"I remember the first day. I was just trying to cover my head," said Winston Palmer, now 20, remembering those first days at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a construction worker. (Photo: Joe Rosenthal/The New York Times)
The Brooklyn Navy Yard has come a long way since it opened for business in a remote, high-security location by the Gowanus Canal in 1898.
A dynamic waterfront neighborhood on the outer edge of downtown Brooklyn, the yard attracted industrialists, immigrants, businessmen and skilled laborers looking for a job — most notably in the booming World War II shipbuilding era. The yard is now known as a construction hotspot, especially the community of East New York, where thousands of manufacturers and service firms are scattered around the 22-block district, with thousands more workers and students every day.
Designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and completed in 1988, the complex — which is under study by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, a private nonprofit that seeks to put thousands of new residents and create an upscale neighborhood — is powered by energy from the surrounding waterfront, including the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
From the converted train yard to the rumpled waterfront on Tillary Street and the quiet streets of East New York, the neighborhood’s vibrancy is undeniable. There are major, multifaceted plans to revitalize this area into a modern urban core, with ferry service connecting the site to Manhattan.
Many new retailers and small restaurants have opened in recent years, and some long-time businesses are thriving, too. Brandon Koenig, 21, who spent his childhood going to the Navy Yard with his father, Theadora (better known as Thea), now works as an operator in a retail machine shop.
“This place is no longer [there]” he said, counting off the number of subway stops from Manhattan to the yard. “Everybody has to do something in order to survive.”