FORT TOTTEN, the northeastern tip of Bayside, with a garrison of nine hundred enlisted men and officers, is headquarters of the Sixty-second Coast Artillery and of New York’s harbor eastern defense system. (Visitors admitted 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) Its mobile anti-aircraft batteries are among the most modern of their kind. Built in 1862 as a military post known as Willett’s Point, it was converted into a coast artillery fort in 1901 and given its present name.
The fort is situated at the confluence of the east River, Long Island Sound, and Little Neck Bay, and commands an excellent view of the Bronx and the site of old Fort Schuyler’s at Throg’s Neck. In seasonable weather the troops parade on Friday afternoons.
—New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)
Fort Totten in Bayside, Queens was at one time a fort meant to protect the New York Harbor, built to withstand battle or attack. Today it is a strange combination of a maintained city park and a rare glimpse of urban decay in a city that usually has no space to allow for such emptiness. Parts of it are well kept, groomed and meant for families to picnic on lawns, fly kites or kick soccer balls. Beautifully maintained buildings built in the mid to late 1800s now house several NYPD offices and headquarters, while one falling-down chain-link fence over is a whole other world of abandonment.
The structures in these areas are incredibly overrun with mosses, plants and in some cases whole trees growing out of the cement roof of a sprawling, dripping, once-solid military fort. The only attack this fort fights now is the natural growth taking it over, covering deep wells that once held cannons and walls that once housed ammunition. Views from the top of one structure towards another are filled with trees where once they were clear and functional. It is an amazing juxtaposition, seeing something meant for war now so silent and still and it’s truly a rare find in New York City.