Last week, we revisited the scenes of prominent murders and suicides throughout New York City. While stories of gangster shootings are always a headliner, here we take a look at crimes of a different breed, from heists that have inspired movies to a deadly terrorist attack in 1920 whose traces still remain. 

JFK Airport Building 261

building-261-jfk-airport-lufthansa-heist-ipad-untapped-nycAn aerial view of Building 261 in the 1970’s. Source: Wack Radio

Sometimes real life is as strange as a movie. JFK was the site of the largest robbery of cash on American soil: the Lufthansa heist, featured in Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas. In December 1978, thieves from the Lucchese crime family snuck into cargo building 261 at 3 a.m. Just over an hour later, they got away with $5 million in cash and $875,000 in jewelry, a combined $21 million in today’s money. After the heist, organizer Jimmy “The Gent” Burke ordered the murder of many of the participants in order to keep them quiet. He was later convicted of one of those murders and sentenced to life in prison.

With such heavy airport security now, could the thieves have carried out the heist today? That’s not a hypothetical, as apparently they could. In November 2012, two thieves made off with 3,600 iPad mini’s (valued between $1.5 and $1.9 million) from the same cargo building the Lufthansa robbers targeted. The iPads had just arrived from China and were supposed to be shipped throughout the US. Police later arrested a JFK worker for the robbery, but it’s unknown if the iPads were ever recovered.  (more…)

Inside the former Bank of Manhattan in Long Island City for the No Longer Empty exhibition, How Much Do I Owe You?

The theme for No Longer Empty’s exhibition opening on Wednesday is broad and anything but simple. In a way, the title says it all. ‘How Much Do I owe You?’ A straightforward question we use in our everyday lives. Yet, if we delve a bit deeper, it could take on a vast array of different meanings, depending on the social and political context. Each artist featured in No Longer Empty’s upcoming exhibition in the abandoned Bank of Manhattan  in Long Island City was asked to create a site-specific work commenting on financial exchange.


Bank vault in the former Bank of Manhattan in the Clock Tower, Long Island City

Urban explorers, architecture buffs and art lovers alike will relish this opportunity to fully explore the former Bank of Manhattan  in Long Island City’s Clock Tower when the latest No Longer Empty exhibition, “How Much Do I Owe You?” opens to the public on Wednesday, December 12th. As the event’s media sponsor, Untapped New York was given the chance to do some exploring so we can share with our readers this space, which has been closed to the public since the mid-1980s. We will also be offering an exclusive tour led by No Longer Empty and Untapped New York to a select number of lucky readers in January, please sign up  here.

Today we want to show you all the spots to check out when in the Bank of Manhattan you come to the exhibit, but do also check out this  preview of the unique installations  from the 26 participating artists.

The Bank of Manhattan later became the ubiquitous Chase Manhattan Bank, but the financial firm actually began as the first organized water delivery service, a private enterprise run by Aaron Burr called the Manhattan Company, which had exclusive rights to supply water to New York City. According to Kate Ascher in her excellent The Works: Anatomy of the City,  

Rather than bring water from the outside as planned, the company sank more wells locally and stored it in a reservoir at Chambers Street; thus the quality of the water was no better than that drawn directly from Collect Pond itself. The company prospered nonetheless and used its surplus to start a bank–the Bank of Manhattan Company–that was more profitable than its water delivery business. As its banking operations expanded, its water delivery operations shrank, and in 1808 the company sold its water operations to the city.

The Bank of Manhattan building was built in 1924, the first skyscraper in Long Island City. The Long Island Star Journal proclaimed that it would make Bridge Plaza, then a gardened promenade in the City Beautiful style, “the new Times Square of Queens.”

Bridge Plaza, Long Island City. The elevated rail arrived in 1915. (Image Source: Greater Astoria Historical Society)

Andover Realty currently owns the building and approached No Longer Empty to raise awareness of the historic space on the ground floor (the upper floors of the Clock Tower are occupied by law offices). Lucy Lydon, communications manager for No Longer Empty, tells us that the interior reflects the history of finance. As the Bank of Manhattan evolved from venerated institution to a more personal banking approach, so the architecture shifted from  an imposing neoclassical interior to dry wall, with more opportunity for communication with customers.

For example, from the main lobby area you can see the original moulding and pilasters above the wall:

Main entrance of Clock Tower lobby being prepped for the exhibition

Above the drywall, you can see the original lobby details such as the Corinthian pilasters and moulding.

The highlight of your visit will likely be the vaults in the basement:

View from inside the main vault

The main vault

Additional safes in the main vault

Former storage area

Filing cabinet in storage area

A second vault in the basement

Just outside the vault area is this elaborate shower, “artist” and origins unknown:

In the back of the first floor lobby, the assistant to South Korean artist Hayoon Jay-Lee is preparing an installation using rice bags:

In one room, artists fill the wall with bank slogans like “Grow with us,” and “What’s your dream?” around the word “TRUST.”

Closeup of bank slogans

And don’t miss the balcony area, where you can get up close and personal with the ornamented columns and the backside of the building:

Please join us for the opening of No Longer Empty’s “How Much Do I Owe You?” on Wednesday, December 12th from 7-9pm with  Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Chair of NYC Cultural Affairs Committee and the staff of Untapped New York. Sign up for our exclusive tour of the exhibition and building here.

Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.