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.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Abandoned Masonic Temple, West Capitol Street, Jackson, Mississippi

West Capitol Street in Jackson is discouraging and grim. Once you cross under the railroad tracks south of the recently-restored Union Station and head northwest, you enter a Detroit-like post apocalyptic world of empty lots, crumbling houses, abandoned shops, and once-grand churches that now serve different congregations than the ones who built the edifices.
Looming over churches, shops, and bumpy parking lots is a semi-abandoned Masonic Temple at 1130 West Capitol. According to my friend at MDAH, the temple was built around 1923-25 and was designed by South Carolina architect Hyman W. Witcover. Witcover was active in the Masonic order and designed other Masonic temples in the South. Otherwise, MDAH has very little information about the building, and a Google search revealed very little. The Masons abandoned their West Capital building in the early 1990s, and moved to a steel structure on I-55S.
As you can see, this was essentially a big box with some decorative elements, pseudo-columns. I wish I could get inside. I assume there was a big auditorium or meeting hall in the center. I once heard that many of these temples were semi-legally-sanctioned speakeasies in the Prohibition era. All the best people in town were members.
The cornerstone, on Bratton Street (on the back of the building?) said 1923. Water was pouring out of the foundation and this corner had large cracks in the brick walls. I asked some people in a small shack across the street about the water, but they seemed baffled or did not understand what I was talking about. Or maybe they had not noticed even though the sidewalk was turning into a swamp.
Only one window on the basement level had dusty panes where I could place the camera.
This was a progressive design with an elevator access on the ground floor.
Right across the intersection at 101 Rose Street is this imposing mansion. It shows what a prosperous neighborhood this was in the early 20th century.
Further in town (east) at the intersection of West Amite and West Capital Streets, the scene is of abandoned and closed businesses. What will revive an area like this? Look at much of Detroit, which was once a much more prosperous city than Jackson, and you see that once the decay sets in, it progresses indefinitely.

Photographs taken with a Fujifilm X-E1 digital camera.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dilapidated Stores, Mill Street, Jackson, Mississippi

North Mill Street runs parallel to the Canadian Pacific (and Kansas City Southern?) railroad line in Jackson. The name "Mill" indicates its former industrial origins. Today, Mill Street north of the recently-renovated Union Station is a mess, with abandoned lots, crumbling houses, and concrete slabs. This part of Jackson is imploding.
This is a garage at 214 Mill Street. The crumbling doors made it look abandoned. But inside, there were semi-recent cars. So possibly it is a going concern, but it is hard to tell.
This is a store that formerly occupied the corner of Mill and West Monument Streets. It has been razed. I wrote about it in a 2013 article.

This is an old-fashioned local corner store at 758 Mill, at the corner at West Cohea Street. It is deserted, and the roof is beginning to collapse into the upper floor. I did not want to venture inside. Stores like this once served the local residents, who did not have automobiles or the ability to reach a supermarket.
The cottage at 744 has a cheerful garden. I took this from the rickety steps leading up to the 2nd flood of the corner store. Some people below waved and said hi.
Across the street at 903 was a car shop. The tracks are behind. The Amtrak comes along this line en route to Union Station.
This is a shop at 906, across West Cohea from the abandoned 2-storey store. There is still a need for a local store to serve the residents. I have more photographs from this area, but they are on film and must be scanned. Someday when I have time....

2015 photographs taken with a FujiFilm X-E1 digital camera.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Pashupatinath: Holy Nepal Hindi Site in Danger

We often think of Nepal as a profoundly Buddhist country, but the largest number of Nepalis (up to 83 percent according to the 2011 census as reported in Wikipedia) are Hindus. The most holy Hindu site in the Kathmandu valley is the Temple of Pashupatinath, located along the banks of the Basmati River. The Pashupatinath Temple (Nepali: पशुपतिनाथ मन्दिर) is one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kathmandu Valley. According to Wikipedia, the area of Pashupatinath covers 264 hectres (652 acres), within which are 518 temples and monuments.
The Bagmati River (in Nepali: बागमती नदी) flows through the Kathmandu valley, separating the Kathmandu from Lalitpur regions. Both Hindus and Buddhists consider it a profoundly holy river. Unfortunately, now it is badly polluted from raw sewage and industrial waste that pours into it.

As a first-time visitor, it is hard to get a sense of the scale of the temple complex. It seems to extend indefinitely over a jumble of buildings, terraces, alleys, and walls.
The Bagmati is sacred to Hindus because the dead are cremated on the banks of the river. From Wikipedia: "According to the Nepalese Hindu tradition, the dead body must be dipped three times into the Bagmati River before cremation. The chief mourner (usually the first son) who lights the funeral pyre must take a holy river-water bath immediately after cremation. Many relatives who join the funeral procession also take a bath in the Bagmati River or sprinkle the holy water on their bodies at the end of cremation. The Bagmati River purifies the people spiritually."

But in the aftermath of the April 25, 2015 earthquake, thousands of families brought their dead here for traditional cleansing and cremation. But a cremation requires 300-500kg of wood and has led to massive deforestation in the Katmandu area as well as air pollution. A 2009 BBC article described the installation of an electric furnace, but I do not know if was ever put into operation.
Before and during a cremation, family members gather along the river with food offerings. Rice is put in boats made of woven leaves and floated down the river.
These bright powders are used in the ceremonies, but I am not sure exactly how.
Monkeys wander around the grounds. I suppose they are skilled at stealing food scraps.
Vendors sell garlands of flowers, coconuts, and other supplies.
The architecture at Pashupatinath has evolved and been rebuilt over 400 years. According to Wikipedia, the original 5th century temple was largely destroyed by Islamic invaders in the 14th century. The subsequent temple was consumed by termites and then rebuilt by King Bhupatindra Malla ain the 17th century.
 The stonework and carving is magnificent, and some of it reminds me of carving in Ankor (Cambodia).

Pashupatinath survived the 2015 earthquake largely intact, but has been witness to immense sorrow among the grieving families who brought their dead her to this sacred site.

Photographs taken with an Olympus E330 digital camera.