Saturday, November 23, 2013

Commandant's House - Brooklyn Navy Yard

Historic photo of Spanish Guns with Commandant's House in background
Historic Photo Spanish Guns & Commandant's House circa 1905 (photo source: Brooklynpix)
Looking up driveway from gate to the Commandant's House
Commandant's House Today
The term "hidden gem" is frequently used to describe historic architecture and when the term is applied to the Commandant's House it couldn't be more fitting. A New York Times article refers to the house as a "secret, secret" and while the house is easy to find with a google search, unless you are told about the place it is unlikely you will ever come across it. I discovered the Commandant's House while on a site visit for a proposed bikeway that will traverse part of Vinegar Hill. I first noticed the driveway gate which seemed out of place tucked away in an obscure part of the Brooklyn Waterfront. When I walked to the gate and saw the mansion framed by vegetation, I was blown away. The place is huge! It looks perfectly out of place in the urban context of the Brooklyn waterfront. In private ownership since 1964 it is difficult to find a vantage point in which to view the three story residence due to the seven foot high brick wall, security gate and many mature trees on the property.
Aerial view of Commandant's House
Bird's Eye View of the Commandant's House
Designed in the Federal or "Adam" style in clapboard, the Commandant's House was built 1805-1806 and expanded on in 1905. Although, the residence is painted white, it was likely once painted with a creamy yellow color to match other Navy Yard buildings of the era. The design of the house was rumored to be that of architect Charles Bulfinch, associated with John McComb Jr, however, documentation of the architect of record remains elusive.[1] The Adam style was the dominant residential architecture style of the US from circa 1780 to 1820 and reached its peak in port cities of the northeast.[2] The fanlight above the main door and delicate detailing of the cornice, as well as the roof balustrades on the northeast wing of the house are some of the features that distinguish the residence as an Adam style house.

  1. Gray, Christopher "A Federal Style Gem That Outshines Gracie Mansion" New York Times. Online. 25 June, 2006
  2. McAlester, Virginia & Lee A Field Guide to American HousesNew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006


  1. "In private ownership since 1964..." is not correct. The house was still the quarters of the Commandant until at least 1967. My friend Steve was there until 1965 and Sen. John McCain's father was the next occupant (and last Commandant of the Yard). I think the Yard officially closed in '67, but the Navy held onto the property until sometime in the 70s. Great house and ground. Lots of fun for 12 year olds!

    1. Hi John, Thank you for the info. In researching buildings for my blog I sometimes find conflicting information from reputable sources. So, it doesn't surprise me that the date that the Commandant's house was sold is a little off. I recently pulled additional articles on the house while researching Admiral's Row at the Brooklyn Public Library. According to one of the articles the house was sold in 1979.

    2. VADM McCain was followed by VADM Andrew M. Jackson in 1967. They both served as Commandeer, Eastern Sea Frontier and Senior Military Representative of the US to the UN. I served as their orderly, chauffeur and body guard till June of 1968.

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