The Abandoned Boyce Thompson Institute

I recently posted about scouting Alder Manor, a dilapidated yet beautiful abandoned mansion in Yonkers. The manor was owned by William Boyce Thompson, an extremely rich copper magnate in the early 1900’s. This past winter, I had the opportunity to check out the former Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, a beautiful brick structure located across the street from the manor, and in far, far worse condition.

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In 1917, Thompson took a trip to Russia and was dismayed by the level of poverty and starvation he encountered there.  He began to look at agriculture as being of the utmost importance for a nation to maintain its population, and created the Institute for Plant Research in order to investigate “why and how plants grow, why they languish or thrive, how their diseases may be conquered, how their development may be stimulated by the regulation of the elements which contribute to their life.”

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The institute was located in Yonkers until the 1970’s when, due to high property taxes and urban pollution, it relocated to the Cornell University campus. The former property was used until 1997 by outside groups. In 1999, it was leased to the Yonkers Board of Education, who recently sold it to a developer who is looking to raze the property in favor of an office park-style complex similar to the one that abuts the rear of the property.

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When I called the owner to scout the property, he told me I could go check it out on my own. This struck me as very odd – on most occasions, when a scout wants to shoot a site for a film, SOMEONE (owner, manager, etc.) will give you a tour.  The fact that this property is abandoned and fully boarded-up makes it all the more unusual. I asked if there were vagrants living inside. “Of course not!” he said, as if I was crazy to even consider the idea. “How will I be able to get inside?” I asked. “Isn’t it all boarded up?” “Oh, I’m sure you’ll figure something out. There are a few loose boards.” Weird.

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I went on a snowy day in December and found a way in to the left wing.

The entire second floor was gone in the left wing, leaving an enormous shell of a space covered with graffiti.

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It was really, really quiet inside. Even though a pretty busy main road passes by right outside, all I could hear was the dripping of the melting ice inside. I had no idea if anyone was around, but this graffiti at the entrance to the main building didn’t make me feel much better…

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Nice. After gathering up my courage, I went into the first room and turned the corner. I was greeted by this long hallway that runs through the first floor.

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I had to use my flash for the above picture, because it was nearly pitch black the length of the hallway. I could just make out doorways as they stretched out of sight, and my mind started messing with me as I began to imagine serial killers ready to pop out and gut me at every step. I yelled out a few times, but the serial killers were apparently smart enough to keep quiet, so I continued on.

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The rooms I passed were in total rotting decay. The place has been left to die, and it was evident everywhere. The one bit that stuck out was the main entrance hall, seen above and below.

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I started up the stairs, which offered a beautiful view of the office park in the rear of the building.

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The elevators were welded shut.

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I wish there was something more to post, but the entire building was a hollow shell of its former glory. Other urban explorers, much braver than I am, have ventured into the basement and the third floor attic – check out ChrisX’s Flickr set for a far superior photographic documentation of the site than my own. I would have loved to have seen it myself, but lacking at least one other person to reduce my chances of getting murdered by the imaginary serial killer (yes, I am a wuss), I decided to head out.  It was already clear that the building would never pass OSHA safety standards anyway, meaning we wouldn’t be able to film there.

To the right of the building are a series of beautiful red greenhouses (very, very little glass remains).

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It was a lot of fun to shoot the latticework of the frames and pipes that make up the greenhouses. It makes me wonder how much of what is left in terms of hydroponics would still be functional with a bit of elbow grease.

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Outside, a grassy hill takes you up toward Alder Manor. Stone steps are nearly completely hidden by weeds and overgrowth.

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Off to the right are more greenhouses.

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What’s really interesting is that plant life has continued to grow inside this one, and is now pushing at the roof of the greenhouse. I’d love to know if the seeds were planted by Institute scientists, or if they found a home here by chance.

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Look, I can’t imagine that type of sick mind it takes to want to tear this property down to erect an office park. Yes, the place is in a pretty sorry state of disrepair, but the damage has only been over the course of about 10 years. It’s disappointing to hear that it won’t be turned into a school, something that seems like a perfect use for the space. Here’s hoping that something will come about that saves it from the wrecking ball.

-SCOUT

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30 comments

  1. From his response when you asked about visiting, I’d guess the owner is hoping someone burns down the building.

  2. I don’t live in NY, and I do not know anything about the places that you have been scouting. However, I stumbled across your website and find it very interesting. Your job sounds amazing, and it is cool that you get to document it in this way. I would also be scared to death to go into some of these places by myself. I was also picturing the serial killers inside, but I am glad that you got out OK. Good work.

  3. I’m a little perturbed by the owners reaction to not wanting to go with you. If anything had happened he would have been liable for your safety as it is his property. However, my guess is that either they were confident nothing was dangerous in there…or in some horrible scenario he was sending you to be prey/meal for the monster that stalks the hallways. *cue in noir horror music*

  4. I love your sight! Keep up the great work- if you ever want a partner in crime to go back and shoot the basement and all the other creepy areas- give me a call- sounds like fun! Have car- will travel. Have you shot the Loew’s Kings Theater lately? And do you know any others like it that are in decay but might pass OSHA? See you at the next ALP meeting.

  5. Beautiful Pictures of Alder manor I used to go to the school behind it but i have never been inside. The Boyce Thompson institute is an amazing building however it has a ton of asbestos, and i would wear a mask when exploring that place. I’ve been there many times and have taken pictures myself.
    I know tons of other places in yonkers and westchester but the boyce thompson institute with its beautiful, yet dilapidated greenhouses is one of a kind.

  6. Thank you for solving the mystery. I was a freelance designer working in the charming office park you shot out the rear window, and couldn’t imagine what this building could have been, with the greenhouses and such. What a treat to stumble upon your site.

  7. My first job out of graduate school was at Boyce Thompson Institute in Yonkers. The lovely old building had great labs, a wonderful library, and greenhouses that we reached through an underground passage. What a shame to see it in such disrepair.
    For a time I even lived across the street in the old gardener’s cottage of the mansion.
    Thanks for posting the photos – brought back some great memories.

    Richard L.

  8. My superior is admittedly a Jewish carpenter

  9. I currently work in the office park, and have been in and explored a good bit of that building. Since we did it in the black of night though, as it’s called, we were deathly scared of the basement.

    I’ve always been game for going back and doing a thorough exploration and shoot of the place, but haven’t had the time or the backup. I’d be up for it if you are.

  10. Last night me and a bunch of my friends went and explored this place. I just stumbled upon your site looking for info on this place. We went throughout the entire building. I’m not sure how you or anyone else got into the place, but the way we got in was through a set of stairs in the greenhouse that go’s down to the basement. Most of the lower floors were pretty wet but still able to get through without too much trouble. We made our way through the basement all the way throughout the building and eventually found even the attic which was probably not a good idea to go into seeing as someone said there was asbestos. One thing that was kinda cool was that there was a set of stairs that a huge metal box (couldn’t tell what it was maybe a boiler or something) was blocking off and you had to climb on the side of the stairs to get around it. That staircase was what took us up to the attic. There are at least two sets of staircases that lead to the attic because we found another set leading us down after we were in the attic. The whole night was pretty cool especially because our only light was the video camera of a couple of blackberry’s.

  11. I have loved and adored this building since I first laid eyes on it 7 or 8 years ago. It was in ruins then. I always hoped someone would buy and renovate it and give it life again. If I ever were to hit the lottery, I would make it a priority. I do know what it is about THIS particular building … I am totally fascinated with the history and the beauty it radiates.

  12. I am staying at the Hampton Inn a few blocks from this building. I cannot thank you enough for sharing the history. I have asked everyone around here – the desk clerk, the waiter, the restaurant manager – no one seems to know what the place was. What a fascinating piece of architecture. My hope is that is becomes some incarnation of its former self – or even condos would suffice. I envy you the luxury of taking it all in.

  13. We were just there earlier today – somehow that giant marble ball on the top of the entranceway is now halfway down a stairwell next to a graffiti painting of Spongebob Squarepants. We also went to the attic and basement and have chest pains. I recommend wearing some dust masks when exploring.

  14. I came upon your extremely well done and vivid site quite by accident. The images of the decaying Boyce Thompson Institute and abandoned Alder Manor really cranked up some old memories. I was a caddy at the now defunct but then swanky Hudson River Country Club ($2.50 for carrying two bags eighteen holes). The big red brick Institute building loomed over us as we climbed up the third fairway. Rumor was that they grew plants over there for some kind of research. But at our age, plant science wasn’t big on our interest scale. We never detected any activity over there which made it kind of weird even in broad daylight. This was in the late 1940’s. We never connected the Alder Mansion across No. Broadway with the Institute building or even knew who its owner was. At that point, I guess it was the Seton Academy run by the Sisters of Mercy. All we knew was that it was a magnificent property owned by someone with magnificent bucks. Anyway, we used to take the trolley along Warburton Ave north to Odell Ave and start up steep Odell Ave. Just after we crossed the Aqueduct, Odell took a sharp and even steeper right. We would then enter the property right there through an always-open gate and climb the steep hillside up big stone steps – avoiding the long trip along Odell Ave. In the spring, the hillside was a blaze of color of what was to us Yonkers urbanites, exotic rhododendron. At the top of the hillside was a crushed stone driveway and facing us across the stone drive was a vast green lawn. Taking a quick look left toward the manse (it was always void of any sign of early morning activity) we made the mad dash across the lawn, climbed over the four foot high stone wall and were safely in front of the No. Broadway country club. I guess we probably expected a load of buckshot or some angry dogs. Hopefully both unique properties will soon be the recipients of some capital and imagination. Your fine reporting should help. Keep up your fine work.

  15. Toni (Iffland) Kiraly

    Many thanks for this fascinating account of the Boyce Thompson Institute. I grew up on Warburton Avenue — attended PS 25 K-6 — tromped the Aqueduct in spring — walked through ruins above Wicker Street on our way over the hill to Longfellow Jr. High — enjoyed the decayed yet still lovely grounds of the Untermyer Estate — wonderful days so long ago.
    Toni (Iffland) Kiraly

  16. Some say this building is haunted. My question to Zero Kazama…did you happen to hear anything you may have passed off as nothing but couldn’t explain it when you recently went in there?

  17. My grandfather worked as a janitor there. The place used to test their herbal vaccines on animals and allegedly some humans. This was kept a secret because it was highly unethical and inhumane. When my grandfather worked at night, he said you could hear the screams and animal noises coming from the basement. It’s been said the basement is haunted. I wouldn’t go down there.

  18. John I heard the same story!! Supposedly that place is haunted by DIRT FOOT!

  19. I wonder if the police ever check out the place or if they even care to check. Being that the place is haunted. I would not want to go there

  20. Well now knowing this disgusting and disturbing history about it which I am totally shocked, I am changing my first reply. If I were to hit the lottery I would not renovate this place. Have to hear and maybe see its torture…forget it that’s what the news is for. I am so disappointed.

  21. It would be nice to take this property and use it for something other then tearing it down. The building is charming from the outside, even the back side is nice. It could be a very nice loft apartment complex or some sort of office space within the bones of the 1920’s building.

  22. Thank you for confirming what this place is! I’ve lived in Yonkers most of my life (still a current resident) and my favorite buildings are this one and the old Glenwood Power station along the Hudson line. I believe Yonkers will start to take action against these vacant buildings. Last night another fire took place at a remote abandoned building along the Old Croton trail behind Tara Circle. By the time the Yonkers Fire Department was able to gather and run hoses to the fire the structure was fully engulfed in flames. Since its happened before and these vacant buildings are also used in some criminal activities (mostly just growing pot) the city will be forced to take action and may sadly eventually be forced to take action against them. All it is going to take is one person to get hurt or killed.

  23. I would not recommend visiting this site; turns out it has been purchased by the city and the police patrol it daily. Due to increased graffiti inside of the property, they WILL take you in and press charges if you’re found on the premises. If you’re a writer looking to get up, go for it; but if you just want to explore and document, then find another spot; I found out first hand that it’s not worth the trouble.

  24. Stumbled on this site while looking up info on Alder Manor. Born and raised in Yonkers. Returned several years ago. Grew up in the area where Boyce Thompson is, so always knew about it. My sister worked there one summer during college. It involved injecting caterpillars-not animals or humans! Am very dismayed to hear about that. Travel by there all the time; keep hoping they will do something useful to restore and give the building new life. Have never seen the inside before seeing your site. Really enjoyed going through it and reading everyone’s comments. Will keep everyone posted if I see anything new going on. That asbestos business will be a difficult hurdle, but I think it would be such a blessing to revitalize this edifice.

  25. Shrikrishna Ranade

    I too stumbled on this account as I was trying to locate
    this reputed Plant Research Institute
    I await to further reports clarifying its further course
    of resurrection
    Regards
    Dr S S Ranade Ph.D.

  26. I am the grandson of Dr.John Arthur, co founder of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant research, I am so saddened to see the state of decay of the property that I used to walk with my grandfather, hand in hand. They were the founders of the modern greenhouse as we know it today and have contributed to the American Beauty Rose hybrid. Their research and accomplishments have never been totally appreciated, although they still exist today at Cornell and Arizona

  27. i had the pleasure of seeing the structure first hand, if you ever have a chance & want to practice a little of your photography than i would def suggest coming here. i took a few shots this past week, not too many as it still gets dark very early. check them out here

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/minyety/

    of course, all this said if you dont get frightened easy. One of my shots that have all the doors wide open and all the glass broken is deep in the basement, thats as far as i went which i was about 6 rooms in, of course you’ll understand if you go and see what size rooms i actually mean. hope this helps & thank you for this post

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