by Kevin Walsh

The Brooklyn Army Terminal, once a huge part of Brooklyn’s maritime manufacturing scene, was completed by famed architect Cass Gilbert in 1918 and is situated between 2nd Avenue, the waterfront, 58th Street and Shore parkway. The waterfront is less active now, but BAT is still a bustling, imposing complex occupied now by private businesses and manufacturers.


Elvis Presley isn’t a name you’d normally associate with the Long Island Railroad, or even Sunset Park or Brooklyn, for that matter. Elvis almost always traveled by plane, and if not a plane, by pink Cadillac. Actually, what may be the only occasion Elvis spent in Brooklyn was one of the more celebrated incidents in his life: the day he shipped out to Germany in September 1958, after he had been drafted, breaking the hearts of women from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon.


Elvis took a troop train from Fort Hood, Texas to the Brooklyn Army Terminal, where his transport vessel was docked, with 350 other soldiers. His likely route to Brooklyn involved traveling under the Hudson to the Sunnyside Yards, where the train moved backwards, switching to the Montauk Branch in Long Island City, then through Maspeth before switching to the Bay Ridge Branch at its junction in Glendale, then down through East New York, Flatbush and Bensonhurst to the end of the line in Bay Ridge at the Army Terminal.


The tracks in the terminal are still there, and a replica Long Island Rail Road car that must look much like the one that Elvis rode that day is on display.

If the long-talked about crosstown subway connecting the Brooklyn waterfront with the Bronx via the Hell Gate Bridge is ever developed (hint: it won’t) there is a ready-made terminal here at the BAT. 


Marc Kirkeby writes in Brooklyn: A State of Mind that Elvis arrived at the army terminal to a crowd of reporters, cameramen, RCA Records executives, Army officials, and the 382nd Army Band, which played renditions of some of the King’s hits like “Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up.” Elvis spent an hour answering reporters’ questions and posing for pictures on the gangplank of the USS General Randall which was docked at the terminal. Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, never missed an opportunity to get milk from a stone and so, RCA Records would release the q & a session on an extended-play (EP) disc: “Elvis Sails”; a 2:54 excerpt was included on Elvis, 50 Worldwide Gold Hits, Vols. 1 & 2.

The Brooklyn Army Terminal maintains an exhibit in the front lobby commemorating Elvis’ arrival in Brooklyn, featuring a few photos of the day’s events, titled “For King and Country.” 

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Andy August 8, 2018 - 12:27 pm

Is that railroad coach in the photo currently at the Brooklyn Army Terminal? Does it serve any function at Brooklyn Army Terminal? It is not a replica, but a real ex-LIRR P72 coach that operated in regular service between 1955 and 2000.

Usher September 29, 2018 - 11:31 pm

I was there about 18 years ago (the company I worked for at the time was planning to lease space there but it didn’t work out), and I believe there were a few LIRR cars parked there which served as a restaurant.

Nice shot of the “porches”, and the overhead cranes are also still up there under the skylight, with which they used to load and unload the trains onto the various storage floors. The floors were built strong enough to support trucks and tanks.

Barry August 8, 2018 - 6:39 pm

No mention that BAT was occupied by the US Postal Service as well.

ny2az August 9, 2018 - 9:54 am

About 25 years ago, as I waited on a checkout line at Pergament in New Hyde Park (another casualty of the retail wars) I found a $5 CD featuring many of Elvis’ early hit songs. As a bonus, the last tracks featured portions of Elvis’ dockside interview before the troop ship sailed for W. Germany. It was a great impulse buy, but alas, before I composed this, I searched our remaining CDs for it & it has disappeared (sigh).

chris August 9, 2018 - 7:48 pm

That great book “Last Exit to Brooklyn” takes place mostly around the Army Terminal neighborhood.
Tra-La-La,Vinnie,Harry Black,Spook and Tommy-all those wonderful characters.A must read.
An old seaman told me that a bar called The Magnet was where the action was back then and there.

steve August 13, 2018 - 5:02 pm

M any years ago in my youth, along with my father, I went to the BAT during armed forces week for a tour . I was told by one of the guides that there were submarine docking facilities for use during WW2 in the lower levels of some of the buildings. Anybody know if he was truthful or was he just making it up as he was going along???

Rick July 31, 2019 - 2:57 am

I was stationed there from Feb. till Sept. ’62… 17 yrs. after the War was over and I never heard mention of anything like that. Doesn’t mean it’s not true but I never heard of it or saw where a sub could have accessed the buildings. There were railroad rail lines in the buildings and the weight of the cars, plus their freight, would have been prohibitive to having submarine docking area under them. Also, the buildings were completed in 1919. A huge project like building submarine access would NOT go unnoticed.

Rick July 31, 2019 - 2:15 am

I finished the last nine of my 36 month enlistment as a bandsman at the BAT. Everyone assumed that being a bandsman was easy duty and it was for about three months of the year. From March to December, I doubt that we had more than three or four days off. We loaded our gear onto a bus for an hour long ride to a location where we waited for a half hour to an hour before giving a five minute to fifteen minute performance for some idiotic ceremony and then loading up to spend the next hour on the bus back to unload, put our stuff away, change clothes and try to relax. When I got my discharge papers, I couldn’t get off post and on the NYS Thruway fast enough.

Rick July 31, 2019 - 2:39 am

BTW… While I was a Bandsman at BAT. one of the MP’s saw me park my car in the lot, saw me coming across the yard, raced down three flights of stairs and arrested me…. claiming that he’d seen me stealing from military personnel’s personal cars that were in transit to Europe. When I was in CID, I was furious. I DEMANDED that I be given a lie detector test and stated that I wanted that lying sonofabitch to take one, too. I saw their surprised reaction and, the next think I knew, they’d dismissed the charges against me and brought charges on the MP. (who was convicted and dishonorably discharged) That would have been fine except for me being called to the phone to talk to the Lt. in charge of the MP’s. He threatened that if I filed any complaints, they’d revoke my post parking permit and make me leave my powder blue ’59 Pontiac Star Chief parked on the streets of one of the roughest areas of Brooklyn, NYC. I only had a couple of months left on my enlistment so I let it go. I’ve dealt with assholes all my life. Most times, I’ve been the winner. In that case, they were already losers. I became a legitimate millionaire and created a hundred high paying jobs for the people who helped me be successful. Wish I’d noted that asshole Lieutenant’s name so I could have tracked his ass down to show him what real power is. I didn’t use it often but, when necessary, I did.


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