Monday, April 14, 2014

A Pocket of Hope in Detroit, the Heidelberg Project

Detroit, Michigan, is the great industrial city situated on the Detroit River that was the birthplace of the American automobile industry. It was also the industrial powerhouse that turned out vast amounts of munitions, airplanes, and military vehicles that helped us win World War II.  But since the 1960s, it has also become an infamous example of urban decay taken to such an extreme extent, it boggles the mind. This is not a war zone, like Stalingrad in 1942; it was self-imposed decay caused by decades of racial strife, corruption, incompetence, theft, and stupidity. Are there any more terms we can apply? Several former mayors were jailed for corruption. But there are pockets of hope. One of these is the Heidelberg Project, a neighborhood of art projects that attracts tourists and shows that something creative can be extracted from the mess. The Project even has a web page.

Walk around, and you see houses covered with teddy bears, signs, balls, puffy things, and bits of plumbing. Even the street has dots. Some of the houses are occupied; some are only used during the day for classes or projects.
If you want, you can also have little lions, ducks, dragons, and monkeys.
Stop to look at the details. There are plenty of non-subtle comments on the American consumer society, poisonous foods, and legal drugs.
The famous buried Hummer. These people really, really did not like Hummers.  Or maybe they liked them because they were such an extreme example of the modern American consumer society and its cult of self-gratification via gross material possessions.
The pink bicycle is just in front of the pink Hummer.
Unfortunately, all you need to do is walk a block or two to either side of Heidelberg, and you see stark evidence of what has befallen much of Detroit: abandoned houses, fields, tatty signs, and closed stores.

Not all is well even here.  Arson is cheap entertainment in Detroit, and even the Heidelberg Project was not immune.  From their web page:
Just before 3:00AM on March 7th, the colorful Party Animal House (a favorite of children) located on Mt. Elliot (between Heidelberg and Elba Streets) was destroyed by arson, the 9th fire over an 11-month period. Though DFD responded within five minutes of the first call, their focus quickly shifted from the already destroyed Art Installation, to protecting the adjacent home of longtime residents. Though the neighboring structure suffered significant water and fire damage, its residents were unharmed and remain in surprisingly good spirits. This is the ninth fire set at the internationally renowned art environment since May, 2013, when The Obstruction of Justice house was first set ablaze.
Another essay on the arson at the Heidelberg is from David Uberti.

We will look at more Detroit photographs in future articles.  These photographs were taken in 2010 with an Olympus E-330 digital camera and the Olympus 14-54mm lens.  I reprocessed the RAW files with PhotoNinja software.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Resting in Peace: Old City Cemetery, Galveston, Texas

This is the third post on our tour of historic cemeteries around the world.  Galveston's historic Old City Cemetery is right off Broadway Avenue, on your right soon after you enter the city after leaving the causeway from the mainland (I-45).



The cemetery is a flat rectangle with a mixture of ornate early 20th century tombs, some mausoleums,  and some plain new stones.  A few web pages claim some of the interred are victims of the great 1900  Galveston Hurricane, but most of the dates I saw were later than that.


Some of the mausoleums have interesting architectural features; some are relatively unadorned.
This and the mausoleum behind have unusual domes. They are the most substantial structures at the cemetery.  They are close to Broadway, easy to see from the road.
There is some statuary, but not as much as I expected.

The adjoining streets are some of the oldest in the City, with a mixture of old cottages in varying states of repair.  The neighborhood around the Old City Cemetery looks safe enough, and there are even some night-time ghost walks.

Decades ago, Galveston was a real dump, but it looks much better now.  A lot of cleaning and restoring has been done (and is ongoing) after the flooding caused by Hurricane Ike on September 13, 2008.  If you have not been here in years, come for another visit.
This is a radar image of Hurricane Ike at landfall: HGX Radar, Base Reflectivity, 1:07am CDT (from the National Weather Service, Houston/Galveston, via the Wikimedia Commons).  This was just a few miles north of the landfall of Hurricane Alicia of August 18, 1983.  I lived in Houston at the time, and the eye of Alicia went right over the house.

I took the 2014 photographs with my new Fuji X-E1 digital camera and processed the RAW files with PhotoNinja software. The 1984 color photograph is a scan of a 35 mm Kodachrome 25 slide, taken with a Leica M3 camera mounting a 50mm f/2.8 Elmar lens.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Old Store of Bovina, Mississippi

This is a continuation of our series on rural country stores in Mississippi.
The appropriately-named Old Store is at 6216 Warriors Trail in Bovina. I visited a few weeks ago to look for a mortise lock, and the proprietors generously let me take photographs.
Just walking up to the front door, and you know this place will be fun.
My hosts told me that the building originally opened as a store in 1915, but only operated until 1919. Thereafter, for most of the 20th century, it served as a storage building.
Fortunately, some of the original fittings survived. These nice old cabinets and storage bins are original, but all the merchandise is new-old stuff.  The day I visited was cold (freezing), but a wood stove was blazing and taking some of the chill off the air.

If you need old hardware or other fittings, make a trip to the Old Store. It is nice to see this place in business. The phone is 601 636 3630; the owners are really friendly.

Exterior photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, tripod-mounted. (You know what I have written before: use a tripod for architecture. Your subject is not going to run away from you.) Interior photographs taken with a Panasonic G3 camera with Olympus 9-18 lens, files processed with Photo Ninja software.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

More Pearl Street Cottages, Vicksburg, Mississippi: 2014

Long-term readers may remember my 2010 essay on cottages of Pearl Street, Vicksburg.  A notice in the Vicksburg Post about a house that had been condemned inspired me to revisit Pearl Street. The news is bad: many houses have been razed, and many of the remaining are in poor condition. This once-vibrant community is simply crumbling away.  Let's start at the north and work our way south, with house numbers increasing. This is a long article with plenty of houses to cover. You will see recent photographs along with scans of Kodachrome slides from the 1980s and 1990s.
The railroad has always run parallel to Pearl Street, at least since the Civil War. This is the main line to Jackson. The 2005 photograph is from the new embankment, which cuts across land once owned by Vicksburg Lumber Company. The railroad bought it to reduce the radius of the curve as the trains turn east to go under the Washington Street tunnel.
2000 Pearl Street, 2004 (Kodachrome slide).
The first house on our tour is No. 2000.  This is the west side of the street, where the land drops off steeply down to the railroad yard a few hundred meters further west.  Therefore, the rear of most of these west houses are supported on stilts.

The little house at 2004 was condemned, according to a January 7 article in the Vicksburg Post. The City had been unable to locate the owner, and the inspector deemed it a hazard. Notice in the third photograph, the far wall beyond the door has been totally eaten by termites. By February 22, the house was gone.This is how we have lost so much housing over the last two to three decades: the place deteriorates, the owner is gone and cannot be located, and the city is forced to raze the unit and take ownership of the parcel. Then the property no longer generates tax revenue.
Next on our tour is this house at 2014.  As of February 2014, it was still standing.
This is no. 2114, with a major awning and asphalt siding shingles. This house also was standing in 2014.
No. 2118 is occupied and in fair condition.
2123 Pearl Street
A bit further south on the east (opposite) side of the tracks is 2123. It is empty, status unknown.
This big mansion is at 500 Klein Street. It was once a tour home but may be for sale now.
Also on the east side, a set of small cottages. This is No. 2213.
The little yellow shotgun is No. 2215.
No. 2217 is almost identical, except for the porch having siding.
The last of the group is No. 2219.  All of these were occupied as of February, 2014.

Moving on to the 2300 block, this little store was at 2328 Pearl. Now it is a dull brown paint and unused.
Located across the street from 2328, this pink unit at 2410 may have also been a store. As I recall, it has been empty for years but is in reasonable condition. It is interesting to consider that there were once enough residents to support two neighborhood groceries.
 No. 2414 is a cottage, occupied in 2003.
No. 2416 had a home-made brick half facade.
No. 2418 was in poor condition in 2003, and is gone now.
No. 2420 was a duplex. I think it is also gone now.
Up on the east side was no. 2421, in poor condition in 2003, and demolished soon after.
The next house on the east side, 2423, was also in poor condition in 2003.  It, too, is gone.
Back on the west side, no. 2424 was painted and sound.
No. 2426 was a cheerful little place with a couch out front.
No. 2428 was another blue house (at least in 2003). Notice that in the 1993 photograph above, it was pink.
The house at 2430 was the last on the west side of the tracks. Further south (to the left in the photograph), the land crops off steeply. Possibly years ago there were some more units on stilts, but I do not remember them.
These were my basketball buddies from 2002. I wonder where they live now?
This yellow house at 2504 is unusual in that it is made of cinder-block. It is empty now.
No. 2508 was on the west side and was condemned as of 2003.
Across the street on the east side was No. 2509, one of many cottages formerly on the hillside.
Just a bit south, no. 2521 soldiers on, usually in rather rough shape. Several other houses nearby have been demolished, ones that I did not photograph.
No. 2529 and a matching unit next are still occupied.
This is no. 2531, almost identical to the former.
This is no. 3513 up on a hill. In 2006, when I took the photograph, it had just been repainted and fixed..
The small cottage at no. 3607 is the last house on this Pearl Street tour.

So many of the houses have been demolished, it is hard to tell exactly where they once stood. The lots are covered with grass or brush. To think, once this was a vibrant mixed neighborhood with hundreds of residents, but is rapidly depopulating. This is the fate of so many small American towns.

Most 1980s and 1990s frames were taken on Kodachrome 25 film with a Leica M3 camera and the 50 mm f/2.8 Elmar lens (the post WWII version with lanthanum glass). The 2014 photographs were taken with a Fujifilm X-E1 digital camera.