New York Ave.


There are about five blocks of New York Avenue Northeast that we all know, even if we’ve never really stopped to look. You whisk past it on the Megabus to Philly or on your way to a breezy Saturday in Annapolis. Most of the storefronts are closed, most of the buildings are vacant. And the cops have better things to worry about than your speed.

261It is filthy and crumbling, its foundations cracked on the faulty promise of equal opportunity. The idle, vacant factories, the abandoned homes, the burnt-out, broken-in storefronts. It’s so gritty and real… It’s another world, and I’m a born adventurer. It should be a playground for urban exploration. But I can’t bring myself to enter many of these shells…

Oh, it would be easy – the boards have already been plied away, the windows broken out, the locks forced – but I am scared witless to go in. An unknown someone has already been here. It was no historical Lincoln or long gone nineteenth century seminary student. Even the brave developers of the self-styled, Metro-branded “NoMa” (est. 2004) haven’t ventured this far up New York Avenue. Yet.

Maybe television has taught me hysterics and paranoia, instilled in me a falsely inflated fear of neighborhoods like these. But even the local police precinct has a twelve foot razor wire fence around it. And thirty six hours after my visit, a drive-by across from the “safe,” gentrified Metro stop wounds thirteen.

The people who have blazed trails into these bombed out structures weren’t here to play or make money. They were here because this is where they’ve found themselves. Looking for a quiet, relatively safe place to rest, shelter from the rain, reprieve from predators, be they in uniforms or in imaginations they can’t quite control. The people who found their way inside these buildings were almost certainly victims and survivors of one kind or another – the marginal looking for cover from the next raid. They were the poorest, the most disturbed, the most disadvantaged inhabitants of the most blighted neighborhoods in our city.

Urban exploration throws light upon the darker side of capitalism – the dimension of economic and social disparity that lets me have fun in someone else’s part of town and then go back to my cleaner, safer side before the sun goes down. It’s a dramatic enactment of the economic and social forces that govern our very divided communities. Those forces allow me to go back to my high speed internet connection in order to upload these photos as a trophy of my brave foray to the wrong side of the Amtrak.

We all have free will, sure, but so much of life still boils down to the accident of where you are born. Our system perpetuates itself. To what degree we are passengers or agents of change within that system, I don’t know… But not everyone on New York Avenue is just visiting.


1400-2000 blocks of New York Ave, NE

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Abandoned Washington DC by Thomas Kenning


9 thoughts on “New York Ave.

  1. Good words and great shots – I too am fascinated by decay and entropy – especially of urban environments.

    Posted by infraredrobert | May 2, 2013, 10:59 pm
  2. omg im in love. Im a local Film maker and I was wondering if any of these are still abandoned and where are the locations cuz I would love to shoot near and at these places they fit perfectly in my scenes!

    Posted by Brad Flemmings | July 20, 2013, 5:49 pm
  3. Any chance there are still vacant factories off of New York Ave one year later? I am looking for empty factories in the DC area for a film project I am working on.

    Posted by Allison | July 3, 2014, 3:52 pm
  4. New York Ave? Is it not being updated now as I live close by and never seen it?

    Posted by Ebony | September 18, 2015, 5:10 am
  5. Union Market (the older parts) is nearby along New York Ave and is also in a transition phase. A lot of businesses have moved and you can go in and explore at least one of the older sections. The transition right now is from older shops to new developments.

    Posted by Cody | March 27, 2018, 2:13 am

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Abandoned Washington DC – Get the whole picture with more than 350 never-before-seen full-color photos of DC in decay, accompanied by essays and stories of urban exploration in the nation’s capital. Glossy, heavyweight pages, suitable for any coffee table or bookshelf. This is DCinruins the way it was meant to be seen.

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