The property where the present day Ikea store in Red Hook is located was once the Todd Shipyard. This shipyard began in 1869 under the name Handren and Robins. The shipyard featured numerous historic buildings, the majority of which were built in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Over the decades nearly 70 ships were built at this shipyard, many of which were NYC ferryboats, and at least one Fireboat, the John J Harvey. The JJ Harvey was retired from active duty in 1994, and was temporarily brought back into service in the aftermath of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. This ship is one of the last, if not the last, ships constructed at the Todd shipyard to still exist today.
After Handren passed away in 1892, the company became known as the Robins Dry Dock and Repair Company. It merged with the nearby Erie Basin Dry Dock company (which was owned by a relative of Robins). William H. Todd worked for this company and bought it with and several other shipyards. Eventually the William H. Todd Corporation had amassed multiple construction and repair yards on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. (Full source here)
Even during the start of the Great Depression, the shipyard was expanding it’s operations. Like so many other industries, a large number of women were hired here during the second world war. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Todd company began to retrench. In 1965, they closed their Hoboken shipyard and concentrated all New York port work the Red hook facility. After the 1960s, the shipyard no longer built boats from scratch, and concentrated on repair work. The Red Hook shipyard closed in February of 2005, after 140 years of shipbuilding and repair.
This shipyard was fairly well guarded after it closed, right up until demolition work began in the Spring of 2006. This short lapse in security enabled us to get in here pretty easily from an neighboring lot. There was no one around, except for an unknown person wandering the far side of the property (if he was security, he didn’t do a good job since we only noticed him after being inside for awhile). Red Hook itself was very different at the time – the streets were deserted, and the shipyard was even more desolate. We wandered through the buildings in awe of their sheer size. The wind coming in off the harbor blew through broken windows and caused some construction netting to flap ferociously in the wind. High above, the birds chirped.
It was a fairly sad occasion. We didn’t have nearly enough time to see everything. This was one of the last large industrial properties in NYC, and it was about to disappear forever.
Postscript: 2008, and some ‘good ole days’ ranting
Just after the shipyard was bulldozed, a massive Ikea store was built on the land. While the store has arguably made Ikea plenty of money and brought a few low wage service jobs to Red Hook, the lost of the graving dock has actually substantially hurt shipping in the port:
Four years after the Bloomberg administration allowed IKEA to turn a historic dry dock in Red Hook into a parking lot, a new study has found that the city desperately needs at least seven new docks just like the one it gave up.
The city-commissioned study, conducted by SUNY Maritime College, urges the construction of seven new dry docks by 2016. Three must be “graving docks,” such as the paved-over one in Red Hook, which can accommodate larger ships.
Industry experts say it would cost about $1 billion just to replace the 730-foot-long former graving dock that was converted into part of a parking lot for the IKEA store, which opened Wednesday.
“I knew it was big mistake for the city to allow IKEA to take the graving dock, but I didn’t realize just how big of a mistake it was until I saw the report,” said Lisa Kersavage, a policy director for the Municipal Art Society, which had fought to save the dock.
The closure and loss of this shipyard also meant the loss of good manufacturing jobs, which were replaced by low wage retail jobs. It also should have been seen as a bigger warning for real estate and the sustainability of NYC on a whole. Today, the waterways of NYC are once again booming – with an ever expanding system of ferries. Just as we need auto shops, gas stations and bicycle repair shops, ship yards are important infrastructure. Not having it means anything that needs to be repaired has to be towed far away, or wait in line. If a few ferries go down at once, service will be disrupted rather severely.