abandoned places

Abandoned Building

This tag is associated with 5 posts

Inside Rockland Psychiatric Center


An abandoned section of the former Rockland State Hospital, now known as Rockland Psychiatric Center.

In 1923, the New York state legislature passed a $50 million bond issue for the construction of new mental hospitals. After a disastrous fire at Ward’s Island in 1924, “where scores of mentally afflicted…were burned to death,” $11 million was set aside for a new campus designed specifically to relieve overcrowding at institutions in New York City.  The town of Orangeburg, NY was chosen for its proximity to the five boroughs, picturesque surroundings, and “salubrious climate.”


The hospital once housed 9,000 people, including patients and staff.

With funding in place, the construction of the Rockland State Hospital for the Insane moved forward at a staggering pace. Townspeople looked on as the monstrous institution swallowed up tract after tract of farms, houses, and undeveloped land. As patients flooded into the new buildings by the thousands, escapes became a regular occurrence.  The “potential menace” of this “new and formidable population of undesirable outsiders” was a cause of great concern for locals.  Infrequent but grisly murders in the vicinity of the hospital were attributed to “mentally disturbed” escapees. But the real horrors were occurring on the inside, as many of Orangeburg’s citizens could personally attest to–the institution was one of the largest job providers in the county.


Chipped plaster, masonry, paint, and wallpaper fill a water basin.

The real trouble started during World War II, when lucrative war industry jobs lured much of the staff away and a large number of Rockland’s male attendants left to join the armed forces. As the population soared to nearly 9,000, patient-to-staff ratios plummeted.  “The work is hard, disagreeable and frequently dangerous, and the hospital has found it next to impossible to recruit employees.” New hires during this period were often untrained and unqualified. From a 1940s Times article: “An employment bureau in New York City sent a number of applicants here, but most of them were found to be suffering from arthritis, cardiac ailments or “unnatural” temperament and had to be sent home. ‘Some of them should be patients,’ Dr. Blaisdell said.”


A stash of nudie magazines hidden long ago in the basement of a kitchen area.

Like most all institutions operating during this period, the overcrowding and lack of effective treatment led to systemic abuse and negligence.  Until the development of antipsychotic drugs in the 1960s, shock therapy and lobotomy were the only treatment methods available for severe cases of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. As the century progressed and the new drugs became readily available, most patients were able to live independently outside of the asylum system. Since the 1970s, Rockland Psychiatric Center (as it is now known) has predominantly been used as an outpatient facility. By 1999 it housed less than 600 patients.  Several new facilities were constructed in more recent years for outpatient care, but vast expanses of the 600 acre campus are entirely empty.  


Mattresses piled up in a dayroom.

Today, a grid of overgrown streets divides a vast configuration of maze-like buildings known only by number.  These were separate wards for men, women, children, and other subsets of the population like the infirm, the violent, and the criminally insane. Others were workshops, auditoriums, power plants, administration buildings, staff housing… the list goes on and on.

Exploring the buildings can be confusing and perilous.  One ward’s heavy wooden doors had the nasty habit of slamming shut and refusing to open again, which can be a serious situation when there’s only one or two ways out. My solution was a series of improvised doorstops–beer cans, scraps of debris, whatever I could get my hands on–which doubled as a trail of breadcrumbs to give me a reasonable hope of finding my way out again.

One of Rockland’s most interesting features is the old four lane bowling alley.  It’s a heavily trafficked area full of tempting props.  Pins, balls, shoes, and trophies have been endlessly moved around, manipulated, and arranged into perfect triangles in the middle of the lanes. While I don’t blame fellow photographers for this sort of thing, it can be disappointing to walk into something that looks more like a stage set than a wild, unpredictable ruin.  I’ll take that over the mindless graffiti–some if which I removed with a little Photoshop magic in the images below.

Despite all the modern mischief making, the bowling alley represents the best intentions of the institution to provide quality of life to patients who spent their lives at Rockland.  These lanes must have been a welcome distraction from the monotony of asylum living.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the Rockland Children’s Hospital, which features an impressive collection of WPA murals.


A well-preserved bowling alley was located on the ground floor of a recreation building.


Blank score sheets could be found behind the ball return.


The AMF bowling equipment may date back to the 60s or 70s.


Bowling balls pile up at the end of the lanes from previous visitors.


Compared to the bowling balls, the pins were scarce.  Many had been stolen over the years.


Wood shelving used for bowling shoes, once arranged by size.


Trophies for male and female bowlers.

A Wintry Return to the St. Nicholas Coal Breaker

The St. Nicholas Coal Breaker, mid-demolition

The St. Nicholas Coal Breaker, mid-demolition

The Pennsylvania coal region was once dominated by 300 breakers–mammoth factories that crushed and cleaned raw coal into the consumable commodity that fueled the Industrial Revolution. Today, a few modern plants meet the drastically reduced demand for the stuff. Of the old glory days when coal was king, only St. Nicholas remains.

The structure once held the distinction of being the largest coal breaker in the world, and its sheer size must have played a part in staving off the wrecking ball for the last 50 years. But according to the president of Reading Anthracite, the building’s owner, the place has become an “eyesore and a liability,” and its total demolition is imminent. A state-funded study to determine the cost of transforming the ruins into a historical attraction came up with a figure in the tens of millions.

With exterior walls removed, skeletal views of the plant's interior come to light.

With exterior walls removed, skeletal views of the plant’s interior come to light.

The demolition won’t happen in one cataclysmic, cathartic crash. Rather, the breaker is being dismantled piece by piece, and mined for valuable scrap metal along the way. The process is expected to last into next year, having been underway since Fall 2014. With a bit more of it gone every day, visitation has picked up as folks have poured into the region for one last look. Security positioned outside aim to ensure they respect the No Trespassing signs.

I took my “one last look” in February on a day that was way too cold to spend in an abandoned factory. Much of the metal siding had already been removed, opening up dollhouse views of the interior. Inside, light poured into corners that had been pitch black before. Elsewhere, panoramas of the surrounding landscape spread wall to wall and floor to ceiling.   

After 50 years of abandonment, the old St. Nicholas Coal Breaker still inspires awe and commands respect.  The interior of the breaker is noticeably free of graffiti. Visitors have stuck to more temporary means of commemorating their presence, tracing initials in the grime of a dusty control panel or chalking them up on a blackboard, avoiding outright acts of vandalism out of reverence for the building. It’s impressive not only for its physical size and beauty of design, but for the time and place in American history that it represents, a coal industry that employed 180,000 workers and enabled a young country to rise to the forefront of the industrialized nations.  As St. Nick falls, little remains to tether that heritage to the here and now.

Otherworldly views of the frozen coal fields outside the breaker.

Otherworldly views of the frozen coal fields outside the breaker.

Coal dust mingles with snow drifts where the structure is open to the elements.

Coal dust mingles with snow drifts where the structure is open to the elements.

Names scrawled in a dusty control panel.

Names scrawled in a dusty control panel.

Abandoned cemetery in the woods.88 control room in the upper reaches of the breaker.

A control room in the upper reaches of the breaker.

Empty shelves in a maintenance room.

Empty shelves in a maintenance room.

Enormous wooden molds for replacement parts litter this floor.

Enormous wooden molds for replacement parts littered this floor.

St Nicholas Coal Breaker Demolition Will Ellis Abandoned NYC-7

Construction vehicles stalled in the snow, seen through an upper floor of the breaker.

The conveyor, where raw coal began its journey through the breaker's machinery.

The conveyor, where raw coal began its journey through the breaker’s machinery.

Salvaged machinery strewn about the rear of the breaker.

Machinery salvaged from the breaker prior to demolition.

For more history on the St. Nicholas Coal Breaker, see the original post:

St. Nicholas Coal Breaker

The St. Nicholas Coal Breaker, pictured in April 2014.

The Sea View Children’s Hospital

Forested views from a lower floor day room at Seaview Children's Hospital.

Forested views from a lower floor day room at Sea View Children’s Hospital.

At the turn of the twentieth century, tuberculosis was the second leading cause of death in the city and a major world health concern known to disproportionately affect the urban poor. In New York City, two-thirds of the 30,000 afflicted were dependent on city agencies for treatment. Growing concern from charitable organizations spurred the establishment of New York’s first public hospital designed exclusively to treat tuberculosis, care for the “sick, poor, and friendless,” and keep the epidemic under some measure of control by isolating sufferers from general hospitals. If you were diagnosed with tuberculosis in the early 1900s, your prognosis was grim. Lacking a cure, the only treatments thought to ease symptoms were fresh air, rest, sunshine, and good nutrition. A pleasant view was also considered essential for staving off depression. For this reason, hospital planners settled on a privately owned 25-acre hilltop parcel in rural Staten Island called “Ocean View,” just across from the already established New York City Farm Colony.

The plot was surrounded by a vast expanse of forested land (known as the Greenbelt today) which enabled the hospital grounds to expand as necessary. When Sea View Hospital was dedicated on November 12, 1913, the New York Times called it “the largest and finest hospital ever built for the care and treatment of those who suffer from tuberculosis.” The Commissioner of Public Charities claimed it was “a magnificent institution that is vast, ingenious, practical, convenient, sanitary, and beautiful, the greatest hospital ever planned in the world wide fight against the “white plague.”  Though the new facilities effectively eased the suffering of tuberculosis patients and provided housing for the poor, little could be done to actually save lives in the long term. Most eventually succumbed to the disease.

A sapling takes root in the light-filled solarium on the top floor.

Saplings take root in a light-filled solarium on the top floor. (Prints Available)

Two window fixtures had vanished.

Two window fixtures had vanished, offering an unobstructed view of the surrounding woodlands.

Doorway into the open-air pavilions.

Doorway into an open-air pavilion.

Hospital beds, cribs, and equipment left behind in a day room on a lower floor.

Hospital beds, cribs, and equipment left behind in a day room on a lower floor. (Prints Available)

In 1943, the development of the antibiotic streptomycin at Rutgers University led to a series of breakthroughs in the treatment of tuberculosis over the next decade, and much of that research took place at Sea View Hospital.  The enthusiasm over these dramatic developments is captured in a 1952 report by the Department of Hospitals: “Euphoria swept Seaview Hospital.  Patients consigned to death at the hands of the White Plague celebrated a new lease on life by dancing in the halls.”  The transition was swift. By 1961, Sea View’s pavilions were practically emptied as patients miraculously recovered as a result of the new therapies. Today, a long-term care facility operates in several of the buildings and some structures have been repurposed by community agencies and civic groups, but much of the Sea View Hospital campus lies abandoned.

Past a fenced enclosure delineating the active section of the hospital, the grounds give way to the bramble-choked wilds of the Staten Island Greenbelt. The creepy ruins of the old women’s pavilions situated on the northern border are a popular detour on hikes from the neighboring boy scout camp. To the east lies the imposing Children’s Hospital, completed in 1938 and abandoned in 1974.  Its spacious, window-lined solariums are typical of earlier Sea View wards, flanked on either side by open-air porches which were occupied by recovering patients 24 hours a day during the height of the epidemic. In an otherwise clinical Landmarks Preservation Commission report published in 1985, the researcher notes that “the building rises from a deep slope… Wooded surroundings, particularly dense to the east and south of the building, enhance the sense of isolation.”  The view he’s describing is indeed one of New York City’s most surreal (pictured below in 2012).

My first view of the hospital three years ago,

The ominous Children’s Hospital, seen from a hilltop on the grounds of Sea View Hospital.

Reuse of the structure seems extremely unlikely given the large number of abandoned buildings within the active hospital complex that would make better candidates for restoration.  Area conservationists are fighting to keep the surrounding woodlands protected from developers by making it a permanent part of the Greenbelt network of natural areas, and the building itself is nominally protected from demolition as part of Sea View Hospital’s historic district designation. That doesn’t mean that the building won’t serve a purpose as it continues to crumble.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Staten Island teenagers have a long history of voraciously exploring (and vandalizing) their local ruins. With the renovation of the Willowbrook State School in the 1990s, the later demolition of the Staten Island Monastery, and the impending restoration of the New York City Farm Colony, the isolated, under-the-radar Children’s Hospital may be next in line as the site of that requisite rite of passage. Only time will tell.

Passageway to the hospital wing.

There’s little to suggest the building was used exclusively as a children’s hospital in its last years of operation.

Restrooms had windows for observation.

Even the restrooms had windows for observation.

Drifts of plaster piled up near the dark room.

Drifts of plaster pile up on a table outside the darkroom.

An abandoned hospital staple--the upright piano.

The upright piano, an abandoned hospital staple.

“Dixie Cup for Dentures.” The name says it all.

A utility room in the attic held lockers and supplies, mostly empty.

A storage room in the attic had been pillaged.

A steep staircase lead to the upper reaches of the utility floors.

A steep staircase led to the upper reaches of the utility floors.

Lowers floors were boarded up, which always allows for the eeriest light.

Lowers floors were boarded up, which always allows for the eeriest light. (Prints Available)

The last room I came to was the most surprising--a dayroom piled with several feet of hospital records, files, and audio tapes.

The last room I came to was the most surprising–a boarded-up dayroom piled several feet high with hospital records.

9781580934282IN OTHER NEWS… my friend Oriana Leckert‘s book “Brooklyn Spaces” is out this week.  We’re a bit like kindred spirits, Oriana and I, but she goes more for the crowded, lively, and creative than the empty, eerie, and decrepit. The (50!) places profiled in the book show the authentic, human side of the global phenomenon that is “Brooklyn cool,” highlighting the heartfelt endeavors of a wave of culture makers that migrated to the borough for cheap rent and fashioned a network of bustling performance venues, art enclaves, and meeting places out of Brooklyn’s post-industrial landscape.  Her obvious passion for offbeat museums, community gardens, communal living spaces, and out-there artist residencies is beyond infectious. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy! And head to what I’m sure will be a raucous, sweaty launch party on May 30th.

Inside the Jumping Jack Power Plant

The second floor

The main floor of the “Jumping Jack Pump House”

Lately the lack of abandoned buildings in the five boroughs has had me ruin-hunting on the distant shores of New Jersey and the Hudson River Valley. But all the while there was something incredible hiding in plain sight just a ten minute walk from my apartment.  Just when it seems there is nothing left to find, this city will surprise you.  

I had admired the building for some time, having first spotted it on a walk around my neighborhood a year or two ago.  It was obviously some long-forgotten industrial relic, with a rather plain, but towering, facade. I had never heard of the place and could only find a single picture of it on the world wide web, with nothing of the interior. It seemed, at the time, that this could be one of the exceedingly rare “undiscovered” abandoned buildings in New York City. Who knew what it might look like inside?  Most likely an empty shell, I thought, or else I would have heard of it.

Not quite an

Not quite an “empty shell.”

It lingered long in my daydreams through the coming months, but I never attempted to stop in until December, when out of the blue I found myself walking in the direction of that mysterious building, camera and flashlight in hand. Inside, I couldn’t make out much at all but a collapsing ceiling and a floor padded with decades of rust and grime. I went looking for a way to the next level, finding several impassible staircases before settling on one that was relatively intact.  Upstairs, I treaded over some rickety catwalks and continued into the main room.

With coal crunching underfoot, I gazed up at the grand four-story gallery of rusted machinery before me. It was likely about a century old, gleaming orange in its old age, scattered here and there with flecks of sunlight cast through the broken windowpanes on the south side of the hall.  A hulking configuration of steel beams suspended over all, looking unmistakably like a man doing a jumping jack. Its actual function remains a mystery to me.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-1

The “jumping jack man.”

Judging by the amount of graffiti, I wasn’t even close to being the first person to find this place, and others have informed me that it’s fairly well-known among diehard explorers.  After some careful inspection, it appears that some (though not all) of the graffiti is quite old, I’d guess from the late 70s and 80s judging by the style, and the way in which it has aged, rusting or peeling away with underlying layers of paint and metal.

Paper records from inside the building point to the year 1963 as the last time the plant was in operation.  My theory is that the building had been abandoned and left pretty vulnerable to trespassers for a couple of decades before being sealed up tightly some time in the 80s or 90s.  Until recently, it’s been relatively untouched since those days, making it something of a time capsule of a grittier New York.  Prior to being secured, part of the ground floor was apparently used as a chop shop. An abandoned and gutted automobile  had been walled in at some point, entombed like a mosquito in amber on the ground floor.

I can only speculate about what the building was actually used for. My guess would be a coal-burning power plant of some kind, though some artifacts refer to a “pump house.”  (UPDATE: These records seem to refer to a separate building, which is still standing a few blocks away. In light of this, I’ve changed the name of this post to “Jumping Jack Power Plant” from “Jumping Jack Pump House”) I could tell you a bit more about its history but I don’t want to give away too much. “Undiscovered” or not, this place is still pretty under the radar, and I’d like to keep it that way for now.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-9

A gutted car in the ground floor chop shop.

Flooded pit

A flooded section of the lower level.

A submerged boiler

A boiler submerged in a 10-ft pile of coal.

Abandoned NYC_Will Ellis_Jumping Jack Pump House-14

A corroded staircase.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-6

Hallway leading to the locker room.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-7

The locker room was heavily tagged.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-5

Detail of the control panel.

Will Ellis_Abandoned NYC_Pump House-8

Desolate waterfront views through a broken window.

This guy

A heartfelt thank you goes out to everyone who’s picked up a copy of my book, and for all of your thoughtful comments.

If you haven’t gotten yours yet, you can head over to abandonednycbook.com to order a signed copy and a free print directly from me, which is the best way to support what I do.  (You can also get them on Amazon if you want to save a few bucks.)

It was so great meeting some of you at my Red Room talk last week. If you couldn’t make it to that one, you can still stop by one of these events this month and get your book that way.  Hope to see you there!

  • February 18th at Morbid Anatomy Museum (tickets here)
  • February 23rd at Manhasset Public Library
  • February 25th at WeWork Soho (tickets here)

In Gowanus’ Batcave, Broken Teenage Dreams Live on

The Gowanus Batcave

The Batcave

Not long ago, a pack of teenage runaways lived the dream in Gowanus’ infamous Batcave, shacking up rent-free in an abandoned MTA powerhouse on the shore of the notoriously toxic Gowanus Canal. Out of the grime, in back rooms and crooked halls, the artifacts of this sizable squatter settlement remain to enlighten, amuse, and unnerve the intrepid few that enter the disreputable interior.

Inside the Gowanus Batcave

You wouldn’t expect to find Superman string art in the Batcave.

The old Central Power Station of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company was built in 1896 to serve a rapidly expanding subway system in the outer boroughs, positioned on the banks of the Gowanus Canal to ensure an efficient intake of coal to power an arsenal of 32 boilers and eight 4,000 horsepower steam-driven generators. The plant’s technology couldn’t keep up with the times, and after a brief second life as a paper recycling plant, the powerhouse was abandoned. Today, it’s more commonly known as the “Batcave,” supposedly named for the creatures that once congregated in its broken-down ceiling.

In the early 2000s, a colony of homeless young people settled inside the building, establishing a thriving, peaceable community. At onset, the squat held a positive reputation, kept under the watchful eye of a few individuals who ensured hard drugs and detrimental criminal activities were kept out. After a drunken rooftop incident, authorities were notified and made their first attempt to evict the punk-rock squatters, leaving the colony without its guardians.

Over the next two years, heroin use and overdose grew rampant, and a wave of brutality overwhelmed the Batcave. Drug-induced violence culminated in a series of nightmarish events; one homeless man was thrown from a window, another overdosed and was left on the street for law enforcement to find. Frightened community members saw to it that the Batcave colony was ousted indefinitely in 2006.

The residents are long gone, but most of their humble furnishings remain. Some living quarters, fashioned in old corner offices of the power plant, are generously sized, complete with beds, bookshelves, and lounge chairs. Others are no larger than a closet; album covers, skulls and superheroes, and a general state of chaos are prominent features of these impromptu bedrooms.

Inside the Batcave

An eerie robot toy.

Prized possessions—a VHS copy of the Nightmare Before Christmas, a dogeared paperback edition of Hamlet—molder in the damp with shampoo bottles, plastic toys, and stockpiles of hypodermic needles. Stuffed animals are the most abundant, and telling artifacts. Once treasured, these hulking teddy bears, leather-clad Elmo dolls, and freaky Fisher-Price robots lie mired in filth, decapitated or gutted and hung from strings.

While large-scale pieces by notable graffiti artists dominate the Batcave’s main hall, the more intriguing artworks can be found on the bedroom walls. Always obscene, typically humorous, and occasionally clever, these amateur scrawls portray a community of fun-loving, hard-living, creative youth, although some inscriptions tend toward the dark and morbid, pointing to a deep resentment for society and obsessions with dying and suicide.

It’s no wonder so many lost souls found solace here—just look up. The Batcave’s eye-popping top floor certainly feels like a sanctuary. Light rain filters down from a collapsed ceiling, atomized to a sweeping mist. In a permanent puddle, arched reflections of the clerestory windows tremble. Pleated ceiling panels once muffled the hum and hiss of a mammoth industrial undertaking, but their effect is more visual now. Interweaving supports shimmer like the facets of a diamond as you move through the space—it’s a crustpunk kaleidoscope that constitutes one of the most spectacular abandoned sights in New York City.

Inside the Batcave

For all the atmosphere of grime and decay, the Batcave gives an impression of a living space that, though not well kept, was certainly well loved. It isn’t difficult to imagine a time when this damp industrial shell was filled with warmth and welcome, or to imagine its occupants, in those first idyllic months, brimming with a sense of ownership and control, invulnerable to the pressures of parents and policemen.

The fate of the Batcave lies in the balance of Gowanus’ contentious transition from industrial wasteland to trendy residential neighborhood. Numerous plans have emerged for the development of the property, but the canal’s recent Superfund designation and an uncertain future for the game-changing Whole Foods development across the street has deterred potential investors from shelling out the millions necessary to renovate the structure and rehabilitate its environmentally hazardous grounds. Through an overgrown lot in the height of Spring, the dilapidated redbrick facade remains a sight to behold, concealing a sordid wonderland within, marking the spot where a youthful dream lived, and died.

-Will Ellis

UPDATE Nov 23, 2012: The Batcave property sold for $7 million to philanthropist Joshua Rechnitz. The building will be saved, and renovated into art studios and exhibition space. Read the New York Times article here.

The Batcave

Open Your Eye, Girl.

Inside the Gowanus Batcave

Ceiling of the Engine and Dynamo Room

Inside the Gowanus Batcave

A chair gives a sense of scale.

Inside the Batcave

Some rooms are relatively undisturbed.  Couldn’t resist lighting this candle holder, fashioned out of a beer can.

Inside the Batcave

The residents are “Long Gone,” but it felt like someone could barge in at any moment.

Inside the Batcave

Pallets remedy a flooded entrance to a large squat.

Inside the Batcave

The markers of rebellion decorate a closet-sized residence.

Inside the Gowanus Batcave

Runes hidden in a jet-black hangout.

Inside the Gowanus Batcave

A Batcave Hallway

Inside the Batcave

This Bear Jamboree figure was probably frightening long before it went to rot.

Inside the Gowanus Batcave

Detritus collects on a bedroom floor. Can you spot Buzz Lightyear?

Inside the Gowanus Batcave

Al Pacino watches over a squatter’s pad.

Inside the Gowanus Batcave

Hate, Fear, #1 Pizza Junky

Inside the Batcave

A neighboring storage facility reflects its gawdy plastic siding into a Batcave nook, accenting some interiors with splashes of orange and blue.

Inside the Batcave

An arched motif can be found throughout the building.  Here, it’s painted in a ground floor nook.

The Batcave

A tree grows in Gowanus.



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