Secrets of NYC's derelict and forgotten areas


Even with real estate at a premium in the city, there are a surprising number of derelict buildings and islands that have been literally left to the birds.

North Brother Island, located in the East River, is one of those places. It was once home to a quarantine hospital where Typhoid Mary spent her final days. Now it is part of a network of uninhabited islands that serve as havens for shorebirds, it is only accessible by permit from the Department of Parks.

Photographer Christopher Payne spent five years on separate trips visiting the island for his recently published book, "North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City." His images capture an island that could be the setting of some spectacular ghost stories or an apocalyptic movie.

Photographer Will Ellis runs a website devoted to abandoned places in the city and visited the island with Payne. In an interview last week, Ellis tried to explain the fascination with such scenes of deterioration and neglect.

"It's something that's within us as humans to be fascinated by these ruins," he said. "I think it sort of appeals to people's morbid curiosity."

amNewYork took a look at five places that have been abandoned.

Staten Island Farm Colony

Staten Island Farm Colony, located along the greenbelt,
(Credit: Will Ellis)

Staten Island Farm Colony, located along the greenbelt, was created for the indigent in the late 1800s. Now it is home to paintball games and graffiti. A 1990s plan to turn the site into housing was scuttled, though a new effort is underway to convert it into a senior living facility. Ellis also counts the Colony as among his favorite spots to photograph. "It's empty and abandoned, but it's a really popular place," he said.

Ellis Island Hospital

Not many people know that there is a
(Credit: Library of Congress)

Not many people know that there is a 22-building hospital complex and contagious disease wards at Ellis Island that played key roles in early battles against infectious disease. Since 1954, those structures, 29 in all, have remained closed and in a state of disrepair. Some people have sought to reopen some of the buildings. Save Ellis Island, a nonprofit group, has been working to stabilize and restore them.

North Brother Island

North Brother Island was home to a quarantine
(Credit: Christopher Payne)

North Brother Island was home to a quarantine hospital until the 1960s. Today, the crumbling old buildings still standing on the island are overrun with foliage and rot. This is how Radiolab described it in 2011: "North Brother Island is what will happen to the whole of our civilization when humanity is dead." The island and its sibling, South Brother Island, are now key nesting grounds for shorebirds including herons, egrets and ibis.



Creedmore Psychiatric Center

Several buildings at Creedmore Psychiatric Center in Queens
(Credit: Will Ellis)

Several buildings at Creedmore Psychiatric Center in Queens have sat abandoned for years. The institution's population has dwindled over the years, and those parts it no longer used were left to deteriorate. Photographer Will Ellis has called this one of his favorite places to visit. A colony of pigeons have been living there for years, he said, and "over time all their droppings have accumulated into these huge mounds on the floor. It's completely disgusting and surreal and beautiful."

Renaissance Theater and Casino

The Renaissance Theater and Casino is a historically
(Credit: Will Ellis)

The Renaissance Theater and Casino is a historically significant landmark in Harlem, but today exists in a state of quiet desolation. Built by blacks in 1920, it was sometimes converted into a court to serve as a home to the Harlem Renaissance Big-Five, aka the Harlem Rens, a black professional basketball team. The theater fell into disrepair and abandonment after closing in 1979. Plans to restore the space or redevelop it have gone awry. It is now owned by the Abyssinian Development Corp.

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