Storming The Armory

Knickerbocker Greys cadets returned to the Park Avenue Armory equipped with support from CB8 — and despite a looming eviction deadline

| 26 May 2022 | 02:03

After school let out on Tuesday, a group of kids and parents trickled into the Park Avenue Armory. They entered through the building’s large double set of doors, stopping short of a cavernous drill hall to make their way downstairs, into the dimly-lit basement.

It was the Knickerbocker Greys cadets’ first time back in the Armory since 2020, when they’d initially been sent packing amid pandemic precautions. Then, the Park Avenue Armory Conservancy, an arts organization that hosts events and performances in the building, told the group there’d be no coming back. The kids’ most recent visit was, in a sense, clandestine.

“We decided, today’s the day,” Adrienne Rogatnick, Knickerbocker Greys’ board president, told Our Town.

That evening, staff at the Armory’s entrance told at least a few Knickerbocker Greys members that they wouldn’t be permitted in the building; the public was prohibited, per instruction from Conservancy Founding President Rebecca Robertson, whom a guard said was not present. Other arts events were scheduled for the evening.

But aside from a rocky start, and with the aid of Colonel David Menegon, the drill practice went off without much of a hitch. The week prior, the Greys scored a major win of formal support from Community Board 8, which voted during a full-board meeting to stand with the after school group — though its battle has yet to come to a decisive end.

Up In Arms

Knickerbocker Greys’ leadership has fought to maintain its home of 120 years in the Upper East Side Armory building since last winter. In mid-March, Rogatnick wrote a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul, pleading for help negotiating a way to stay, threatened by a call from the Conservatory indicating the group would be “evicted,” in Rogatnick’s words, come June 1 to make space for a “coat check room.”

Then came an outpouring of support from local politicians: Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, NYS Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, State Senator Liz Krueger and Council Member Julie Menin all expressed concern, writing letters to the Conservancy and to Hochul.

Eventually, in April, the Greys brought their plea to the local community board before a record-breaking crowd. On May 18, CB8 passed a resolution backing the Greys, recommending that “official documentation” be drawn up so that the group could remain in the Armory — potentially via a lease with the state. The resolution, which CB8 sent to Hochul in a letter on Wednesday, also recommended that “the Conservancy should be denied funding from New York City and New York State if the Greys are not permitted to use the Armory for their headquarters, classes, and events.”

“It’s important for us to add our voice, on behalf of the community, to say that the community is united in support of the Greys, that the community wants the Greys to be able to stay in the Armory,” Russell Squire, chair of CB8, told Our Town. He added that moving forward, the community board will “see how the situation develops” — and will continue advocating for the Greys.

There’s been no direct communication from the Conservancy regarding how to proceed, according to Rogatnick, aside from the initial call that the Greys would be forced to vacate, now in a matter of days.

Back In Action

This week, the Greys’ tight basement space in the Armory was aflutter. Small kids tried on uniforms over 100 years old for size; adults chatted about their interactions with and impressions of the Conversancy, or about how much of an impact the Greys had made on their children’s ability to socialize and stick to a routine.

“I get to stay with all my friends,” Anna Pike said of finally returning to the Armory. Pike, now nine years old, joined the Knickerbocker Greys at the age of six. It’s a tradition that runs in the family; her father was also a Greys cadet as a child.

After getting dressed and ready, the Greys cadets filed out a side exit and headed to Central Park. They’d hold their drill practice outside, since the building didn’t have sufficient space available. “It feels great, finally being back in our old space,” said Nico Cox Lewis, a ten-year-old cadet who started with the Greys five years ago. “This is our home.”

For nine-year-old Anthony Brewster, who joined the Greys during the pandemic, it was a first to be in the group’s Armory space. “It feels confusing because I’ve never been here,” he said. “I think it’s pretty good, for a basement.”

“It’s important for us to add our voice, on behalf of the community, to say that the community is united in support of the Greys, that the community wants the Greys to be able to stay in the Armory.” Russell Squire, chair of CB8