Greenpoint Hospital: Nurses Residence

October 27, 2010 -

The Greenpoint Hospital was built in 1914 and served North Brooklyn for more then six decades before closing in 1982. Located in East Williamsburg, the seven towers of this hospital campus are currently used as apartments, a homeless shelter, and a new community space. However, one building remains abandoned - the former nurses residence, which is at the center of a contentious 28-year-old neighborhood struggle. Inside this empty four-story complex are hundreds of tiny rooms, which once were used to house the homeless. On lower floors, a vanished community of squatters has left behind their belongings, including shoes, beds, and a VHS copy of "Runaway Bride." On upper floors, a huge colony of pigeons has taken roost. The air is thick with choking fumes from mountains of bird droppings.

The Nurses Residence

When the Greenpoint Hospital was open, it provided emergency care for the surrounding community, including injured police officers. On February 3rd, 1971,"Frank Serpico's inert, blood soaked form was wheeled into the Emergency Room," according to "Serpico" by Peter Maas. Serpico, a NYC policeman, had been "shot in the face during a 1971 drug bust while screaming for backup from his fellow officers, who then failed to immediately call for an ambulance," according to the NY Times. Three month after his suspicious shooting, Serpico, a known whistle-blower, provided the key testimony in "New York's single largest police corruption case... [in] almost 20 years," according to the NY Times. His story was immortalized in a 1973 film starring Al Pacino that, according to the NY Times, "seared the public memory with painful images: of the honest cop bleeding in a squad car rushing to the hospital, where, over months of rehabilitation, he received cards telling him to rot in hell."

Rotting Crutch

In 1981, the city closed the Greenpoint Hospital Methadone Clinic, which had been widely praised for combating the neighborhood's "growing heroin problem," according the NY Times. Soon after, the entire hospital complex was closed "due to financial struggle" and, to the surprise of residents in the area, "just five months after it was shuttered—the city began shuttling homeless men onto the premises in the middle of the night, creating a makeshift homeless shelter without community consent," according to a Greenpoint Gazette article titled "The Greenpoint Hospital Debacle."

The first homeless shelter was opened in 1983, according to the NY Times, with a capacity for 300 men. A second shelter for 100 men opened in 1985, according to the NY Times, "on the third and fourth floors of [the] former nurses residence." A list of shelter rules still hangs in the dining hall of the nurses residence, and includes entries like Rule #10 - "A resident shall not be restrained or locked in a room at any time." Eventually, the hospital campus "housed more than 1,200 homeless men, at which point the community decided it had had enough," according to The Greenpoint Gazette. "We were clearly overburdened,” one resident told the newspaper. “At first there were 40 men, then it escalated to 1,200. All we wanted was community control over the site, and the city wouldn’t give it to us."

In The Dining Hall

In 1996, the NY Times reported that "for more than a decade, community groups have fought to get a nursing home built for Greenpoint's growing elderly population. But their efforts to build the home on the site of the old Greenpoint Hospital campus have competed with the city's need to house the homeless... Community residents have marched in the streets and even shut down the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in their attempts to persuade the city to reduce the shelter's population to 200 men to pave the way for their nursing home plan. Now the city has promised to find alternate shelter for the... homeless, clearing a key obstacle to the groups' plan."

More than a decade later, the nurses residence remains empty. The building and an unused lot in front of it are the key elements to the neighborhood's plan to build a nursing home. In April 2010, however, the city made the "controversial decision to award the site to two non-Brooklyn development companies," according to The Brooklyn Paper, despite a competitive bid from an alliance of neighborhood groups which had dedicated "25 years of advocacy for developing the site." In September 2010 the city upheld its support for awarding this $32 million project to an outside developer, according to The Brooklyn Paper, despite protests, appeals and a rally at City Hall that "delivered 3,000 signed letters" to Mayor Bloomberg asking him to reverse his decision, according to the Brooklyn Eagle. Currently, "The Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation, a group of local nonprofits snubbed for the contract, is suing to overturn the decision," according to the NY Daily News.

At the developer's website, Great American Construction Corp, the Greenpoint Hospital is described as "the largest of the public sites committed to by the Bloomberg Administration as part of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning. The site... consists of a 59,600-square-foot vacant City-owned parcel and a vacant 4-story structure that formerly served as a nurses’ residence..." on which they plan to "build a total of 240 affordable units." There is no mention of a nursing home.

With the development of the Greenpoint Hospital site pending, these photos take a last look inside the abandoned interior of the Nurses Residence.


Ground Floor Ruins

Grand Hall Entry

Grand Hall

Residential Corridor

1-04: Conference Room

Conference Room Shoes

313 X

"Drugs Don't Work"

409 Pigeon

1996 Office

"This Job is a Test"

Dark Passage

Squatter's Bedroom

Dead Pigeon

4th Floor Fumes

The North Edgemere Shore

October 20, 2010 - This photo essay is part of a three part series exploring Edgemere, an isolated waterfront neighborhood in The Rockaways. Each photo essay focuses on one of Edgemere's three distinct geographic areas: The South Edgemere Wasteland, The North Edgemere Shore and The Edgemere Landfill.

Edgemere is a Queens waterfront neighborhood divided in two. In the south, a vast wasteland covers over 20 blocks of Rockaway oceanfront. In the north, residents live along the shores of Jamaica Bay. Once, this community was a thriving summer resort with its own airport. Today, north Edgemere is sandwiched between the wasteland and a decommissioned toxic landfill, and is troubled by a long history of floods, gang warfare, and government neglect. The NY Times once described the area as "the 'sixth borough,' an isolated place forgotten by politicians and the news media and stuck with poor schools and hospitals, as well as a lack of decent stores, jobs, transportation and youth programs. [Where] instead of attending summer programs, many young children learn the terminology of drug selling and shooting 9 millimeter pistols."

Although midtown Manhattan is visible from its shores, northern Edgemere has more in common with a rural Southern backwater. Its waterfront consists of three small inlets - Sommerville Basin, Little Bay (aka Conch Basin), and Norton Basin. Cluttered with abandoned piers, they are used as dumping grounds for boats, cars and bodies. Neighborhood fishermen trespass into empty lots to ply the waters as wild dogs roam nearby. Just inland, abandoned bungalows line muddy dirt roads and boats are stowed in backyard docks. Looming over this quiet neighborhood are two of the most notorious housing projects in New York City.

Conch Basin Shore

In 2001, a member of Edgemere's Community Board told the NY Times that "the Rockaways is really one of the furthest points from City Hall... [and] have been used as a Siberia, where the city has sent its problems.'' Current residents of Edgemere tend to agree. One described it as "like living in the Sahara. But with people," while a second called it "the bottom of the barrel." Another resident spoke of taking long train rides to Times Square "just to see the crowds," and then returning to his dirt road in Edgemere, where he was "all alone."

It wasn't always so desolate. Founded in 1892, Edgemere was originally named "New Venice, in reference to Jamaica Bay’s marshland and natural canals," according the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, and by 1925, "Edgemere began to emerge as the Rockaways’ commercial hub." By 1940, it was home to the Rockaway Airport, which "consisted of over 200 acres" between Sommerville and Conch Basins, according to Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields. Through the 1950's, summer bungalows and hotels lined the streets from Jamaica Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. "In the old days, all told, there were 6o plus hotels in Edgemere," according to "The Rockaways" by Emil R. Lucev, and establishments like "The Cozy Corner," which was "Rockaways nicest place for refreshment... situated in the shore of Jamaica Bay in Edgemere."

Bungalow Home

Abandoned Bungalow

Even during its summer resort heyday, the neighborhood had a history of flooding. In the 1930's, "the Edgemere section flooded at the mere mention of rain," according to "The Rockaways," because it was "the low point of the Rockaway Penninsula." Flooding continued throughout the century. After a 1991 storm, "certain parts of the Rockaways and Broad Channel were under 4-6 feet of water... in the Edgemere neighborhood the ocean met the bay for the first time since the hurricane of 1944," according to The Wave. North Edgemere still floods regularly each year, according to locals, with water rising 2 to 3 feet. "The Rockaways are sinking," claimed one resident, while another stated "dig down five feet and you'll hit water." New storm drains are currently being installed by the city, which may help reduce the problem.

Street Flood

By the 1960's, the Rockaways had fallen out of favor as a summer retreat. Thousands of bungalows were bulldozed in south Edgemere and other neighborhoods, and "Rockaway's isolation and open spaces tempted public officials to regard the area as a convenient place to relocate poor minorities out of the center of the city," according to Lawrence and Carol Kaplan, authors of "Between Ocean and City: The Transformation of Rockaway New York," who wrote that "for more than two decades, public housing developments were built in the Rockaways that eventually came to be occupied largely by a welfare population... Rockaway residents frequently used the term "dumping" to describe the process by which New York City moved deprived, helpless, and troubled individuals and families to its community.... Social services were notable for their absence... Crime and substance abuse rates increased. The figures for unemployment, infant mortality, infectious diseases, school dropouts, and, later, HIV/AIDS became among the highest in all of New York City."

By 2002, there were "more than 5,000 units of public housing on the eastern end of the peninsula, one of the city's highest concentrations of public housing," according to the NY Times. The Edgemere community is bookended by two of these housing projects. To the west are the Ocean Bay Apartments, which were built on top of the Rockaway Airport in 1961. Still known by their former name, the Edgemere Houses, they were "long considered one of the city's most crime-ridden housing complexes," according to the NY Times. "Cops at one time called [it] "Edgefear" because it was the worst public housing in the city by any indicator you care to choose," according to The Wave. To the east, at the opposite end of the neighborhood, lie the Beach 41st Street/Beach Channel Drive Houses, which look out over Norton Basin. Known as The 40's, this complex has a history of violence that rivals the Edgemere Houses. "The kids drink beer, they smoke reefer, they talk trash, and then they fight," one resident told the NY Times in 2005, while another resident stated "these kids, they shoot at the sky, they go in the roof and shoot down at people, they shoot wherever they like."

Edgemere's two housing projects are rivals in a long-running gang war that spans the Rockaways. "The intramural hatred and violence among housing projects in the Rockaways goes back decades, pitting residents of one complex against another," according to the NY Times. In 2004, "it was Edgemere versus the 40's," one 15 year-old shooting victim told the newspaper. "We can't even walk through their project. It's always been that way."

Norton Basin and the 40's

Edgemere's gang activity is by no means a thing of the past. The residential area between the Edgemere Houses and The 40's shows ample sign of gang activity. Like Far Rockaway, gang graffiti covers many homes and buildings, and several abandoned bungalows have been taken over by local gangs. Two months ago, in August 2010, 36 members of "The Handsome Hustlers" gang - including a 12 year-old girl - were arrested in Edgemere for "selling crack and powdered cocaine, oxycodone, marijuana and other controlled substances," according to The Wave. And in April, 2010, police arrested 84 members of a multi-gang alliance called "Flocc" which was responsible for "two homicides, numerous gang shootings, a plot to murder police officers on foot patrol in Jamaica, Queens... 60 handguns, more than five kilograms of cocaine, 567 decks of heroin, two pounds of marijuana and approximately $50,000 in narcotics proceeds," according to The Wave. Many of Flocc's members were from Edgemere, and had "turned the seaside Queens neighborhood of Far Rockaway into a war zone."

One resident succinctly summarized the problem for the NY Times, saying "What other outlets do these kids have? Trouble is the easiest thing to get into because it's always there. It's crabs in a bucket out here. They're all climbing up over each other to get out, but meanwhile they're all pulling each other back down."

Gang Bungalow

Bungalow Interior

Despite these problems, the north Edgemere shore is relatively calm and serene in the daytime. Crab fishermen and anglers work the waters amidst wrecked boats and cars, sometimes making gruesome finds. In 2000, "a fisherman found a man's head in a black plastic bag on the shore," according to the NY Times, and "a short time later, detectives found the body that went with the head in an abandoned car nearby." Recently, neighborhood students have participated in several shore cleanups organized by the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, a local group working to "strengthen the connection between the community and the waterfront." The Edgemere bays are now a destination for birdwatching.

Abandoned Car

In recent years, the city has shown some interest in north Edgemere. At least 210 new units of housing have been constructed inside the "Edgemere Urban Renewal Area," according to the Margert Community Corporation, and "the housing authority has spent a significant amount of money renovating all the apartments, thousands of units," at the Edgemere Houses, a Community Board member told the NY Times. However, despite these signs of increased city attention and support, northern Edgemere is still a neighborhood visibly scarred by gangs, floods, and neglect.

Perhaps the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti best summarizes the neighborhood's history in his poem "A Far Rockaway of the Heart," writing "How transient these/solid ephemeral buildings/Concrete bastions/piled up brick and mortar/Wooden caravansaries/built on sand/[...]How fragile the bodies pulsing in them/(Each a temporary shell housing a life)."

Abandoned Piers

Crab Fishermen, Wrecked Boat

Head of Conch Bay

Miss Luscious in the Bushes

Norton Basin Piers

Graffiti and Bay

Empty Home

In The Clubhouse

Locked Door

Gang Graffiti

Shore Shack

Dirt Road, Shotgun Shack

Abandoned Mustang

Condemned Bungalow

Empty Courtyard

North Edgemere Sunset