The repurposed drill hall. Breathtaking architecture. Breathtaking fitness options
“Mommy, what’s inside that castle?” my son asked once when we passed the Park Slope Armory.
I didn’t have much of an answer for him because I’d never been inside, but upon touring it this past week, I would now have an answer for him that goes on for days. A good portion of the 1895 arms depot and soldier training center was converted in 2010 to be a YMCA-run community facility that offers a dizzying array of activities focused on sport and the arts. The fitness offerings span from Boot Camp to Zumba and the cultural line-up ranges from toddler drawing to tween cartooning to grown-up guitar. There are also family nights, citizenship courses, school programs, camps and . . . the list goes on to fill a 50+-page brochure available at the information desk.
Ready. Aim. Inspire. Art replaces rifles in the original gun cabinets
Thanks to a thoughtful restoration, all this modern activity comes surrounded with wonderful historical and architectural details. The 1/8th mile track, basketball and multi-sport courts and a ping-pong parlor share the former drill hall and benefit from the soaring ceiling, over-sized windows and the original clock that timed soldiers’ maneuvers. The display cases that now hold kiddo and adult artwork are repurposed gun cabinets. And the tin-ceilinged, wood-floored hallways where discipline once reigned now channel hundreds of mostly little feet on their way to classes.
And I mean hundreds in a good, not over-crowded way. The YMCA team invented a “ticket” system for more popular classes like toddler art programs that allow up to 200 families to participate in a 2-hour class. It works like this: prior to a class, tickets are handed out on first-come, first serve basis. But, when a two year-old loses interest after 20 minutes or a three year-old absolutely must, MUST switch to soccer, they have to hand their ticket back in as they leave, allowing new kids to join in the class. The turn over is efficient enough to give most every little boy or girl time to create a masterpiece within his or her attention span.
Family art room featuring works of collage, paint, chalk, and pasta a la Jackson Pollac
As much as the course offerings impressed me, I was really struck by the amount of space and time the Armory devotes to free play. Especially with a winter like this one, just having room and time to do what you want is often in short supply. Every weekday from 2-8 at least one of the courts in the drill hall is open for families to come and run around, throw a ball, do somersaults, etc. The ping pong tables are also open for use, just be ready for some stiff competition as some members are raising their game by bringing their own high-performance paddles. Yup, even ping-pong has a gear hierarchy.
Of course, sometimes you don’t want family time—you want grown-up time. The Armory facilitates that with a Child Watch, a supervised, toy-filled room where you can reserve a spot for your tot for up to two hours at a time. Unlike some gyms that devote a corner to baby-sitting, the Armory Child Watch room was big, brightly lit, and extraordinarily clean. The two adults on duty were actively playing with the kids, who on my visit looked to range from about 1 to 4 years old. They do accommodate kids from 6 months through age 7.
So, how do you get in on the action here? This is another long answer as they are nearly as many ways to join the Armory as there are things to do there. Membership at the Armory grants you access to all the facilities, free fitness classes, free childcare, and significant discounts on art classes. You can also opt to join the Armory and the Prospect Park YMCA to take advantage of the latter facility’s pool and locker room (day lockers are provided at the Armory separate from a changing area that doesn’t include showers.) You can also just opt to take the arts and activity classes, paying a higher—though still quite reasonable—non-member fee.
If you really are interested in joining, I recommend going in person. I don’t think the Armory website does the best job of communicating all the offerings—too many separate class and court schedule pages, too many clicks to toggle between them—nor does it really capture the breathtaking beauty and size of the drill hall, the excitement of the kids running between classrooms, or the community feel I got as my tour guide, Family Programs Director Sandy Phillips, greeted every child she passed by name and with a big hug.