//
abandoned places

Historic

This category contains 6 posts

A Last Look Inside a Demolished Staten Island Castle

ABANDONED NYC_Will Ellis_Smith Infirmary-1

In its final years, the Frost Memorial Tower of the old Smith Infirmary looked like the quintessential haunted house.

For 124 years, a castle with many names loomed over the quiet neighborhood of Thompkinsville, Staten Island. Perched on a six-acre hilltop covered in creeping vines, the striking red brick chateau could have been the backdrop of a fairy tale until thirty years of neglect made it the perfect setting for a Gothic horror. On an early March morning in 2012 while most of the island slept, wrecking balls converged at the Frost Memorial Tower of the old Samuel R. Smith Infirmary. In a matter of hours, the hospital was brought to the ground. Dozens gathered to watch her fall.

Smith Infirmary

The stately Infirmary in its youth.

ABANDONED NYC_Will Ellis_Smith Infirmary-7

In 2011, the weight of winter snow caused the roof of the building to cave in. The same year, Hurricane Irene caused further damage, dashing any hope of saving the structure.

Today, the rubble-strewn lot is a symbol of lost history and lost hope for members of the Preservation League of Staten Island and their supporters, whose passionate and repeated efforts to save the building did little to sway the resolve of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. City engineers who inspected the structure confirmed that the building was in a state of progressive collapse, and would have proven a hazard to firefighters entering the building in the event of a blaze.

ABANDONED NYC_Will Ellis_Smith Infirmary-3

Some elements were salvaged prior to demolition.

Named for a doctor who dedicated his life to the treatment of the poor, the Samuel R. Smith Infirmary was founded in 1863 as the borough’s first private hospital. Principally funded by lavish charity balls, the organization was the pet project of the borough’s high society, known as the “Pride of Staten Island.” By the turn of the twentieth century, the Infirmary had outgrown its former home, and the cornerstone was laid for a new building, named the Frost Memorial Tower in honor of the wealthy benefactor who had gifted the hilly plot of land. It was destined to become one of Staten Island’s stateliest buildings.

ABANDONED NYC_Will Ellis_Smith Infirmary-6

A band of sunlight illuminates a doorway to ghostly effect.

Though the Smith Infirmary was established for the poor, it soon opened its doors to the general public and was renamed Staten Island Hospital in 1916. Many notable actors, lawyers, and political figures were treated there, among more mysterious cases. In 1907, an Infirmary doctor was murdered by the husband of a former patient who had passed away during an operation. The damning evidence that led to the man’s execution is still visible in Cypress Hills Cemetery. On his wife’s grave is the following epitaph: “Revenge renews our happy love in heaven forever.”

ABANDONED NYC_Will Ellis_Smith Infirmary-2

This grand staircase was the interior’s most striking feature.

By 1974, the once-rural land surrounding the complex had become densely populated, leaving little room for expansion. At the time, one hundred patients were waiting daily for admission, and parking had become a serious problem. The campus was abandoned in 1979 when the hospital relocated to a new building on Seaview Avenue.

ABANDONED NYC_Will Ellis_Smith Infirmary-4

By the turn of the 21st century, the property had accrued millions of dollars in tax liens, falling into an irreversible state of disrepair.

In 1983, the Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to designate the Smith Infirmary’s signature building despite its architectural and historical significance. In what had become a rough neighborhood, the derelict hospital quickly gained a reputation for illicit activities, and landmark status was likely to hamper redevelopment. The land was targeted early on for a series of residential development schemes that never came to fruition. As the building deteriorated, the property became a hotbed of real estate fraud and a haven for the neighborhood homeless, but many held fond feelings for the structure—locals called it “the Castle.”

ABANDONED NYC_Will Ellis_Smith Infirmary-5

At the time the infirmary was built, corners were thought to harbor germs, so many hospital rooms were designed with circular walls.

Through 33 years of abandonment, the degraded walls, slumping ceilings, and precarious floors of the Infirmary were utterly devastated by the elements. The smell of mold and rot permeated the interior. Wind blustered through its second floor landing, causing boards and debris to smack and rattle at odd intervals. These were the dying breaths of a squandered architectural treasure. Rest in pieces, Staten Island Castle.

ABANDONED NYC_Will Ellis_Smith Infirmary-8

Where a ceiling had collapsed on the top floor, walls gave way to open sky amid a mass of broken beams.


 

But wait… There’s more! (Please excuse this brief sales pitch.)

 

Abandoned NYC, the book, is available for pre-order!

 

Abandoned NYC is packed with 150 full-color photographs of sixteen of New York’s most beautiful and mysterious abandoned spaces, including several you haven’t seen on the blog, along with new images and updated essays from many of your favorites. I’ve kept this quiet up until now and I’m so excited to share it with all of you!  Stay tuned for signings and events in February. :)

 

 

Free Print when you order through this link!

 


About these ads

Getting Lost on North Brother Island

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_06

A tuberculosis pavilion crowns the treetops of North Brother Island like an Aztec ruin.

Most New Yorkers have never heard of North Brother Island, but they should take comfort in the fact that new trees are growing and manmade things are going by the wayside just a stone’s throw from Rikers and a few miles from LaGuardia Airport. New York City’s abandoned island proves that as much as we think we have a handle on things, nature is never far behind. Just give it time.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_23

Many of the older structures are splitting at the seams, but there’s little hope or interest in preserving them.

In the case of North Brother Island, it took fifty years to transform a sparsely planted hospital campus to a bona fide wildlife sanctuary surging with fresh green life. Established as a city hospital for quarantinable diseases in 1885, it became a disreputable rehab center for adolescent drug addicts prior to its abandonment in the 1960s. To add to the intrigue, the island was the site of a catastrophic shipwreck and the residence of the notorious Typhoid Mary. (For a detailed history of Riverside Hospital, see Ian Ference’s thorough account over at the Kingston Lounge.) Today, opportunistic ivy floods the old lawns and races up the corners of the dormitories. Elsewhere, invasive kudzu—a Japanese import—holds at least an acre of land in its leafy grip. Few animals roam this untrodden landscape, with the exception of a handful of raccoons that took a dip in the East River and discovered the greenest place around.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_22

An airplane takes off from nearby LaGuardia airport with a gantry crane in view.

Even though it’s one of the least inhabited places in New York City, you can still find pathways on North Brother Island.  Parks employees and occasional visitors leave a network of rabbit trails on the forest floor, but they taper off on the south side, where a few ruins beckon you further into the weeds. I trudged through the brush for over an hour only to end up right back where I started, and it wouldn’t be the last time I was forced to admit defeat to the thorny wilds of Riverside Hospital. The island plays tricks on you, but it’s liberating to lose your way.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_12

Surrealism made doubly surreal in a patient mural.

In order to protect the habitat and visitors from harm, North Brother Island is permanently closed to the public, and strictly off-limits during nesting season. Frequently patrolled due to its vicinity to Rikers, it’s known as one of the most difficult places in New York City to get to, which makes it an object of equal frustration and fascination for urban explorers near and far. (I was lucky enough to accompany a photographer with a long relationship with the Parks Department and a buddy with a boat—one or both are pretty essential if you’re trying to get here.)

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_03

The largest and most intriguing book I’ve ever seen was filled with the most mundane details.

If you never make it to North Brother Island, take heart in the fact that it’s best appreciated from afar, where distance allows the imagination to fill in the obscured reaches beneath its canopy and populate the crumbling towers visible on its shore. An abandoned island is the most natural thing in the world to romanticize, but in the light of day, the enigma dissolves. As menacing as the old buildings may appear, they’re ultimately indifferent.

But at day’s end, the sun slips low on the horizon and the ruins of Riverside Hospital begin to gleam. Our boat departs just as the light approaches a kind of golden splendor before winking into darkness. Receding from view as you near Barretto Point at sunset, North Brother Island regains a bit of its mystery. Come to think of it, no one’s ever been permitted to go there after dark…

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_01

Green leaves and blue skies illuminate a crumbling auditorium with jewel tones.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_07

Inside the tuberculosis pavilion.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_08

Metal barricades in an isolation room kept residents from breaking the windows.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_09

Most of the hospital’s glass fixtures had been vandalized…

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_13

…but the island exhibits a near-complete lack of graffiti.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_15

A spiral staircase in the former Nurses’ Residence.

North Brother Island_Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_18

Walls were stripped to their skeletons in this dormitory.

No floors

A doorway holds steady in a collapsed section of the Nurses’ Home, where a few saplings have taken root.


 

But wait… There’s more! (Please excuse this brief sales pitch.)

 

Abandoned NYC, the book, is available for pre-order!

 

Abandoned NYC is packed with 150 full-color photographs of sixteen of New York’s most beautiful and mysterious abandoned spaces, including several you haven’t seen on the blog, along with new images and updated essays from many of your favorites. I’ve kept this quiet up until now and I’m so excited to share it with all of you!  Stay tuned for signings and events in February. :)

 

 

Free Print when you order through this link!

 


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.

Greenhouses_Boyce Thompson Institute_5893

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.

Entrance Hall_Boyce Thompson Institute_5808

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

Staircase_Boyce Thompston_5771

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

Attic Oculus_Boyce Thompson Institute_5789

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

Wrecking Ball_Boyce Thompson Institute_5835

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.

Ground Floor_Boyce Thompson Institute_5750

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

Gutted Room_Boyce Thompson Institute_5798

The north wing had been gutted at some point.

Basement_Boyce Thompson Institute_5819

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

Second Floor View_Boyce Thompson Institute_5804

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

Basement Steps_Boyce Thompson Institute_5876

The main building connects to a network of intricate greenhouses.

Reflecting Pool_Boyce Thompson Institute_5884

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


 

But wait… There’s more! (Please excuse this brief sales pitch.)

 

Abandoned NYC, the book, is available for pre-order!

 

Abandoned NYC is packed with 150 full-color photographs of sixteen of New York’s most beautiful and mysterious abandoned spaces, including several you haven’t seen on the blog, along with new images and updated essays from many of your favorites. I’ve kept this quiet up until now and I’m so excited to share it with all of you!  Stay tuned for signings and events in February. :)

 

 

Free Print when you order through this link!

 


The Trapps Mountain Hamlet, Backwoods Ghost Town

A night at the 87 Motel in New Paltz.

If you’re like me, city living can wear you down—sooner or later, you’re itching for the woods again.  The sleepy college town of New Paltz offers a cheap motel and a short proximity to Mohonk Preserve, 5,000 acres of hiking trails, swimming holes, and rock scrambles nestled deep in the ancient Palisades.  The world-worn hills of the Shawangunk Ridge evoke a pleasing sense of permanence to the weary New Yorker, it’s a lifetime away from the teeming avenues of Manhattan.  Time seems to stand still around here, but out in these tall timbers, the ruins of a 19th century ghost town hint at a lost way of life.

The area is known for its landmark luxury resort, the Mohonk Mountain House, which has been run by the same family since it opened in 1869.  True to its Quaker roots, the hotel originally banned liquor, dancing, and card playing; until 2006, it couldn’t claim a bar, and you still won’t find a TV or radio in any of the $700 a night lodgings.  It may sound old-fashioned, but it’s part of a tradition in these parts—since they were first settled in the late 1700s, things have always been behind the times.

The Fowler Burial Ground.

Before the age of mountain tourism, a small subsistence community lived off this land, growing what little food the thin, rocky soil could support, raising a handful of livestock, drinking from the Coxing and Peter’s Kills.  They scraped a living carving millstone out of native rock, shaving barrel hoops, and harvesting tree bark for leather tanning.  In the summer, women and children joined in harvesting huckleberries, a seasonal cash crop in wild abundance at the time.

With a peak population of forty or fifty families, the settlement included a hotel, a store, a chapel, and a one room schoolhouse.  Despite this progress, the population held to its old ways.  So hopelessly and wonderfully at odds with the changing values of the outside world, this oldfangled hamlet didn’t stand a chance.

Starting in the late 1800s, advances in technology gradually replaced the small trades of the Trapps.  Unable to sell their traditional wares, settlers found work in neighboring resorts, including the Mohonk Mountain House, building hotels and maintaining trails and carriage roads. In the late 20s, the construction of Route 44 created a short term boom in the town’s employment, but eventually led to its decline.

Many sold their property to resort owners and headed to nearby villages to find a better way of life, but one man called Eli Van Leuven stayed behind, living in a tiny plank house without running water or electricity until his death in 1956.

The Van Leuven Cabin has been lovingly restored, an unassuming monument to a largely forgotten community.  Aside from this, the humble industries of the two score families that resided here have left little to mark them but shallow depressions in the ground, rubble stacked in odd arrangements, and leaf-littered tombstones.  Only a settlement so bound to the earth could disappear so completely.

On the drive home, the first sighting of the Manhattan skyline elicits a kind of dull horror, signaling the inevitable return to a concrete-bound existence.  As I’m plunged back into the 21st century, the scene is at once overstimulating and shockingly mundane.  In that moment, I’d take an axe and a cool morning in a mountain hamlet over any day in the ad-plastered streets of midtown, but the daydreams invariably dissolve.  Out of habit, obligation, or common sense, I’ll forget the plank house for the brownstone, the Coxing Kill for the coffee shop, as the stony ruins of a mountain town blanket themselves in moss.

-Will Ellis

The Clearwater Ruins are some of the best preserved.

Former site of the Enderly House, most structures incorporated Native American techniques into their construction.

Unfinished work in the millstone quarry.

Path to the Van Leuven Cabin.

The fully restored cabin, constructed in 1889, is occasionally open for tour groups.

This road was built in large part by Trapps Hamlet residents.  Today, it glides through the heart of the ghost town.

Route 44, the road to ruins.

This boundary wall was used to delineate the property of Benjamin Fowler, who owned 150 acres for farming, livestock, and family use.

Many of Benjamin’s young children are buried in this forest plot. This grave for his son William is the earliest, dating to 1866.

The motel pond by night.

Stadium proportions of a New Paltz grocery, a far cry from the corner bodega.

At Split Rock swimming hole.

Bonticou Crag

Climbing to the top of Bonticou Crag.

In the nearby Minnewaska State Park, the Awosting Falls swells from a mid-August downpour.


 

But wait… There’s more! (Please excuse this brief sales pitch.)

 

Abandoned NYC, the book, is available for pre-order!

 

Abandoned NYC is packed with 150 full-color photographs of sixteen of New York’s most beautiful and mysterious abandoned spaces, including several you haven’t seen on the blog, along with new images and updated essays from many of your favorites. I’ve kept this quiet up until now and I’m so excited to share it with all of you!  Stay tuned for signings and events in February. :)

 

 

Free Print when you order through this link!

 


Inside Fort Totten: Part 1

Fort Totten

An abandoned battery at Fort Totten

Fort Totten sits on a far-flung peninsula of the Long Island Sound, forming the Northeast corner of Queens.  The grounds of this defunct military installation turned underfunded public park are home to over 100 historic buildings representing a series of changes that have taken place over the area’s quiet 200 year history.  Unfortunately, the majority of these stuctures have been disused for decades, and many are in a state of progressive collapse.  With so much of Fort Totten closed off with caution tape, overtaken with vines, or hidden beneath rusty fences, it makes for an unconventional park, but a fascinating place to wander.

An 1829 farmhouse predating the land’s military use crumbles behind a weedy barricade; out front, a prominent sign bears the inscription: “Please Excuse My Appearance, I am a Candidate for Historical Preservation.”  It’s an image that typifies the current state of affairs in the Fort Totten Historic District.

On the northern tip of Willet’s Point, a monumental granite fortification constructed during the Civil War as a key component of the defense of the New York Harbor sits unoccupied, though it’s used as a haunted house on occasion.  Clustered on the rest of the grounds, dozens of dilapidated Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne Style officers’ quarters, hospitals, bakeries, movie theatres, and laboratories vie for restoration, but so far the funding has failed to materialize.

Fort Totten

The Willet Farmhouse, Fort Totten’s oldest structure, and one of the most at risk.

One such building, a two-story YMCA facility built in 1926, has been abandoned for close to 20 years, but much of what’s left behind lies undisturbed.  On a bulletin board in an upstairs landing, a 1995 thank-you letter from a kindergarten class at PS 201 hangs by a crude depiction of Santa Claus, both lovingly dedicated to an Officer Rivera.  Steps away, in a rotting book room, an incongruous stash of 80s porno magazines.

Most recently used as a community relations unit of the New York City Police Department, the building is cluttered with mattresses, discarded packaging, and unopened toy donations.  The New York City Fire Department, which now operates training facilities in a renovation abutting the hospital building, currently uses the attached gymnasium as a storage space.  The basement was filled with rusted-through shelving and ruined equipment, flooded and too dark to shoot.

The Battery

An overgrown pit in a World War I battery.

On the other side of the peninsula, a series of concrete batteries sit half-submerged in plant life.  These were constructed at the turn of the century, but by 1938, they were declared obsolete and subsequently abandoned.  The boxy design looks like modern architecture to me, but the battery reveals its true age in other ways.

Pencil-thin stalactites ornament the ceiling wherever the rain gets in, suspended over a crank-operated machine designed to lift heavy weaponry a century ago.  The network of maze-like tunnels feature arched hallways with metal doors, winding staircases, and yawning pits, all fit for a dungeon.  Guards stationed at the fort were laid off in 2009, and it was unclear on my visit if the area was open to the public or not.  A rusty barrier, more hole than fence, didn’t keep out a couple of high school kids, but offered a spot for them to park their bikes.

When the military base changed hands in 2005 and became an official New York City Park, Bloomberg predicted that Fort Totten was “certain to become one of New York’s most popular parks.”  Some community members feared that the estimated 450,000 yearly visitors would disrupt parking, increase crime, and change the face of the neighborhood, but ten years later, tourism has yet to pose a problem.

Fort Totten hasn’t lived up to its potential just yet, but the progress that has been made gives hope for improvements to come.  The park now offers regular events and educational programs to draw visitors and enrich the surrounding community.  Several nonprofit groups have occupied and renovated the decrepit buildings, including the landmarked Officers’ Club, which now serves the Bayside Historical Society as an educational facility and exhibition and event space.  These are small but significant victories in the effort to save the historic legacy of a little-known plot that could be the crown jewel of Queens parkland.

(Though in some cases, it may be too little, too late.  One look inside the profoundly decayed Fort Totten Army Hospital, in Part 2 of this post, will assure you of that.)

-Will Ellis

Related Links:
Fort Totten

This obscure Queens park doubles as a ghost town.

YMCA Exterior

The YMCA building partially obscured by monstrous vegetation. On the left, a new renovation.

Inside Fort Totten

Inside, a rusty scale abandoned in the lobby.

Inside Fort Totten

An emptied snack bar once served concessions at sporting events and amateur theatre.

Inside Fort Totten

A community kitchenette still held pots, pans, and complete place settings.

Inside Fort Totten

A bulletin board on the second floor that hadn’t been updated in 17 years.

Inside Fort Totten

This room must have provided temporary housing to minors.  The floor was littered with clothing and old English projects.

Fort Totten

In the opposite corner, a derelict dollhouse. If I had been in the Twilight Zone, I’d have found a miniature me in there.

Inside Fort Totten

The remains of a rotting book room, which also housed a store of nudie magazines.

Inside Fort Totten

Through the library, a crumbling projection room overlooking the YMCA gymnatorium.

Inside Fort Totten

Daylight spills onto the practical planes of an underground battery.

Inside Fort Totten

Other areas had vaulted ceilings and arched double doors.

Inside Fort Totten

The interiors were almost completely empty, except for a dusting of dirt and leaf litter.

Inside Fort Totten

Some rooms held a few remnants…

Inside Fort Totten

Like this one: 100-year-old machinery in a dark Fort Totten nook.

Queens is quickly becoming my favorite borough.  Check out:
Fort Totten Army Hospital

Click through for Part Two: The Fort Totten Army Hospital

Inside The Domino Sugar Refinery

Inside the abandoned Domino Sugar Refinery's cavernous raw sugar warehouse.

Inside the abandoned Domino Sugar Refinery’s cavernous raw sugar warehouse.

Situated on an eleven-acre parcel of waterfront in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, the derelict Domino Sugar Refinery remains one of the most recognized monuments of Brooklyn’s rapidly disappearing industrial past. Now, after a decade of false starts, new plans for a modern, mixed use megacomplex may put an end to the decaying colossus that was once the largest refinery in the world, marking the final passage of a working-class Williamsburg.

In the late 19th century, Brooklyn was responsible for over half of the country’s sugar production, with Havemeyers & Elders Sugar Company leading the pack of over 20 major refineries that called the borough home. The factory’s signature building—a towering redbrick structure that still stands today—was constructed in 1884 to replace an older sugarhouse that had been destroyed in a catastrophic fire. Three years later, 17 of the largest sugar refiners in the U.S. merged to form the Sugar Refineries Co. Trust, later reorganized as the American Sugar Refining Co., and branded as Domino Sugar in 1902. Domino and its predecessors operated on the waterfront for a total of 148 years; at its peak, the site employed over 5,000 workers, capable of producing over three million pounds of processed sugar a day.

American Sugar Refinery

The American Sugar Refinery Processing House shown after its completion in the 1880s.

With the growing use of high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners came a steady decline in demand for old-fashioned cane sugar. Production at the Williamsburg plant ended in the early 2000s with partial packaging operations lingering until 2004. The non-profit Community Preservation Corporation purchased the Domino site the same year for $58 million. Their plan would preserve and renovate the central refinery building, landmarked in 2007, and raise a battalion of architecturally offensive residential high-rises in the footprint of the surrounding industrial complex, razing the Raw Sugar Warehouse, constructed in 1927, and the Packaging House, a 1962 addition, in the process.

New Domino Rendering

The old “New Domino” complex.

Two Trees teamed up with noted NYC firm SHoP Architects—the group is already leaving a lasting impression on the city landscape with the Barclay’s Center and the East River Esplanade.  Unveiled Friday, their monumental plans seem tailor-made to appease the new population of Williamsburg, without limiting profits.

The plan is similar in scope to the vision of the CPC, with several key improvements. The buildings rise higher—up to 60 stories—to allow for more park space, including a one-acre “Domino Square,” where builders envision film screenings and outdoor concerts. Some of the structures include open spaces and sky bridges, an innovative solution sought to preserve harbor views for the inland community. The landmarked refinery building would be preserved and converted to office space, and several pieces of machinery would be salvaged for inclusion in a public “artifact walk.” In the face of such monumental changes, this may be of some consolation to New York nostalgics.

The new rendering.

The new rendering.

Developers are working with the YMCA to establish a community space on the site, and are also proposing a new public school. Street level retail would favor independent business over chain store tenants. Two Trees also intends to deliver on the previous developer’s promise of 660 units of “affordable” housing, though the condition was never legally binding.

With all these benefits, Two Trees is attempting to pacify a community that is weary of change, and concerned for its future. The Domino development marks a clear and dramatic manifestation of a contentious transition that’s been taking place in Williamsburg for the last decade.  The area is well known today as an infamous haven for hipster youth, but 10 years ago the neighborhood was a quiet, working-class community of Jewish, eastern European, and Hispanic immigrants. Now, it won’t be long before the tattooed and the trendy are priced out, leaving room for only the wealthiest New Yorkers. Emerging across formerly affordable areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the familiar pattern is destined to change the face of our city.  Call it progress or gentrification. Praise the plans, or lament the loss, there’s no stopping the reckless growth of New York City.

Packaging Plant_Domino Sugar Refinery_3615_1080

Eerie interiors of the abandoned packaging plant.

 

In its final moments, the Domino Sugar Refinery slips further into a speedy decay, introducing an element of the exotic to an already unfamiliar environment. Some of the alien interiors are coated with shallow puddles of tar, or dark sugar byproducts rendered the consistency of glue, or apple crisp. Others take on the appearance of an Egyptian temple in the impenetrable darkness, with row upon row of columns supporting the chasm of a vacant warehouse. Tinged aquamarine, the peeling factory floors of the packaging plant might be confused for the barnacled mechanisms of a sunken ship.  The complex is unnervingly immense, presenting a seemingly endless series of floors connected by lightless, labyrinthine staircases. Alone in a factory that once employed thousands, up against its unfathomable depths, it felt like being in the belly of the whale—it didn’t take a miracle to get me out of there.

The next time you ride down the FDR or traverse the Williamsburg Bridge, take a good look at the sprawling industrial giant that was the Domino Sugar Refinery; it won’t be long before it’s preened and polished into the marketably modern new New Domino—another of the city’s rough edges, smoothed over in favor of gleaming glass.

Green Storage Cabinets_Domino Sugar Refinery_3608_1080

A storage room in the soon to be demolished packaging house.

Loading Bay_Domino Sugar Refinery_3535_1080

A dilapidated loading bay in the Domino Sugar Refinery.

Locker Room_Domino Sugar Refinery_3581_1080

This locker room looked like something out of a horror movie.

Locker_Domino Sugar Refinery

A smaller (women’s?) locker room.

Chute_Domino Sugar Refinery

Machinery in the colossal Raw Sugar Warehouse.

Eyewash_Domino Sugar Refinery_3507_1080

An eyewash station.

Factory Interior_Domino Sugar Refinery

The factory interior.

Packaging_Domino Sugar Refinery

Another view of the packaging plant.

Office_Domino Sugar Refinery_3527

An emptied office overlooking the East River.

Vacant Warehouse_Domino Sugar Refinery

This warehouse was pitch black to the naked eye.

Window Light_Domino Sugar Refinery

Evening light streaks through a painted window.

Handtruck_Domino Sugar Refinery_3524_1080

This handtruck might have sat untouched for a decade.

Packaging Plant Exterior_Domino Sugar Refinery_3613_1080

A view of the complex from the roof of the packaging plant.

Exterior_Domino Sugar Refinery_3520_1080

The landmarked refinery building as it stands today.


 

But wait… There’s more! (Please excuse this brief sales pitch.)

 

Abandoned NYC, the book, is now available for pre-order!

 

Abandoned NYC is packed with 150 full-color photographs of sixteen of New York’s most beautiful and mysterious abandoned spaces, including several you haven’t seen on the blog, with updated essays on the fascinating history behind these forgotten sites. I’ve kept this quiet up until now and I’m so excited to share it with all of you!  Stay tuned for signings and events in February. :)

 

 

Free Print when you order through this link!

 


Enter your email address to follow AbandonedNYC and receive new posts by email.

Twitter

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,753 other followers

%d bloggers like this: