Abandoned since 1963 and currently off-limits to the public, North Brother Island has long been a favorite destination for New York urban explorers. Getting there usually requires a risky boat or kayak trip from the Bronx's Hunts Point out into the East River, but a group of videographers recently used a drone to fly over the island, and the results are captivating.
Drone videographer Scott Kalberer first got the idea to film North Brother Island from above while driving on Manhattan's FDR Drive earlier this summer. Kalberer, who is part of the aerial filmmaker group DCEIT, returned to Hunts Point on June 30th and, with a group of friends, took speed boats out onto the river roughly 100 feet from the island, where they flew two camera-equipped drones overhead for forty minutes to capture their footage.
In the video, the island's ruined Riverside Hospital is clearly visible. Used to treat smallpox, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases (Typhoid Mary was a patient there), the facility was closed in the 1940s, then re-opened to house World War II veterans, and finally served as a treatment center for drug addicts until it was closed in 1963.
The island's 20 acres of disused, derelict space caught the attention of City Council member and parks committee chair Mark D. Levine, who led his fellow council members on a tour there in 2014 (which is when photographer Tod Seelie took the above photos) hoping "to build momentum, just to disseminate appreciation for this." At that time, Levine has expressed hopes of re-opening North Brother as a public space that would be "respectful of the historic nature" and work with a "huge number of safety concerns... it's not [currently] safe for the public."
"Since it's off the coast of the South Bronx, no one has ever invested in these kind of projects," Levine said. "If it was off the coast of TriBeCa, it would have been opened up to public access years ago."
Some specific reason for both the neglected disrepair and restricted status of North Brother Island may also be its proximity to New York City's biggest jail complex. "Rikers island must have some sort of signal blockers," Kalberer said, "because anytime we came close to it, reception went dead."