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Explore New York City's Abandoned Places

By Serena Solomon | December 13, 2013 6:44am
 Take an advenutre through the city's history by visiting some of its abandoned places.
Abandoned Places in NYC
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NEW YORK CITY — On a cold day there may be nothing more eerie or beautiful then visiting some of New York City's abandoned places to experience history in decay.

Visiting a decrepit ferry terminal or an overgrown fort, or foraging for century-old junk in an unused landfill can be just the remedy for city dwellers suffering from an overdose of crowded New York.

Urban explorers often flout trespassing laws to get their fix of abandoned places, but there are still many decaying corners of the city that New Yorkers can visit without breaking the law.

"They are so appealing because the history is so visual in abandoned places," said Steve Duncan, of UnderCity.org, a website that documents his trips to abandoned or hidden places. "It is a time capsule."

Duncan, an historian and photographer, tries to visit a few new places each month.

"It is so much more exciting than reading it in the history books — seeing it, feeling it," he said.

DNAinfo New York found four legal destinations for your next urban exploring trip:

Port Morris Ferry Gantries, 134th Street and the East River, The Bronx

The two giant arches — gantry cranes once used to lift ferries in and out of the river — were built in the early 20th century, and served as an imposing gangway for passengers and vehicles headed on or off ferries.

"It harkens to the formally vital nautical history of New York City," said Harry Bubbins, the director of Friends of Brook Park.

The Port Morris ferries shuttled passengers to North Brother Island and North Beach, Queens, until 1966, when the terminal became a marina for the NYPD, which used it until the 1990s.

The structures are fenced off for safety, but park visitors can still get quite close to an almost-forgotten piece of city history, according to Bubbins.

"They are quite remarkable," he said. "They [urban explorers] can see the urban decay of an important resource."

Getting there: The ferry gantries are located on the East River at 134th Street in the Bronx. Take the 6 train to Cypress Avenue and take a 10 minutes walk southeast to the East River.

The Fort in Fort Totten Park, Queens

The Civil War fortress at Fort Totten with its overgrown vines and ghostly walls gives another glimpse into New York City's past.

"The views from the shoreline are beautiful," said Joe Branzetti, co-president of Friends of Fort Totten Park.

The organization runs programming throughout the year in the park, including an ultra-spooky Halloween evening at the fort. The park is open through winter, but tours of the fort need to be scheduled with the urban park rangers, according to Branzetti.

The fort was built to protect against an enemy approach through the East River to New York Harbor, and the Army Reserve has a presence there today.

Getting there: take the QM2 bus from East 57th Street and Lexington Avenue to 212th Street. The park is a 10-minute walk away.

Dead Horse Bay, Marine Park, Brooklyn

It's not an abandoned structure, but Dead Horse Bay is a full of collectables that point to the area's past as a landfill.

"You get to see what people were throwing away in the 1920s, which is a lot of fun," said Will Ellis, a 24-year-old photographer and videographer who documents abandoned places in and around the city on his website AbandonedNYC.com. "You get to take home a bag of souvenirs."

Beautifully weathered glass Coke bottles and creepy dismembered dolls aren't the only thing you will come across on this harbor beach.

Urban explorers will also find the occasional horse bone, Ellis said.

At the turn of last century some factories surrounding the bay turned dead animals, including horses, into fertilizer.

Getting there: Take the 2 or 5 trains to the end of the line at Flatbush Avenue. Then, catch the Q35 bus going toward Rockaway until the stop before the Marine Parkway Bridge.

The 1964 World's Fair Site, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens

The Unisphere Earth sculpture and the remnants of the New York State Pavilion are some of the most recognizable icons of Queens.

"It just invites exploration," said Geoffrey Croft of New York City Park Advocates, an organization that is fighting to repurpose the structures.  "It is wonderful for young people and it is nostalgic for people who visited as kids."

More than 50 million people flooded the location during the 1964 World's Fair, a showcase of products, ideas and culture from all over the world.

The pavilion and its neighboring towers topped with flying saucer disks — which had glass elevators to a revolving restaurant on top — would have been a site to behold.

"It is a snapshot of the future from the past," Croft said.

While the pavilion must be viewed from behind a chain-link fence, the 12-story high Unisphere and the walkways are all accessible.

Getting there: Take the 7 train to 111th Street for a short walk to the site.