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Inside Governors Island’s Forbidden Zone, Where Military Buildings Beautifully Crumble

Half a mile from Manhattan’s southern coast, Governors Island has lain as an oasis free of the rampant private development that characterizes most of New York City. Its open fields and panoramic views have been preserved largely due to the island’s history as a military post. It belonged to the U.S. Army until 1966, when it was given to the Coast Guard, who held onto it for another 30 years. In 2001, the upper half of the island was entrusted to the National Parks Service to preserve its two historic forts. In 2003, the rest of the island was given to the people of New York.

Today, Governors Island serves as a public park and summer reprieve for New Yorkers, though much of the lower half is still restricted to the public due to the area’s decommissioned buildings, which are slated for demolition. Many of these buildings were constructed by the Coast Guard for its 3,500 servicemembers and families who were stationed on the island, and have stood in neglect for the last 16 years. During that time, roofs have collapsed, plants have coursed through and seagulls have taken over. Here are a few photographs of the place before it’s all razed.

In the eastern corner of the restricted area is “Brick Village,” a set of 16 identical two-story red-brick row houses built after World War II.

The side of one row house features crumbling letters that read “Project for the New American Century,” the name of a neoconservative think tank that promoted the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Before conspiracy theorists start looking into the appearance of a 2003 political slogan on a military building that was supposedly decommissioned in 1996, know that the lettering was added in 2009 as part of an art project.

After 16 uninhabited years, some of the homes are being enveloped by the local flora.

Southwest of Brick Village is a large depot that apparently served as a strip mall. According to the signs still hanging down the lane, it once housed a commissary, dry cleaners, flower shop, hair salon and “gourmet annex.”

The flower shop vestibule.

A Coast Guard’s uniform jacket inside the dry cleaners.

A ceiling collapse in the hair salon.

Another ceiling collapse, although this time all the way through to the roof in the commissary; at the center of the light was a dead seagull.

The view from the commissary.

Looking northwest from the commissary: The interior of the restricted zone is partially filled with debris from the recent demolition of Coast Guard-era buildings, including houses, a public school, barbershop, Super 8 motel, Burger King and movie theatre. In the distance are apartment buildings, which were also built for servicemembers and are similarly destined for demolition.

The lobby of one apartment building.

Apartment interior.

Looking out from the apartment on to a children’s playground.

From the apartment building rooftop looking west to Liberty Island.

Looking north to downtown Manhattan.

Originally published on Gothamist and The Daily Mail.

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