The Central Warehouse caught fire, October 22nd, 2010. It upsets me to see this landmark go down in flames. An eyesore for many, this concrete behemoth was the first abandoned building I explored with my own camera, back in March 2009. I brought back eerie pictures and a thirst for more. These photos opened many doors for me. Truth is, I owe a lot of our urban explorations, the show at UG and even the book to my trips to the warehouse. I had to spend a few moments at its side tonight, while the fire consumed these memories. Emo time.
More photos below. Click on a thumbnail to open a larger view, or check the whole series as a full-screen Flickr slideshow.
The Central Warehouse and Storage in Albany, NY was a daunting 400,000-square-foot building. Built in 1927 as a “cold and dry” storage facility, it was large enough to hold food for the entire Capital District. It also served later on as storage for toys donated at Christmas. The building had changed hands a few times in the past 20 years and was most recently sold for $1.4 million in 2007. What would become of it was a mystery as it would have cost more than the building is worth to rehabilitate or even tear down.
In March 2009, we explored a maze of rooms with wildly different layouts floor after floor, until we stumbled upon the most surprising sight, an indoor train station for the old New York Central tracks. The last ten windowless floors are almost pitch black, but the explorer climbing these many steps would be rewarded with a spectacular view of the Albany skyline. Find a lot more photos of the interior at the end of this post, and more history at All Over Albany and Albany (NY) History.
I was working at home Friday around 4pm when I got a TXT MSG from my friend B: “Central Warehouse burning”. I couldn’t really believe it. He has a fantastic view from the DEC building downtown, and confirmed that the top floors were on fire. Bright flames could be seen from miles and created major traffic problems nearby. I picked up my camera and drove down to our usual entry point near Broadway. Dense smoke was coming out of the few windows on the upper floors, people on every street near the warehouse had gathered to look at this improbable sight.
I parked near Citizens Bank, crossed the railroad and camped near a fire truck, about 40 feet from the bottom of the building. At this point, firefighters had been forbidden from entering the warehouse; too dangerous. I’m not blaming them for trying to avoid the nightmare that was the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse Fire in 1999. Ladders had been extended to their maximum height of 9 stories, not quite enough to reach the top floors. The wind wasn’t helping either.
I stayed out of the way, and firefighters made sure we weren’t going to hurt ourselves. One of them shared that they had not been in that building in a long long time; they weren’t quite sure if the old refrigeration system still contained ammonia. Should the fire rage for too long, or the ammonia explode, the building could collapse. “Hopefully with some warnings”, I told myself, standing very close to the structure when he shared that tidbit.
It appeared firefighters ran out of water pressure for some time, preventing them from firing the water cannons on both sides at the same time. The Albany Water District redirected some. B messaged me, suggesting to use the Hudson River nearby, and that’s why he is not a firefighter :)
Firefighting chaplain J. Tallman looking concerned, above. Mayor Jenning, who once called the building “one of the biggest eyesores in the city”, joined later on (hint: somebody checks his whereabouts around 3pm). A lot of firefighters were on the scene, it’s important to show some support. Thanks for letting me take some photos and walking me a bit closer when you guys had the time to.
At around 5:45pm, a huge cloud of black smoke erupted at the loading dock level, blowing towards us. I quickly moved to a safer location and took a few pictures from an elevated position. I heard that the fire had finally made its way from the upper level down to first floor. I asked if I could get closer and took a quick shot at the small inferno now raging at the lower level.
I remembered the scale of that floor, this wasn’t a small bonfire in the distance. Firefighters tried to put it down but it kept starting. I had to leave the area before it (hopefully) went out. The warehouse has been the refuge of homeless people in the past, a shelter during winter; I hope nobody was in the building when it caught fire.
The Central Warehouse is likely to burn for a few more days, though Chief Forezzi declares that he does not expect this “very well built” concrete reinforced steel structure to collapse. I guess we can expect an investigation to start quickly, but I would not be surprised if one of my favorite abandoned building is torn down soon.
I keep great memories of our first exploration there, vivid scenes I wasn’t even able to fully translate into pictures back then. Buildings come and go. The Central Warehouse has outlived a few of us, but it’s time to say good bye to an old friend. In the grand scheme of things, this is just a transformation; I’m happy we had the opportunity to document it.
Update Oct. 24
The Warehouse was still burning inside, two days later. Firefighters were pouring 1,000 gallons of water per minute into the building Sunday evening. I drove by, and it looks like nothing happened. It’s indestructible. What will happen to it is unknown, but it won’t collapse.
Update Oct. 28
According to the APD, a Rensselaer contractor was illegally in the Central Warehouse removing piping, Friday Oct. 22nd. There certainly was a lot of sprinkler pipes running on the ceilings of the upper floors, as I remember taking the picture below. The contractor, George Ellis, has been charged with burglary and other counts in connection with the fire; it seems that sparking from sawing through the pipes ignited the cork insulation. Ellis had an agreement with the owner of the warehouse to remove the pipes, but it ended this past June. He allegedly took more than 216,000 pounds (98 metric tons) of pipe valued at over $26,000, which was sold to a scrap yard in Cohoes (see Times Union, YNN and AOA).
If you ever wondered what was inside this building, check some of the 60 photos I took back in March 2009. I’ve only attached 14 below. Click on a thumbnail to open a larger view, or check the whole series as a full-screen Flickr slideshow.
Urban Explorations in Print
Are you looking for more? I have assembled a hundred photos from 10 abandoned locations in my first photo book, “The Unnoticed”, available online and at different branches of the Albany Public Library. Find more about this 136-page volume, available in hard cover, soft cover, and eBook format for iPad/iPhone, in the book section.
More abandoned buildings are listed under the “Urban Exploration” category.
Tags: abandoned buildings