The Battle Of Satmar’s Armories
This year’s 67th annual 21 Kislev celebration of the miraculous Holocaust rescue of Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, zt”l (1886-1979), founding Satmar Rebbe and author of Divrei Yoel, will be celebrated all over the world on Motzaei Shabbos Vayeshev, December 17. On that day in history, Thursday, December 4, 1944, the Satmar Rebbe was aboard a train that crossed the border into Switzerland and to freedom. The deliverance was made possible by Dr. Rudolf Kastner, who bribed the Nazis and thus saved 1,685 Jewish souls.
Throughout the years the 21 Kislev event was always a unifying occasion as Satmar chassidim from around the world sat together and held hands singing and dancing. However, with Satmar currently divided, two separate celebrations are held. Each half of Satmar is led by a son of the Beirach Moshe and represents an independent network of communities, shuls, yeshivas, girls’ schools, meat stores, matzah bakeries, and cemeteries throughout the world.
The followers of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe and oldest son of the Beirach Moshe, will be conducting their central 21 Kislev event at the New York State National Guard Armory. The followers of Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe and third son of the Beirach Moshe, will be marking the event at The Williamsburg Marcy Armory.
National Guard (Troop C) Armory
Last year’s event was held at the Pulaski Port Complex, near the Pulaski Bridge, not far from Williamsburg. The Pulaski Complex proved too small for the huge gathering, forcing the search for a larger facility. The New York State National Guard Troop C Armory represents an additional 2,000 seats to help accommodate the tens of thousands of Satmar chassidim who will join Rabbi Aaron in the special celebration.
The facility, at 1579 Bedford Avenue between Union and President Streets, was built between 1903 until 1907. It was designed by the renowned architects Pilcher and Tachau, who also designed the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx as well as the Jewett House of Vassar College. Interestingly, the National Guard/Troop C Armory building is not yet landmarked. Presently, offices at the facility provide military support services, military food service, military customer service, military legal services and military employment services.
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. The special needs of a horse and equipment unit necessitated some of the important differences between the Troop C armory and many of the others in Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods. Troop C was established in 1895, saw action in the Spanish American War in 1888, and became part of the 101st Cavalry in 1921.
Lewis Pilcher, one of the armory’s architects, was a Columbia University graduate. He became a professor of art at Vassar College, and later served as an architect for the state of New York. While at Vassar, he designed Jewett House in 1907, a large dormitory building that actually resembles an armory.
The Troop C Armory was one of the first of its kind to emphasize structural and engineering components as much as more decorative and stylistic features. The enormous space used for drilling soldiers 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’s design and space primarily served for drilling cavalry soldiers and their horses.
The armory, in addition to the usual component of administration and dormitory 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, horse-drawn equipment was replaced by tanks and trucks. The tanks became familiar sights at parades and training exercises when tanks actually rolled down Bedford Avenue often. There is still a National Guard unit here, and now Hummers have replaced tanks.
In addition to the National Guard, the building has been used for many other functions. The building’s facilities have served as community rooms used by local communities, including Lubavitch. In February 2001, the International Conference of Shluchos held its 23rd International Kinus-Conference Gala Banquet at the Armory, attended by more than 3,000 Lubavitcher women.
Williamsburg Marcy Armory The booking of the Williamsburg Marcy Armory by Rabbi Zalman Leib’s followers is considered a triumph. Many major Satmar events were held at the Marcy Armory, beginning with the 21 Kislev commemoration in 1978, when the celebration included the Divrei Yoel, and again in 1979, the last celebration in which the Divrei Yoel participated before his passing on 26 Av (August 19), 1979. The 1978 celebration included the establishment of Keren Hatzolah, the fund-raising organization that finances yeshivas that do not accept any monies from the Israeli government.
During the 1980s and the 90s, the Marcy Armory was the venue for many of Satmar’s major events. From 1987 through 1997, every 21 Kislev event was held there. In addition, the 10th (1988) and the 20th (1998) anniversaries of Keren Hatzolah were celebrated there. The last Satmar event at the Marcy Armory was the marriage of the granddaughter of the Beirach Moshe, daughter of Rabbi Zalman Leib, on Sunday, December 8, 2002.
The Marcy Avenue Armory is also known as the 47th Regiment Armory. Located at 355 Marcy Avenue, it occupies the entire block bounded by Harrison and Marcy Avenues and Heyward and Lynch Streets. The site was formerly called Union Grounds and served as a professional baseball field. It is also the site where many chassidishe weddings and formal affairs were held regularly.
The Marcy Avenue Armory was designed by William Mundell. The Armory resembles late medieval/early Renaissance military architecture in its symmetry and almost classical design and decoration. The original use for the armory was for the National Guard. Its present use, almost 120 years later, remains the same.
The facility consists of a three-story administration building with an attached two-story drill shed, both of which were designed by Mundell and completed in 1883 and 1899 respectively. The 1883 armory, similar to the 7th Regiment Armory in Manhattan, features a rectangular, castellated style with crenellated parapets, a corbelled brick cornice, and square (canted) battlemented corner towers. It is built of load-bearing brick walls (with limestone trim) resting on a raised, rusticated stone foundation, all of which enable fighting enemies that would be attacking the armory.
Symmetrical in form and fenestration (which means the design and positioning of windows and other exterior openings of a building), the 1883 administration building is distinguished by a four-story entrance tower and two, four-story corner towers.
The 1899 drill shed is fortress-like in character with round entrance and corner towers with machicolated cornices, from which there is an ability to drop heavy items on enemies underneath, and crenellated parapets, wide brick buttresses, battered brick walls with very few windows, and massive rusticated sally ports.
The focal point of the second story of the administration building is the Colonel’s Suite, which features elaborate stained-glass doors, sidelights and transom lights, paneled mahogany wainscoting, pressed tin ceilings and paired Ionic columns framing a large display case.
The Armory has several underground levels and was built for use in battle situations. Underground, the Armory is attached to the Brooklyn Navy Yard by a 1.3-mile tunnel. Sips docked at the Navy Yard and unloaded their cargo directly onto the tunnel. Large cargo included tanks, which were driven through the large tunnel to the armory. Through the years the tunnel has weakened because of disuse. However, an underground level immediately above the tunnel is in excellent, usable condition and contains many military and historical artifacts, some more than one hundred years old. The tunnel, with minimal renovation, can be brought back into use if necessary.
After World War II, many armories were demolished or sold. Currently, only ten remain as active headquarters for various units of the National Guard in New York City. The last armory constructed in the city was a replacement of the 42nd Division’s headquarters on 14th Street in Manhattan, built in 1971. The Marcy Avenue Armory was determined to be eligible for addition to the Historical Register in June 1991, but formal application has not been made.
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