Thursday, July 23, 2015

Deserted Culkin Academy, Vicksburg, Mississippi

(Note: click any photograph to enlarge it.)
Generations of Warren County students who lived east of Vicksburg went to school at the Culkin Academy, later the Culkin Elementary School. When I first moved to the area in the mid-1980s, Culkin was still open, and I recall a PTA fund drive to buy air conditioners. The last year of operation was around 1999. A coworker's children attended elementary school there before the new Sherman Avenue Elementary school opened.
The old "Culkin Academy" sign is still engraved in the architectural concrete. On the front wall, each window was topped with the symbol of an academic discipline (in this case, mechanics). According to a friend at Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the building can be considered Art Moderne style, designed by a Modernist master, E.L. Malvaney of Jackson. It was completed in 1942. This was during World War II, but construction obviously started before the war began, likely funded by the Works Progress Administration. The county was lucky on the timing because most civilian construction was terminated on put on hold during the war years.
The classrooms are a mess. Many of the windows no longer have plywood covers, so I was able to place my camera on the window ledges and use time exposures. For a few years, a fellow rented the building and raised worms (yes, a worm farm). But I can't tell in what part of the building this animal husbandry occurred.
Not much is happening out back on a sultry summer day. 

Suzassippi wrote about how the high school in Eupora, Mississippi (now the Webster County school district), may be an architectural match to the Culkin Academy

There may be a use for the Culkin school yet. On July 7, 2015, the Vicksburg Post reported:
The sheriff’s department uses a building on the school’s campus for self-contained breathing apparatus training and tactical training like searching through smoke filled rooms, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said. The department also practices intruder simulations besides using the site for other law enforcement training purposes. Pace said it gives the department’s employees real world experience so they can be prepared for any emergency that might arise in the schools, offices or other locations.
Photographs taken with a Panasonic G3 digital camera with the Panasonic Lumix 12-32mm lens. I processed the raw files with PhotoNinja software.

Friday, July 17, 2015

On the Delta: the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

When you visit Olympia, Washington, a great day's outing is to walk in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. 
"Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is located where the freshwater of the Nisqually River meets the saltwater of south Puget Sound, creating the Nisqually River Delta. The delta is a biologically-rich and diverse area that supports a variety of habitats including the estuary, freshwater wetlands and riparian woodlands. It is considered the last unspoiled major estuary in Puget Sound. The Nisqually Delta has been designated as a National Natural Landmark because of its national significance as one of the best examples of this kind of coastal salt marsh system remaining in the North Pacific.
Nisqually Refuge is famous for the more than 275 migratory bird species that use the refuge for migration, wintering, or breeding. The refuge provides rearing and migration habitat for steelhead trout and several salmon species, and habitat for a variety of threatened and endangered species. The Black River Unit, southwest of Olympia, provides high quality habitat for Coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, migratory birds, and a diversity of other species." (from the US Fish and Wildlife Service).
The first European settlers came to the area in the 1830s. By the late 1830s, the economy began to shift from fur trading to farming and sheep-grazing. During the late-19th century, settlers throughout the Puget Sound area built dikes and drained river deltas. The soil in the former tidal marshland was rich and fertile, making excellent flat farmland. But as a consequence, estuarine habitats were lost, including much of the Nisqually River estuary.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is slowly removing some of the old dikes and allowing natural tidal flow to return to the creeks and channels. The photograph above, taken at low tide, shows pilings in one of the channels, possibly remains of weirs.
In 1904, a farmer, Alson Brown, and his wife bought 2,350 acres in the Nisqually delta. He built dikes and converted the fertile land to crop production and to chicken, hog, and cattle farming. After World War I, Brown went bankrupt, but subsequent owners raised the dikes and built the tall twin barns in 1932. This was during the Depression - how did they raise the funds?
The barns were damaged in the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake and have been closed since then. They are secured and in reasonably good condition, so the Fish and Wildlife Service has maintained them to some extent. On a sunny clear day, they are a nice photographic topic.
Let's briefly look at Olympia. 
 This is downtown Olympia from the west.
The state capitol was begun in 1890 but construction languished because of funding issues. The building was finally completed in 1928, during the easy-money years of the Roaring Twenties. At a height of 287 feet, the dome is said to be the fifth tallest masonry dome on earth, meaning a dome held up by its stone bearing walls without reinforcement.The US capitol in Washington is higher, at 302 ft, but it has a steel framework. The 2001 earthquake caused serious damage and required a $118 million renovation and internal reinforcement.

Trivia item: The Capitol has the largest collection of Tiffany lights in the world, some 438 units. Go see them. The chandelier above the rotunda weighs 10,000 lb and is suspended 50 feet above the floor. Serious lamp.
Washington State is a wonderful place to live if you like organic vegetables and fruits and locally-sourced ingredients (like Italy, Spain, or other civilized places with a real food culture). Apples and pears are local specialties. This photograph is from the farmers' market in downtown Olympia.

Camera notes: the square frames are from a Fujifilm X-E1 digital camera, with raw files processed in PhotoNinja software. A polarizing filter helped darken the sky on this amazingly clear and sunny February day. The long wide panoramic frames are from a Hasselblad XPan film camera (which was manufactured by Fuji). The XPan had a film opening of 72x24mm, or twice the width of a standard 35mm camera frame. A friend took me flying over the area in a cloth airplane of the type where you can swing open the window.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Vicksburg's Lost Masonic Temple

During the early 20th century, most American cities of any size or commercial prominence had a Masonic Temple or Lodge. Often it was a well-built building in the commercial area, typically dating from the late-1800s or early 1900s. The Masons must have been fabulously wealthy to be able to buy land and erect substantial brick buildings in major cities. I sometimes wondered if Vicksburg had a lodge, and by pure chance, found some photographs in the Library of Congress' holdings.
This rather severe three-floor building the old Masonic Temple, at the corner of Grove and Washington Streets. The view is looking uphill to the east on Grove St. This building and the small shops to the left were razed sometime before 1985, and the grassy lot now serves the weekly farmer's market. The present Highway 61 Coffeeshop and Attic Gallery are just off the frame to the right, where the cars are pointing. The metadata from Library of Congress does not provide a specific date other than post-1933. My guess from the cars is mid-1970s.
This is the view of the rear. The windows are broken out, so it must have been abandoned at the time the photograph was taken. My friend from Mississippi Department of Archives and History checked and found an undated article from the Vicksburg Sunday Post, apparently from the 1970s with a photo of the building and a caption noting that it had recently "been taken by Urban Renewal" and demolished. The article was mostly about the history of the lodge and the contents of  in its cornerstone. Many historic building in Vicksburg were demolished during the urban renewal craze of the late-1970s.
This is a photograph from a 1931 paper (James, P.E. 1931. Vicksburg: A Study in Urban Geography, Geographical Review, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Apr., 1931), pp. 234-243). The temple is the building with a light roof in the middle left. Note the gas tank in the middle of the photograph near the river.
This is postcard 90864-01-postcard_ViewNorth from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The temple is the tall building in the right center. The Yazoo Canal is in flood, and I wonder if this was taken during the 1927 flood?
This is the grassy field where the buildings once stood. They were already gone when I moved to town in 1985. The limestone block wall in the center may be Civil-War era.
The Reverend Dennis painted the Masonic symbol in several places on Margaret's Gro on North Washington Street. He spent two decades decorating the old grocery store as a "Bible Temple to God." The Reverend passed away a few years ago, and his Temple is crumbling away.

If anyone can add any information about the Vicksburg Masonic Temple, please add to the comments. Based on a quick search, I found two present lodges. I do not know how active they are.
1. Masonic Temple, W.G. Paxton Lodge #559; and
2. William H. Stevens Lodge #121, F&AM Masonic Lodge in Vicksburg, MS.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Murdered Body at Kuhn Memorial Hospital, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Sometime late Saturday evening, June 27, 2015, an elderly lady was abducted from her house on Drummond Street. Some paranormal researchers found the body in Kuhn Hospital on Sunday, June 28. Mrs. Sharen Wilson, 69, was last seen at her home on Saturday. The coroner determined that she had been raped and shot after having been brought to the hospital. The dilapidated old building is a hazard and was unsecured, making it almost inevitable that it would become the site for a crime of this magnitude. I have documented the decay before. Here are some more photographs.
 This is an aerial photograph of the hospital before the modern front section was built.
In 1993, the hospital had only been closed for four years, and the windows were still blocked with plywood and secure. This is a scan of a Kodachrome 25 35mm slide, taken with a Leica camera and 35mm Summicron-RF lens.

By 2014, the building was crumbling badly. Copper wire had been looted, the drop ceiling was dropping into soggy piles, and asbestos and black mold dripped down the walls. The roof has partly collapsed in this section.
The interior was piled with debris and wet ceiling remains.

On June 30, 2015, the Vicksburg Post reported:
"City officials are looking for a way to buy the old Kuhn Hospital building at 1422 Martin Luther King Boulevard to demolish it and turn the property over to a developer to turn the site into a residential area. 
“Right now, it looks as if the best option would be to take it down, get some kind of CDBG or any other grant and turn into a housing complex with individual houses,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said. Mayfield is taking the lead in the city’s attempts to resolve the problems with Kuhn, which has been abandoned since 1989, when the State of Mississippi closed it as a charity hospital. 
Mayfield’s comments followed a brief discussion on the property at a work session of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday in the wake of the abduction and death of Sharen Wilson, whose body was found on the property Sunday night. 
“The hospital has been, in my opinion, an eyesore to the community even before I took public office, which has been 20 years, now. The residents in that community have wanted it taken down.” 
The city has been trying for several years to get the property demolished, but has encountered a series of problems in the process. “Every time we get right at the door of either acquiring it or taking it down, another road block shows up,” Mayfield said.
One problem has been determining exactly who has title to the property. According to Warren County tax rolls, the owner is listed as the Esther Stewart Buford Foundation in Yazoo City, but the 12.8-acre tract has been sold multiple times at tax sales, clouding who has the proper title to the land. 
Community Development Director Victor Grey-Lewis said assistant city attorney Bobby Robinson is researching county land records to determine who has the title.
He said Monday the owner of the property has announced they are abandoning the property for tax reasons. 
The second issue is asbestos, which has been discovered in the building. Having an assessment to determine the amount of asbestos and having it removed is expensive, City Attorney Nancy Thomas told the board. Also, she said, a portion of the main building’s roof has collapsed. 
The city applied for an Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Grant to cover the cost of assessing the building for asbestos, but the application was denied. No one in Mississippi received an assessment grant this year, Grey-Lewis said. Grey-Lewis said the roof’s collapse could help the city get a waiver to have the building assessed for asbestos from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
“If the roof is beginning to collapse, we don’t want to send asbestos inspectors into a building that’s collapsing,” he said, adding he has been talking with DEQ officials about a waiver. He said the city may try to acquire the property for the back taxes owed, which presently total $2,798.61. “I’d like to see us acquire it to take it down,” Mayfield said. 
If the city can acquire the property and remove the building, Grey-Lewis said, “Then we have the right under state statute to turn the property over to a developer for a period of two years to work with developing the property. If they can’t, the property can revert back to the city.” 
“I want people to know we have not dropped the ball on this property,” Mayfield said, “but it has been a long process and a lot of stones have been thrown in our path.”
Kuhn Memorial Hospital was built on the site of city hospital that had been in operation since 1847. 
The city deeded the property to the state in 1956, and the hospital became a state-run charity hospital in 1959. It was closed in 1989 under the administration of former Gov. Ray Mabus, when state officials decided to close its three charity hospitals in favor of an expanded Medicaid program."
We are lucky to still have a local newspaper. The Post's stories on Kuhn have been picked up by papers around the country.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Party Where No One Came: Salton City, California

The Salton sea is a endorheic rift lake located in southern California in Imperial and Riverside counties. It is shallow, saline, and fed by agricultural runoff. A few wadis (gullies) lead into the lake, but only flow after a rainstorm. The Sea was trendy and sophisticated in the 1940s, when Hollywood stars flocked to marinas and watched boat races. In recent decades, increasing salinity led to fish kills and severe environmental degradation, and the tourists stopped coming. Dust has led to serious air quality issues.
Salton City was an ambitious dream. When you look at aerial photographs, you see a grid of streets and think this must be a sizable community. But in fact, few of the streets were ever developed, and tumbleweeds blow over dusty pavement. According to Wikipedia, "The town was developed in the 1950s and established in 1958 primarily by M. Penn Phillips and the Holly Sugar Corporation as a resort community on the Salton Sea." But it was isolated and there were few local employment opportunities, leading to minimal development. Could the fact that the summer temperature was over 100 deg F be part of the story? (Of course, Palm Springs is hot, too, but it is higher altitude and close to mountains, and has a more sophisticated aura to it.).
The main excitement seems to happen at the Arco truck stop on California State Highway 86 at the junction with Marina Drive. Optimism: the sign says there are lots for sale.
Cross 86 and head east on Marina Drive, and the Alamo Restaurant welcomes you. Another good sign.
Oh oh, now it look a bit quieter. Where are the people?
The high school looks modern and clean, but it sits by itself in a rather lonely spot.
We found one lot with some habitation.
A sign said "Marina." Where was it? All we saw was sand. Even the palm trees looked lonely.
Another chance to buy some waterfront property.
This road was rip-rapped (protected with stone). Did it once serve as a levee during a time of higher water level? Bombay Beach, on the east side of the lake, also had levees.
Oh oh, some more of these unhappy palm trees.
This basin may have been the unhappy marina. The yachtsmen must have moved their boats away.
This says it all for poor old Salton City. But not all is lost; drive about an hour northwest to Palm Springs, and you can dine in a variety of excellent restaurants. Salton city is only 30 min, south of Interstate 10, so the next time you drive across country, take a short diversion and see the Salton Sea. Click the link for some photographs of Bombay Beach.

The day my daughter and I visited Salton City, storms had recently passed, so the sky had more texture than usual with high clouds. I used a Fuji X-E1 camera with a polarizing filter to darken the sky. I processed the Fuji raw files with PhotoNinja software and converted to monochrome with their red or orange filter emulations. On some frames, I slid the blue wavelengths slider to the left to create an almost black sky. Also, I cropped square as per the days when I used a Rolleiflex camera, with its 6×6 frame. On my next trip there, I will take my 4×5" camera and do real photography with Tri-X film.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

West Capitol Street, Jackson - Continuing Decay

Let's continue our exploration of west Jackson by driving further west on West Capitol Street. In my previous post, I wrote about the abandoned Masonic Temple on West Capitol. Proceed northwest, and the scene does not get much better.
This modest little house is at 1537. It was probably a starter home in the 1930s or 1940s, un-ostentatious, and home for several generations of families.
This is a typical early-20th century cottage at 1539. It does not look too bad, but was deserted in when I took the photograph in April of 2015.
Next door, at 1451, there is a jungle. Wait, there is a house in there.

Not a pretty scene. It looks like the last occupants left in a hurry. Windows and doors have been stripped.
One of the occupants even left her undies.
Across the street, at 1550, is an abandoned apartment complex. I did not want to venture too far into the grounds. Water was gushing from a leak under the sidewalk. How much water does the City of Jackson's Water Department lose from leakage? The grass in the cracks shows what happens when pavement is abandoned - nature takes over, especially in this damp climate.

This is just a brief view of what West Jackson looks like. I don't understand. A coworker lived in West Jackson in the 1970s, and said it was quiet and neat, sort of a "Leave it to Beaver" version of American suburbia. How can a community deteriorate so badly in 3-4 decades? Aren't city government officials embarrassed that this is what their city looks like? We will continue our exploration of Jackson in future posts.