Keeler Notes: A concrete example of patriotism

The Great War had been raging in Europe for nearly three years, and Cass Gilbert had long been a vocal advocate for American intervention. His only son had already enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard. So it was no surprise that within hours of the United States entry in April 1917, the renowned architect telegraphed President Wilson to offer his services without profit for any buildings needed for the war effort.

The result was the design of the massive Brooklyn Army Terminal, a four million square-foot complex. Begun in March 1918 and completed in just 17 months, it was the world’s largest concrete building. The atrium train station alone measured 980 by 360 feet, with 52 acres of floor space.

Although Gilbert had an eclectic design vocabulary — neoclassical, Tudor, Gothic, Spanish Colonial — this utilitarian structure was an imposing and distinctive departure.

Through World War II, the Brooklyn terminal was the largest military supply base in the United States. By the time it was closed in the 1970s, more than three million soldiers (including Elvis) and 37 million tons of military supplies had passed through.

The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 (one year after the somewhat smaller Keeler Tavern Museum). Today, it is a commercial/industrial complex that houses dozens of corporate tenants.