Sunday, March 27, 2011

Margaret's Grocery, Vicksburg, Mississippi: revisited 2010 and 2011

On February 19, 2011, Governor Haley Barbour proclaimed the week of March 20 to 26 the "Rev. Herman D. Dennis and Margaret's Grocery Awareness and Preservation Week." To remind viewers who are not familiar with the story, the Rev. Dennis married Margaret in 1984 and spent two decades decorating the old grocery store as a "Bible Temple to God." Margaret passed away in 2009 and the Rev. now lives in a nursing home in Vicksburg.

In some earlier posts, I showed how brilliant the colors where in the 1980s and 1990s. Since the Rev. moved away, the Temple has deteriorated from weather and vandalism. The paint has faded, ornaments have fallen down, and termites are eating the building. In this post are photographs from late 2010 and early 2011. The three scenes above show the front porch area.

The Reverend's creativity was amazing. He used any material he could get his hands on and painted, glued, and reassembled these items as part of his art.

Posted in the porch were old newspaper clipping describing Margaret's Gro. Some reported on the many international tourists who sought out the site, including Germans, who were particularly interested. According to Reverend Dennis, he learned his skill of brick laying from German prisoners at the POW camp, where he was a camp guard. He told me many years ago that he admired their skill.

Here is the bus that the Rev. used for his ministrations.

On March 20, Congressman Bennie Thompson met with a group of Reverend Dennis' supporters and local citizens at the King's Empowerment Center. They discussed options for preserving the store and the art. The Rev. came and was delighted to be there. Afterward, a few of the group went to the old store and had a chance to look inside. The Rev. preached in his bus, in as good form as ever.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day in Chicago

This article is in celebration of St.Patrick's Day, and in Chicago, they celebrate it seriously!!
Chicago River, St. Patrick's Day, 2007
First of all, they dye the Chicago River green. It's pretty impressive, as you can see in these photographs from a 2007 visit to the Windy City. The view above is from the North Michigan Avenue Bridge looking along the river east towards Lake Michigan.
This is the shoreline and river in 1833 (courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

The river has an interesting engineering history. When European settlers first occupied the land here, the river flowed east into Lake Michigan. But when the famous stockyards developed in the late-1800s, the carcasses flowed into Lake Michigan and threatened to pollute the city's drinking water source. So the river was artificially elevated and made to flow west into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, thereon to the Des Plains River, and eventually to the Mississippi River. This way, nasty organic debris flowed west to the Mississippi and did not foul Lake Michigan. Instead, the debris had the opportunity to foul St. Louis and Baton Rouge. The map above is from Wikimedia Commons.
This is an oblique aerial photograph of the Chicago River in 1944.  The photograph is from the archives of the Beach Erosion Board, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At this time, Chicago was still a pretty gritty industrial city.

The historic stockyards are closed and the dead cows long gone. The river is still a Federal navigation project but now mostly carries tourist boats, pleasure craft, and water taxis through the city. To gain access to the river from Lake Michigan, boats have to enter locks and be raised a few feet (the amount varies depending on Lake level, which varies throughout the year). The Sanitary Canal to the south carries significant commercial barge traffic. The view above is from Michigan Avenue looking west.

Finally, the big parade. You see hundreds of policemen in formation, floats from fraternal organizations from surrounding states, and high school bands. I am not sure how you get to march; I suppose fill out an application and pay a fee. A good time is had by all.
Chicago River, view east towards Lake Michigan.
For a summertime view, here is the Chicago River looking east towards Lake Michigan. This photograph is from the 34th floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. If you are really rich, the condominiums in this area are pretty spectacular.

There are expansive views from these glittering new condominiums.
View of Chicago River mouth and Navy Pier from former Days Inn Hotel, October 1996
The mouth of the Chicago River is protected from storm waves by breakwaters.
Even Marilyn lived near the Chicago River for a couple of years.  Now she resides in Palm Springs, California - I suppose the Illinois winter was too much for her lack of garments.

More photographs from Chicago, including some from South Chicago, fit my theme of urban decay more closely than the prosperous Gold Coast.

All photographs taken with a Sony DCS-W7 digital camera except for the 1996 scene, which is a scan of Kodachrome film.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Crumbling: the Yazoo County Agricultural High School, Benton Mississippi

In August of 2009, Mississippi Preservation wrote about the abandoned Yazoo County Agricultural High School in Benton, MS. This inspired me to visit Benton with an out-of-town friend who shares my interest in exploring fading architecture and the remnants of our industrial society. We did not expect much but were disappointed to see that: 1. The 1930-vintage brick school building is deteriorating quickly; 2. The wood building housing treachers' apartments had just been demolished.

The brick building, built in 1930 by Lumbergh & Hayes (Canton architects/builders), had the classic school architecture with large windows to let in light and, in a pre-air conditioning era, fresh air. I like the arch over the main door. Students pass through with a sense that they are entering an important place. Also, windows allow the students to have a connection with nature, so much nicer than modern mega-schools that resemble prisons.

From the outside, the building appears sound, but look in through the windows and the deterioration is evident. The main hallway runs longitudinally through the building. Transoms would have allowed air flow on hot days. Notice the radiator, originally for a hot water or steam heat system.

The rooms were high-ceilinged and had been painted with the ghastly industrial green pigment (the stuff that resists body fluids). Notice in last photograph, the floor has caved in and fallen down to the former crawl space.

The wood teachers' apartment building had just been razed. I met the owner of the property, a builder (investor?) from Vicksburg. He recently bought the land from Yazoo County and had to knock down the wood building because it was imploding and dangerous. He was concerned that vagrants might get hurt in it. As you can see in the photograph above, all that is left is a pile of sticks and rubble. I'm surprised they could not recycle joists, but maybe the rot or termite damage was too extensive. The owner said someone had approached him to buy the bricks in the school building, but he was not interested in the offer.

Some of the books were rather interesting, basic science texts without the fluff and political correctness idiocy found in contemporary textbooks. Who read these books, and did they continue on to college?

All photographs taken with a Sony DSC-R1 digital camera, tripod-mounted. Hint: always use a tripod for architecture and static subjects.

For more information: Mississippi Preservation

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Detroit Iron in Edwards, Mississippi

Some of you readers may remember that in January of 2010, I posted photographs of a yard in Raymond filled with Volkswagen Beetles. Well here is the place where old American cars come to rest. It is in Edwards on the frontage road north of I-20 (also labeled Old Hwy 80 on Google maps). You can see the yard from the interstate, but it's worth a diversion to see the treasures closer-up.

I do not know who owns the yard, but he (or she) has a regular flux of vehicles in varying stages of disrepair. The ones in theses photographs are at the edge of the property next to the frontage road. They have have not moved in a long time and may be too far gone to restore (except possibly for someone who really really likes to restore cars).

One forgets how huge these 1950s and 1960s cars were. The sheet metal goes on and on, and they were heavy! The two cars above are the third generation Chevrolet Bel Air from 1957-1958. I remember when I first saw them and thought the four lights on each side were so distinctive.

Next we come to the Edsels, one of the more infamous marketing failures of the American car industry. But now they are collector's items and command serious money if in good condition. I remember a family friend owned an Edsel. He always had trendy new things. His car had the bizarre push-button Teletouch transmission shifting system, with the buttons in the center of the steering wheel hub. The buttons were projecting chrome squares - not much concern for safety in those days. According to Wikipedia®, the Teletouch pushbutton selector proved troublesome because the steering wheel hub, where the pushbuttons were located, was the traditional location of the horn button. Edsel had an electro-hydraulic inhibitor switch mechanism to prevent panic or erroneous gear-switching, but it was still a goofy design.

Most people remember the weird styling, especially the trademark horsecollar or toilet seat grille, which was unique in that era. Some people said it looked like a vagina. Nevertheless, the car still did not sell well.

All photographs taken with an Olympus E-330 camera. The two black and white frames were created in-camera with the monochrome option.