Sunday, November 25, 2012

Washington Street Motels, Vicksburg, Mississippi

South Washington Street was once the main entry route to Vicksburg for travelers coming from the South on Highway 61.  Also, drivers coming from Louisiana and Texas would have crossed the old Mississippi River bridge, turned left, and driven north on Washington Street to reach town.  To cater to travelers, several motels lined Washington Street. Today, only the Dixiana is left. Let's take a tour from south to north.
This is the old Mississippi River bridge, photographed in 1994 before the multi-floor parking garage was built, which partly blocks this view. The bridge has been closed to car traffic since the early-1990s, but Kansas City Southern railroad runs trains across the river many times a day. Numerous people have proposed opening a biking and walking trail on the old roadway, but petty squabbles and lack of imagination have squashed these plans to date. Can you imagine what a fantastic tourist attraction this would be, a chance to walk or jog high above one of the world's great waterways?  This is a photograph taken with a Fuji GW690II 6×9 camera on Fuji Velvia film.
This is a view looking west of the old bridge from the banks of the river. You can reach this site easily by parking in the Ameristar Casino parking lot and walking south through the woods. Just look out for snakes.
This is the Ameristar Casino Hotel. It sticks up from the flat bluff like some Neolithic monolith. The Magnolia Inn occupied this site before the new hotel was built. A coworker's wife worked at reception at the older motel in the late-1980s, and was fired when she let a black couple check in.  Before the Magnolia was built, it was an empty field where the carnival set up temporary quarters.  (Photograph:  Kodachrome 25 film taken with a Leica M3 and 90mm Tele-Elmarit lens.)
Heading North we reach the Dixiana Inn, still in business. It is a venerable establishment and has been here for decades. There is a view from the bluff at Louisiana Circle.
Plaza Motel, Washington Street
Next, to the north, is the former Plaza Motel at 4033 Washington Street. I think these units are now apartments, but am not sure. The main building resembles a World War II barracks, similar to two units in an apartment complex next to the Waterways Experiment Station.
This is the view north on Washington Street near the ramp that drops steeply to Diamond Jacks Casino.
This was very unusual: an art-deco filling station that had been converted into apartments.  The service bay had been enclosed with a plywood wall.  Did people sleep in there?  I wonder if there were fumes from old spilled oil and solvent? The filling station was periodically repainted with the characteristic red stripes to accentuate the horizontal lines. The sepia-color print was made on Polaroid 4×5" instant sepia film with a 75mm Super-Angulon lens.  It was a wonderful emulsion.
Riverview Motel, Vicksburg, Mississippi
Just to the north was the Riverview Motel, an old-fashioned motor court. It was located at about 4009 Washington Street, near the bend in the road, and it did have a great view.
This map, with 1995 building footprints, shows the former Riverview Motel.
The Riverview and the filling station/apartment were demolished in 1995.
Proceed further north, and as far as I know, there were no more motels. But there was another filling station, now a car detail shop. There is not much commercial activity on Washington Street now. I assume the I-20 corridor siphoned it away, along with general decline in industrial activity.
Children of Washington Street, Vicksburg
Finally, some of the local children were interested in my Leica camera and agreed to pose for an informal portrait.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Jackson Street Branch YMCA, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Long-time residents of Vicksburg will remember that the YMCA once had two branches in town. The main facility was the handsome brick building at 821 Clay Street (see the 2010 article for interior photographs). A prominent local citizen, Mrs. Junius Ward, provided funds for this structure as a memorial to her husband.  But this was the era of segregation, so Mrs. Ward generously provided funds for a separate YMCA building on Jackson Street for African-American men. The Jackson Street Branch opened in 1924 and remained in service until the early 1990s. It was demolished in 1995 to make way for a new community center (the formal address is 923 Walnut Street).
As the photographs show, the Jackson Street branch was a handsome and formal 2-floor brick building with "1924" engraved in the panel above the entry door. It contained some residence rooms like the ones in the Clay Street branch.
I never went inside while it was in operation, but took photographs when it was being demolished.
Interior view of auditorium, taken during demolition.  Leica M3 with 135mm Tele-Elmar lens.
Photograph taken with a Leica M3 and the 8-element 35 mm f/2 Summicron-RF lens.
The gymnasium once occupied a big section of the building. Up through the 1970s, the famous Red Tops held rehearsals every Monday evening at the Jackson Street Y, possibly in this space. As you can see, construction was substantial. I often wonder why the wood beams and bricks were not recycled rather than just crushed and trucked away.
Finally, here is another interesting structure, a remnant of the architecture that once dominated Vicksburg. This Queen Anne-style building is at 916 Walnut Street. In 1992, it was used by the Elks Club, but another fraternal organization occupies it now. As of 2013, it is on the City's condemned list. Notice the roof, covered with zinc or galvanized roof shingles.

The first photograph was taken with a Pentax Spotmatic camera with 150 mm Super-Takumar lens on Kodachrome 25 film. Black and white photographs taken with a Leica M3 rangefinder camera with 35mm f/2.0 Summicron-RF lens (the famous first generation 8-element version) and 135mm Tele-Elmar lens on Kodak Tri-X film. The square frames were taken with a Rolleiflex 3.5E camera on Kodak VPS HC film (another great emulsion that is now discontinued).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Decay in South Chicago, Illinois

South Chicago is generally considered to be the area south of Hyde Park, or south of the Midway Plaisance. Technically, South Chicago is one of the city's 16 lakefront communities, but the term more broadly applies to many southern communities near Lake Michigan. This was a growing and dynamic area during the turn of the 20th century, and was home to various immigrant groups whose members worked in thriving steel, railroad, and other manufacturing industries. From the 1920s through the 1960s, African Americans, escaping oppression and segregation in the South, moved to Chicago in great numbers. A Wikipedia article on South Side provides a good background on demographics, culture, and institutions of this amazingly diverse area.

From the architecture, you can tell that the early 20th century developers took pride in their town. Buildings have decorative elements and skillfully applied trim, construction was robust, and materials were vastly better than what you see in new shoddy commercial buildings. Workmen, such as the stone carvers from Italy, often were highly-skilled.

After World War II, economic patterns changed, and today, much of South Chicago (except right along the lakefront) is run-down and grubby. Crime is endemic. Many storefronts are boarded up, and you see far too many liquor and pay-day loan stores, but almost no grocers.
This is the view south along South Cottage Grove Avenue taken from the 63rd Street Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) station. The train is elevated here (the "L"), so it was one of the only spots to get an elevated viewpoint. You can see that the buildings were sturdy and somber, built to last. I used a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera with Kodak Tri-X film and braced it on a railing. 
The CTA runs regular buses in this area. I assume many of the residents work downtown, but it is a long and inefficient ride to the central business district. I have taken the bus, and some rather sketchy characters get on and off.
Hair and cosmetics may be among the few business to thrive in this area now. These are on South Cottage Grove and East 65th.
This is the Emmanuel Outreach Deliverance Temple on East 65th Street. What was once plate-glass window is covered with plywood. Expansive windows imply a degree of security and confidence that whatever is displayed in the windows will be safe.
For residents closer to the lake, the Metra is an alternate way to go downtown or south to the Indiana lakeshore. This is the station on East 63rd. When I took the Amtrak to Mississippi, the train came along these tracks after it left Union Station downtown.
This is an example of the type of row house that was once common on residential streets. It was sturdy and built to last. Today, many blocks have open spaces without houses. The gaps are not as extensive as you see in Detroit, but still, it is obvious that the lots had once been developed. An architect told me that many of the now empty lots were burned in the race riots of the 1960s and never redeveloped.
A few blocks west, you see more evidence of early-20th century industry and prosperity. This terracotta exterior building was built in 1914 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It may now be the home of the Butternut Bread Company.
Crime is a real problem and probably accounts for the lack of restaurants in South Chicago. This is the famous Uncle John's BBQ on East 69th street. It is typical of the genre. You enter a vestibule and order your food through a grated opening or speaking tube. You pay through a small slot. Then your food is placed in a carousel, which the proprietor rotates around so you can pick up your order. I visited Uncle John's on a blazing hot August afternoon. The people in line were very friendly and seemed genuinely glad to see a visitor. It was un-air conditioned and the fans were loud, but the other patrons translated for me when I could not hear the serving people behind the glass panels. I asked someone why there were no picnic tables out on the grass lot next door so people could sit out and eat. A couple of gents laughed and said, "You don't live here, do you?" I ended up driving many miles west to a park in the Hispanic area and eating the BBQ there; the ribs really were delicious.
The University of Chicago in Hyde Park is one of the nation's premier research universities (87 faculty Nobel prize recipients). It has a famous physics program (remember Enrico Fermi and the first controlled nuclear chain reaction?), the internationally-regarded Booth School of Business, and economics program (the Chicago school of economics). The library system rivals any in the nation outside of the Library of Congress. The Gothic architecture is magnificent and worthy of its own blog article. These photographs show examples of campus architecture.
In the early 20th century, Hyde Park was the fashionable and wealthy South Side neighborhood, but the area took a nosedive after school integration in the 1960s. There was massive white flight to the suburbs and the area was plagued by racial conflict, crime, and property deterioration. Hyde Park has gentrified, but an architect told me that the turnaround had taken 50 years! Nevertheless, housing for students can be a challenge. Many of the commercial apartments are a bit rough, to put it mildly. This is the back courtyard of a unit on South Woodlawn. I was astonished that the fire stairs were wood. Some laundry on lines and a goat or two, and you could be in a New York tenement in the early 1900s.
Further west, off Central Avenue, another cosmetic supply store! I guess hair really is a big business.

The square black and white photographs were taken with a Rolleiflex 3.5E with Xenotar lens on Kodak Tri-X Profesional film, developed in Kodak HC-110 developer. I really like the square frame for urban photography. The color pictures are from a Sony DSC-W7 compact digital camera.