(Original write up from July 2001 (with minor edits) – Building history & Update below)
One fine summer evening we ended our day of exploring here. As we approach the large hole in the front wall a guy that looks like he should work at a gas station emerges, grumbling to himself. Usually that sort of thing is a bad sign, but there’s 4 of us and one of him. Unfazed, we walk right in.
Curiously, Mr. hobo-asshole comes back into the building behind us, and goes past us into a dark corner. We did the usually ‘hey what’s up?’ thing, had cameras out, and made it pretty obvious we were no sort of threat to whatever he was up to. People who are drunk, drugged and fucked up though, living in such conditions as this – as a rat amongst trash piles and battered car shells, just don’t trust anyone… as we’d later find out.
The building itself was fantastic. The ceiling which once was likely composed of glass, has been smashed into oblivion. This created a nice light filled room on the first floor. Steps lead down to a smelly basement, and up to a second floor, which is the direction we take. There’s a traveling crane that covers the top of the building, so it’s safe to guess this place was once used for power generating or some other large scale industrial use. From here, one might find a hole into a second large room in the back of the building, where trash is less abundant and streamers hang from the ceiling as if someone decided to throw a party or two in this darkened room. It definitely would have made a suitable location for those early & mid 1990s rave parties common in such spaces around town at the time.
We climb back out to the front of the second floor, and poke around a little more. I look out the doorway that leads down to the first large room where we entered, and notice 2 bewildered looking cops looking around as if they’re lost. I turn from the door and step towards everyone else… a little surprised by the sight. I had never seen actual uniformed cops in an abandoned building before.
“The cops are here”.
Saying it was the only way to compute the information. What the hell were they doing here? I realized they probably spotted me in the door a second ago, so I turn back and call on down “yo – what’s up’? If they didn’t look confused before, now they really were. The rookie and the white shirt lieutenant march on up the steps. When they get to the top of the steps and the doorway, I improvise the most obvious statement:
“Step into my office gentlemen”.
Calm, cool, and collected. It’s the only way to be. Any potential negative confrontation is dispelled immediately. What are we doing here? Taking photos. Hello! We’ve got at least 5 cameras amongst us! All already out in the open. It was frankly hilarious how we all said the same thing at the same time.
They give the usually schtick (I suppose) about PCBs, Asbestos, lead paint, and dangerous hobos. I think the only dangerous thing about the hobos around here are that they had to call a proxy defense… for what? As if we’d want to take some hobo’s junk…
We all walk out and go our merry way. No names taken or anything like that. It was the first, and so far last, time we’ve ever encountered the police at such a place.
The building was constructed in 1892 by the Brooklyn City Railroad Company for use as a power plant for the municipally owned trolley system. The building was used for electrical generation until the 1930s when the trolley system was abandoned. The facility was conveyed to the city of New York in 1940. In 1951, the property was sold and the parcel was subdivided into two lots (Lot 9 and Lot 6). On 5 September 1951, Lot 9 was sold to Empire Electric which operated on Lot 9, the eastern two-thirds of the building, from 1951 to December 1986 when the property was once again sold. During at least some of this time period, activities within the building included rehabilitation of electrical transformers containing polychlorinated biphenyls. The site has been vacant since at least 1998 and is currently roofless and in severally deteriorated condition. Scaffolding has been erected around the perimeter to protect passer-bys
on the sidewalks from falling bricks.
Based upon investigations conducted to date, the primary contaminants of concern are PCBs. Building material (brick and mortar contained PCB concentrations in excess of 50 ppm, the New York State and Federal Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) definition of PCB hazardous waste, in 35 percent of the 165 analyzed samples. Sample analysis of the floor slabs indicated, 60 percent of the concrete slab on the main floor and 80 percent of the concrete slab in the basement area exceed this criteria and are therefore classified as a State/TSCA hazardous waste.
Grease/oil samples collected from building material in the basement present on nearly 70 percent of brick pillar surfaces, also exceeded the TSCA criteria of 50 ppm total PCBs. Fifty-two of the 165 building material samples collected and analyzed contained levels of PCB contamination ranging from 51 ppm to 33,000 ppm.
A limited number of soil samples which could be collected from beneath the basement floor exceeded the 1ppm surface/10ppm subsurface soil cleanup presumptive remedy for PCB contamination in soil. Two of these soil samples also exceeded the hazardous waste levels. Further characterization of the vertical and horizontal extent of the PCB contamination is needed but is precluded by the limited access in the basement areas. The site presents a significant environmental threat due to the potential for PCB releases from source areas both within and beneath the building.
(Source: Interim Remedial Measure Decision Document – Division of Environmental Remediation. Empire Electric Site
Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. Site No. 224015, September 2012)
Update. March 2014:
Demolition work on this building is set to begin within the next few years. When we first ventured into this building, there wasn’t any information about it online. Reflecting upon that visit in 2001, it’s interesting that the police officer that day knew the building was contaminated (I was young and skeptical), and explained why we should leave – yet didn’t evict the homeless guy. I would hazard a guess that they knew he’d just go back in, and some other city department was in charge of (and neglecting to) seal up the building. it was at least a year before the entrance was sealed. Since then few have bothered to try to enter this building illegally (though one or two people did get photos with legal permission). It wouldn’t be hard to get in via the scaffold, though I honestly wouldn’t recommend anyone spend actual time and effort breaking into this one, unless you reaaaaally want to see it before it’s gone.
Update #2 – August 2016:
Building Demolition has begun, and will likely be finished within the next month.