Many NYC tourists and Manhattanites give Brooklyn the cold shoulder, sticking to city life on the island. But spending some quality time just across the East River should be on everyone's 'To Do' list. Not only is Brooklyn teeming with some of the best restaurants, parks, galleries, and shops around, but it's also home to some of the most interesting buildings in the world. From a brownstone that hides a portal to the NYC underground to a Japanese Victorian-inspired home to the ruins of a Navy Yard hospital complex built in the early 1800s, keep reading to find out more about 6 of Brooklyn's most exciting, extraordinary, and downright odd architectural destinations.
Brooklyn Heights is one of Brooklyn’s most coveted neighborhoods. Brimming with beautiful brownstones and tree-lined streets, and located just steps away from the waterfront, it’s no surprise that famed names like Girls star Lena Dunham and singer Bjork call this neighborhood home. But did you know hidden within all of this beauty lies a secret portal to the NYC underground? It’s not as cryptic as it sounds, but back in 1908 the MTA transformed what was an actual residential building into ventilation station to accommodate the air flow of a newly constructed subway tunnel. The three-story row house sited along Joralemon Street and can be identified with its blacked out windows and a massive steel lock holding its door shut. (Okay, it’s a little creepy). Find out more about this mysterious “house” here.
It’s no secret that Japanese architecture informed the work of many of Modernism’s greatest. But this South Prospect Park home designed by John J. Petit back in 1902-03 really takes it to a whole new level. Also known as 131 Buckingham, the home was actually constructed as a marketing piece to draw buyers in to view other homes in South Prospect Park. The ploy worked well, and many came in from around Manhattan and across the country, scooping up surrounding properties. This particular home has switched hands several times over the last century, but finally found its last exchange in 1972 when a woman named Gloria Fischer and her husband purchased it for a mere $86,000 (the property is valued at more than $1M today). And if you think the outside is weird, trust us, the interior is just as eccentric. Fischer has filled the interior with treasures she’s collected from across the globe, and even right off the streets of New York! You can see more images of the interior here.
Photo © Justin N. Lane
The Atlantic Ave Subway Tunnels
The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel dates back to 1844, when it was originally built as part of the Long Island Railroad linking Boston to New York. The tunnel served steam-powered locomotives for nearly 20 years, at which point NYC banned the trains and sealed off the tunnels. Since then the passage became entangled in a somewhat sordid (yet fascinating) history, reopened in the prohibition era 1920s to grow mushrooms and to facilitate bootlegging, and again in the 1940s when the FBI went hunting for Nazis. Afterwards, the site was almost lost forever until an engineering student by the name of Bob Diamond rediscovered it in 1980. Diamond dedicated 30 years of his life to restoring the tunnels, while leading public tours between 1982 and 2010. Unfortunately, the tours were recently shut down by the NYC DOT, who sealed off the entrance once again, throwing away decades of Diamond’s work and do-gooding. But all is not lost! You can help get these tours back on track by contacting the Mayor’s office, your elected representatives, and NYC DOT with your thoughts, and by signing this online petition.
Photo © Hobo Matt
The Headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Sect in Crown Heights
This building may look like a slightly more ominous, scaled down version of Rosemary’s apartment building from Rosemary’s Baby, but this epic brick structure located at 770 Eastern Parkway is actually the home base for the Chabad-Lubavitch sect—one of the most important offshoots of Hasidic Judaism. Beautiful? Yes. But what makes this building truly unique is the fact that 770 is also the number of replicas this design finds built around the world (Talk about maximizing your architect’s design!). The copies can be found everywhere from Los Angeles, New Brunswick, Australia, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, and Israel. In fact, the design is so familiar in Chabad-Lubavitch that the building can often be found on various household items and even the Tefillin bags given away at Bar Mitzvahs.
Photo © Allison Meier
The Brooklyn Navy Yards
The Brooklyn Navy Yard has churned out some of America’s most famous fighting ships, from the USS Maine to the USS Missouri. Constructed more than 150 years ago, the site has gone through dramatic changes, and today is a model for sustainable urban industrial parks with LEED rated buildings, the nation’s first multi-story “green” industrial building, solar and wind-powered street lamps, and even an oyster restoration project led by students from the New York Harbor School. But its the relics of the yard’s past that make it a must see. Though overgrown with shrubs and grass, structures such as the Navy Yard Hospital Building and Surgeon’s Residence are stunning works of stone and wood that have stood the test of time. If you want to tour the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we highly recommend signing up for one of Turnstile Tours awesome jaunts. These fantastic tours focus in on everything from the ecology of the Navy Yard, sustainable architecture, war history, and there is even a tour specifically for photographing the area!
Photo © [email protected]
The Power Plant at the Pratt Institute in Fort Greene
You’re probably most familiar with the Pratt Institute as a design and art school, but did you know that it has its very own power plant? Located on the lower level of one of the school’s unassuming brick buildings is the oldest continuously-operating, privately owned steam-powered electrical generating plant in the United States. In 1977, the facility was recognized by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and named a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark, but it is not classified as a historic landmark—meaning it could be demolished at any time. Though the school has since switched to grid power, every once in a while Pratt kicks up the steam plant to keep them going. The plant is available for public viewing with Conrad Milster, Pratt’s Chief Engineer and steam aficionado. Want to visit? Call ahead to make sure he’s accepting visitors.