Monday, December 24, 2012

Photo Essay: Bank of Manhattan Clock Tower, Queens, Abandoned

Conveniently, the last two times I've visited New York City, I've been able to catch special art installations in abandoned buildings: last May at the Andrew Freedman Home, and this December at the iconic Clock Tower building at Queens Plaza in Long Island City.



Only an abandoned building could probably get me to return to Queens Plaza by choice. There, the wind funnels under the elevated train tracks like a storm, burning ear tips, searing eyeballs and turning hair curls into tangles.



There, the former Bank of Manhattan has been closed to the public since the mid-1980s, and the remarkable neo-Gothic structure has stood vacant in Long Island City for 25 years, until this exhibit opened its doors to art aficionados and architectural looky-loos such as myself.



Gazing upwards, you can see the two past lives of the tower: its original 1927, high-ceilinged grand entrance, and its mid-century, drop-ceilinged modification with air ducts and fluorescent lighting occupying the space above.



Paint peels. Plaster crumbles. Original moulding peeks out of the shadows. Brick is exposed.



Upstairs, a horseshoe-shaped, Corinthian column-lined mezzanine wraps around the central lobby of the former bank...



...though now the upper level appears to only house heating, cooling, and lighting for the building...



...with most of its ornamentation hidden.



There are dark, dusty rooms up there...



...with the day's last remaining light streaming weakly through dingy windows...



...reflecting off paint chips and decades of dirt.



Downstairs in the basement...



...amidst the whitely painted drywall and the brightly lit rooms...



...looms the heavy vault door...



...now swung open...



...probably not closed for decades.



A storage area contains original shelving...



...where bare light bulbs dangle...





...and, as part of the installation, illuminate the yellowed pages of an old ledger...



...from sometime after Chase Manhattan took over the bank in 1955.



Other rooms are more fluorescent...



...with an oddly-placed kitchenette...



...and an incompletely swept floor.



The bathrooms are still lit, now haphazardly converted into storage.



Circuit breakers are exposed, but should not be flipped.



Even the exit signs have blanched.



Or were they always that way?

The clock tower itself is lit, and featured a moving shadow installation that was part of the exhibit, but as much as we wanted to go up there and inspect it, entry was verboten. Probably because that's the one area of the building that is not vacant: it is currently occupied by law offices.

And the ground floor will not be vacant for long. It's available for rent.

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