Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Troop C Armory
Address: 1579 Bedford Avenue
Cross Streets: Union and President Streets
Neighborhood: Crown Heights South
Year Built: 1903-1907
Architectural Style: Castellated armory
Architect: Pilcher and Tachau
Other Buildings by Architect: Kingsbridge Armory-Bronx, Jewett House-Vassar College
The story: The Troop C Armory in Crown Heights South is the last of the great castellated armories in Brooklyn. It was built for Squadron C, a cavalry unit, and the special needs of a horse and equipment unit dictated some of the important differences between this armory and many of the others in Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods. Troop C was established in 1895, saw action in the Spanish American War, and in 1921, became part of the 101st Cavalry.
Lewis Pilcher, one of the armory’s architects, was a Columbia University grad. He became a professor of art at Vassar College, and later, an architect for the state of New York. While at Vassar, he designed Jewett House in 1907, a large dorm building that actually resembles an armory. It was highly unpopular, and was called “Pilcher’s Crime”. He must not have gotten the armories he designed out of his system, because his work with William Tachau on this armory, and the Kingsbridge Armory, was so huge. The Kingsbridge Armory is the largest in the world.
William Tachau, his partner, had even more impressive credentials. He met Pilcher at Columbia, and then went on the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and worked as a draftsman for Lamb & Rich and then designed for the firm of Herts and Tallant, both important NYC architectural firms at the turn of the 20th century.
The Troop C Armory is one of the first of its kind to emphasize the structural and engineering components as much as the more decorative and stylistic features. Here, the enormous drill shed towers over the administrative parts of the building. Compared to the nearby 23rd Regiment Armory, on Bedford and Atlantic Avenue, where that building’s tall fortress tower dominates the skyline, this armory is all about the drill shed.
A cavalry unit needs space to train men and horses for war, so the drill shed had practical purpose. It’s multi-storied roofline providing plenty of air circulation for man and beast. The armory, in addition to the usual component of administration and dorm space, also had room for stabling hundreds of horses, as well as heavy equipment, such as cannon and wagons. As the military modernized in the 20th century, they were replaced by tanks and trucks, familiar sights at parades, or training exercises, when the tanks actually rolled down Bedford Avenue. There is still a National Guard unit here, and now Humvees have replaced the tanks.
In addition to the National Guard, the building has been home to a homeless shelter, and community rooms used by the Caribbean and Lubavich communities. Recently the film industry has rented the huge drill shed for sets. A recent Nicholas Cage movie, “the Sorcerer’s Apprentice” had huge sets built here. These shoots provide money and a number of jobs to the community, and a building this large is perfect. Here’s hoping there are many more. GMAP