Sunday, October 20, 2013

Demolished: the Speed Street School, Vicksburg, Mississippi

For many years, a handsome brick school stood at the corner of Speed and Marshall Streets, in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Location of former Speed Street School, Vicksburg, Mississippi
This is a historic neighborhood east of Washington Street with late 1800s and early 20th century houses.
The school, located at the crest of the hill, was a handsome, traditional brick structure with large, airy windows to allow plenty of light.  Contrast with today's typical, prison-like box, optimistically labeled a super school. According to the Vicksburg Post, the Speed Street School was designed by Vicksburg builder/architect, Mr. William Stanton, and was built in 1894.
"The three-story, brick building at 901 Speed St. was built in 1894 and housed Speed Street School until 1940, making it the last remaining 19th century public school building in Vicksburg. Its fall into disrepair can be traced only to recent decades, with its conversion in the late 1960s to rent-assisted living spaces under a number of different owners. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985."
According to the Nomination Form for the National Register of Historic Places,
"On January 14, 1895, the Speed Street School opened as South Vicksburg Public School No. 200. As late as the mid-nineteen-thirties it was one of only two white elementary schools in the Vicksburg public school system. The district also included a white high school and two schools for black students of all grade levels (Cooper, Sect. 3). Upon its closing in 1940, the Speed Street School was sold to the Allein Post #3 of the American Legion. It was again sold in 1968 at which time it was divided into low-rent apartments." 
The historical background in the nomination is interesting reading.
The entry foyer once had separate doors for boys and girls
It was a stately building, with tall, elegant windows.  The original double hung sashes were still in place,  They were probably in poor condition, but still, they were 120 years old.  The lower photograph was taken from the second floor of an apartment complex across the street.
After the tenants were removed, I explored the property.  The children abandoned some toys.
This hallway was on the north side.  An identical hall was on the other side of the wall on the right.
The door in the back led to the auditorium
The interior was grim.  There were two main halls inside on each floor with adjoining classrooms. Originally, one side of the building would have been for boys; the other side for girls. My mother went to elementary school in Nazi Germany, and she said the boys were separated from the girls with barbed wire and strictly prohibited from interacting.
This was one of the basement apartments.
The 2-story auditorium was added to the rear of the building in 1930.  The steel truss beams look newer, but possibly the roof was replaced more recently. Originally, it was a decent venue for gatherings and school events. I think the auditorium had been closed off from the apartment residents in recent years. Once the building was in demolition, the workmen stored plumbing fittings and junk there.

The building was condemned in 2008 after sewage backed up in the plumbing. Two former City employees told me that shootings, drugs, and rapes plagued the building when it was used for low-cost housing. A friend of my daughter lived there.  She reported that her apartment was one of the few with a permanent telephone.  The other tenants would come to use the phone and then steal things from the family.

The neighborhood has deteriorated, and no one was interested in restoring the building because the revenue stream would never cover the costs. A Bogalusa, Louisiana-based company, Will Branch Antique Lumber, recycled the bricks, wood floors and support beams.  It was hard, dirty, dusty work to deconstruct. Some of the roof joists were huge, made from old growth timber of the type we no longer can get.

I hate to see a building like this torn down, but at least the materials will be reused rather than discarded, as is typical now. Will today's commercial buildings and McMansions have anything worth recycling in 100 years? I doubt most will even be standing in 50 years.

For more information, Preservation in Mississippi had an article on the Speed Street School in 2009 (click the link).

Photographs 1,2, and 4 (the black and whites) were taken on Kodak Panatomic-X film with a Fuji GW690II camera, film developed in Rodinol 1:50.  The rest were taken with an Olympus E-330 digital camera with the 14-54 mm lens, or a FujiFilm F31fd compact camera, all tripod-mounted.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Cannaregio District of Venice, Italy

Dear readers, we have been touring Venice for the last few blog entries. Before we leave this amazing place, let's take one more walking tour, this time through the Cannaregio District, which stretches across the northern portion of the city.
Map drawn with ESRI® ArcMap™ 10.0 software with ESRI topographic basemap layer.
Cannaregio is north of the tourist-jammed San Marco area and easy to reach if you want fewer crowds and a flavor or how local residents live. According to,
"Cannaregio was settled well before AD 1000, when the first dwellings were built on the islands of San Giovanni Crisostomo and Santi Apostoli, close to the Rialto. The areas adjacent to the Grand Canal were built up next. The urban sprawl proceeded northwards, engulfing the convents and monasteries (the Misericordia, the Madonna dell'Orto, the Servi, San'Alvise) on what were, until then, remote islands."
Depending on where you are staying, take the Vaporetto, or water bus to the Rialto or the Ca' D'oro stops. The vaporetto is a great ride because as you cruise along the Grand Canal, you pass palaces, hotels, old mansions, and side canals.
Close to the Grand Canal is still pretty touristy, especially along the Strada Nova.  You see a lot of oddball kitsch for sale, as at this kiosk in the Campo S.S Apostoli.  Tourists really buy this junk?
Head north on some of the smaller lanes, like the Calle de la Raccheta, and the crowds thin out and the photographic opportunities improve.
You will cross over some of the small interior canals, or wander down a quiet Calle and discover that it stops at the water.  It is fun.
This is about the only graffiti I saw. It is a contrast to Athens, which has been spray-painted with nasty mess since the economic crisis erupted in 2008.
A few palaces or convents (?) have gardens.  Remember, land is precious on an island.
And there are occasional medieval-looking tunnels or passages under buildings.
This was the only modern apartment block I saw, but there must be more for local residents. Not everyone can afford to restore a 1500s palazzo.
Finally, here are some architectural details.  The barrier at the bottom of the door is designed to keep out high tide waters or storm surges.  It is the same concept as the stop logs used in flood gates on the Mississippi River. Oddly, only some doors had these barriers. Do residents in adjoining apartments simply accept the occasional wet floor?  Maybe they place sand bags and plastic sheeting when needed.

Photographs taken with a Nexus 4 telephone.  I processed the files with DXO Filmpack 3 to simulate Kodak Tri-X black and white film. I am not sure if the experiment was successful, and all comments are welcome.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Rialto Market, Venice, Italy

Long-term readers know I like public markets, and the Rialto Market in Venice, Italy, is a a good one. The market has been here for hundreds of years and is still active, but has lost most of the Medieval earthy character that must have assailed a visitor's nose during its pre-20th century history.
Map drawn with ESRI® ArcMap™ 10.0 software using the ESRI topographic basemap layer
The Rialto Market is easy to reach.  If you are staying in a hotel in the San Marco district, walk across the Rialto Bridge (Italian: Ponte di Rialto), which spans the Grand Canal.
The Rialto Bridge is a popular tourist site with a fantastic view of the activity below.  The present bridge, replacing an older wood span, is a single span built of stone.  It was designed by Antonio da Ponte and completed in 1591.  It is an unusual design with rows of shops under the portico.  The shops sell expensive tourist souvenirs.
You can also take a water taxi, depending on where your are staying, but most people walk. Even Ernest Hemingway described this walk in his 1950 novel, Across the River and into the Trees,
"Then you could climb the bridge and cross it and go down into the market. He liked the market best. It was the part of any town he always went to first." 
Excellent advice for the modern tourist.  A market tells you a lot about the people of a town and their habits.
Proceed a few blocks northwest and you reach Campo de la Pescaria, the market district.  On my recent trip, some drizzle was falling and the market was a bit subdued.  You can follow the National Geographic walking tour if you want a route map.
But the awnings were down and the merchants were selling vegetables and all forms of seafood.  I did not see the snail lady.  Time to scan some old negatives from previous visits. As Hemingway wrote,
"He loved the market. A great part of it was close-packed and crowded into several side streets, and it was so concentrated that it was difficult not to jostle people, unintentionally, and each time you stopped to look, to buy, or to admire, you formed an îlot de resistance against the flow of the morning attack of the purchasers."
There were plenty of marine organic materials whose origins I could not guess, but have no doubt that Venetian chefs can make them utterly delicious.  The swordfish steak would be fine, too. Back to Hemingway:
     "He took a short cut, and was at the fish-market.
     In the market, spread on the slippery stone floor, or in their baskets, or their rope-handled boxes, were the heavy, gray-green lobsters with their magenta overtones that presaged their death in boiling water. They have all been captured by treachery, the Colonel thought, and their claws are pegged.
     There were the small soles, and there were a few alba-core and bonito. These last, the Colonel thought, looked like boat-tailed bullets, dignified in death, and with the huge eye of the pelagic fish. 
     They were not made to be caught except for their voraciousness. The poor sole exists, in shallow water, to feed man. But these other roving bullets, in their great bands, live in blue water and travel through all oceans and all seas.
     A nickel for your thoughts now, he thought. Let’s see what else they have.
     There were many eels, alive and no longer confident in their eeldom. There were fine prawns that could make a scampi brochetto spitted and broiled on a rapier-like instrument that could be used as a Brooklyn icepick. There were medium sized shrimp, gray and opalescent, awaiting their turn, too, for the boiling water and their immortality, to have their shucked carcasses float out easily on an ebb tide on the Grand Canal.
     The speedy shrimp, the Colonel thought, with tentacles longer than the mustaches of that old Japanese admiral, comes here now to die for our benefit. Oh Christian shrimp, he thought, master of retreat, and with your wonderful intelligence service in those two light whips, why did they not teach you about nets and that lights are dangerous?"
The ancient streets and alleys in the Rialto District are interesting architecturally.  There are plenty of arches, tunnels, and narrow lanes.  It is less crowded than the more popular San Marco district.
Finally, here is the result of all this fantastic produce and meat.  Venice's restaurants are a bit expensive, but no more so than ones in Manhattan or Los Angeles, and a glass of house wine is only a Euro or two. I could live in Italy.....

For readers interested in other markets, please see the posts on:
1.  Egyptian Market, Istanbul
2.  Reading Terminal, Philadelphia
3.  Central Market, Athens
4.  Farmers' Market in rural Greece
5.  Asan Chowk market, Kathmandu

Across the River and into the Trees is an odd novel.  It is about a crusty old U.S. Army officer in love with a young Venetian Contessa.  As summarized in Wikipedia, "Tennessee Williams, in The New York Times, wrote: "I could not go to Venice, now, without hearing the haunted cadences of Hemingway's new novel. It is the saddest novel in the world about the saddest city, and when I say I think it is the best and most honest work that Hemingway has done, you may think me crazy. It will probably be a popular book. The critics may treat it pretty roughly. But its hauntingly tired cadences are the direct speech of a man's heart who is speaking that directly for the first time, and that makes it, for me, the finest thing Hemingway has done.""  I do not agree - it is somewhat slow going, but do read it before your next trip for the flavor of post-war Venice.

Photographs taken with a Nexus 4 phone (sorry, no real camera this trip), with adjustments in ACDSee Pro software.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cisterns of Venice, Italy

Long-time readers may remember that when I explored historical Patan in Kathmandu, Nepal, I noted how old apartment buildings were clustered around a central square or patio, in which there was a well.  In the era before municipal water supply, not only was the well essential to provide water for the residents, but it was probably the center of social life, a place for gossip, and a way to keep check on who was coming and going. Venice had a similar culture.

In Venice, the paved area in the middle of a cluster of houses was known as a campo. Venice has only one square, and that is the Piazzo San Marco, the monumental gathering place before the St. Mark's Basilica, the Clock Tower (Torre dell'Orologio), and the Procuratie Vecchie. So a piazzo was a major decorative and political feature, while more modest campos were found throughout the islands and neighborhoods. And most campos were equipped with a cistern to trap and save rainwater. The cistern consisted of a brick-lined chamber filled with sand.  Rain water filtered down through the sand to maintain purity.
Campo Realto Novo, Venice
Here is the top or head of the cistern in the Campo Realto Novo, near the Realto bridge. Look at the magnificent pink marble - one huge carved piece topped with old wrought iron grillwork. At one time, some of the paving tiles on the ground would have been perforated to allow rainwater to enter the sand pit below. Years ago, the residents of the surrounding houses elected a well marshal to keep the paving blocks and the general area clean. While washing, the perforations were sealed to prevent dirty water from entering the cistern. Fouling the water was punishable with death. (Hmmm, why isn't fouling our waterways today punishable in a similar manner?)  In this campo, a tap with running municipal water was added much later (see the foreground).
Calle del Teatro, Venice.
Here is the cistern in the Calle del Teatro, near the site of Marco Polo's house. The house is gone, but tour guides take you there to show you where it was supposed to be. This cistern has has a decorated iron spigot. The paving blocks are newer and the perforated ones are gone or covered up.
Here are two more cistern heads, again carved from single pieces of marble. Imagine the skill hundreds of years ago to quarry this stone, drag it out of the mountains, carve it, and bring it to Venice by wagon and barge. It is similar to the enterprise displayed by the ancient Egyptians, who quarried rock and brought it down the Nile by barge.
Campo-Sant'Angelo, Venice.
This cistern is in the Campo-Sant'Angelo. This example was made from several marble pieces.
Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, Venice.
This unit with spectacular carving and ironwork is in front of Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, whose other side fronts the Grand Canal. I suppose if you were wealthy and owned a palazzo, you also could afford an elegant cistern.
Let's cross the Grand Canal on the Ponte de l'Academia, which is next to the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti.  This is the view to the east, with the dome of Santa Maria della Salute at the skyline. Truly, there is no other place else on earth with such an astonishing architectural heritage in such a small area (well, possibly one exception: the temples at Angor in Cambodia). Also, consider the skill of the medieval architects, who knew how to build a foundation in soft, muddy deltaic sediment that could support a monumental stone church weighing thousands of tonnes.
Campo S.Vio, Venice.
The neighborhoods south of the Grand Canal also needed cisterns. This example is at Campo S.Vio, by the Palazzo Barbarigo. I could not tell if this was a single piece of marble or multi-piece.
Calle del'Abazia, Venice.
As our final example, here is a monumental single carved piece at Calle del'Abazia, by the church of San Gregorio. Again, you can see that the paving stones are new, and the old perforated ones are covered.
Giudecca canal, Venice.
Finally, from the ancient to the ultra-modern: this is the Giudecca canal, the main deep-draft navigation channel for ferry boats and cruise ships transiting from the Port of Venice through the Laguna Veneta, past the Lido, and on to destinations throughout the Adriatic and Mediterranean. This is a serious passenger port, and some weekends see up to 40,000 tourists invading the fragile city. They overwhelm the local stores, restaurants, and toilets. The smell of money, but possibly the seeds of destruction?
This is a 1958 post card from the Giudecca Canal in front of San Marco square. The label on the card states, "Paquebot SAN MARCO, Societe de Navigation, Venise." My parents sent this card to a relative.

For more information on Venetian cisterns, see these volumes on architecture:

McGregor, J. H. S. 2006. Venice from the Ground Up.  Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 384 p.

Howard, D., and Moretti, L.  2002.  The Architectural History of Venice.  Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 384 p.

Venipedia has a description of the cisterns: , accessed September 20, 2013.

Photographs taken with a Nexus 4 phone (sorry, no real camera this trip).