Glens Falls, NY — The turret offers a great view of the nearby Adirondack Mountains, the weapons bunkers can serve as wine cellars and the cavernous gymnasium could be turned into the ultimate rec room.
Those are just some of the possibilities for the 38,000-square-foot Glens Falls Armory. Of course, the rehabilitation potential is a far cry from the structure’s original function as a munitions storehouse, military drill hall and last stand should war revisit America’s shores.
The 115-year-old fortresslike structure is one of several stone and brick state-owned armories up for sale in coming weeks as New York sheds some of these unique buildings in the name of modernization.
As the Army National Guard here and in other states continues to evolve into a 21st-century fighting force, units are ditching many of their older buildings — and the name armory — for more modern digs dubbed “readiness centers.” In New York, with the nation’s largest collection of the oldest and most architecturally significant armories, that means disposing of imposing structures.
The unit based at Glens Falls recently shifted to its new $11.5 million readiness center in a suburban industrial park.
The New York National Guard has 52 active armories, down from 70 a decade ago, most of them on the National Register of Historic Places. They include the Seventh Regiment Armory covering a Manhattan block and the castlelike Connecticut Street Armory in Buffalo. Some, like Glens Falls, were designed in a medieval military style by state architect Isaac Perry in the late 1800s. Others from the 1930s were designed in a more Gothic style by William Haugaard.
Nationwide, there are nearly 3,000 readiness centers, including armories of various ages, according to the National Guard Bureau based in Arlington, Va. In 2002, there were about 3,150. How many of the nation’s older armories are still being used by the guard units isn’t known, according to the bureau.
After a New York armory is decommissioned, it’s considered surplus state property and handed over to the state Office of General Services. The properties are first offered to local municipalities, but if there are no takers, OGS puts the armories on the auction block.
“In terms of age and architectural sophistication, the armories built in New York state between 1799 and 1941 compose the oldest, largest and best collection of pre-World War II era armories in the country,” according to “New York’s Historic Armories: An Illustrated History,” a 2006 book by Nancy Todd, a state architectural historian.
The culling of old armories comes as the National Guard’s troop strength in New York has fallen from about 20,000 to 10,400, even as the Army Guard’s overall troop strength has risen since 2006 to more than 358,000.
Turrets, dimly lit gyms and basement warrens of bunkerlike rooms are just some of the common features prospective buyers see during presale open houses in Glens Falls and other New York locations where armories are being sold.
At Rochester’s nearly 80,000-square-foot Culver Road armory, built during World War I, interested parties touring the property are told to stay together so they don’t get lost, said Chuck Sheifer, chief of OGS’ Bureau of Land Management.
While initial interest is usually high once a prospective buyer walks in the door, that enthusiasm can dim considerably once the tour is over, he said.
“It dawns on them: It’s a lot of area, it’s a big space and it’s going to take a lot of money to fulfill their vision,” Sheifer said.
The armories’ imposing architectural style was more than a fad when most were built, said Michael Aikey, director of the New York State Military Museum in the former armory in Saratoga Springs.
“They wanted to give you a sense of the power of the state,” Aikey said. “A lot of these were built during a fair amount of civil unrest.”
Despite their often massive size and design quirks — or because of them — many old armories have been converted to other uses. The armories in Ticonderoga and Malone are now community centers. The Hudson armory was turned into antiques center in the mid-1990s, while Tonawanda’s is home to a catering business. Albany’s Washington Avenue Armory is a concert and sports venue, and the former Clermont Armory in Brooklyn is an apartment complex. Armory Square, Syracuse’s downtown entertainment and dinning hub, is centered around a century-old armory that houses a science museum.
Elsewhere in the nation, armories have been converted into arts centers in West Palm Beach, Fla; Pasadena, Calif., and Duluth, Minn., while the armory in Portland, Maine was turned into a hotel.