Monday, April 27, 2020

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66: Part 7c, Jack Rabbit and Holbrook, Arizona (2019)

Jackrabbit Trading Post, Joseph City, Sep. 4, 2019 (Kodak Ektar 25 film, Yashica Electro 35CC camera, polarizing filter)
 We will continue our drive east through Arizona. Near Joseph City, not much remains of Route 66, just the frontage road to I-40. West of town proper was the famous Jackrabbit Trading Post. A billboard with the logo "HERE IT IS" may be one of the best known Route 66 sights. Hundreds of tourists pose in front of the sign or sit on a big jackrabbit on the other side of the interstate. For the photograph above, I waited for some people to take their pictures and leave, and caught a BNSF train thundering through.
Room with a view, Joseph City (Fuji X-E1 digital file)
The terrain around Joseph City is a bit severe. I stopped in Joseph City during my 2016 trip but totally missed the Jackrabbit sign. The town has some urban decay material.
Dinosaur, 2214 Navajo Blvd., Holbrook, AZ (Kodak TMax 400 film, Hasselblad 501CM, 80mm planar lens, polarizing filter)
Holbrook was another old-time Route 66 town. There was not much of interest on Business 40, and I completely missed the Wigwam Village Motel. Fortunately, I visited a sister Wigwam Motel on Foothills Blvd. in Rialto, California, in 2016 (see Mother Road article 1). Here in Holbrook, I was pleased to see dinosaurs in town. The truck was sort of interesting, as well.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66: Part 7b, Twin Arrows, Arizona (2019)

Dear readers, we are back to Route 66, the Mother Road. On my 2019 western trip, I revisited some Route 66 towns that I passed through in 2017 and checked out some spots that I totally missed before. I will continue the trek from west to east as before, and will number the locations in the same pattern as before, for example, with Part 7 being Arizona.

Twin Arrows is an abandoned rest stop, trading post and gas station just east of Flagstaff. It is distinguished by a pair of steel arrows sticking out of the ground. As noted in the Route 66 Adventure Handbook (fourth ed.) "This is the type of feature which so distinguishes the old highway's attractions from today's cookie-cutter copies." It is a pity no one has tried to revive this rest stop, but possibly Flagstaff is too short a distance to the west, and travelers would just head into town if they needed gasoline or snacks.
The original Twin Arrows, near Flagstaff, Arizona (Kodak Ektar 25 film, Yashica Electro 35CC camera, polarizer)
As you can see, there is not much left to the place. Fortunately, in this dry climate, the arrows will not corrode for years. Maybe one day they can find a new home in front of a museum or similar attraction.

Most of these views are digital files from a Moto G5 mobile phone.

Standby for more 2019 Route 66 updates. For a quick stop in Seligman, Arizona, during this 2019 trip, click this link.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The vacant lots of downtown Redlands, California

(Guest post by morangm)

Most of Kodachromeguy's posts here feature abandoned and decaying rural towns in areas that are losing population and economic activity - places that are just no longer needed. In today's post, I'm going to talk about a different situation - decay caused not by decreasing population and economic declines, but rather decay in the midst of rapid growth, caused by self-defeating municipal ordinances.

Redlands, California, is a cute historic town about 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.  Although it was originally an independent town settled by wealthy easterners seeking a pleasant climate for retirement and those seeking their fortunes in citrus cultivation, it has long since become attached to the ever-expanding Los Angeles metropolitan area.  This area of California, the "Inland Empire", is one of the fastest-growing regions of the country.  According to a recent demographic analysis by the City of Redlands, 80% of people who live in Redlands do not work in Redlands, and 80% of people who work in Redlands don't live in Redlands.  So, while Redlands fiercely clings to its historical identity, it is no longer a self-contained entity.  Like it or not, it is part of a broader metropolitan community.

In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Redlands voters, alarmed at the rapid growth of the region, adopted some slow growth municipal ballot measures and propositions. These measures, among other, more technical things, limit the number of new dwelling units that can be built within the city limits each year to 400 and cap the height of new buildings.  Redlands is by no means the only municipality to adopt slow growth measures like this, and it is exactly these types of restrictions, adopted by many communities across metropolitan areas, that have contributed to urban sprawl and worsening traffic congestion.  If you don't build up and in, you have to build out.

Redlands has a small but relatively lively and pedestrian-friendly downtown area which spans for about 4 blocks along State Street, with some activity in the surrounding blocks.  Unfortunately, despite the region's overall economic growth, the area immediately west of downtown has declined in recent decades.  The Redlands Mall, built in 1977, was placed squarely in the middle of what was once State St., bulldozing many historic buildings and effectively cutting off the main downtown corridor from the other end of State St.  The I-10 freeway cut the city in half, blockading the northern residential areas from downtown. Additionally, the freight and passenger rail corridor ended service at some point, and various industrial and warehousing businesses closed up.

The slow growth restrictions in Redlands meant that redeveloping these central areas of town was not economically viable for developers.  The Redlands Mall has sat abandoned for 10 years (which doesn't sound like much, but remember this is one of the fastest-growing regions of the country we're talking about!).  There are many other vacant lots and abandoned buildings that no one is willing to invest in.  Developers just can't turn a profit redeveloping a downtown area in California if they can't build upwards.
Redlands mall
The abandoned Redlands Mall
West State Street
West State St, the part cut off from downtown by the Redlands Mall, with the Chamber of Commerce on the left.
Abandoned warehouse or packinghouse
Abandoned warehouse (possibly a citrus packinghouse?) right next to downtown
Vacant lot
Vacant lot and parking lot downtown. The backside of the abandoned warehouse is in the background.
Empty dead end
Empty dead end downtown with Studio Movie Grill (formerly the Krikorian Cinema) in the background
Abandoned house
Abandoned house abutting the highway (in the background)
Unused parking lot
Unused parking lot currently being utilized for construction storage. This will probably become parking for the adjacent rail station. I think this is the site for the newly-planned parking garage.
Rail corridor
Empty land and the newly-graded rail corridor
Boarded-up historic trolley
Hey, I found a trolley!
The Los Angeles commuter rail system, Metrolink, is currently expanding its service out to Redlands, revitalizing the old abandoned rail corridor and the historic Santa Fe depot.  As part of this effort, the City of Redlands got a grant to develop a really great transit-oriented development plan to guide redevelopment efforts for the area around the three new rail stops, which encompasses the Redlands Mall and other vacant and abandoned areas in the downtown core.  City staff and hired consultants spent over a year developing this long-term plan for walkable, bike-friendly, mixed-use development.  They held a series of public workshops to learn what the community wanted and to solicit feedback on the plans.

The plan, called the Transit Villages Plan, lays out new zoning for the plan area, allowing buildings of 4 stories on average (with some sections of up to 5 stories allowed for architectural features) in the central part of downtown, with building heights tapering off as you get farther from downtown.  The plan also specifies various architectural requirements to maintain the character of the town and prevent ugly big square boxes from being built, etc.  It seemed like a good plan!  It would help us to redevelop the decayed areas of downtown, encourage environmentally responsible and sustainable development patterns, accommodate necessary and desirable growth in a controlled manner, and ensure that we maintained the charm and character of the city.

However, the City's vision for this new denser, mixed-use development couldn't come to fruition with the existing voter-approved slow growth restrictions in place.  So, the City put on the March 2020 ballot a new measure, Measure G, which would remove the old slow growth restrictions for the area within the Transit Villages Plan area (so, not the whole city, but just the downtown core).

Redlands went nuts!  In the month or two preceding the Measure G vote, a vigorous public debate broke out in the local newspapers and social media.  Although response to the Transit Villages Plan at the community workshops had seemed largely positive, there was immense pushback to Measure G.  NIMBYism took hold. People didn't want to encourage more development in Redlands, didn't want to welcome new apartment-dwelling neighbors, and didn't want their views of the mountains obstructed by taller buildings downtown.  But the debate was wild.  Measure G's actual text was technical and confusing, and the City did a poor job of proactively explaining what it meant in lay terms and even explaining how the urban planning process works, what zoning is, what the existing measures were, etc.  By the time the City finally released an FAQ that laid out clear information, the conspiracy theories had already made the rounds, people's emotions had already been roused, and the local Tea Party had organized in a serious way to oppose the measure.

Measure G failed miserably. About 65% of voters opposed it.

So what does this mean for the vacant lots and abandoned buildings of downtown Redlands?  It remains to be seen.  The City will have to redesign the Transit Villages Plan to conform to the old slow growth measures.  Will developers be willing to invest in these properties given the limitations?  We don't know.

Further confusing the problem is that the State of California has been aggressively pursuing legislation to increase the housing supply across the state, precisely because municipal slow growth measures like those in Redlands are driving up housing costs and encouraging sprawl.  Some state legislation actually removes municipal new housing unit limits, so even without Measure G, parts of our slow growth limits are moot.  The state is also requiring communities to provide large numbers of new housing units over the next several years.  It's unclear to me exactly how this works, but my understanding is that if a City's zoning code does not conform with state requirements on housing provision, the City has no grounds to say no to a developer proposing housing units in whatever form.  Thus, we may end up with denser high-rise development downtown anyway, but it won't be subject to the Transit Villages Plan's careful architectural guidelines. We may be stuck with whatever the developer wants to build with no local say in the matter.  We might also end up bulldozing our few remaining orange groves on the outskirts of the town and turning them into housing developments, and people will build Granny flats in their garages or backyards.  And if we don't conform to the State's requirements, we risk losing state funding for things like road construction.

So, the future of Redlands remains pretty uncertain for the moment.  The way I see it, the failure of Measure G seems fairly self-defeating.

To be clear, there is some activity happening among all the vacant lots.  The new Redlands Packing House District shopping center has been successful, Escape Brewery moved into the old Rondor building (a former trolley depot), and there's a new market-style eatery in the works in another old packinghouse.  But none of this helps the housing situation, and it's not the walkable mixed-use development we envisioned in the Transit Villages Plan.
Redlands Blvd
Redlands Blvd just west of downtown. Perhaps the now-empty part of downtown will eventually look like this?
Further reading:
Because Kodachromeguy always does this: All photos in this post were taking with a Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact smartphone.  And for the record, Redlands almost never has this many clouds in the sky.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Small Towns in the Texas Panhandle: On the way to Amarillo (Panhandle 2019-05)

Let us continue our trip northwest on US 287 through the Texas Panhandle. West of Quanah, I came across more lonely and unoccupied farm houses. Some were reasonably close to 287 and I could walk up driveways or small roads. Others were deep in farm fields and had no access any more. Where did all the families go?


Farm house, Kirkland, Texas
Truck weigh station, Kirkland, Texas
Unused siding, Kirkland, Texas
Wikipedia describes Kirkland as a ghost town. I am not sure about that, but there definitely is not much happening there. The BNSF trains thunder by at high speed. The siding clearly no longer serves the unused Sunbelt CO-OP truck weighing station. The sky is bigger than ever, and the approaching storm clouds gave the scene an ominous look.


Nash Metropolitan east of Childress, Texas
Farm house, Childress, Texas
Childress, the county seat of Childress County, with a population of about 7,000, had a bit more going on. But I did not see much to photograph in town so I moved on.


Valentine Diner, 601 Wright Street, Estelline, Texas (80mm ƒ/2.8 Planar-CB lens, green filter)
Diner interior, Estelline, Texas (Moto G5 digital file)
Estelline had sort-of a main drag parallel to US 287. This charming little diner caught my eye. While setting up the tripod, a couple of cowboys stopped their well-used pickup truck to chat. They were amused to see a city slicker with a tripod taking pictures. They said they grew rice. I wonder where? Nice guys and very polite.
Farm house in cotton fields, US 287, west of Estelline, Texas (250mm ƒ/5.6 Sonnar lens)
Farm house and shed west of Estelline, Texas (250mm ƒ/5.6 Sonnar lens, green filter)
I saw a couple of abandoned farm houses in the cotton fields. There was no way to get access by road or driveway. 


US 287, Memphis, Texas (80 mm Planar-CB lens, yellow filter)
Memphis (Texas, not Tennessee) is the seat of Hall County. The town was platted in 1890 and has some brick streets and old commercial buildings. I will try to explore on my next drive through the
Texas Panhandle.


Clarendon, Texas
Farm west of Clarendon, Texas

Just sitting in the driveway, Clarendon, Texas (Moto G5 digital file)
Clarendon, the county seat of Donley County, is about 60 miles east of Amarillo. The town of 2000 is rather quiet. In 2017, on the way east, we stayed in a hotel in town and discovered that other than fast food chain shops, there were no restaurants open in the evening. Another minor adventure in travel.

This ends our adventure in the Texas Panhandle. From here, it was on to New Mexico and Arizona via I-40 and Route 66. Standby for more of the great US Southwest.

The large square black and white photographs are from Kodak Tri-X film exposed with a Hassselblad 501CM camera and 50, 80, and 250mm lenses. Praus Productions in Rochester, NY processed the film in Xtol developer. I scanned the negatives with a Minolta Scan Multi film scanner.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Small Towns in the Texas Panhandle: Quanah (Panhandle 2019-04)

Let us continue on our way west through the Texas Panhandle on US 287. Quanah is sort-of a big town. It is the county seat of Hardeman County and now has a population of about 2600. I wanted to stop here because I read that you could still see the remains of a drive-in cinema.
In Quanah, Texas (Moto G5 digital file)
This was not the first time I noticed that my car was puny compared to what the Texans drive. Oh, oh, I felt inadequate.
I found a somewhat tired but clean motel on the west end of town. I wanted to take a swim - oops, no pool any more.
The old drive-in was on Spur 133 not far from the motel. Most of the screen had collapsed, but there are pictures of it on the internet.
Only a mile or so into town, I came across an old garage with a Cadillac parked on the concrete. Oddly, the car was in good condition, with full tires and upholstery that looked fresh. Someone must have driven it there recently. Hmmm, long wheelbase, soft suspension: the perfect road trip machine.
 Quanah has some nice 1920s cottages, but sadly in poor condition (this one was on W 3rd.).
The Fire Department's van on Mercer Street was also sort of tired.
An early-20th century store on Mercer, possibly once a car dealership, had an old fire truck parked inside.
Although it was Sunday, the fellow who ran the garage on Mercer was getting equipment together to make a repair call. He said someone called from a motel with a stalled car. There was not much else happening in Quanah, and I headed back to US 287.
West of Quanah, I saw two of the lonely and abandoned farm houses of the type I wanted to photograph as I proceeded on 287 towards Amarillo. The second one above was a distance from the road, and I needed my 250mm Sonnar lens to get this frame. I was a bit hesitant to walk in the grass because of rattlesnakes. Maybe I should buy snake boots for my next Texas trip.

The square photographs are from Kodak Tri-X 400 film exposed with a Hasselblad 501CM camera with 50mm, 80mm, and 250mm Zeiss lenses. I scanned the negatives with a Minolta Scan Multi medium format film scanner.