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abandoned places

Archive for May 2013

Green Thumbing Through the Boyce Thompson Institute

Exterior_Boyce Thompson Institute_5899

The abandoned Boyce Thompson Institute in Yonkers.

In 1925, Dr. William Crocker spoke eloquently on the nature of botany: “The dependence of man upon plants is intimate and many sided.  No science is more fundamental to life and more immediately and multifariously practical than plant science.  We have here around us enough unsolved riddles to tax the best scientific genius for centuries to come.”

As the director of the Boyce Thompson Institute in Yonkers, Crocker was charged with leading teams of botanists, chemists, protozoologists, and entomologists in tackling the greatest mysteries of the botanical world, focusing on cures for plant diseases and tactics to increase agricultural yields.  The facility was opened in 1924 as the most well equipped botanical laboratory in the world, with a system of eight greenhouses and indoor facilities for “nature faking”—growing plants in artificial conditions with precise control over light, temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels.

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The sun sets on the greenhouses of the Boyce Thompson Institute.

The institution had been founded by Col. William Boyce Thompson, a wealthy mining mogul who became interested in the study of plants after witnessing starvation while being stationed in Russia, (although an alternate history claims he just loved his garden.)  Recognizing the rapid rate of population growth worldwide, he sought to establish a research facility with an eye toward increasing the world’s food supply, “to study why and how plants grow, why they languish or thrive, how their diseases may be conquered and how their development may be stimulated.”

By 1974, the Institute had gained an international reputation for its contributions to plant research, but was beginning to set its sights on a new building.  The location had originally been chosen due to its close proximity to Col. Thompson’s 67-room mansion Alder Manor, but property values had risen sharply as the area became widely developed.  Soaring air pollution in Yonkers enabled several important experiments at the institute, but hindered most.  With a dwindling endowment, the BTI moved to a new location at Cornell University in Ithaca, and continues to dedicate itself to quality research in plant science.

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Most of the interiors had a near-complete lack of architectural ornament, but the entryway was built to impress.

The city purchased the property in 1999 hoping to establish an alternative school, but ended up putting the site on the market instead.  A developer attempted to buy it in 2005 with plans to knock down the historic structures and build a wellness center, prompting a landmarking effort that was eventually shot down by the city council.  The developer ultimately backed out, and the buildings were once again allowed to decay.  Last November, the City of Yonkers issued a request for proposals for the site, favoring adaptive reuse of the existing facilities.  Paperwork is due in January.

Until then, the grounds achieve a kind of poetic symmetry in warmer months, when wild vegetation consumes the empty greenhouses, encroaching on the ruins of this venerable botanical institute…

-Will Ellis

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Ornate balusters made this staircase the most attractive area of the laboratory.

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A central oculus leads to this mysterious pen in the attic.

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This stone sphere had been the centerpiece of the back facade, until someone decided to push it down this staircase.  See its original location here.

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The city gave up on keeping the place secured long ago.

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The north wing had been gutted at some point.

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An interesting phenomenon in the basement–a population of feral cats had stockpiled decades worth of food containers left by well-meaning cat lovers.

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A view from the upstairs landing was mostly pastoral 75 years ago.

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The main building connects to a network of intricate greenhouses.

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The interiors were covered with shattered glass, but still enchanting.

For more abandoned places in Yonkers, check out the Glenwood Power Station:

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A Baseball Graveyard in Queens

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An overgrown overpass at Union Turnpike and Woodhaven Boulevard, part of the proposed Queensway project.

Abandoned for half a century, the old Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Railroad is stirring debate today as opposing visions for its future emerge.  Before it’s reactivated to serve beleaguered Queens commuters, or converted to the Queensway, (a linear park similar to Manhattan’s High Line), the track remains a 3.5 mile wilderness, with more than a few secrets scattered among the ruins.

At the northern edge of Forest Park, the rails terminate in a parking lot, where antiquated electrical towers have been adapted as streetlights.  Across the Union Turnpike, there’s a plot of land that may be the most obscure section of the Rockaway Branch, a triangular junction wedged between a dilapidated warehouse and a complex of baseball diamonds.  A well-trod path leading into the place quickly dissolves into a tangle of branches; the plant life is especially lush here, and difficult to navigate.

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A soggy mattress clogs a sunlit clearing, marking a recent habitation…

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…just a few paces from a chain link fence that separates a packed field of cheering little leaguers.

Standing in the shadows just beyond the diamond’s edge, you’re practically invisible, in a world between worlds, and right at your feet, dozens of baseballs bloom from the earth like mushrooms

This is the place the balls go where you can’t get them back, each a martyr and a monument to a home run that may have taken place decades ago or just this morning.  Stripped of their leather casing, the older specimens reveal a second skin of frayed cotton yarn. The most ancient are unrecognizable, corrupted to a truffle-like core of black, scabrous rubber. Together, they linger in a bizarre kind of afterlife, populating the century-old tracks of a forgotten railroad—when a place is left alone, the past piles up.

Check out the gallery below for an education in baseball construction, and decay…

-Will Ellis

For more on the Rockaway Beach Branch, click through for the full article:

The Rockaway Beach Branch, Queens' Forgotten Railroad

The Rockaway Beach Branch, Queens’ Forgotten Railroad

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