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Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Armories of New York

photo of the 69th Regiment by wallyg on flickr
As we mentioned in our blog post last week, this past Sunday was the centennial of the 1913 Armory show, an important moment in the history of modern art. The exhibit--officially titled the International Exhibition of Modern Art--is known as the Armory show because it was housed in the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue, an imposing Beaux-Arts fortress that had been completed just seven years earlier.

Walking the streets of New York, you are liable to come upon many such military structures; some, like the 69th Regiment, are still operating as National Guard posts. Others, including the famous arsenal in Central Park, have long since been decommissioned. Why does the city have such a proliferation of these buildings?

One answer is that before the Civil War, it was up to each town and city to provide for the nation's common defense. Volunteer militia companies were the backbone of the country's armed forces, and these militias required space to house munitions, drill, and fraternize. The most famous of the militias in New York was the Seventh Regiment, also known as the "Silk Stocking" regiment.

As we write in Inside the Apple:
First known as the Eleventh Regiment, it guarded New York harbor during [the War of 1812]. During the Marquis de Lafayette's farewell tour of America, the regiment acted as his honor guard and gave itself the name National Guard after Lafayette's Garde Nationale in Paris. When militia companies were reorganized later in the 19th century, this idea of having a National Guard stuck....
In 1880, the Seventh Regiment opened its new headquarters on Park Avenue. Designed by one of its own veterans, Charles Clinton, the massive structure...takes up the entire block between Park and Lexington avenues. The rear section was a drill hall--at the time, the largest interior drilling space ever created, spanned by a tremendous 300-foot barrel vault--and the front was three stories of meeting rooms for the various regimental companies.... Of particular note are the Veterans' Room and Library on the main floor, which were done by Louis Comfort Tiffany's Associated Artists, and remain today the most complete Tiffany interiors.
In 1884, recognizing the dearth of suitable drilling space for New York's military companies, an Armory Board of the City of New York was established with the purpose of building or renovating existing drill halls. Over the next forty years, armories proliferated around the city.

When the 69th Regiment opened in 1906, designed by the firm Hunt & Hunt, it was unique in its contemporary (though classically inspired) Beaux-Arts styling; most other armories tried to convey their function through the use of faux-Medieval architectural detail. Along with the Seventh Regiment (today known as the Park Avenue Armory), it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, both for its role in the 1913 Armory Show and for being home to the "Fighting 69th," New York's famous Irish regiment, one of the first to volunteer for action in the Civil War.

Other famous armories around the city from this period include 94th Street armory (parts of which were integrated into the design of Hunter College High School), the First Battery armory, which became ABC television's first studio building, and the Fort Washington Armory at 168th Street, now a track and field center.

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Read more about aresenals and armories in NYC in 

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