There’s been a lot of talk lately about Bloomberg’s legacy, and whether you think of him as a savior or a cold, unfeeling plutocrat who’s made this city a playground for the ultra-wealthy, there’s little question that he’s leaving New York far cleaner and much more developed than he found it. But not all of it.
Even in a re-envisioned New York where a single square foot of space is worth more money than the average person’s paycheck, there are still a surprising number of structures that’ve been left to crumble for years, either in the city itself or a short train (or boat) ride away. And, sure, a lot of them are technically closed to the public for safety reasons, or, as in the case of the Gowanus Batcave, have been snapped up to be turned into presumably fancy new development projects. So, in the interest of not specifically putting our readers in physical or legal danger, we’ve picked a few of the ones you can officially visit (as opposed to say, the Red Hook Grain Terminal, which is legendary and cool-looking, but probably unsafe and definitely closed off to the public). Go poke around, while you still can.
Tent of Tomorrow
Other than a brief, important cameo in the first Men in Black movie, this impressive structure has more or less languished since it was built for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. The colorful glass tiled roof is long gone, and you can’t take elevators up to the top of the towers to use the observation decks. Still, they’ve stuck around as an official landmark in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and visitors are free to look around (or stand a little farther away and take pictures that make it look like you’re pinching the towers between your huge giant-fingers).
Falling squarely into the category of “insane shit rich people do with their money,” this castle was built on Pollepel Island (upstate, near Beacon) in the early 1900’s as a residence and a sort of advertisement for Francis Bannerman’s then-booming military surplus business, the so-called “Bannerman’s Island Aresnal.” Construction never quite finished (work on the place halted after his death in 1918), and over the years a series of fires and explosions of old material from the arsenal have destroyed most of the architecture. Still, the shell of a pretty cool-looking castle remains, and the Bannerman Castle Trust now offers tours of the place. Failing that, you can at least take the Metro North a little ways up the Hudson and peer out the window at it. You’ll get the idea.
Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital
While most of the Brooklyn Navy Yard has become sort of a poster child for effectively re-purposed Brooklyn industrial space (and home to small, artisanal businesses like the Kings County Distillery), a massive naval hospital on site has been abandoned and left virtually untouched for decades. There are nascent plans to turn the building, originally built in 1838 and actively used as a Civil War hospital, into a “media, technology and film hub,” but for now, a $30 tour of the Navy Yards will still get you access to the hospital in all its run-down glory. Go now, before it gets cleaned up and lumped into the whole “Tech Triangle” project.
North Brother Island
Granted, this one is a little tougher to get to, and the process requires first getting permission from the Parks Department (they’ll only even give requests consideration during certain seasons, so as not to disturb seasonally nesting herons), then chartering your own boat—Radiolab has a great, extensive guide on how to actually get there. But if you can swing it, a trip out here is well worth the effort. Located between the Bronx and Riker’s Island in the East River, the island served as a hospital for quarantined tuberculosis patients (including Tyhpoid Mary) and later as a rehab center, before being closed down completely in the late 1960’s. It’s remained abandoned ever since, having failed to find a buyer interested in the extensive reconstruction that would be required to make the place usable. As such, it’s filled with dilapidated, grown-over hospitals and living quarters, full of eerie old medical paraphernalia (and presumably, a lot of great photo ops).
The Coney Island Submarine
Another one where you’ll have to take the initiative yourself—as far as I know, there aren’t currently any specific tours set up to get you there. And just a walk along the banks of the Coney Island Creek is cool in its own right—in addition to the submarine, which has been abandoned in its waters and something of a local landmark since 1970, the waterway is actually littered with assorted abandoned boats (possibly even war ships, according to one intrepid diver). But in the interest of getting to see history (and majestic, rotting old structures) up close, know that nothing’s stopping you from getting in a canoe and paddling out to see things for yourself. Still safer than trespassing in an abandoned, crumbling building, and anyway, this is all more fun if there’s a little bit of risk involved, right?
Follow Virginia K. smith on Twitter @vksmith.