04/25/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Brooklyn's Mansion on the East River

Walking down Hudson Ave today in Brooklyn's Vinegar Hill neighborhood, I realized I'd never taken any of the roads leading east. Why not? I guess I've always just assumed everything in that corner of Brooklyn to be ConEd-type utility plants, never a good place to do any sort of filming. Always looking for something new to explore, I decided to make sure my assumptions were right.

Commandant's House 01

I took a right down Evans Street, passing by Harrison Alley on the right. Apparently, this mysterious alley is nearly always gated; it was wide open as I passed, and had I known, I would have definitely gone down to take some pictures.

Commandant's House 02

At the end of Evans Street, you can turn left onto Little Street...But the pair of enormous iron gates on the right had my attention...

Commandant's House 03

The gates appeared to be surrounding an enormous mansion with a huge lawn, the absolute last sort of thing I'd expect to find in Brooklyn so close to the river. It's like someone picked up an estate from Long Island's Gold Coast and plunked it down in Vinegar Hill.

Commandant's House 04a

This incredible mansion is known as the Commandant's House, formerly a part of the sprawling Brooklyn Navy Yard. Built in 1805 (just a few years after the Navy Yard land was purchased in 1801), the 3-story house has been in private ownership since the Navy Yard was decommissioned in 1964 (repeat: private ownership!). The current owner's identity is a mystery...

Commandant's House 04b

It's tough to get a good vantage point through the fence, but some broken links offer a bit of a view...

Commandant's House 05

The house up-close - note the balcony on what I believe is an addition, which must have sick views of the East River.

Commandant's House 06

Look at any picture of this property from the last ten years and you'll find this old car perpetually parked in the driveway. Wonder if it came with the place? Who out there can identify it?

Commandant's House 07

Bing's 3-D satellite maps offer an aerial view of the front of the house, with it's massive balconies and wrap-around driveway. Note the houses at the end of Harrison Alley, located in the upper left corner of the picture, which are reputed to be former stables for the house.

Commandant's House 04b

This photograph from the Brooklyn Public Library's amazing collection of historical Brooklyn photographs was taken in 1954:

Commandant's House 11

This one, from the same collection, was taken in 1935.

Commandant's House 10

You can catch a bit of this angle as you're driving down Navy Street...

Commandant's House 08

I stood on my car for this one. Nice to see the greenhouses still in good shape. The position of that brick utility building seems pretty damn unfortunate.

Commandant's House 09

I know this certainly isn't a surprise for a lot of you, but the fact that I was unaware of it means there's gotta be one or two readers out there who will be as taken aback by it as I was! You can find more info in this NY Times write-up of the property. Surprisingly, not a lot is known about the house. Yes, it might have been designed by Charlies Bulfinch (architect of the US Capitol) and yes, the dining room might have the same proportions as the Oval Office...but no one seems to know for sure.

And again, check out the Brooklyn Collection for some amazing historical photographs, courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library!


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