Redeveloping NYC’s armories: When adaptive reuse and community building bring controversy

Constructed between the 18th and 20th centuries to resemble massive European fortresses and serve as headquarters, housing, and arms storage for state volunteer militia, most of America’s armories that stand today had shed their military affiliations by the later part of the 20th century. Though a number of them did not survive, many of New York City’s historic armories still stand. While some remain in a state of limbo–a recent setback in the redevelopment plans of Brooklyn’s controversial Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights raises a familiar battle cry–the ways in which they’ve adapted to the city’s rollercoaster of change are as diverse as the neighborhoods that surround them.

The Park Avenue Armory

Armories’ impenetrable construction and sheer size, with vast open drill halls and head houses, also qualify them for duty as emergency shelters during disasters like hurricanes and floods. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, several of the city’s armories were called into duty once again as National Guard posts; others were used as temporary shelters for residents displaced by flooding. A number of the city’s armories function as homeless shelters. Some, like the New Balance Track and Field Center at the Fort Washington Armory, contain large and well-regarded sports facilities.

The well-known Park Avenue Armory–once called the Seventh Regiment Armory–in its early days hosted the National Guard as the first volunteer militia to respond to President Lincoln’s 1861 call for troops. Regiment members belonged to some of New York’s most prominent Gilded Age families. Built as both a military facility and a social club, the building’s interiors were designed by prominent designers and artists of the day including Louis Comfort Tiffany and Stanford White. A 55,000-square-foot drill hall remains one of the largest unobstructed spaces of its kind in the city.

Today, the well-regarded cultural venue offers season tickets to its…

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