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The Brooklyn Army Terminal is one of the most imposing–and least understood–buildings on the South Brooklyn waterfront. Built in 1918-1919 to serve as the main supply depot for American forces fighting in Europe during World War I, the Terminal (or BAT as it’s known today) saw nearly five decades of service to the US military, and today it continues to serve as a hub for industrial development and job creation in New York City.

Turnstile Tours has been researching and offering public tours of BAT for just a little more than a year (join the Untapped Cities tour Sunday, Oct. 26!), and we thought we would share some of our knowledge about the site and dispel some of the myths and rumors that have swirled around it.

1. Elvis Presley visited the Brooklyn Army Terminal in 1958.

Brooklyn Army Terminal, 1946. Source: Trainweb.org

Yes, but not where you think. The Brooklyn Army Terminal did not have any barracks or places to house soldiers; it was designed to move people and supplies through the facility as quickly and seamlessly as possible. So despite the fact that millions of men passed through over its 47 years of operation, few of them spent very much time there. When personnel arrived by train, as Private Elvis Presley did on September 22, 1958 with his 3rd Armored Division (he had been drafted the previous year and was off to 18 months of service in Germany), their train would drive directly onto the pier. They would then walk just a few yards from the train car to the gangway of the ship waiting to take them to their final destination.

Elvis’ circumstances were a little different, however, because waiting for him when he got off the train was a throng of reporters and fans. Instead of walking straight to his troop transport, Elvis held two back-to-back press conferences on the pier (you can listen to both here and here). Then, when it was time to embark, and he carried his gunny sack up to the ship, he was told to go back down and walk up all over again – not all the photographers had gotten a good shot of him.
So Elvis never saw the train atrium of the Brooklyn Army Terminal, but if you want to step where Elvis stepped, you can just go out onto the publicly-accessible Pier 4, located near the junction of 58th St and 1st Ave.

2. The Brooklyn Army Terminal is abandoned.

Far from it. The Brooklyn Army Terminal was decommissioned in 1966, and the federal government closed it completely in 1975. In 1981, the City of New York purchased the property, and in 1987, the first phase of the Brooklyn Army Terminal industrial park opened.

Today there are more than 100 companies that occupy the vast majority of BAT, and more than 3,500 people come to work here every day. BAT is home to companies in a wide range of industries, including Uncommon Goods, a retailer of unique and handmade gifts; Lee Spring, one of the world’s leading industrial spring manufacturers; Jacques Torres Chocolate (no introduction necessary); and many, many, many more. Today the Terminal has roughly 3.2 million square feet of leasable space, and more than 95% of that is currently occupied – nearly as much space as is in the new One World Trade Center (which will have 3.5 million s.f.)
BAT is still owned by the City of New York and operated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), a non-profit organization that manages many city-owned properties. There are some sections of BAT that still need to be renovated before tenants can move in, but New York City has committed to investing $100 million to complete the next phase of renovations and bring the facility up to full capacity of more than 4 million square feet.

Read on to discover what’s up with those balconies in the BAT and how many soldiers and supplies were sent over in WWII.  Join us for our next tour of the Brooklyn Army Terminal:

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