Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Murdered Body at Kuhn Memorial Hospital, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Sometime late Saturday evening, June 27, 2015, an elderly lady was abducted from her house on Drummond Street. Some paranormal researchers found the body in Kuhn Hospital on Sunday, June 28. Mrs. Sharen Wilson, 69, was last seen at her home on Saturday. The coroner determined that she had been raped and shot after having been brought to the hospital. The dilapidated old building is a hazard and was unsecured, making it almost inevitable that it would become the site for a crime of this magnitude. I have documented the decay before. Here are some more photographs.
 This is an aerial photograph of the hospital before the modern front section was built.
In 1993, the hospital had only been closed for four years, and the windows were still blocked with plywood and secure. This is a scan of a Kodachrome 25 35mm slide, taken with a Leica camera and 35mm Summicron-RF lens.

By 2014, the building was crumbling badly. Copper wire had been looted, the drop ceiling was dropping into soggy piles, and asbestos and black mold dripped down the walls. The roof has partly collapsed in this section.
The interior was piled with debris and wet ceiling remains.

On June 30, 2015, the Vicksburg Post reported:
"City officials are looking for a way to buy the old Kuhn Hospital building at 1422 Martin Luther King Boulevard to demolish it and turn the property over to a developer to turn the site into a residential area. 
“Right now, it looks as if the best option would be to take it down, get some kind of CDBG or any other grant and turn into a housing complex with individual houses,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said. Mayfield is taking the lead in the city’s attempts to resolve the problems with Kuhn, which has been abandoned since 1989, when the State of Mississippi closed it as a charity hospital. 
Mayfield’s comments followed a brief discussion on the property at a work session of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday in the wake of the abduction and death of Sharen Wilson, whose body was found on the property Sunday night. 
“The hospital has been, in my opinion, an eyesore to the community even before I took public office, which has been 20 years, now. The residents in that community have wanted it taken down.” 
The city has been trying for several years to get the property demolished, but has encountered a series of problems in the process. “Every time we get right at the door of either acquiring it or taking it down, another road block shows up,” Mayfield said.
One problem has been determining exactly who has title to the property. According to Warren County tax rolls, the owner is listed as the Esther Stewart Buford Foundation in Yazoo City, but the 12.8-acre tract has been sold multiple times at tax sales, clouding who has the proper title to the land. 
Community Development Director Victor Grey-Lewis said assistant city attorney Bobby Robinson is researching county land records to determine who has the title.
He said Monday the owner of the property has announced they are abandoning the property for tax reasons. 
The second issue is asbestos, which has been discovered in the building. Having an assessment to determine the amount of asbestos and having it removed is expensive, City Attorney Nancy Thomas told the board. Also, she said, a portion of the main building’s roof has collapsed. 
The city applied for an Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Grant to cover the cost of assessing the building for asbestos, but the application was denied. No one in Mississippi received an assessment grant this year, Grey-Lewis said. Grey-Lewis said the roof’s collapse could help the city get a waiver to have the building assessed for asbestos from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
“If the roof is beginning to collapse, we don’t want to send asbestos inspectors into a building that’s collapsing,” he said, adding he has been talking with DEQ officials about a waiver. He said the city may try to acquire the property for the back taxes owed, which presently total $2,798.61. “I’d like to see us acquire it to take it down,” Mayfield said. 
If the city can acquire the property and remove the building, Grey-Lewis said, “Then we have the right under state statute to turn the property over to a developer for a period of two years to work with developing the property. If they can’t, the property can revert back to the city.” 
“I want people to know we have not dropped the ball on this property,” Mayfield said, “but it has been a long process and a lot of stones have been thrown in our path.”
Kuhn Memorial Hospital was built on the site of city hospital that had been in operation since 1847. 
The city deeded the property to the state in 1956, and the hospital became a state-run charity hospital in 1959. It was closed in 1989 under the administration of former Gov. Ray Mabus, when state officials decided to close its three charity hospitals in favor of an expanded Medicaid program."
We are lucky to still have a local newspaper. The Post's stories on Kuhn have been picked up by papers around the country.

Update, November 2016: According to the Vicksburg Post on November 8, 2016,
The City of Vicksburg now officially owns the Kuhn Memorial Hospital property, City Attorney Nancy Thomas told the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday. 
“All the parties involved have signed over their titles to the property,” she said. Thomas said after the meeting the city took ownership of the property Nov. 1. 
The news came as the board approved a contract with PPM Consultants to help city officials at no charge apply for a Brownfields grant to help pay the estimated $850,000 cost of removing asbestos and razing the buildings on the property, removing an underground diesel storage tank and clearing and cleaning the property. The city had to own the property to be able to apply for the grant.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Salton City, CA: The Party Where No One Came

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. (Click any photograph to enlarge it.)

Cross Highway 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, Mississippi, 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 minimal information. The Masons abandoned their West Capital building in the early 1990s, and moved to a steel structure on I-55 S.
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.

These are digital files from a Fujifilm X-E1 digital camera.

UPDATE July 2022:  The masonic lodge and the abandoned mansion on Rose Street are still standing. The entire area looks dirtier and more abandoned.