The Municipal Art Society of New York
Save Brooklyn's Industrial Heritage

The Red Hook Graving Dock


The Red Hook Graving Dock is located at the site of the historic Todd Shipyards, which were of significance to the history of shipping in New York and the United States. Construction began on Erie Basin - the artificial harbor on which the shipyards sit - in the 1850s By the late 19th century, with the building and expansion of the Erie Canal and the construction of the Erie Basin and adjacent Atlantic Basin, Red Hook became one of the most important shipping depots in the Port of New York and served as the terminus of the shipping network that included the Erie Canal.

The shipyards were first developed by the Robins Dry Dock Company from 1864-1916, when it was sold to the Todd Shipyard Corp., who went on to create one of the largest ship building and repair businesses in the country. During WWII, the Navy took over the southern end of the site and employed nearly 20,000 people repairing and refitting ships. Todd regained full ownership again in 1965 and operated it as New York Shipyards until they sold it to United States Dredging in 1985, who subsequently sold the site to Ikea.

A graving dock is based on a relatively simple technology - ships float in, a door closes behind them and the water is pumped out, leaving the hull exposed for repair. The Red Hook Graving Dock is distinguished by its size. Constructed in 1866, it was originally 540’ long and built of timber. It was lengthened in the 1880s and then again in 1928 to a length of 730’, when it was also rebuilt in steel and concrete. In 1883, Scientific American described the graving docks at Erie Basin the largest dry docks in the country and possibly the world.

Graving Dock No. 1 has obvious historic significance, but until Ikea took over the property it was also a functioning piece of maritime infrastructure. It was an active ship repair yard, and the company leasing it employed up to 100 people. As one of the largest graving docks in the New York Harbor, it was critical to the burgeoning maritime industry and had a replacement value of roughly one billion dollars.

In 2004, the City of New York approved a plan that allowed for Ikea to demolish all of the historic buildings, fill the graving dock, and clear the entire site to make way for a store and a 1,400-car parking lot. MAS commissioned alternative plans showing that the site can accommodate the graving dock, the store, and the same number of parking spaces as laid out in Ikea’s original plan. Ikea failed to make any changes to their plan.

In 2005, The Preservation League of New York State named the graving dock one of New York State’s Seven to Save (http://www.preservenys.org/7S05_toddshipyard_updates.html)

In 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers issued permits to Ikea for work on this project. In doing so the Corps failed to fulfill its responsibilities under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requiring a full and fair review of the effects of the Ikea project to all historic properties in the area, including the dock itself. In November 2006, the Municipal Art Society sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to conduct a proper review of historic resources at the Ikea project site in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In a press release, Elizabeth Merritt, Deputy General Counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation said, “The Army Corps has artificially gerrymandered the permit area to exclude consideration of a significant historic resource. This is an issue that has national implications because it reflects a widespread policy of the Army Corps which is fundamentally inconsistent with the National Historic Preservation Act.”

Photo Credits:
Left: Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society
Right: John Bartelstone

National Register Status: The dock and buildings on the site were Eligible for listing on the National Register.

Threat: Ikea has demolished all the buildings and is filling in the dock and readying to pave it over for a parking lot.

What you can do: Send a letter to IKEA and ask them to be a good corporate neighbor. They should share the history of this important site by providing boat tours and space to exhibit the history of the shipyards. Ask them to not sever the piers from the shore and provide landing rights for ships and barges. And make sure they live up to their obligations to hire local residents to work in the store and as contractors, and to provide a ferry dock with universal landing, at which many different designs of ferries and boats can dock.

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