Clermont Armory As Built In 1873

Funding for the Clermont Avenue Armory to house the 23rd Regiment of the National Guard, a veteran unit of the battle of Gettysburg, was appropriated in1871 in the amount of $160,000. The Armory was erected at the beginning of a wave of armory construction following the Civil War, as National Guard regiments sought impressive new armory buildings for regimental maneuvers, general club purposes, and as recognition of their service. One of the earliest state armories to be constructed in New York City, the Clermont Armory was designed by William R. Mundell in the French Second Empire style and built in 1872-73.

The building was an early example of the armory form that was to become common in the post-Civil War era -- a large vaulted drill hall with a "head house" facing the street* (Photo 1). The most notable surviving feature of the 1873 building was the drill hall. At 130 feet by 180 feet, it was at the time, the largest hall without pillars or obstructions in the United States** (Photos 2-3). Wrought iron trusses, 130 ft long, spanned the width of the drill hall. This wrought-iron balloon shed was among the earliest in America (possibly second only to that at the original Grand Central Terminal dating from 1869-71) and may be the oldest surviving example of this type of construction in the country. Use of this type of structure was, in general, limited to railroad stations and armories where wide spans were required. The wrought iron sections of the trusses were limited to 20 ft lengths and riveted together on site (an indication of the early date of this shed), and the trusses were braced with wood joists supporting a wooden roof with a monitor that lit the interior***.

Drill Hall As Photographed In 1996

In 1911, the building was extensively reconstructed. Architect Floyd Peterson added a new facade on Clermont Avenue in a Neo-Medieval style that typifies armory design of the early 20th century (Photos 4-5). The sandstone base of the original building was retained. In addition to the facade, the alteration entailed reconfiguration of portions of the interior, the addition of a third story to the administrative wing at the north side of the building, and construction of a partial basement. The 1911 alterations did not have an impact on the drill shed.

Drill Hall As Photographed In 1996

The building was in continuous use as an armory until it was transferred to the City of New York in 1964. The Armory was used by the city as a warehouse until 1986 when it was vacated due to deteriorated conditions as a result of lack of maintenance. In December of 1989 vandals, operating at nights and with a truck, entered the vacant and unsecured Armory and began stripping the entire building of any salvageable material. This included all the oak paneling from the regiment commander's room, fireplace mantles, and all remaining historic fabric. On the roof, all copper waterproofing, gutters and drains were ripped out for the scrap value of the copper. Thus the building became more vulnerable than ever to water penetration and damage. In 1995, the present development team purchased the Armory from the City of New York in a public auction. Needless to say, the building was in very bad physical condition. After a site visit by the New York State Office of Historic Preservation, it was determined that the Clermont Armory did not qualify for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and thus could not benefit from historic preservation tax incentives. The adaptive reuse of the Armory as a residential building brings the property into conformance with the zoning and character of the surrounding neighborhood and provides much needed housing. The courtyard retains three of the original trusses and parts of the original masonry walls, exposed to the sky, in an attempt to capture some of the historic character of the original Clermont Armory.


* Andrew Scott Dolkart, Architectural Historian

** NYS Division of Military & Naval Affairs, Office of Military History

*** Donald Friedman, P.E., Civil Engineer and Engineering Historian

Clermont Avenue Facade 1996

Vanderbilt Avenue Facade 1996

The Armory In Use Shortly After WWII

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