Manhattanville: Phase 1

December 18, 2008 -

Manhattanville is a gritty industrial valley on the western edge of Harlem. Situated underneath multiple overpasses, including the famed Riverside Drive Viaduct, the neighborhood is a colorful collection of auto body shops, stone & marble fabricators, boiler repairmen and meat wholesalers. In recent years, its cobblestone streets have experienced a growing popularity, with a new Fairway Market and restaurants like Dinosaur BBQ drawing in crowds.

Columbia University plans to demolish 17 acres of this busy neighborhood. They will replace them with a huge new $7 billion extension campus. As part of this plan, Manhattanville was declared blighted in 2008 by the Empire State Development Corporation, opening the door for government use of eminent domain to seize the property of any businesses that did not wish to relocate. Like the radical transformation being forced upon the industrial businesses of the Iron Triangle, this plan was met with much protest, but to date, only three businesses continue to hold out against Columbia - a gas station and two storage companies.

Work has already begun on on Phase 1 of Columbia's plan, which will remove a city block between 129th and 130th Street west of Broadway. Several businesses in this block, including a service station and parking lot, have already closed their doors. Popular restaurants like Dinosaur BBQ and Floridita will be displaced. The prematurely quieted streets of Phase 1 are now watched over by dozens of security cameras.

For more photo essays on neighborhoods endangered by eminent domain, please visit The Bloomberg Era, Part Two (2010), The Demolition of Manhattanville (2011), The Iron Triangle (2008), and The Atlantic Yards (2007).

ESDC Report

No Parking

No Dumping

Flat Fix

Stone & Marble

Abandoned Gas Station

Emergency Shutoff


Manhattanville Houses

The Iron Triangle

December 11, 2008 -

Winter in the Iron Triangle. The rooster stays indoors. Loose dogs wander into empty lots, picking at carcasses. Melted snow floods the dirt-paved streets. Barrel fires are lit at every intersection to help ward off frostbite. Despite the cold, a constant stream of customers drives through this medieval landscape, keeping the potholes from freezing over.

Over a thousand people work in this bustling Queens industrial zone. Hundreds of businesses - mainly auto repair shops and junkyards - are crowded into a 13-block area, also known as Willets Point. And soon, it may all be bulldozed. The NYC EDC, which is behind the development of many of New York City's industrial areas, has a $3 billion development plan for the Iron Triangle. Despite years of protest by business owners and the valiant efforts of the area's single resident, the city decided this November to move forward with their plan, a massive new complex of luxury hotels, housing and retail space. Businesses that do not agree to relocate or sell out can now be seized using eminent domain, much like Columbia University's $7 billion plan for Manhattanville.

In the meantime the endless parade of cars continues 7 days a week, supporting a thriving and unique industrial neighborhood.

For another view of winter in the Iron Triangle, see Jake Dobkin's excellent photos at Bluejake.

Coney Island: The Freak's Domain

November 25th, 2008 -

Up until this summer on the Coney Island boardwalk, you could shoot the freak. Some people aimed for the face. One father shot his freak son. The freak's domain was an abandoned lot filled with trash and thousands of decaying paintballs turning into mud. The freak's frontyard concealed an entrance to the strange world under the boardwalk, with long forgotten hamburger signs, picnic tables and strange lairs. Hidden in the freak's backyard was a concrete porch looking out on a vast empty plain that was once Coney Island's Go-Kart track, batting cage and mini-golf course. Beyond this empty lot lies the Wonder Wheel, which is now surrounded by the demolition of Astroland. The home of the freak, like the gritty spirit of modern Coney Island, may be gone by next summer, replaced by the promise of luxury condominiums.

Update: In December 2010, Shoot The Freak was demolished by its landlord. “They came like thieves in the night,” the booth's owner told The Brooklyn Paper. “Those little sneaks emptied out the place and there is nothing left.” For other photo essays from abandoned Coney Island, visit Coney Island Creek (2007), Under The Boardwalk (2009) and Abandoned Playland (2011).

In the Freak's Lot


Freak's Friend

Live Human Targets

Freak's Backyard: The World

Freak's Frontyard: Under the Boardwalk

Under the Boardwalk

Forgotten Franks

Front Gate

Inside the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, Fort Greene

November 10, 2008 -

Fort Green Park in Brooklyn is a small, hilly park designed by Olmstead and Vaux. Underneath this park lies a crypt with bones from 11,500 prisoners-of-war: men, women and children who died onboard British prison ships during the Revolutionary War. Their bodies were thrown overboard into the East River or buried on its sandy banks, on ground that would become the Brooklyn Navy Yard. For decades after the war, Brooklyn residents would collect their bones as they washed up on shore. Human remains were being discovered in the Navy Yard up until 1900.

Above this crypt is the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument. Designed by famed architects McKim, Meade and White, it was dedicated in 1908 by President-elect William Howard Taft. The monument and crypt are considered sacred ground, and have been closed to the public for over 70 years. They have had a difficult history, including a 1914 eagle theft, the crypt vandals of 1923, an ongoing four-decade-long borough feud over missing eagles, and park restorations in 1937, 1949, 1973 and 1995 to recover from vandalism and neglect. By the year 2000 the monument was missing plaques, the crypt had a plywood door, and the eternal flame had long been extinguished.

On November 15th, the Fort Greene Park Conservancy will commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument with a day of celebration. This will mark the end of the latest restoration period, the eternal flame will be relighted, and Brooklyn's missing eagles will be rededicated. There will be Revolutionary War re-enactments, a parade and 21-gun salute, a choral work called "Brooklyn Bones." (Update: Photos of the celebration can be seen here)

Victim Services - Stapleton, Staten Island

October 29th, 2008 -

A haunted house is slowly deteriorating on the grounds of a half-abandoned hospital in Staten Island. A piano rots on the collapsing front porch. Inside, there are boxes of severed plaster hands and troll priests. The living room is dominated by a giant jack-o-lantern, while the upper floors show signs this was once home to several children: rusty cribs, broken dolls and tiny, dusty winter coats hanging in a closest. In a dark basement, a poster declares "No One Deserves to be Abused." This was once the Victim Services center of Bayley-Seton Hospital, whose mission was to "restore the dignity... of stranded travelers, immigrants and homeless youth."

But what is most haunting - apart from this sordid past - is the fact that this neglected building is a New York City Landmark. Built in 1842 by unknown architects, the house was landmarked in 1985. The Landmarks Commission's designation report describes the building as "a relatively severe structure" that was once used as the Physician-in-Chief's residence, providing a home to "more then 20 of the hospital's chief medical officers," including a future Surgeon General. The report also states that "the lavishness of the interior provides an unexpected contrast to the severity of the exterior." Today there is no trace of that lavish interior and though it appears somewhat structurally sound, this decaying 166-year-old landmark - like the hospital around it - has a very uncertain future.

When combined with yesterday's decision by the Landmarks Commission to allow St Vincent's Hospital to demolish several of its historic buildings, this is adding up to a grim Halloween for New York's landmarked hospitals.

Additional photos from this exploration - taken by Nate Dorr - can be seen here.