’s when Klein stood up and said that their are no plans to relocate tech, but he will his options open. My response was that this is like a husband telling his wife, Hey Honey,I have no plans to divorce you, BUT I will keep my options open.(4)And remember this, there is no question that the size of the school would be downsized so that 4,000 kids from tier three( Stuyvesant and Bronx Science being tiers one and two) rather than 6,000 would be taken in. Why put our efforts in educating 6,000 when we can do 4,000. This would make the Tech powers that be very happy.(5) and finally Randy Weingarten would be happy because part of the deal would be for Ratner to provide low cost housing for teachers. The old you do for me, and I will do for you, but no one does for the kids.

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