Lost Twice

by Don Friedman on March 9, 2017

Here’s a good article on last fall’s demolition of Admiral’s Row in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As it happens, I looked at a few of the houses about ten years ago, for a preservation plan that (obviously) never got off the ground. At that time the houses were damaged but potentially salvageable; I suspect that the additional years of neglect meant that even if the will had existed to save them, it would have meant effectively rebuilding them top to bottom.

As awful as the long, drawn-out process of losing these buildings was, we actually lost them twice. Last fall they were physically demolished, ending any hope that they might be preserved. But they were lost earlier in a metaphorical sense. Decades of abandonment by the government agencies that owned or controlled them, combined with their physical separation from the ordinary fabric of the city by a large iron fence, meant that they had been removed from society. If, as I’ve said, historic preservation is about saving pieces of our culture that help give meaning to people’s lives through their physical presence, then there has to be an emotional connection for the process to work. The Admiral’s Row houses were fine nineteenth-century buildings, but they long ago ceased to have any meaning to most of the people of Brooklyn.

The houses were lost to their neighbors, and then they were lost completely. This process can be stopped before the first stage is complete, but s very difficult to derail after that time.

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