The RKO Keith
By: Control , Posted on April 21, 2014
The RKO Keith is one of NYC's most infamous abandoned buildings.
Located at a main intersection in 'downtown' Flushing, Queens, The RKO Keith
has stood abandoned and severely neglected for well over 20 years now - a fact that is almost surreal given its prime location and current real estate value (assessed at $2.5 Million in 2013 - Rated as worth $5.6 Million by PropertyShark - and recently sold for $30 Million)
Built in 1927, the theater originally opened as the 'Keith Albee Vaudeville Theater, though it was soon simplified to 'RKO Keith'. It cost $750,000 to build and it was run as a 'subscription house' - whereby patrons would acquire a subscription of season tickets.
Slowly the RKO Keith fell on hard times. According to the NY Times "...by the 1970's, the Keith's 3,000 seats were carved up into a triplex. It had once drawn people from all over New York. Now prostitutes and pot smokers gravitated to it."
(Note - I found no evidence of any conversion to a triplex inside the building)
In the early 1980s it came up for Landmark Preservation consideration. In 1984 just the lobby was landmarked - a shortsighted decision in my opinion. The theater was closed in 1986 after being bought by Thomas Huang. Huang proceeded to neglect the building - and was even accused of setting it on fire.
To understand the current condition of the RKO Keith, one should know about the owner that destroyed it. Tommy Huang is a legendary character in the realm of Queens Real Estate and was the subject of a 1997 NY Times profile
. He was both celebrated for his foresight in building up and building on empty lots around Flushing, and hated for the mafia style tactics he used and was rarely arrested for. Here's but one example: "On the proposed site, in 1982, a Molotov cocktail was hurled into a restaurant, destroying several shops. The bank that owned the site had refused to sell it to a group of investors headed by Mr. Huang. After the fire, Mr. Huang upped the bid and the bank sold."
This would not be the only time Huang and Fire went hand in hand. "...in 1990, a fire was set inside the locked theater. It was like 1982 all over again: fingers were pointed and accusations printed in the local press, which Mr. Huang denied. Again, no one was charged. ''I can't prove he was responsible,'' Mr. Stavisky said, ''but wherever Huang went, fire followed.''
Eventually Huang was arrested and indicted on one count of endangering the public health in the third degree by allowing 'more than two hundred gallons' of petroleum to leak from a furnace in the RKO in July 1996.
His misdeeds have never stopped. In June of 2013
, "Huang and his wife, Alice, pleaded guilty in Queens Supreme Court to charges of felony securities fraud. The couple agreed to a deal that prevents them from working for at least five years in New York construction and real estate. The ban, in combination with a fatal 2011 accident at one of Huang’s Queens development sites, could put the final nail in the coffin of Huang’s storied 35-year career.
After Huang finally sold the building, it has bounced between 'developers' who have all announced they would build something new on the site, and never have. Just this last December, it was announced that a new developer would try their hand at building a 17 floor mixed use apartment tower on the site, after buying the building for $30 Million. With the economy on an upswing, perhaps something might finally happen with this project, though nothing has changed with the building in the nearly 5 months since the new owners bought it.
Just getting into this building is an adventure. You have to know where to go and be ready to climb. It's not a mission for the faint of heart.
Once inside, you are greeted by an absolutely devastated theater. The seating area has been completely cleared and filled with piles of debris. The stage is nothing more than a gaping hole that was burned to ash. The landmarked lobby is currently a dark foreboding place whose beauty is obstructed by a cheap plywood entryway running through the center of it. Upstairs, everything is similarly gutted - no chairs in the mezzanine, and the nothing but destruction of the office space above the lobby. Graffiti writers like Klops & Plasma Slugz have taken to decorating this grim place, often with some seriously elaborate pieces.
It is at once both sad and amazing to wander this building. Sad that it was destroyed by one of the biggest and worst types of vandals ever known (Real Estate "Developers"), and amazing in that it still more or less stands - destroyed but hauntingly gorgeous in its final hours.
Coffee Bean Castle
By: Control , Posted on April 15, 2014
We've been spoiling you all lately with posts full of deep location research and explicit details, so it's time for a post that leaves everything to the imagination.
Imagine, if you will, an 1800s era warehouse sitting abandoned and empty. Upon entry you are greeted with the unique fragrance of aged wood. Nearly the entire building is pitch black with darkness, because the windows are all covered tight. All the floors look the same. There is little to see and nothing to rummage through. The only sign this building was ever used at all are the coffee beans found lightly scattered on the floor and wedged between the floorboards. There is one means of egress, and who knows how sturdy these floors are after all these years of being ignored and empty. You begin to wonder if it's worth exploring the whole place, but you press on...
And that's when you find it.
The photos speak for themselves.
New York Dock
By: Control , Posted on April 8, 2014
Red Hook contained one of NYC's tallest abandoned industrial buildings, with one of the best graffiti galleries and a rooftop view unparalleled in awesomeness. Today, it is being converted into apartments.
The New York Dock building at 160 Imlay street is one of two twin warehouse buildings. It was built in 1912 for the New York Dock Railway, and utilized for the storage of goods that came in via ship and were subsequently shipped out via truck and rail. (NY Dock was a railway with terminal tracks on the Brooklyn waterfront - those tracks came right up to the rear of this building).
As is often the case, Brownstoner has a nice writeup about this building's history
. The original tenant for this building was Montgomery Ward
, the first mail order company in the united States (the late 1800s version of Amazon.com). During WW1, the military used it (and much of NYC's port) for deploying troops and materials to Europe. The military found the use of a terminal such as NY Docks' to be worthy of the construction of their very own massive Brooklyn warehouse - the Brooklyn Army Terminal - further south in Sunset Park.
As shipping became more containerized, and larger cargo ships began using larger terminals in New Jersey, New York Dock's finances faltered. In the early 1980s the railway entered bankruptcy and the twin warehouse buildings of Imlay street were sold. But more on that in a second...
For a true deep dive history on the New York Dock railway - you simply need to go to Phil Goldstein's extremely detailed page on this subject
162 Imlay became a high tech storage facility for Christie’s Auction House, while 160 sat forlorn and abandoned for over a decade - tied up in politics and zoning.
The conversion to housing seems posed to happen soon. The building was secured in 2012 and some work has begun. The current plan for the site is to create 70 apartments, with a grocery store and another business on the ground floor.
I'll always have fond memories of going here at 7AM one Sunday morning. I had been inside on several nights, hanging out with friends on the roof, goofing off and taking in the view of lower Manhattan. I wanted good clear morning daylight shots of everything though, thus my early morning trip. As I came down Develan street some scantily clad girl stumbled out of a building and into a waiting cab. It took my decaffeinated brain a second before I started laughing at her 'walk of shame' (or 'stride of pride', depending on if you're a hater or not). "Hey lady don't forget your underwear!". (Yeap, I'm a hater!)
I don't usually cat-call, but when I do, I'm a total jerk. Sue me. If it were a guy stumbling around drunk, I'd asked him if he knew the soon to be baby momma's name. In the immortal words of the mayor in Ghostbusters 2: "Being miserable and treating other people like dirt is every New Yorker's God-given right". Besides, I was driving a fucking 17 year old Buick - which makes me awesome. So Hot. So Pimping.
I stopped halfway down the next block, threw open the door with the engine running and shot a photo of the building exterior. It's 7AM - all the dumb crooks are still in bed or arrested a few hours ago (Besides, who the hell would want to steal this boat/car?! I bought it off your grandma for 800 bucks years ago!). The building is like a huge wall at this vantage point. At 6 stories high, it looms over the much shorter buildings on Van Brunt - with the NEW YORK DOCK name in large letters at the very top. New York Dock was a big business back then - and their buildings made sure everyone passing by knew, regardless of if they remembered to put on their underwear.
Closer in, I park and slide through a decent sized hole in the fence. This hole would grow and grow over the years - becoming big enough to drive a truck through (too bad it had no loot in it). This is a little surreal to me - as I had kept an eye on this building for years. The first time I passed it, there were guard dogs. Actual guard dogs. You never see guard dogs at an abandoned building in NYC. Now here it is - wide open.
I walk around back and into the door leading to the stairs, and straight to the roof. May as well get today's workout in straight away, right? "Who me officer? I'm not doing anything shady, just working out". F*ck paying for a gym - exploring is where it's at.
The skyline view, of course, is spectacular. Plasma Slugz
would probably describe it as a 'panty dropper'. Too bad that chick down the street already lost hers.
I spent quite a bit of time shooting the view and stalking the very lazy guard in the lot below, and eventually started my decent (down the stairs, that is - I started heading to hell long ago).
On the floors below, and on every available piece of wall space, graffiti artists had put in serious work. This isn't toy garbage scribbles from area kids. These are the works of masters. Curve, Ronin, Mast, Jedi, Jick, Smash, F5, Stae2. It's a select small amount of writers, but the art is all serious. I stop and shoot every last piece I come across, knowing that in a few years time, this will be someone's living room, and the art will very likely be long gone (which is a shame - it could have been a serious selling point if you ask me).
Within the hour I'm back out on the street, heading back to the car. It's barely 8AM on a Sunday, and there's a list of other buildings to break into today, and probably a plethora of people to heckle along the way.
Because it's expected.
Abandoned 1925 vintage Staten Island Rapid Transit car 353 – 2003.
By: Control , Posted on April 2, 2014
In 2003 me and Rebel SC came across this very long abandoned Staten Island Rapid Transit car.
According to some transit fans, this ME-1
type subway car had been left rotting in the abandoned 'Travis' freight yard along the West Shore Expressway. It had sat there since at least 1973 (being the year that Staten Island's old subway cars were replaced with R-44 cars). For many years there were 2 other ME-1 cars with it - the 388 (which was eventually moved to Brandford
and 366, which is preserved at Seashore
. There was also a small locomotive whose current whereabouts are unknown
(I believe it was a switcher for the nearby power plant - it was last reported in on subchat to be in a shed at the power plant
The tracks were abandoned by the NYS&W in the early 1990s due to a lack of freight customers. It wasn't long through before the Port Authority took over and new customers located along the tracks. In 2004 the entire yard was bulldozed (and eventually rebuilt) - subway car and all. Word is that it was simply reduced to a pile of rubble by a backhoe and sent to the landfill.
Today these tracks are used by CSX to move a variety of freight goods - primarily paper being shipped out for recycling.
By: Control , Posted on April 1, 2014
In 2001, I came across a set of 3 old wooden subway cars parked in Sunset Park, across the street from the old Davidson Pipe storage facility (which today is a Costco store). As luck would have it, they were parked in a small former SBK yard with no fence. These were the last wooden subway cars in use within the NYC subway system.
Built in the 1920s, these 'Q' (for 'Queens') cars were modernized for use on the present day 7 line, ferrying people to the 1939 world's fair. "There were 30 three-car "Q" sets numbered 1600ABC through 1629ABC, and 12 two-car "QX" numbered 1630AB through 1641AB. The "Q" sets were arranged motor-trailer-motor; the "QX" sets had one motorized car and one unmotorized cab control car."
In 1950, the "Q" fleet was transferred to the Third Avenue Elevated, and in 1957, they were transferred to the Myrtle Avenue elevated - which at the time ran from Metropolitan Avenue to Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. In 1969 nearly half of this elevated was shut down (the route south of Broadway to Jay Street - what remains from Broadway northward is today's M line). With much of the route closed and removed, nearly all of the Q cars were disposed of immediately after. A few ended up in museums (one is at the NYCTA museum in Brooklyn) - and these 3 ended up in work train service. They were stripped of most electrically gear, and outfitted with racks to hold pipes and hoses. They served as a 'pump train' - being pushed into flooded tunnels to suck up and pump out water.
Being used for such work had a clear and obvious toll on these cars. The wooden seats and walls rotted. Even their roofs began to crumble to dust. By the time I came across them sitting forlorn at the side of an exit ramp for the BQE, it was clear that they were nothing more than unsalvageable junk. The iron frames had completely rotted out - forming many holes throughout the floors of the cars. It was hard to imagine how subway workers managed to push these cars to this location without them shedding rotted wood and rusted out break lines along the way.
Within a few weeks they were gone - likely scrapped where they sat. Reduced and recycled.
To see 2 videos of the Myrtle Avenue Elevated trains in the 1950s and 60s (including the Q cars, of course), go here:
(Many thanks to Sir Brian Berger
for digging up these links...)
5 Pointz Explored
By: Control , Posted on March 25, 2014
5 pointz. It's more than just a name of a building in Long Island City. It is an idea, a symbol, and unfortunately, soon to be nothing but a memory. As explorers, it was our sworn duty to explore and document its interiors before it was gone. As an L.I.C. native with a lifetime love of graffiti, there was no way in hell I would be stopped. Before I get into our unabated hours of adventure in 5 pointz, let me drop the history for anyone that doesn't know.
This building began life as the Neptune Meter Company
- a company that manufactured water meters at this location until the early 1970s (check out the link for the full Neptune history - it's awesome nerd candy). After they vacated, the building became home to a variety of small businesses and "the crane street (art) studios". Food carts were stored & serviced towards the rear of the building, while artists studios shared much of the space with a 'sweat shop' cranking out clothing and a company that was bootlegging Asian porn movies.
The NY Times described the artist space: The studios are strictly work spaces, filled with jewelers, photographers, sculptors, opera set designers, painters and collagists who typically pay between $250 and $600 in rent, according to Mr. Wolkoff, who bought the complex 36 years ago and also develops warehouses and office parks. Ms. Luttrell, who rents two studio spaces there, believes the rents are roughly half that of the going rates and says there is more than a yearlong waiting list.
From as early as the 1970s through 1993 the factory was a local mecca for illegal graffiti. The multitude of rooftop walls on the building in view of the #7 subway line combined with its location made it well suited for tagging. The dead end streets it is between eliminated foot traffic, while the open, unfenced access to Sunnyside yard made it an extremely easy area to escape from any police raids (fences were only put up in the mid "00's"). During this time there would be dozens of different throwys from NYCs best and brightest graffiti writers on the rooftops. Towards the end the rooftops were the scene of carpet-bombed throwy battles being fought by the likes of JA, Air, RIS crew, Mkue, and a plethora of others. Writers and crews would take out entire rooftops going over their rivals. I often made a point of taking the 7 trains at least once a week on the way home from work in Manhattan to see who had gotten up in the last few days. There were so many writers bombing the place that walls would turn over - sometimes overnight.
After 1993, the rooftops were painted and then curated under the name 'Phun Phactory
'. In 2002, Jonathan 'Meres' Cohen began curating the graffiti here, and re-branded the walls under the '5 Pointz'
name, or 5ptz for short. It became an international mecca, drawing an untold, uncounted number of tourists to the area and aerosol artists from around the globe. At least 1000 tourist a week during its heyday would be a safe estimate. Even today, months after the building was white washed, there's a steady stream of tourists that come for one last look at what is left.
Movies & TV
Over the years 5 pointz has been used extensively as a backdrop in music videos and movies. In 2013 it was used in Now You See Me
, and in 2011 the series finale of Rescue Me was filmed here
- which included a significant amount of special effects showing the building on fire.
In 2009 there was a real life rescue here, when the exterior courtyard staircase collapsed
, nearly killing jewelry artist Nicole Gagne in the process. Witnesses and firefighters from nearby Ladder 115/Engine 258 pulled her from the rubble. In the wake of this accident, the NYC Department of Buildings ordered the artist studios be vacated due to numerous safety violations throughout the building. This came as no surprise to many who had visited over the years, all of whom noted the general run down conditions and lack of maintenance. (Nicole Gagne seems to have recovered and moved to L.A.
to resume her design work - though she seems to have made no public statements in regard to the accident - perhaps for legal reasons). That the building had so many safety violations should surprise no one: property owners in NYC often neglect older buildings as a means of forcing out renters or to create excuses to demolish them.
Meres continued to curate art for the exterior walls all the way through the summer of 2013. Then suddenly on November 19, 2013 - the building was whitewashed overnight
. Owner Jerry Wolkoff gave an interview to New York Magazine
where he stated the reason for painting it: "The judge gave me the right to demolish my building. It would take three months. To watch the pieces go down piece by piece by piece would be torturous. In New York, you can't implode a building. So let me just go in and paint it in one morning, and it's over with. I had tears in my eyes while I was doing it. I know it seems like a bitter pill to take, but it's medicine. I didn't like it, but it's going to get me better. It's best for them, and it's best for me. In my new building I'll have walls for them to express their aerosol art."
Wolkoff has gained approval from the usual shady politicians (nearly all of whom collect huge campaign contributions from property owners - local councilman Van Bramer received over $5000 from the Wolkoff family
) to build a set of high rise apartment buildings that will be 47 and 41 floors high. While I understand his right to do what he will with his property, and love that he allowed artists to run basically run amuck for decades, I do find it disgusting that one more piece of L.I.C.'s industrial and graffiti history is about to be replaced with more cookie cutter glass buildings that will be inhabited by very wealthy people. The few walls that Wolkoff intends to put up for artists can't adequately replace the history of the factory walls. When seen in context with the closure of 'the space
', the actual creation of art in L.I.C. has been dealt seriously heavy blows in recent years. If you ask me, the romance has left Long Island City, never to return. There's no reason why a large part of 5 pointz couldn't have been preserved with only one of the two massive high rises being built to fatten Wolkoff's wallet - a development project that will likely make him a billionaire if he isn't one already. Everyone could have won, but greed speaks louder than logic in money-obsessed NYC.
After the whitewashing, we started keeping a very close eye on 5 pointz. As is often the case with exploring, there is a prime window of time - between abandonment and demolition - when one can get in or be given access by workers (indeed there are perhaps too many LTV members working in the construction and demolition trade). Also for the record - New York State law stipulates that a building must be marked with 'No Trespassing' signs if the public is not allowed to enter. No such signs were present (we photographed the exterior walls just in case).
What we found inside was a maze of hallways and partitions, sections with solid concrete flooring and older sections with decaying wood and stairs of questionable stability. One must understand - 5ptz isn't just one building - it's a series of interconnected structures that together formed one large complex (like Voltron, or something). Some parts were in better condition than others.
The various parts of the building became known to us by the businesses that inhabited them. There was the sweat shop in the basement and first floor - full of boxes of fabric and a rack of cheap ladies clothing. Up towards Jackson avenue was the DVD shop - an large space filled with piles of DVDs and computer drives for replicating them. There was the Jackson Roof and the Big Roof high above the center of the complex. Then there's the apartments. Immediately next to 5 ptz sits a series of 4 storefront buildings with apartments above them. These buildings, while not a part of 5ptz, are also abandoned and slated for demolition ( they are all empty except for the one above the former Shannon Pot bar, where an angry squatter is living and acting hostile towards anyone that enters - workers included).
The entire complex was big enough that 10 people could be exploring in teams of 2 and not run into each other for hours. If one were to listen in on our burn phone calls, you'd think we were speaking in code. Where are you? "Jackson Roof". "The Record Room". "3rd floor apartment over the space womb". We spent hours here. Over a span of 2 days and nights we meticulously combed every inch of 5ptz. To the left are the photos from this adventure.
It was a fun. These days you don't get to see many large scale abandoned buildings such as this. Afterall - it wasn't just one building - it was the entire 5 pointz complex plus these 4 other smaller buildings - each one being uniquely different inside. You don't get this much variety in one location while exploring in NYC these days. I'd rate it a 9 on a 1 to 10 likert scale of abandonment awesomeneness. I'm glad I got to do it - checking off one more large L.I.C. ruin from the long list of buildings
I've gained access to over the last 25 years.
We will see if Wolkoff sticks to his word and creates those aerosol art walls (I kinda doubt it - with all the high rises going up LIC will be bland like much of midtown in 2 years when the new buildings are done), and hope to see the concept of 5ptz replicated somewhere, somehow - though honestly location is what made 5 pointz so popular. Time tells all.
PS: If you know nothing about graffiti terminology, here's a funny video clip I caught once of Meres schooling some cougar
Certified Concrete, L.I.C.
By: Control , Posted on March 20, 2014
owned a ready mix plant in LIC, 'Under the Kosciuszko Bridge' according to the NY Times
Unlike Certified's other locations
, the L.I.C. property was either bought by or rented out by a construction company well over a decade ago. Over the years this company cleared out much of the ready-mix production facilities, though at the western edge of the property one might find this large aggregate sifter - which is the most noticeable relic from this properties ready-mix history.
Certified Concrete, Bronx (Transit Ready Mix)
By: Control , Posted on March 19, 2014
In 2005, I took a ride to the Bronx to check out the abandoned Transit Ready Mix facility located along the Bronx River. Transit Ready Mix was owned by Biff Halloran, who also owned Certified Concrete (thus the title to this article)
When Biff was indited on mafia related price fixing charges in 1988, Certified/Transit fell into Bankruptcy. The ready mix facility here sat abandoned from the 1990s until (and a bit after) our 2005 visit.
At the time the property was very much abandoned - beat up, with rusting aggregate silos, conveyors and garages still in place. It wasn't overflowing with homeless people though, as was the case at the Harlen (127th street) facility
. There was way more to see, so I photographed the hell out of the place that day.
Amazingly - the majority of the old aggregate structures are still present today. They've been cleaned up and painted red, with the entire lot converted to parkland.
Once underdeveloped, this new waterfront park completed in September 2009 and officially opened to the public October 30th now contains facilities supporting and linking existing and planned multi–use pedestrian greenways with other off–road, on-road bicycle/pedestrian routes
. Construction of a new canoe/kayak launch provides an access point to the Bronx River Corridor along the park's shoreline. The site was also enhanced through the creation of a waterfront promenade, a reading circle, and inviting park entrances at both Westchester Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard.
Certified Concrete, Harlem (The Mafia in NYC’s Ready Mix industry)
By: Control , Posted on March 18, 2014
Growing up in NYC in the 70s and 80s, kids would joke about what would happen if you crossed the mafia. 'You'll end up in the east river, with concrete shoes, sleeping with the fishes'. As with all humor, the jokes were based in reality. The ready mix industry in NYC was, for decades, closely tied to the mob.
One of those mobbed up companies was Certified Concrete.
"In 1988, Edward J. (Biff) Halloran, Certified's principal owner, and Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, a reputed Mafia boss, were convicted of Federal racketeering charges, including corruption in the concrete industry.
" In a nutshell, the mafia owned or was involved with nearly all of the ready-mix suppliers in NYC. Much of the revenue was 'off the books' and transactions took place with weekly delivery of bags full of cash (just take my word on this). By the time of this court case, the company was bled to death by those earning under the table. Certified was in such disarray it entered bankruptcy. it was during this period of bankruptcy in 1988 that the trustee closed the Harlem River (127th street) ready-mix plant.
With this and the ready-mix plants on the west side closed, the concrete industry was gone from Manhattan. Curiously though - During the weeks after September 11, 2001 - not having a concrete plant in Manhattan became a large issue
. Many construction sites around town - like the AOL/Time Warner center that was being built at Columbus Circle at the time, simply ground to a halt. The Times reported at the time that "Only rusting hulks remain at what were once privately owned plants on the Hudson River at 26th Street and on the East River at 127th Street." - making no mention of those plants sordid histories.
2001 was when myself, M, Vlad & Marcin started hanging around Harlem. One day we were at Washburn Wire
, and decided to take a walk up along the riverfront. What we walked into without realizing it at the time was the remains of Certified's 127th street plant. The scene unfolded very much as it quoted in this NY Times article:
"The elegant Robert F. Wagner Jr. esplanade along the Harlem River stops cold at 125th Street -- no more antique lights, no railing, no benches. What relentlessly unfolds as one keeps walking north is an almost surreal industrial wasteland. An enormous pile of road salt gives way to an abandoned concrete plant surrounded by hundreds of tons of asphalt chunks.
The dreary riverfront is littered with burned-out automobiles, rusted oil drums and empty bottles. There is a small encampment of homeless people."
That small encampment was probably at least a dozen people if my memory serves me right. They were living in every imaginable rust covered shred of metal in the place. Under aggregate towers, inside a garage, and in abandoned cars and vans. It was utterly surreal. My regret is that we only came through here once or twice. If this existed today, I'd go and photograph here a few times a year.
So what happened to this property? The Times continues:
In place of this desolation, people have long imagined a waterfront park beside the river from 125th to 145th Streets. A plan was actually drawn up in 1991 at the behest of Ruth W. Messinger, then the Manhattan Borough President. But administrations changed, and other projects claimed priority."
In the early & mid 2000s, this lot was cleared of debris and turned into a park.
In October of 1998, Biff Halloran disappeared and was never heard from again.
This was after he had been released from jail on his prior conviction. 2 months later he was charged with $2 million dollars worth of fraud. He is assumed to be 'sleeping with the fishes' somewhere. It seems one company is working to market this story as a cable TV series.
Canadian National Railway Camp Cars in the Bronx
By: Control , Posted on March 14, 2014
Under a highway in the Bronx, one might find this curious set of seemingly abandoned railroad cars. These aren't just any railroad cars though.
These two cars were part of a 'work train', tasked with repairing railroad tracks. Such equipment isn't uncommon on railroads, but these two are unique in a variety of ways.
First up, they are painted for 'Canadian National' - a railroad that doesn't come close to NYC. The boxcar is a very old, modified 40 foot boxcar (modern boxcars are far longer these days). One end has been equipped with a doorway. While the car was empty, it is labeled 'Welding Car' on the side - which of course explains it's role as a enclosed, rolling welding shed.
The second car is the one that really brings the mystery on. It is a camp car. Camp cars are much like cabooses - most railroads have gotten rid of them. Where Cabooses were used for train crew comfort, camp cars were used as mobile hotels for track workers doing repairs in remote areas. Nearly every major railroad in the United States has stopped using camp cars though. The living conditions inside these cars were just plain awful
- a 'miserable' existence, with up to 8 guys packed into a camp car living in tiny bunks, with a single bathroom. The rooms within these cars are small - significantly smaller than your average jail cell. They have tiny windows, if they have windows at all. Most railroads simply put their track workers up in hotels nearby. Even a budget hotel is far more humane than a camp car.
The only railroad to still use camp cars is Norfolk Southern (NS). The trackworkers union has battled them over living conditions - releasing this video documenting the living conditions
. (NS, of course, responded with this propaganda video
Eventually the FRA put some regulations around camp car living conditions
. Norfolk Southern has modified their camp cars to be significantly more humane, though the entire concept has been rejected by all other railroads. (Norfolk Southern, obviously, is not a railroad that treats it's employees well - they used to go so far as to have fake toilets on locomotives
All of this is a digression though: What is this camp car doing in the very non-remote Bronx?
The answer seems to be that it (and the box car) were bought by a contractor doing work for NYC area commuter railroads. The camp car was littered with 'New Jersey Transit' contractor manuals, NYC subway maps, and disgustingly dirty LIRR raincoats. In the bedrooms, bottled water from Canadian National was still to be found, unopened, along with paperwork suggesting that Canadian national sold these cars in the mid 1990s. They were sighted near the seacaucus transfer station when it was being built, and up by waldwick NY, where NJ Transit and Metro North have a commuter line. One could guess that it was used by a contractor perhaps as a break room / office for workers who never actually lived on the cars. Perhaps they ended up in the Bronx as part of some contractor job within Grand Central Station (much work equipment for grand central, along with its trash - is moved out to the Bronx).
Whatever the reasons, the future of these abandoned railroad cars from a largely forgotten era is as uncertain as my musings on how they ended up here. I suspect they'll be cut up for scrap metal within the coming months or years.