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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.


 

 


A Baseball Graveyard in Queens

Queensway_Rockaway Beach Branch_1653

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.

Baseball Graveyard Squat_Rockaway Beach Branch_1610

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

Baseball Graveyard_Rockaway Beach Branch_1623

…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


 

 


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Disappearing into fog, from the Brooklyn side... Any Bay Ridgeites remember what used to be on these signs?

#verrazanobridge #verrazano #bayridge #brookyn #nyc #newyork #newyork_ig #newyorkcity #fog #foggy #moodygrams #water #longexposure #weather #nycprimeshot #bridgestagram Borough residents speak longingly of Staten Island before the opening of the Verrazano Bridge in 1964.
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Country roads meandered through sweeping forests, quiet beach communities, and open expanses of farmland crawling with nanny goats.
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The nature of the island was permanently altered as the bridge prompted a mass migration of newcomers from overpopulated Brooklyn.
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The influx covered farms and forests with mile upon mile of tract housing, plaguing the island with traffic problems that persist to this day.
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#newyork_ig #nycprimeshot #newyorknewyork #nyhistory #nyc #statenisland #bridgeporn #verrazanobridge #newyork #topnewyorkphoto #fiveboroughs #bridgestagram #underthebridge The city of New York took over the Staten Island Ferry in 1905 after a series of deadly disasters on privately-run lines. 🌊💀🔥 The 1871 "Westfield" disaster was the worst of them.  Nearly 100 passengers lost their lives when a boat's boiler exploded in its slip at Whitehall.  Jacob Vanderbilt, head of SI Railway at the time, was charged with murder, but never convicted.

More history up on the blog (🔗 in profile)

#newyorkcity #newyorknewyork #nyhistory #nychistory #statenisland #statenislandferry #nyharbor #staten #historynerd #nycprimeshot #newyork_ig #newyorkers Seagulls follow in the wake of the Staten Island Ferry. ⚓️ #statenisland #statenislandferry #nyc #newyorknewyork #topnewyorkphoto #nycprimeshot #newyorkcity @newyork_instagram The iconic orange color of the Staten Island Ferry was first adopted in 1926, to increase its visibility during periods of heavy snow and fog. 🌫🚢🌫 More photos and history on the blog... (🔗 in profile)

#staten #statenisland #newyorknewyork #newyorkcity #silive #city #statenislandferry #ferry #orange Got my first post up in a long while on the blog, introducing a new series on Staten Island. 🗽🛳 🏙 Here, the Staten Island Ferry pulls away from Lower Manhattan on a foggy afternoon. 🔗 in profile
#statenisland #statenislandferry #nyc #fog #silive #newyorkcity #newyorknewyork #staten #mist Well hello there! Outside looking in on the ruins of Kings Park Psychiatric Center. #abandoned #abandonedplaces #asylum #urbandecay #urbanexploration #urbex #kppc #kingspark #raccoonsofinstagram #raccoon #wildlife A sad old house in Graniteville, SI. #abandoned #abandonednyc #urbex #urbandecay #oldhouse #oldhousecharm #urbanexploration #nyc The wreck of the Phillip T. Feeney. #shipwreck #boatgraveyard #urbandecay #urbanexploration #urbex #nyc #statenisland #northshore Fort Wadsworth's Battery Weed is among the most picturesque of the city's defunct military defenses.  It stood guard from the 1860s to the 1990s, when the base was decommissioned.  #urbanexploration #urbandecay #statenisland #preservation #nyhistory #nyc #nycprimeshot #architecture Leaf litter floods the entryway to one of the oldest structures in New York City--first built as a one room residence way back in 1670!  It's in sorry shape today, though it was declared a NYC landmark in 1984.  #abandoned #abandonedplaces #abandonedhouse #landmarks #nyclandmarks #preservation #urbanexploration #statenisland The incredible Brooklyn Army Terminal atrium, photographed last February.  Though the atrium is no longer used for shipping and receiving, the surrounding structure remains a vibrant hub of industry on the Sunset Park waterfront.  #NYC #brooklyn #urbanexploration #urbandecay #nychistory #sunsetpark #industry #urbex
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