Boyce Thompson Institute, West Front. Yonkers, NY.
February 19, 2001
NOTE: The Boyce Thompson Institute Building in Yonkers is proposed for commercial redevelopment. Please read the updates at the bottom of this page to follow the progress of the development (June 12, 2015).
"There will be two hundred million people in this country pretty soon. It's going to be a question of bread, of primary food supply. That question is beyond politicians and sociologists. I think I will work out some institution to deal with plant physiology, to help protect the basic needs of the 200 million. Not an uplift foundation, but a scientific institution dealing with definite things, like germination, parasites, plant diseases, and plant potentialities."
-William Boyce Thompson, circa 1919
And thus began the initiative by international mining financier and Yonkers resident to build the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI), “a private not-for-profit organization dedicated to the study of plants and associated organisms for the betterment of society” (http://www.yonkershistory.org/ 8_2_2.html -- John D'Agnillo).” Built in 1924 across the Street from Mr. Thompson’s country estate Alder Manor, the Georgian Revival building was designed by architect Frank Arnold Colby and built by the J. G. White Engineering Corporation, engineers and contractors, of 43 Exchange Place, New York City. It is constructed of reinforced concrete with a Flemish Bond brick veneer and is attached to a series of greenhouses on the south end, which were part of the original construction. The north half of the building was built in 1930, and greenhouses and related structures to the West of the building were built and or modified in subsequent years. (Many thanks to Dewayne Torgeson, Retired, Boyce Thompson Institute, for supplying the information I have copied here.)
BTI, from southeast, showing greenhouses.
February 19, 2001
The idea for
the Plant Research facility came about during a visit to Russia in 1917,
where Thompson was part of a Red Cross mission sent by President Woodrow
Wilson to keep Russia in World War I and to encourage the formation of
a democratic government, under the guise of a relief mission. Thompson
witnessed much suffering and starvation and the inability of a social democratic
government to take care of its own people. Of course Russia limped out
of the war, and its own Civil War ended in Communist takeover. Upon return
from his experience in Russia, Thompson was convinced “that agriculture,
food supply, and social justice are linked. World political stability in
the future, he prophesied, would depend on the availability of adequate
food. This conviction, along with his faith in science, helped to shape
his next philanthropic project” (http://bti.cornell.edu/ar98/history/hist1.htm).
The Boyce Thompson Institute continued important research and innovation
at its Yonkers home for over 50 years. The pollution of the Hudson River
spawned extensive research into the subject, and in 1977 the BTI, under
the project leadership of Edward H. Buckley, published An Atlas of the
Biologic Resources of the Hudson Estuary. However, just over a year
later, the BTI moved to Cornell University, as cooperation with the educational
institution offered advantages into research opportunities, plus the fact
that property taxes in Yonkers had been high once the area became urbanized. The
Boyce Thompson Institute today operates as an independent organization in
cooperation with Cornell University.
Only in the winter of 2000/2001 did this building come to my attention, as it did not appear to be vacant before. All of the windows frames were removed and boarded up; the greenhouses may not have been used since 1978. The ornamental raised beds west of the facility are just as empty. At one point the BTI was surrounded on three sides by the Hudson River Country Club, its now-demolished clubhouse stood to the south of the BTI complex. Much of the country club acreage is now an office park. The interior of the BTI is completely devoid of artifacts and furnishings, and many walls have been removed or stripped down. The north wing is interesting as it is one giant empty two-story room, this probably being where the library stacks were located.
The Boyce Thompson
Institute was leased out and actively used as late as 1997, and was acquired by the
of Yonkers / Board of Education in 1999. Work required,
prior to re-use of the building, was undertaken. This work included abatement of
potentially hazardous materials (a common process when adaptively-reusing older
buildings); the removal of windows and the stripping of interior wall
finishes left the building looking a bit unkempt. Several proposals for reuse of
the site came and went after Yonkers decided not to use the site for a school,
all the while the City failed to properly maintain the building - the plywood
boards covering the windows were frequently torn off and not replaced. In 2004,
Weinberg Brothers and Associates announced plans to reuse the site. That process
is ongoing as of winter 2007 and will be covered here in the "Updates"
Much of the information came from this website:
http://bti.cornell.edu/ - The official Boyce Thompson Institute web site.
http://bti.cornell.edu/history.php - Direct Link to BTI History
More Boyce Thompson Institute Photo Galleries
March 24, 2005:
Exteriors Interiors Greenhouses
UPDATE: JUNE 12, 2015
Simone Development Companies has broken ground at the Boyce Thompson Institute site for redevelopment of the property. The main building will be preserved but the greenhouses will be demolished. The project will feature an "85,000-square-foot mixed-use complex with office and medical space, restaurants, banking and retail stores" including an "a new 18,000-square-foot addition." The project should be completed in early 2017.
UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 17, 2010
Westfair Online reported on the proposed development plans for the Boyce Thompson Institute site this past January.
UPDATE: APRIL 12, 2007
On April 10, the Yonkers City Council passed a resolution authorizing the Mayor of Yonkers to execute a contract for the sale of the Boyce Thompson Institute property on North Broadway to Weinberg B T LLC.
UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 23, 2006
United States District Judge Leonard Sand approved the sale of the former Boyce Thompson Institute by the City of Yonkers to Weinberg Brothers and Associates, clearing the way for the redevelopment of the North Broadway property. As a result of a 26-year old desegregation ruling against the city, Yonkers has agreed to build affordable housing elsewhere in the city; in return the NAACP agreed that it would not further challenge the sale of the property in court. The deal also approved the sale by the City of Yonkers of Alder Manor to Tara Circle. The City had not sought required court approval to sell either property from Judge and as required by the desegregation settlement. Ted Weinberg also announced at a recent City Council Real Estate Committee meeting that he hired Jan Hird Pokorny to design plans for the commercial redevelopment of the Boyce Thompson Institute site.
Source Article: "Federal court clears Boyce Thompson sale." by Michael Gannon. The Journal News, September 20, 2006.
UPDATE: APRIL 29, 2005:
In a 5-2 vote on Tuesday April 26, the City Council ruled against Landmark status for the Boyce Thompson Institute. Rationale for the vote against landmarking put forth by Council members Liam McLaughlin, Dennis Robertson, and Council President Richard Martinelli included statements that landmark status is too onerous on property owners, that the building is an eyesore, and concern that the application was submitted after the developer for the site was chosen. Council members Dee Barbato and John Murtagh reasoned that landmarking is not as restrictive as opponents and argued, and the site's present status as abandoned should not be a reason to counter designation for its historic and architectural significance. Murtagh asked Robertson if one would consider the Coliseum in Rome an eyesore, as it is in ruins.
The application for landmarking was put forth to stop demolition of the BTI complex and to include the main laboratory and greenhouse complex in the redevelopment of the property, not to stop development outright. It was submitted after announcement of Weinberg Associates as the chosen developer because all previous proposals for the property (City of Yonkers Alternative High School, Museum of Sound Recording) included keeping and preserving the existing buildings. Competitive proposals for the property, including St. John's Riverside Hospital, Club Fit and Leonides, also had proposed reuse of the existing complex. Leonides in particular proposed to meet the asking price of 6.4 million dollars, keep the main building and possibly the attached greenhouses, construct only one additional building, and generate 580 new jobs for the site.
Other items on the agenda but delayed for vote included the negative SEQRA declaration, and the actual sale of the property.
UPDATE: APRIL 20, 2005:
The City Council has moved the Boyce Thompson property from the Real Estate and Rules Committees onto the City Council agenda for voting on Tuesday April 26. The Council has a resolution to reject Landmark designation, state a negative declaration under the SEQRA process, and approval to sell the property to Weinberg Associates. The City has yet to receive the waiver needed to sell the property as required under its desegregation order.
UPDATE: MARCH 8, 2005:
On Wednesday March 2, 2005, the Yonkers Landmarks Preservation Board voted unanimously to recommend Landmark status to the Boyce Thompson Institute. Their recommendation follows that of the Planning Board, which voted against Landmark status, and now goes to the City Council for final determination. The date for that vote has not been set yet. No representative from Weinberg Brothers, potential purchaser of the BTI site, was in attendance, but two other parties interested in reusing the laboratory building and greenhouses were in attendance and spoke on behalf of Landmark status. The Journal News followed up this momentous occasion with two articles: "Board supports landmarking Boyce Thompson," by Hannan Adely, March 3, 2005; and "Council to decide on ex-site of plants," by Hannan Adely, March 7, 2005.
The Journal News - March 3, 2005
The Journal News - March 7, 2005
UPDATE: FEBRUARY 12, 2005:
Several updates, in order. First, at a City Council Real Estate Committee meeting on February 1, Ted Weinberg publicly stated for the first time that it is his intention to reuse the main building of the Boyce Thompson Institute complex. He presented no plan for the site based on his stated intentions, and only showed the committee members sheets of graph paper with the outline of the main building and approximate square footage of space per floor. He also told the City Council he would walk away from the deal to purchase the site if the property is landmarked (The City Council makes the ultimate decision). Some Council members seemed supportive of a restrictive covenant in the salke agreement with language included to indicate the reuse of the main building.
Yonkers Tribune - "Yonkers Real Estate Meeting Regarding Boyce Thompson Property of February 1,2005." Posted February 2, 2005.
On February 9, the Planning Board adopted a resolution advising the Landmarks Board to not designate the Boyce Thompson Institute a City Landmark. Some reasons include: the belief that if the property is landmarked, Weinberg Brothers will not buy the property, and it will remain vacant and in disrepair for a long time, and that the bid to buy the property preceded the landmarking application. (Who is to say no one else will buy the property and reuse the building in short time if Weinberg walks away? Yonkers city Hall has not been prompt in releasing details of other applicants proposals for the property, or the sale process, as requested.) The landmarking application was not a last-minute ambush of the Weinberg Brothers proposal, as was implied in statements by Ted Weinberg and Al Del Bello to the Planning Board in January. Until the news of the sale of the site in September, there had been no indication that the building was threatened.
It is no surprise that the Planning Board adopted this resolution, given the political climate in Yonkers. From the beginning, City officials have advised against landmarking and have warned the Landmarks Board to not designate the BTI as a landmark. As the historic and architectural experts, it is hoped that the Landmarks Board will let the City Council know that retention of historic structures and preservation of neighborhood character is an important concern that should be addressed.
Yonkers Tribune - "Landmarks Preservation Public Board Hearing Tonight Re: Boyce Thompson." Posted February 9, 2005.
UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 23, 2006
Judge Leonard Sand cleared the way for the redevelopment of the Boyce Thompson Institute site by approving the sale of the property by the City of Yonkers to Weinberg Brothers and Associates of Eastchester. Sand also approved the prior sale of Alder Manor by the City of Yonkers to Tara Circle. The NAACP, which brought a lawsuit challenging the City's unauthorized sale of the two properties (stemming from a 26-year old desegregation ruling). Ted Weinberg, of Weinberg brothers, hired Jan Hird Pokorny to design the plans for the redevelopment of the Boyce Thompson Institute building.
Source article: "Federal court clears Boyce Thompson sale," by Michael Gannon. The Journal News. September 20, 2006.
UPDATE: JANUARY 13, 2005:
Yonkers Tribune - "Yonkers Planning Board ...And Then." Posted January 13, 2005. On January 12, the Planning Board heard statements for the landmarking of the Boyce Thompson Institute by Rob Yasinsac, Deirdre Hoare, Jeffrey Williams, President of the Yonkers Historical Society, Charles S. Lesnick, and Martin Fisher of Historic Facades LLC, and Debra Cohen, Esq. Ted Weinberg and his legal counsel, Al Del Bello spoke of responding to the community interest in preservation but referred to the building as "a mess" and how they could "honor" the history of the site should the building be demolished. The Planning Board deferred action until a later date. Also see The Journal News, "Landmark Debated," By Hannan Adely (Original publication: January 13, 2005).
UPDATE: DECEMBER 8, 2004:
Yonkers Tribune - "Residents Fight to Save Boyce Thompson Institute From Demolition." Posted December 7, 2004.
UPDATE: DECEMBER 2, 2004:
Deirdre Hoare, of Yonkers, and Rob Yasinsac, of Tarrytown, are fighting to get the City of Yonkers to designate the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research as a historic landmark. The City's Landmarks Preservation Board took the first step on December 1 by voting unanimously to accept their application for landmarking. This puts into effect a moratorium on city approval of any application for a zone change, variance, special exception, subdivision, site plan, building, demolition, or sign permit for the property until final disposition of the proposed historic designation. According to the Yonkers City Code, "in no event shall the moratorium be for more than 180 days."
The Landmarks Preservation Board referred the landmark application to the City's Planning Board for its advisory recommendation, as per procedure, and scheduled a public hearing for February 2, 2005. The Landmarks Board will then vote on whether to recommend the Boyce Thompson Institute for local landmark designation to the City Council. If indeed the Landmarks Board recommends local landmark status, the City Council will be the final arbiter of whether the Boyce Thompson Institute is designated a local landmark or not.
Lee Ellman, City Planning Dept., sent a memo to the landmarks board urging it to not go "against the precedent of the last ten years" by seeking approval for landmark application not prepared by the property owner (the city, apparently, although public documents show it belongs to the Board of Education.) Truth is, the landmarks board can vote whatever way they want. The city also took the unusual step of having a rep for the corporation counsel attend, who admittedly only comes for "hot button" issues.
UPDATE OCTOBER 26, 2004:
Yonkers Tribune - Proposed Demolition of the Boyce Thompson Institute By Rob Yasinsac. Posted October 20, 2004.
UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 21, 2004:
In 1999, the City of Yonkers purchased this handsome brick building across the street from William Boyce Thompson's Alder Manor, with plans for an alternative school. Now, plans have been approved by the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency to sell the former Boyce Thompson Institute to a developer who will raze the building, and replace it with something more complementary to the typically bland office complex which sits adjacent. According to The Journal News, the sale price of the BTI is 6 million dollars, and the building will be replaced by "100,000 square feet of campus-style commercial and office space on the six-acre site, possibly including a pharmacy, a bank, a health club, a physical-therapy center, doctors' offices, an imaging center and other medical-related businesses."
Source article: "Bed, Bath & Beyond developer to tackle Boyce Thompson site." By Michael Gannon, The Journal News, September 21, 2004.
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