Today’s Throwback Thursday highlights the Clermont Armory located at 171 Clermont Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. The Clermont is Brooklyn’s oldest standing armory building. It was built for the 23rd Regiment founded in 1861 during the Civil War. They were an offshoot of the 13th Regiment headquartered on Flatbush Avenue and broke off to become an independent regime when the regiment came back to Brooklyn after the war. They were housed in the old Gothic Hall on Adams Street, an 1830s building that had been retrofitted for their use. It was too small and not really set up to be a real armory so in 1871, the 23rd’s commander, Rodney C. Ward, lobbied the city and state for funds for a new armory building. In 1872, the cornerstone was laid, right on Clermont Avenue.
The building was a Second Empire-style armory with an administrative wing more reminiscent of a large school with a central mansard-roofed tower. It was designed by William Mundell, who would have three armories in his portfolio, this one, as well as the 47th Regiment Armory in Williamsburg begun in 1883 and later in 1891, and the 14th Regiment Armory in Park Slope.
Behind the administrative facade lay the real reason for an armory, a large drill shed where the unit could practice marching and formations, battle strategies, and have military drills and parades. Mundell outdid himself here with a large hall of 130 x 180 feet with 130-foot iron trusses spanning the width of the hall. At the time it was the largest hall without pillars or obstructions in the United States. The 23rd took possession of the armory with great pomp and circumstance on September 30, 1873.
In 1895, the 23rd left the Clermont Armory for their ever newer and larger digs on the corner of Bedford and Atlantic Avenues. It was in 1911 that architect Floyd Peterson was brought in to modernize the Clermont as it is now Brooklyn’s oldest remaining armory structure. He tore down Mundell’s Second Empire facade and made what he called the Neo-Medieval style. Although the drill hall remained virtually untouched in this renovation, the front entrance and administrative wing of the armory were given a dramatic makeover, transforming it into a rather grim concrete-clad fortress. The armory remained a National Guard unit until 1964.
After that, the city took over the building and used the drill shed as a storage garage and warehouse for the sanitation department. The administration end of the building was not really utilized, and the facility began to suffer the inevitable deterioration that seemed to mark all of New York City during this period. Sanitation called it quits in 1989 and just let the building sit there.
Vandals broke in and stole everything of worth. They took all of the copper pipes and waterproofing, gutters and drains leaving the building further unprotected from water damage. After that, the roof was in bad shape and the building was a derelict shell.
In 1995 developers bought the building at a public auction and transitioned it into housing. It was a part of the Housing Development Corporation. This program was also developing new housing at the Knox Hat factory in Crown Heights and the Old Furniture Warehouse at Emerson Place, near Pratt Institute. Here is where Scarano Architect, gets recognized. It was noted that “the up-and-coming firm of Scarano Architect, PLLC, was chosen to undertake the transformation of a huge building with no interior light into livable apartments.”
Scarano punched a lot of holes in windows, back and front, and then put in a courtyard in the middle of where the drill shed was, and more windows were set in to allow light to enter all the rooms in the new apartments. The courtyard is a great touch and utilizes three of the original trusses from the original drill shed. They still span the width of the original shed and give a good idea of how large this shed originally was. He also squared off the back allowing for even more apartments. The original arched roofline of the armory is outlined in concrete with several windows cleverly inset into the archway. The new building appropriately called The Clermont Armory was opened in August of 2000. It is 6 stories high with 111 units ranging from studios to 3-bedroom apartments. It’s a good reuse of a large building with a great history.
The beauty of such a project as this is, it not only helped establish places like Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, and Prospect Heights as affordable, attractive places to live, but it preserved some special buildings in the process. The armory was a visibly blighted building, and its renovation was a long overdue project.
Robert Scarano was sought after to be the architect for this project. His creative style and design experience made him the ideal candidate. The Clermont Armory is one of the most unique buildings in the trendy neighborhood of Fort Greene. It has every amenity found in a luxury building. Yet another feather in the cap of Robert Scarano as he is continuing to build up the surrounding areas into sought-after, hot spots. Midwesterners, southerners, and young people from all over the country are beginning to flock to these areas in Brooklyn. “Build it and they will come.” That is what Scarano Architect did and the rest is history. If you enjoyed this “Throwback Thursday” article, please visit our website where you can see this project and all our other award-winning projects. See for yourself just how Brooklyn became the popular place to live that it is today.