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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
I started up the stairs, which offered a beautiful view of the office park in the rear of the building.
The elevators were welded shut.
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).
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.
Outside, a grassy hill takes you up toward Alder Manor. Stone steps are nearly completely hidden by weeds and overgrowth.
Off to the right are more greenhouses.
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.
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.
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