VÉHICULE Presents: Fort Apache Marina

VÉHICULE Presents: Fort Apache Marina

Fort Apache Marina was Thunderboat Row's legendary high-rise boat storage facility and waterfront bar and restaurant. Founded by Ben Kramer and his father Jack in the early '80s, it was the crown jewel of an otherwise industrial 188th Street. 

VÉHICULE was entrusted with this dispatch from a manager who operated Fort Apache in the post-Ben Kramer years.

“In 1995, I found myself in the position of general manager of the most notorious high-performance marina in the country. It was an amazing place—just walking around the marina, I could feel the history that was made there. Everything that went on there was present.

If I were to tell anyone about Fort Apache, I would have to start with the fact that the place was true to its name. It was, no doubt, built to be a fortress.

Like any good fortress, there were secrets. For example, there was a secret helicopter hangar underneath the boat storage racks that we had behind the restaurant. It took less than ten minutes to pull the helicopter out between the buildings, unfold the rotors and get into the air. Also enabling a quick escape was the secret elevator and system of hallways. These were above the restaurant and behind the brokerage offices.

And it was a lavish fortress. There was an area above the restaurant that was nearly all glass, which was Kramer’s office. This gave him a perfect view of the entire place. Leading up to that office was an enclosed hallway connected to a lobby area. That lobby had a beautiful reception desk and a giant wooden Indian statue with carved feathers running from head to toe. It had to be ten feet tall and weigh about a ton. I would be very interested to know what ended up happening with that thing.

On the right side of that hallway were smaller offices, I think there were three of them. We used them as sales offices when I was there.

Something that was pointed out to me when I was first hired was that I should be careful up in those offices.The doors to those offices were over two inches thick and had five hinges. If anyone caught their fingers in those doors, they would for sure lose them. I gathered that whatever may happen in those offices could not and should not be heard on the other side.Those offices all shared a rear hallway. This shared hallway had a private elevator that would take you to the parking lot on the east side of the building. Next to those parking lots was the Apache factory, so the back entrance would make coming and going a quiet affair.

Next to the dock area where the big forklifts put boats in the water, there was a larger pit where a travel lift would be used to take very big boats out of the water. If you were in a boat and pulled it into the pit when the tide was low (like it would be in the middle of the night…), the walls of the pit were high enough to hide the boat from view if you were standing on the surface above.

One afternoon I was returning from water-testing a boat that had been in for service work. When I pulled back in, I saw that all the dock space was taken. So I pulled the boat into the pit to tie it up until a dock was open, and from there I could pull the boat out with the forklift. When I pulled into the pit and began to look around, I noticed how there were these long, vertical strips of wood running from the top of the pit down into the water.

I had never seen anything like this before. Most marinas would just have bare walls. Sometimes they were painted, and sometimes they were just bare concrete. To me, the wood seemed like it was just there for decoration and not for any structural purpose. Knowing the Fort though, I was curious.

Upon closer inspection, I noticed that some of the wooden pieces had horizontal cuts in them. I started to push on them and noticed that these cut pieces had some give to them. My curiosity grew and I pulled. It turns out that the panel was actually a metal door camouflaged by wood. The metal door opened up to reveal a huge metal compartment. There were somewhere between six and eight of these camouflaged doors and compartments.

As far as I could tell, these compartments were there so that you could pull your boat up at low tide under the cover of darkness and unload your cargo into these hidden rooms. These rooms would have had no place at a marina, so I can only imagine that the Fort was much more than just a marina.”

Read more about Ben Kramer and his friends in VÉHICULE.

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