As I round the road running along the Brooklyn Naval Yard, I feel a growing anxiety about what I intend to do. I’ve been here once before, and I was left with such a thrill - a mixture of curiosity and uneasiness. That savory sensation has sent me back again today to Admiral’s Row, an abandoned complex of early-20th century homes occupied historically by naval officers.
There are two entrances to the naval grounds along this road - one is manned by two security guards, who look as though they intend on identifying every entrant. The other is unwatched with two dated and vacant structures. I walk by the sentries at the first gate and make my way quickly to this second point of entry. I take a quick look around to watch for guards and then drop down a few steps behind the redundant, unoccupied buildings. It’s clear someone frequents these grounds as a fresh supply of cat food sits waiting to be eaten. I stop to pee, expecting to hear the approaching footsteps of a security guard who’s come to intercept me, but none arrives.
I inspect the opening to the complex: two chain link fences with a layer of sheet metal lining the opposite side. They overlap in the middle, creating a relatively easy access point. Peering through the fence, I see it’s totally vacant. The coast looks clear, so I dip down, crouching to protect my camera. I emerge on the other side in the middle of an open road and potentially in plain sight.
There’s overgrowth all around with late winter barren trees providing adequate cover, so long as I keep near to the edge. At the end of the road, I see the first house - decades of neglect and East Coast weather have taken their toll. I snap a few quick shots to keep should I soon be discovered. A few potential threats exist: security guards, vagrants, and the fragile condition of these old buildings. Do I dare step inside? I skirt around the first home to its rear. Here, I find at least a relatively covert position between the row of houses and the tall wall behind them which separates the grounds from the major avenue beyond. In short time, I decide I must enter.
I choose a second house amongst the bunch and begin climbing the steps leading to the front door. It’s ajar, both welcoming and daring entry at once. What forgotten corners of this house have been visited by equally forgotten people? I enter and take note of the extreme dilapidation. Detritus inches thick pad my steps. Clear signs of human occupants mix with fallen elements of the house itself. On every surface, paint peels and cracks in baked, warping chips. At the far end of the hallway, daylight sweeps through a massive hole in the facade. Doors give way to precipitous wells of debris. From above, all has collapsed and commingled disparate household fixtures in a hopeless pile. Great holes puncture the floor of a former dining room, and chandeliers hang at eye level, twisted and rusting.
I try to take it all in, but am overwhelmed by the sensitivity of my sharpened senses as I’m fully engaged in fight or flight mode. As I round the darkened corner, I glimpse the daylight illuminating the stairwell to the second floor. The ground floor, though well threatening, provides at least a convenient escape should I need to beat a hasty retreat, but upstairs? Can these tired floor panels further support even a single guest? What sleeping inhabitants might I disturb with my footsteps as they press against these creaking panels? What would I say? I think of how I might explain my presence to an occupier - would I rush away, or attempt to engage in conversation?
As I timidly ascend the strained staircase with my hand running along the crumbling wall for support, I keep my eyes locked overhead. Though vagrants have clearly called this home in the past, none appear to be present. Lining the floor of this level is a thick mass of fabric, cardboard and rotted materials. Discarded clothing pile high, forming squatter's strata in deep layers. I climb upward along another flight of steps and emerge onto the final level of rooms. The bathroom is littered with bottles from the decades as relics of bygone package design. I catch sight of another bedroom with a widely pierced floor and become keenly aware of the supple, aged nature of this entire structure. One misstep could deliver me to the first floor, or basement, much faster than I’d prefer.
I head back downstairs and stop to lie prone at the edge of the floor where the banister formerly stood, and I take a frame of the descending stairwell as it wraps back and forth below. As I make my way back down, I stop to admire the alluring curve of the walls as they bend to deliver the steps to each floor. In its youth, this was surely a stately, elegant piece of architecture. I wonder about lives lived here, and about the warmth it at one time exuded. It’s hard to imagine now as every human touch has been petrified, leaving deadened material to form the illusion of recognizable signs of home.
As I prepare to exit, I scan my surroundings at points of vulnerability. I make my way down to the dirt path in front of the house and walk along it, batting away caution tape that hangs from the branches. Next door, another grand manor stands empty and waiting. I make my way to it, wondering if I’d pressed my luck far enough. I take another look around, and climb the front steps.
See more images of this little adventure here: http://thisgreatjourney.com/inside-admirals-row/