Sunday, December 31, 2017

Toilets of Nepal (Nepal 2017-01)

Dear Readers, this will the first of a series of articles covering my October-November trip to Nepal.
So let us end 2017 with a blast (sorry I could not resist). Toilets or loos in rural Nepal are still a bit rough. But in the countryside, the buildings in which they are situated are often rather colorful. I should have photographed more of these little buildings, but there were so many interesting sights, I could not photograph everything. I can save this theme for my next trip (toilets of the world; outhouses of the world....).
Older toilet house at Takgon Sheddrub Tharling Monastery School, near Ringmu, Solu Khumbu region, Nepal. An aide group recently built a modern toilet and shower facility nearby. 
Shower and toilet facility at Numbur View Cheese Factory Lodge and Restaurant, Ringmu, Nepal.
Room with a view, as long as you are facing the squatty potty.  Chiwong Monastery, Chiwangteng, Solu Khumbu district, Nepal.
Hanging around in Junbesi: ready for scrubbing.
The first two photographs were taken with a Yashica Electro 35CC camera on Kodak Ektar 100 film. The squatty is from  a Nexus phone.

Standby for upcoming Nepal articles in 2018. Thank you, Readers.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Failing Quickly: the Susie B. Law House, Foote, Mississippi

Dear readers. in my last article, I was happy to report how a Victorian-era house in Vicksburg was finally being repaired and saved. But in the small town of Foote, along the shore of Lake Washington north of Glen Allen, the news is much worse. The Susie B. Law House on Lake Washington Road Eastside has deteriorated badly. Some of the roof shingles have fallen away, and in the wet and rainy climate of the Delta, roof leaks lead to rapid rot and deterioration of wood structures. I could already see some eaves rotting away.
Trees have fallen on the driveway and not been cleared away. Whoever owns the house had not obviously done any cleaning or repair in several years.
I wrote about the Law house in spring 2014. It was neglected then, but not as overgrown and was mostly intact. Also, back then, the roof was mostly intact. I fear the worst for this once-handsome example of a Sears Roebuck kit house.

Another piece of bad news for preservationists: just to the north, the brick walls of the once magnificent Italianate mansion known as Mount Holly sit unchanged and abandoned since the 2015 fire. Status: unknown.

The black and white 2014 photograph was taken on Panatomic-X film with a Fuji GW690II camera.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Saved Victorian House: 916 Walnut Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Dear Readers, good news! This big 1890s-vintage Queen Anne-style house at 916 Walnut Street in Vicksburg is being renovated and repaired.
In past decades, the building was used as an Elks Lodge, but the organization left the building many years ago. For at least two years, periodically a condemnation notice from the City inspector was posted on the building, but afterwards the sign would be gone. Was the owner repairing the structure? It certainly did not look like any work was ongoing.

Finally, in October or November of 2017, serious renovation began. Vicksburg developer Daryl Hollingsworth (an energetic fellow - he also ran for mayor) bought the huge old house and set about stabilizing it and cleaning out interior debris. Mr. Hollingsworth generously showed me around and let me take pictures.
The house has been so abused over the decades, it is hard to tell how the rooms were used. Was this once the main parlor?
Night club wallpaper on the old plaster walls! Notice the wood lath. Mr. Hollingsworth said he will have the damaged areas replastered the right way (i.e., with plaster, not covered with sheetrock).
The stairs were oddly narrow for what was once a magnificent house.
Upstairs: more funky wallpaper and damaged walls that had been covered with cheesy paneling of the type you might have seen in a 1970s den. That garbage paneling was popular in the 1970s and 1980s, even though everyone knew it was just plywood.
A beautiful fireplace with its original glazed tiles survived on the second floor. These were small fireplaces intended to burn coal on a metal pan. Vicksburg was a railroad town, so coal was readily available. The problem with coal was that embers sometimes went up the chimney and could land on the roofs of nearby houses. Resisting fire is a main reason that fireproof asbestos shingles were so popular in the early 20th century.
This well-lit room faces the north and west, with a view of the Yazoo Canal. This fireplace also survived semi-intact with its cast-iron trim cover, but only a few of the decorative tiles remain. The square hearth tiles are identical to the ones in my 1920s house.
Another place to explore: a narrow stair leads to the attic. Notice the lath on the walls where damaged plaster has been removed.
The attic has plenty of headroom. Originally, slate shingles would have been nailed to the dark wood horizontal boards that span the roof joists. I know the shingles were slate because the tower still has its slates (see photograph 2 above), while the rest of the house has been re-roofed. A friend on Baum Street had such a slate roof on his house - no roofing paper or decking, just slate tiles you could see from below. The slate lasts decades, but after a century or so, weathering takes its toll and the tiles begin to crack or get thin. Also, after a century, the the nails fail (when done the right way, slate and tile roofs must use copper nails - if your roofer tries to sell you galvanized nails, fire him). This house on Walnut Street was re-roofed with new plywood decking laid above the 1890 boards.
Some original doors had been stored in the attic. They can be cleaned and hopefully used in the rooms below.
Jackson Street view west towards the Yazoo Canal.
Let us take a quick look outside. This was once a fashionable neighborhood with other grand Queen Anne houses. The parking lot south of 916 Walnut (see photograph 1) almost surely had a house on it, but it has been gone for decades. When Vicksburg was platted, Jackson Street was envisioned to be the main east-west thoroughfare, the business center of the city. Therefore, it had a grand boulevard design, with a grass center strip. Commercial businesses instead developed along Clay Street, leaving Jackson Street relatively quiet, and, I assume, mostly residential. The upper part of Jackson Street still has its brick paving and grass median; very nice. Lower Jackson Street, joining Washington Street, has been covered with pavement and now looks like any other crummy tarred street.

In summary, it is welcome news that this house is being saved. Vicksburg has lost far too much of its historical architecture because of neglect, corruption, greed, lack of imagination, and misguided "urban renewal."

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, most with the Fujinon 14mm f/2.8 lens. All frames were tripod-mounted.

UPDATE Sep. 2, 2022. Renovations and repairs are still ongoing.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

That SINKing feeling in Jackson, Mississippi

Round, rectangle, octagonal - take your pick.
Old House Depot is an architectural salvage store at 639 Monroe Street in Jackson, a block north of the State Fairgrounds. Old House is a great place to explore if you are restoring a historical house and want to use authentic fittings, door knobs, windows, or lumber in your project. My experience with renovating an older house is it is almost hopeless to find the right parts at a chain big box store.
Late on a sunny afternoon, Old House was closing, but they generously let me linger and photograph their collection of sinks and plumbing bits in the side lot.
This was top quality porcelain manufacture in its day. Note the unusual U-shaped sink in the top picture - Art Deco elements?
Here is a handy double header.
This is a practical design: a wide apron so that you can splash and gurgle without dripping water on the floor. Note the modern streamlined valve and handle.
An interesting oval wall-mounted sink with backsplash but it has separate valves.
The wasps lived in this loo. I opted not to use it.
Moving away from the toilets and sinks, here is a choice of window sashes for your project. This is an interesting place. Support your local businesses.

These photographs were taken with a Pentax Spotmatic 35mm camera using Ilford Delta 100 film. Most frames were with the 35mm f/3.5 lens, but the two of the entrance area were with the 24mm f/3.5 lens. The film was too contrasty for these brilliant white objects, and I had trouble scanning the frames. In the future, I will request N-1 development for Delta 100 for sunny conditions. However, note, for a gloomy rainy day, the Delta was perfect, as per my test in Edwards, Mississippi.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

On the Boardwalk: Coney Island 1999

Coney Island has been the summer beach playground for New Yorkers for over a century. America’s first large engineered beach fill was the boardwalk and recreational beach on Coney Island in 1922 - 1923 (Farley 1923). With the completion of the project, immigrants and factory workers could escape the sweatshops of the sweltering city and enjoy a (crowded) Sunday at the beach for only a nickel subway ride (Stanton 1999). "The Improvement helped convert nearly 2 miles of shoreline characterized by ramshackle development and narrow to non-existent beaches from which the general public was excluded, to a world famous resort that was accessible to all for no more than the cost of a subway fare." (Dornhelm 2012). Coney Island is part of the borough of Brooklyn.

In the photograph above, the odd mushroom-shaped frame was once a parachute jump, where guests would hop off and float to the ground. The boardwalk has been rebuilt many times.
Coney Island beach pumping in 1922.
Coney Island 1941. From the archives of the Beach Erosion Board, now at the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory, US Army Corps of Engineers.
Parachute jump,1941 or 1942 (from Library of Congress, intermediary roll film) fsa 8b00812
This was the scene at Coney Island on a summer day in 1941 at the eve of World War II. The subway was still a nickel then.
Despite being refurbished and "urban renewed," there are still old structures and remnants of Coney Island's exuberant past.
 There is still an amusement park, but it is small compared to the ones in the 1950s.
Notice the rocket architecture, likely something from the Sputnik era when rockets were modern and trendy.
The famous hotdog stands are still there and thriving. The fries look great, but I may pass on the mystery-meat hotdogs.
This stone structure is known as a terminal groin and was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers at W 37th Street. The reason is convoluted. The community at the west tip of Coney Island is known as Seagate and is closed to the public. By law, beaches which are nourished with Federal funds must be accessible to the general public. Therefore, when the Corps of Engineers performed beach nourishments on Coney Island, the sand had to be restricted to the part of the beach east of W 37th Street (to the right in the photograph).
View across Gravesend Bay to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Seagate, Coney Island.
Along this shore, longshore transport is from east to west. Thanks to numerous beach fill projects, sand has filled the project to the seaward end of the 37th Street terminal groin and moves around the tip and to the shore at Seagate. The sand moves around the west end of Coney, past the Coney Island Lighthouse, and into Coney Island Creek. Some residents complained that the beach on the north side of Seagate was too wide (after decades of complaining they were suffering from beach erosion).
Rockaway Beach also has a wide boardwalk and the beach has also been nourished many times to provide storm and flood protection as well as recreation benefits.

I took these photographs with a Leica M3 rangefinder camera with 35mm Summicron-RF (the superb 8-element) and 50mm Summicron (type 4) lenses on Kodak Kodachrome 25 film. I scanned the frames on a Plustek 7600i film scanner using Silverfast Ai software.


Dornhelm, R.B., 2012. The Coney Island Public Beach and Boardwalk Improvement of 1923. Fourth Annual Northeast Shore and Beach Preservation Association Conference (NSBPA), October 24-26, 2001 | Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ.

Farley, P. P. 1923. Coney Island public beach and boardwalk improvement. The Municipal Engineers
Journal, Vol. 9, Paper 136, pp 136.1-136.32.

Stanton, J. 1999. “Coney Island - Nickel Empire (1920's-1930's).” (, accessed 09/27/2017)

Update, Jan. 19, 2018:  A friend sent me this interesting picture of Coney Island during Hurricane Donna in 1960. The photograph was on Facebook in the "Old Images of Brooklyn" group. Original source is unknown. It looks like it might have been a 4×5 original, so possibly from a press photographer.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Abandoned Rocket Fuel Plant, Redlands, California

Redlands, California, is a historic town on the far east outskirts of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.  The historic core is well-represented by gorgeous Craftsman architecture houses in impeccable condition. But drive to the unincorporated town Mentone, turn north on some gravel roads towards the Santa Ana River wash, and you come across a wasteland of boulder fields, water retention pits, and hulking concrete bunkers. The bunkers are the remains of the Lockheed Propulsion Company, which developed and tested solid fuel rocket motors and propellants for use by the military and NASA between 1961 and 1975. The Grand Central Rocket Company used the site before 1961.

Southern California was, for many decades, one of the prime locations for the United States aerospace industry. After World War II, aircraft companies expanded their operations to encompass the new rocket and space technologies. This accelerated after the 1957 launch of Sputnik and in the 1960s, as we developed equipment and systems for the space race.

These were sturdy buildings, with thick reinforced concrete walls. Some semi-buried bunkers (see the fourth photograph) were made to store highly explosive materials. Bunkers like this are built with thick earthen sides and a thin roof so that an explosion will dissipate its energy vertically into the air. Note the troughs in the floor through which cables and conduits could be routed.

These rectangles contain glass at least 6 inches thick. They were designed for movie cameras to film rocket nozzle exhaust. I have seen windows like this at an old building (no longer extant) at the Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

According to a Wikipedia article, the Lockheed plant closed in 1975 when the last contracts for the Apollo program ended and NASA selected Thiokol to prepare solid propellant for the Space Shuttle booster rockets. Solvents and other toxic chemicals have been measured in water wells in the region. Nevertheless, Lockheed-Martin Corporation has refused to pay for the clean-up of the contamination. Is this not a familiar story?

For more articles on Redlands, please click the links:
1. Restoring the Santa Fe Depot.
2. Historic Redlands High School's Clock Auditorium.
3. A quick tour of Craftsman houses.

For an odd site in the California desert:  Salvation Mountain.

The photographs of the rocket fuel plant are from a compact Yashica Electro 35CC film camera with a fixed 35mm f/1.8 Color-Yashinon lens. My impression is that the lens may be giving slightly more coverage than 35mm, but regardless, it is a handy focal length for street and casual photography. The film was Fuji 200, purchased in Kathmandu, Nepal. I scanned the negatives on a Plustek 7600i 35mm film scanner using SilverFast Ai software.

Update January 2018
A retired rocket scientist, Mr. C.E. Juran wrote to me. He worked at the site, which was then run by Grand Central Rocket, from 1956 to 1966. He confirmed that Lockheed left a mess when it closed the site in 1974. Recall, in that era, there was minimal environmental awareness. The photograph shows Mr. Juran with a rocket being assembled; the propellant "grain" is suspended above the pressure case.

Update July 2022

A short commemoration of Mentone's 135th birthday in the Redlands Community News summarized the history of the rocket fuel facility.