Friday, March 29, 2019

Major decline: Metrocenter Mall and Robinson Road, Jackson, Mississippi (B&W film)

Metrocenter Mall, Jackson, Leica M2, 50mm ƒ/2 Summicron-DR lens.
Metrocenter Mall and former Piccadilly Restaurant, Leica M2, 35mm ƒ/2 Summicron lens.
When I first moved to Vicksburg in the mid-1980s, Metrocenter Mall in Jackson was fresh, active, vibrant, and (I presume) prosperous. The mall opened in 1978, and Sears Roebuck anchored the west end, McRae's the east. The food court was busy, and numerous smaller companies occupied stores on two floors. The parking lot was crowded. Other companies occupied buildings nearby, such as Toys-R-Us on Hwy 80, and Service Merchandise in a nearby building.

But as the 1990s progressed, Metrocenter became seedy and merchants left. One by one, stores closed. The anchors lingered until the 2000s. McRae's became part of Belk, which continued at Metrocenter until 2009, and Sears closed in 2012. Sears had already abandoned its Vicksburg store and, as far as I know, there are no other full-line Sears stores anywhere near Jackson.
As of 2019, part of the complex is still occupied. I wanted to take some closer pictures, but odd cars lingering and other crapped-out cars meeting the first ones did not bode well for security.
Robinson Road view north
Robinson Road, west of Metrocenter, is pretty bleak. Buildings are empty, and crummy cars and dude-mobiles rattle along.
At least one former restaurant has been converted into a church. That is an effective use of space, but the city loses the property tax revenue.
Former Piccadilly restaurant, Robinson Road, Jackson
The former Piccadilly restaurant was secure but clearly no longer used.
Some businesses are still operating. We were well-served by the efficient employees at the Metro PCS mobile phone store. The parking lot had some interesting transportation machinery.

What can revive an area like this? Why was this area prosperous in the 1980s and, only 30 years later, has become a scummy backwater? Why is so much of west Jackson a wasteland?

I took these photographs on Fuji Acros 100 35mm black and white film with my 1967-vintage Leica M2 rangefinder camera. I used the 50mm ƒ/2.0 Summicron-DR and 35mm ƒ/2.0 Summicron (version 4) lenses. A medium yellow filter helped add texture in the clouds. Acros is a superb fine-grain film. I scanned the frames with a Plustek 7600i film scanner.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Superb Alabama Folk Art: Snuffy Smith's of Wilmer

Snuffy Smith's, 1990, Kodachrome slide, Leica M3, 50mm lens
Snuffy Smith's gasoline station and antique emporium was a familiar sight on U.S. Highway 98 near the Mississippi-Alabama state line. Google gives the address as 14860 Moffett Rd, Wilmer, AL 36587, but I am not sure if that is correct. Regardless, it is an example of folk art magifique.
I found two 4×5" Fujichrome frames from 1990. The large negatives, of course, preserve a lot of detail (click the pictures to enlarge to 1600 pixels wide). There is surprisingly little information on the web about this site. A 2009-vintage blog states that "Snuffy's got its name from a previous owner, Arthur Drake Smith, who dipped snuff."
1995 Kodachrome slide, Leica M3, 50mm lens
Notice a few changes between 1990 and 1995. A new armored man is on patrol guarding the gasoline pumps. And an antique blue pump has been placed on the left of the island, replacing an overflowing trash can.

This amazing example of home-made art may be gone. I did not see it the last time I drove on U.S. 98, but maybe I simply missed it. If any readers have information, please advise.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

From the archives: Country Stores, Roosters, and other Oddities

Dear Readers, I recently found in my too-many boxes a plastic slide holder with some slides that I sent as a submission to Leica Fotografie International. They never published my essay and returned my slides, but I never got around to filing them away. I decided to scan them first and show you some samples. Store fronts and home-made signs have always interested me. They demonstrate merchants advertising their wares and trying to attract customers, a form of folk-art. So here we go, in chronological order, but no specific geographical order.
Front Street, Morgan City, Louisiana (Leica IIIC, 5cm f/2.0 Summitar lens)
Front Street, Morgan City, Louisiana (Leica IIIC, 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens)
In the early 1980s, I worked for a marine geotechnical company. We had steamed (dieseled) in to Morgan City after a couple of weeks offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. I had never been to Morgan City before and found the floodwall a convenient viewpoint of the old downtown.
Jerry's, Corpus Christi, Texas (Rollei 35S, 40mm ƒ/2.8 Sonnar lens)
A relative lived in Corpus Christi, and this pottery company offered a wealth of garden art. I should have bought that pink donkey, or maybe the leopard.
Galveston, Texas (Leica M3, 50mm ƒ/2.8 Elmar-M lens)
Hurricane Alicia was a powerful hurricane that caused major damage in coastal Texas in August of 1983. We drove to Galveston to see what had happened. Many cottages on the beaches had been damaged, but others, like this beach shop, were intact.
Bremond, Texas (Rollei 35S, 40mm ƒ/2.8 Sonnar lens)
Bremond was a typical agricultural/cattle town northwest of Houston. Even in the 1980s, many of these small towns were quiet, with closed stores along the main strips. That is when I first became interested in photographing urban decay. Bremond looked like it was doing a bit better than many other Texas towns, but I have no idea of its status now.
Mendenhall, Mississippi (Olympus OM1 camera, 35mm ƒ/2.8 shift lens)
In 1990, on my way to Mobile, I decided to stop in Mendenhall and look around. There was an old theater/cinema in reasonably sound condition near the courthouse. Do any readers know if the theater is still existent? (Update: the building burned down)
Rooster-mobile, Mary Esther, Florida (Olympus OM1, 35mm ƒ/2.8 shift lens)
Mary Esther, Florida, had a rooster car, as well as some pig- and cow-mobiles. And the rooster was built onto an old Chevrolet El Camino. Maybe I should have offered to buy it and drive it home to Vicksburg. El Caminos now fetch serious prices (and a rooster may enhance the value).
Crossroads store, Reganton, Mississippi (Leica, 50mm ƒ/2.8 Elmar-M lens)
The venerable Crossroads store is on Old Port Gibson Road in Reganton, near the Big Black River, about 20 miles south of Vicksburg. I have visited on an off over the years, most recently in 2018.
Biloxi, Mississippi (Leica M3, 50mm lens)
Before Hurricane Katrina, US 90 along the shore featured many beachy shops, including this pink palace. But I prefer the gorilla on Alberti's Italian Restaurant. I wonder if he swam to safety in Katrina?
Snuffy Smith's, Wilmer, Alabama (Leica M3, 50mm lens)
Snuffy Smith's antiques and gasoline was a famous landmark on Moffett Road in Wilmer, Alabama. Classic folk art - I stopped several times to photograph. But the last time I drove through Wilmer, I did not see Snuffy's. Is it gone, or did I just drive by too quickly?
Original Oyster House, Gulf Shores, Alabama (Leica 50mm lens)
The Original Oyster House, as I recall, had excellent seafood (and alligator, if you were interested), along with condiments from Greece. I assume the owners were Greek, which usually bodes well for a restaurant. Is this still existent?
Santa in Seminary (Nikon F3, 50mm ƒ/1.8 Nikkor lens)
Finally, the well-traveled Santa Claus comes to Seminary via tractor. Good choice in a farming community.
Madison St. (Old Hwy 80), Bolton, Mississippi (Leica M3, Kodachrome film)
Well, Santa can relax with a brew or a Bud at Mack's Cafe in Bolton.

This is the end of our short random tour of southern stores, rooster-mobiles, and other oddities. All photographs were from Kodachrome film, mostly K25. Using Kodachrome was a bit clumsy because you needed to mail the exposed film to one of the few processing laboratories in the United States that could handle the highly specialized processing and dye chemicals. The ISO 25 emulsion was unsurpassed in grain size and resolution. Also, Kodachrome had excellent archival properties when stored in the dark in reasonable climate control. As you can see, the examples above scanned well and the colors are still vibrant.
Sadly, Kodachrome manufacture ended in 2009, after 7 (seven) decades of production. The last processing was in December of 2010 at Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas. The movie, "Kodachrome," is about this last processing and a road trip to Parsons. In the poster, you can see that Ed Harris is wearing a Leica.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Quincy Market, Boston, Massachusetts - Reuse of Historic Market Buildings

In my previous article, I related the sad news that the famous Durgin Park Restaurant in Boston closed in January, 2019. Durgin Park was located in the north-most granite building of the Quincy Market complex. The granite came from the famous Quincy Quarry, where my friends and I rock-climbed in the 1960s (but that is another story for a future article).
Quincy Market in the mid- to late-1800s, from Boston Public Library 
Faneuil Hall from the Custom House Tower, Nikkormat camera, 105mm lens
Government Center and Boston City Hall, 1970, from Custom House Tower, Nikkormat camera, 28mm lens
Boston's well-known Faneuil Hall is just to the west, and beyond that, Government Center, with its 1960s Brutalist-Moderne Boston City Hall ("the world's ugliest building"). Up through the 1950s, the area west of Faneuil Hall was known as Scollay Square, a formerly vibrant commercial and entertainment district. But by World War II, Scollay was grungy and run-down. My dad called it Squalid Square. In the late-1950s, the City of Boston razed more than 1000 buildings and redeveloped the area as Government Center. Unfortunately, we have no family photographs of Scollay Square.
Although the City developed Government Center in the the 1960s, Quincy Market retained its commercial tenants up through 1975 or 1976, continuing to be occupied by wholesale butchers, fish vendors, and green grocers. In the photographs above, you can see cars and trucks parked in front of well-used shop fronts (these are scans of Kodachrome and Agfachrome slides; click any picture to enlarge it). I remember buying a Christmas tree there one year and taking it home via the MBTA subway. A friend told me that her father, who worked on the family farm near the New Hampshire border in the mid-20th century, remembered taking vegetables by truck to the market.
Quincy Market reconstruction before the Bicentennial, view from Durgin Park Restaurant
Quincy Marker reconstruction, Kodachrome slide, Leica IIIC, 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens
In preparation for the nation's Bicentennial, the granite buildings of Quincy Market were completely renovated and leased to restaurant and retail space. 

Readers may recall that before the Bicentennial, historical preservation had minimal respect in the United States. Let developers condemn, pillage, and build new was the common approach to older "blighted" neighborhoods, especially if they were occupied by African Americans. Many books have been written on how corrupt mayors and city governments destroyed historical neighborhoods in the name of "progress" and payoff from developers (e.g., see Fullilove (2016) or O'Connor (1995)). Now we have mid-20th century parking garages and crappy blighted apartments
Quincy Market from Faneuil Hall, 1980
Quincy Market and Custom House tower, 1980
Winter evening, 1980, 28mm lens
By the 1970s, respect for our historical and architectural legacy was finally developing in the United States, and the Bicentennial was a catalyst for historic preservation in many east coast cities. The Boston project became a poster child for what could be done in older cities with a bit of imagination and respect for the past. The Quincy Market redevelopment was an outstanding success, and tourists flocked to the newly revived market district (Quincy 2003). It has remained popular for four decades.
No more butchers or wholesalers, just chocolate. © 2008 Paul Murphy (digital file)
Three cheers for the new Quincy Market - or was it for the pizza? Pentax Spotmatic, 28mm ƒ/3.5 SMC Takumar lens
Quincy Market from window in Faneuil Hall, Leica M3, 35mm ƒ/2 Summicron-RF lens
Readers who have not been to Boston: do go and enjoy a walk through history. Try the restaurants (but sadly, Durgin Park Restaurant closed in January 2019), have a craft beer, munch a bagel, and think about the sailing ships that once docked between these handsome buildings. 


Fullilove, M.T., 2016. Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, And What We Can Do About It, Second Edition. New Village Press; Second edition (November 1, 2016), 304 p.

O'Conner, T.H., 1995. Building A New Boston: Politics and Urban Renewal, 1950-1970. Northeastern University Press, 368 p.

Quincy, J. 2003. Quincy's Market: A Boston Landmark. Northeastern University Press, 256 p.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Hot Coffee Coming Through: Durgin Park Restaurant, Boston, Massachusetts

Introduction and Sad News

"Hot coffee coming through!" That translated to, "Come on, get out of the way, I have these huge plates of food to take to a table." And huge plates was right. But sadly, the plates will be no more. The venerable Durgin Park Restaurant, a Boston fixture for 192 years, closed for good on Saturday, January 12, 2019. The logo over the door stated, "Established before you were born." Definitely true. And I recall printed on the menus words to the effect, "Your father ate here and his father, too." True in my case, as well. As noted in Restaurant Business, "Durgin-Park was generally regarded as the nation’s second-oldest restaurant, behind Boston’s Union Oyster House, which was founded in 1826. Durgin-Park opened a year later, while favorite local son John Quincy Adams was president of the United States."
1970s or 1980s photograph at the ground floor entry to Durgin Park (from Forbes magazine). I recall the lady in the middle row with the puffy black hair.

Some Memories

I first ate at Durgin Park in 1965 or 1966 with my dad. He told me he was introduced to the restaurant by his dad. Grandpa died in 1919, so this may not be correct, but certainly is not out of the realm of possibility. But my father had definitely patronized Durgin Park on and off for decades because he recalled when whale steak was on the menu. I think bear steak predated him.
Typical 1976 lunch crowd at Durgin Park. You shared your table with politicians, workmen, tourists, gangsters - almost anyone, and everyone was cheerful.
The "Hot coffee coming through" ladies, 1976 (Leica IIIC camera, 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens, Kodachrome film)
By 2008, the starched white waiter outfits were gone
When I first moved to Massachusetts, the sales tax had just been enacted. The politicians promised that it would never exceed 3 percent. Well, you know how that turned out. But restaurant meals below $1.00 were exempt. Therefore, at midday, Durgin Park offered a 95 cent luncheon, which included a cup of soup, cornbread, a hearty entree, such as yankee pot roast, and a cup of coffee. During the summers, I taught sailing at Community Boating on the Charles River and often walked over to the Faneuil Hall area to lunch at Durgin Park. Even then, a Dollar was a reasonable price for a hearty meal. But as inflation ravaged our economy in the 1970s, the soup and coffee disappeared from the 95 cent lunch and the choice of entrees was reduced. Finally, the 95 cent lunch became a fond memory. Sigh....
Andy and Vico digging in to beans, Yankee pot roast, and scallops
In the 1960s and early-1970s, the lunch crowd was so large, the line for a seat often stretched out the door and along the side of the building. If you waited until about 12:30, the first group of diners, who had been seated at 11:30, were moving out, and you could get a seat in a reasonable time. Another trick in the old days was to buy a drink at the bar. Then you could ascend to the dining rooms on the second floor via a bar-only stair and bypass some of the crowd. But I do not remember patrons drinking spirits in the dining room. Maybe that was restricted to the bar area.
From the 1972-1974 television show, Banacek
The entry hallway and bar were on the ground floor. The dining rooms were on the second floor, accessed by a narrow stair on which the line would stand and wait (eventually they had to wait at the bottom of the stairs). The chief waiter, at the top of the stairs, would survey the dining room and wave groups of two or four to available places at the long, family-style tables. You shared a table with whomever was already there. The kitchens were on the third floor. In the 1970s, it was not uncommon to look out the window and see a quarter cow being hoisted via winch to the third floor.
Young Boston beauty awaiting her chowdah and Yankee pot roast
Parking in downtown Boston was always a problem, even in the 1960s. Back then, the Southeast Expressway was a gruesome elevated concrete roadway carrying I-93 through Boston. This route is now subterranean, thanks to the Central Artery/Tunnel Project or the Big Dig. Most Boston citizens despised the old Southeast Expressway because it cut the heart of the city in half and was a visual eyesore. However, it offered inexpensive parking underneath close to Quincy Market. It was a bit spooky, but we were never mugged, and it offered a short walk to Durgin Park.

Durgin Park Brochure

My wife found a brochure in her recipe box with the famous Boston baked bean recipe as well as a short history from Collier's Magazine (date not specified). Click the link above to see the .pdf file or see the pages individually below (click to expand each page).

The End

Before mid-1970s Bicentennial redevelopment of Quincy Market (see the next article), Durgin Park, Union Oyster House, and a few other establishments were the only lunch spots in this part of Boston. After redevelopment, there were many more choices. Durgin Park soldiered on, but by the mid-2000s, fewer customers came. It did not have a "theme" as is popular in restaurants today. Traditional hearty New England cuisine prepared from scratch ingredients was not trendy. I remember how the menu had changed by the mid-2000s, with vegetarian offerings. They even dropped smelts and mackerel from the menu. How can a true New England eatery not offer mackerel? Or smelts? Modern Americans are too wimpy to eat mackerel? Finally, a 192-year tradition ended. In January, several New England friends sent me the sad news that "Hot coffee coming through" was no more.

The 1976 frames are from Kodachrome film exposed with my 1949 Leica IIIC camera with a 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens, which I am still using. I scanned the slides with a Plustek 7600i film scanner using Silverfast Ai software.