Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gott strafe die Nachbar

I should be keeping up this damn blog far, far better than I have been. God knows I am out walking around the borough each weekend for hours now that the weather is improving. It’s not unusual for me to get home on Saturday afternoon with over 200 photos on the old point-and-shoot (not that all of them are very interesting). I have spent the past three weekends, post-library visit, wandering down through Park Slope into Gowanus, and thence to Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, and so on. Last weekend was part of Red Hook and a neighborhood I had never been in before, Columbia Street down along the waterfront.

But, when it comes to sitting down in front of the P.C. and sorting through the photos and resampling and color correcting and figuring on something to write, I need to concentrate my mind, and thereby hangs a problem. I have two annoying neighbors. One is annoying only occasionally and doesn’t really impinge upon my blogging to any great extent. The other, nearer, neighbor is annoying almost constantly. We share a tissue paper-thin common wall in a 100+-year-old building that was thrown up at a time when the loudest noise you might hear from a neighbor was a squalling baby.

I won’t go into details but suffice it to say that as soon as I sit down to work on the blog, something starts up. I hope the situation will be resolved sooner rather than later, but until something happens there, not much will be happening here.

As an inveterate reader of detective fiction and suspense, I used to come upon a phrase in older books that were set during World War I: Gott strafe England! Some Prussian character would often be screaming this while trying to drown or otherwise dispose of the book’s hero. All I can find to say now is Gott strafe die Nachbar!!

However, in view of the dismal tone of this posting, it seemed like a good opportunity to post some equally dismal photos. All the photos here show what Admirals’ Row in the Brooklyn Navy Yard has been reduced to. You might describe it as vandalism through malign neglect.

Despite pleas from preservationists, historians, architects, etc. the federal government at first, and later New York City when the Navy Yard fell into its hands, refused to do anything to either restore the houses or, at best, just contain their disintegration. (Admiral’s Row refers to a group of officers’ quarters that were built in one corner of the Navy Yard; they are along Nassau Street near Navy Street.)

The City, in the person of Michael Bloomberg, is interested in little but the absolute bottom-line commercial possibilities of the Navy Yard and lacked the foresight to see that those possibilities could have been greatly enhanced by a restoration of the Navy Yard to even a fraction of its former appearance.

Better to let Admiral’s Row molder into dust and be choked by vines and then torn down and replaced by some innocuous glass box.

I suppose if you’re William Wordsworth, there is a kind of beauty to these vine chocked ruins though it resembles Germany Year Zero more than the English Lake District.

Even a lick of blue paint on the gate posts or walls or a little rust proofing on the fences might prevent it becoming just another eyesore.

The Sands Street entrance once made a striking sight but after the police impound lot took over, “fuhget about it!” Those eagles will never soar again.

Sands Street entrance, 1904. From the collection of the Library of Congress.

The city is restoring one small building to act simply as an entrance to some jazzy construction. We should be grateful for tiny favors, I guess. But rather than a sop to our sensibilities, I really would rather be able to walk around inside or walk through the place. Instead it’s locked down like the equivalent of the Indian Point nuclear reactor.

There are businesses in there. Well, there are business establishments all over the city and they seem to survive without tall fences and guards. Suppose 5th Avenue were closed off because Tiffany is there?

An overview of the Navy Yard showing (yellow line) detour necessary because of Navy Yard lockout. Admiral's Row is at far left. The "C"-shaped building near the far right of the yard is the Old United States Naval Hospital and has been landmarked. I believe that is boarded up, too.

Washington Ave. runs through the Yard from Clinton Hill to Williamsburg; it’s practically a straight shot. But rather than let us walk through and save an enormous detour, we’re locked out for fear we might . . . what . . . riot and destroy the place? Give me a break. Open the damn thing up, Mike!

Top photo is view from Flushing Ave. across to Williamsburg; the large apartment block is at Kent Ave. Bottom photo is Williamsburg gate.

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