Inside the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s New Museum

12/07/2011 4:00 AM |

On November 11th, the Brooklyn Navy Yard opened its doors to the public for the first time in decades, inaugurating its new historic center in the former United States Marine Corps Commandant’s residence at 63 Flushing Avenue. Known as Building 92, the house has undergone a gut renovation and, with the addition of a large contemporary wing at its rear, been expanded into a 33,000-square foot museum.

Wednesdays through Sundays, the center’s patterned front gate opens to reveal a landscaped plaza with benches and bike parking. Above, the perforated metal façade of the new wing sports the image of an immense shipyard crane. Inside, visitors are greeted by the 22,500-pound anchor of the USS Austin, one of the Navy Yard’s final commissions before naval activities ceased in the 1960s after a steep post-war decline in shipbuilding. Historical displays fill the three floors of the former residence, tracking the yard’s transformation from swampy Wallabout Bay when it was originally purchased from Native Americans by a Dutch family, into a naval base and bustling shipyard that employed 70,000 daily workers at the height of its activity.

Alongside this historic narrative are rooms shedding light on the incredible variety of manufacturers now based at the Navy Yard. One room showcasing products built in the nearby warehouses includes items as disparate as an elegant wooden desk, a camouflage-patterned bulletproof vest and a replica of the U.S. presidential seal made for a Saturday Night Live skit by a prop shop affiliated with Steiner Studios. Several more rooms are dedicated to short-term contemporary art exhibits and, on the fourth floor of the new wing, Cobble Hill eatery Ted & Honey operates a café.

From up there visitors can look further into the yard, past two shorter buildings, at the dilapidated shell of a battleship-sized steel-and-glass warehouse. That’s the next phase of the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s overhaul, a massive renovation project to turn the hulking structure into a green manufacturing center. Like the displays in Building 92, and the center’s architecture, the future manufacturing hub promises to be a dramatic hybrid of the borough’s past and future, finally visible to all Brooklynites.