Thursday, December 30, 2021

Morning in Chelsea, Massachusetts

Chelsea is a historic city across the Mystic River from Boston, Massachusetts. The Naumkeag Tribe lived in that area for thousands of years before the first European settler built a trading post in 1624. Several battles during the revolutionary war were fought in Chelsea. 

When I was young, Chelsea was a rough and tumble working-class community with factories and dense housing. This usually consisted of wood triple-deckers, often in poor condition. Many were erected after 1908, when an immense fire destroyed large portions of the older neighborhoods

In 1973, a second great fire left about 20 percent of the city in ashes. Residents left, the tax base collapsed, and the city sank into crime, corruption, and gross mismanagement. The State of Massachusetts imposed a state-approved receiver to control the city, improve schools, overhaul the police, and dismantle the corrupt city government. By 1995, the city was on the mend.

Morning at the junction of Pearl Street and Congress Avenue, Chelsea
Park Street
Congress Avenue

Since my last visits in who knows how many years, the city has been revived and semi-gentrified. Today, it looks pretty good. My childhood memories are totally out of date. The houses are mostly vinyl-clad, the streets clean, and the nearby school bustling with children and parents walking their kids to school (walking?). The area in the photographs above has become largely Hispanic, and I heard Spanish being spoken regularly. There were no spooky vibes as I feel in many other American cities. I could live here with no major issues except for the congestion and lack of parking. 

Heading north, Route 1 is still pretty crummy, but it is strip America of gaudy architecture as opposed to burned out and abandoned malls and strip shopping centers.

Katz Bagel Bakery, 139 Park street, Chelsea
Katz Bagel Bakery interior - fresh and authentic

My wife and I recently stayed in a Logan Airport hotel on the Chelsea side of Chelsea Creek (a waterway that flows into the Mystic River near where it debouches into Boston Harbor). The breakfast was offal. What is wrong with American hotels? I walked west into town to see where I could get a decent coffee. I found myself at Katz Bagel Bakery. This is the real thing! This family-owned company has been making bagels here since 1938. I bought three and asked about a package of cookies on the counter. The baker said free, take them. As for coffee, he directed me to a Hispanic convenience store. A Hispanic lady was mixing coffee con leche with vast amounts of sugar, but I poured my own for only $1.  

The Jewish tradition dates back to the early 20th century, when Chelsea was a major destination for Russian and Eastern European immigrants. Russian Jews came in large numbers after the 1890s, in response to pogroms in their home country and, after the 1917 revolution, to Communist persecution.  

Charlestown street leading downhill from the Bunker Hill Monument
USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), Boston National Historical Park. 

Cross the Mystic River to Charlestown, another a historic city within sight of Boston. Charlestown was the site of the Battle of Bunker (Bunkah) Hill, one of the early battles of the Revolutionary War. On a 2006 visit, I was surprised to see that Charlestown has also been gentrified and looks very nice. 

I have written about Boston before:
Standby for more photographs of Boston and vicinity.  If you have a chance, definitely visit Boston, savor the history, explore the cultural and historical offerings, and eat good food. (But don't try to drive in the city unless you are really brave.)

Happy and prosperous New Year to you all. I hope 2022 it is better and healthier than the ghastly 2021 that is about to end.


After a comment from a reader about the offal at American hotels, I thought I would include a photograph of the breakfast buffet at a hotel in the Passo di San Pellegrino in the Italian Dolomites. Many Italian hotels offer breakfasts like this. And the pastries are made by the chef on the premises. As I wrote before, what is wrong with American Hotels and their vile food offerings? Who eats at a captive restaurant in an American hotel?

Typical breakfast, Hotel Arnica, Passo di San Pellegrino, Italian Dolomites

Friday, December 24, 2021

Wandering around Lower Clay Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Clay Street descending from Cherry Street (Tri-X film (suffering from reticulation) taken from balcony of motel)

Clay Street comes into the core of old Vicksburg from the east. 

When the Methodist minister, Newitt (or Newit) Vick, platted the town, he intended Jackson Street to be the main east-west commercial street and laid it out as two-lane. But commerce did not develop that way and Clay Street became the main road with hotels, shops, and commercial buildings. The National Registry of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, written by Nancy Bell of the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, includes a readable and detailed summary of the city's growth and architectural changes over the decades. The "urban renewal" fad of the 1970s (i.e., free money from the Federal government) led to the demolition of numerous historic buildings and construction of some revolting and largely-unused concrete parking garages. Someone should follow the money and see who really benefitted from these "renewals."

In this short article, I will show you some photographs from lower Clay Street, the area from around Cherry Street and further west, heading towards the Yazoo Diversionary Canal.  

Former Wells & LaHatte appliance company (919 Clay Street), now moved 1 block west (Kodak 4×5" Super-XX film)
Interior of 919 Clay Street (Moto G5 photograph taken through a window)

The Wells and LaHatte company has sold household appliances in Vicksburg since 1935. It is nice to deal with a locally-owned company. They moved from their old building are now one block west at 1301 Monroe Street. 

Former apartments at 915 Clay Street (Super-XX film, 90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens)
915 Clay Street is settling and collapsing (90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens)
Side of 915 Clay Street from Cherry Street
915 Clay Street is an example of the type of multi-floor wood houses that once were more common around town. This one is pretty rough and had been converted into apartments. As of this writing (December 2021), the roof is collapsing into the interior and the house is settling. The photograph of the front door does not have barrel distortion; the house is settling (squashing?) unevenly into the cellar. 

Years ago, an identical wood house occupied the lot to the west, address 911 Clay. In the 1980s and 1990s, Offshore & Coastal Technologies, Inc., had its offices there, but the company closed and the building burned about 10 years ago.

Former Junius Ward YMCA, 821 Clay Street at corner of Monroe (Panatomic-X film, Fuji GW690II camera, 90mm lens)
The Junius Ward YMCA (originally the Young Men's Christian Association) was a center of social and sports activities for decades. The upper two floors contained residence halls for single men. I wrote about the 'Y in 2010 and have posted more interior photographs at other times. The building closed in 2002 when the 'Y moved to a modern facility east of town. No one has been able to reuse the old building, and it sits empty and forlorn. Someone did repair the roof about 10 years ago, but that was the last renovation that I have seen. I read that the building would need modern electrical service, fireproof stairs, and many other serious renovations to make it usable as apartments.

The Old Courthouse Museum sits on a hill in the upper right of the scene.  

Hotel Vicksburg, undated (from the Cooper Postcard Collection, courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History)
The Hotel Vicksburg at 801 Clay Street opened in 1929 and was the city's sophisticated hotel during the mid-20th century. It was the tallest building in town and even had a radio studio on the roof. Today, it is is the home of the Vicksburg Apartments. I know several people who rented units there and really liked their accommodations. Today, most inns and hotels are generic chain accommodations near the interstate.

Walnut Street view north on a foggy day (Tri-X film, Hasselblad 50mm Distagon lens)
721 Clay Street (4×5" Tri-X negative, 75mm ƒ/8 Super-Angulon lens)

Across the street from The Vicksburg is the elegant 1916 B'nai B'rith Literary Society building, now known as the B.B. Club. In the 1980s and 1990s, this building housed the Vicksburg Police Department. After the police moved to their new building on Veto street, the former mayor, Mr. Lawrence Lyons, bought the BB building and restored it with great care. The police had covered the plaster walls with panelling, but the underlying decorations and plaster work were largely intact. 

Note the sign for The Vanishing Glory. This was a multi-projector slide show held at the Strand Theater. Glory closed in the early 2000s and the Westside Theater Foundation restored and modernized the Strand. I photographed in the Strand in 2011 at the beginning of its restoration. 

The Strand Theater is in the Adolph Rose Building, circa 1890 (717 Clay Street). This is one of the best of the remaining late-1800s commercial buildings in Vicksburg, demonstrating the City's commercial and cultural prosperity in that era. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. I photographed in the Alolph Rose Antiques gallery and will post some pictures soon (stand-by for artsy photographs).

Clay Street view west to Yazoo Diversionary Canal and flood walls

Go west a block to Washington Street, and Clay Street becomes much steeper as it descends to the flood walls and the Yazoo Diversionary Canal. In the 1800, this was the main channel of the Mississippi River. Steamboats tied up along this waterfront, but now the view is marred by the concrete walls. 

A passageway, paralleling Gordon Lane (or alley), runs north through a tunnel in one of the old brick buildings. The tunnel is sort-of picturesque. No, it's just plain ugly. The rear facades of the buildings are sort-of picturesque. No, they are just plain ugly.

All right, the dead boat in one of the lots behind some Washington Street buildings is picturesque.

This ends out short tour of lower Clay Street and vicinity. Standby for more of Vicksburg in the future.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you readers. Thanks for riding along.

UPDATE:  I found a digital color photograph of the old warehouses on the north side of Clay Street. What would one find in one of these boarded-up buildings?

Lower Clay Street (Fuji X-E1 digital file, 1962 Jupiter-8 lens, ƒ/5.6) 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Wandering around Upper Clay Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Clay Street view west (Panatomic-X film, Hasselblad 250mm Sonnar lens, 1/15 ƒ/8.0½)

Clay Street is the major east-west road through Vicksburg. Before Interstate 20 (I-20) was completed in the early 1970s, US 80 came into town on Clay Street. A driver heading west would drive on Clay to downtown, turn left on Washington Street, and drive south to the old Mississippi River bridge.

I label the part of Clay Street just west of the Vicksburg National Military Park as upper Clay, while the area downtown near the Yazoo Canal is lower Clay. Here we will look at some scenes in upper Clay. Decades ago, private homes lined the street, but now it is strip America of the ugliest sort. You car, tire, and muffler repair shops, check-cashing and title-loan places, a few real estate offices, abandoned buildings, a dead A&P super market, derelict historic homes, and fast food emporiums. Empty lots show where houses once stood. A former resident labeled this "the ugliest street in America." Well, maybe not the ugliest, but certainly a contender. 

The Eastview Apartments, situated between Clay Street and Baldwin Ferry Road, are low income housing subsidized by the federal government via HUD (Housing and Urban Development). They are unusual construction, being suspended between telephone poles that were driven into the ground on the steep hillside. It was a practical solution compared to grading flat terraces and pouring concrete slabs. 

Eastview Apartments with Stouts Bayou in foreground (Panatomic-X film, Hasselblad, 50mm ƒ/4 Distagon lens, green filter)

Stouts Bayou flows under Clay Street through some form of culvert or tunnel because it emerges out of the hillside below the Eastview Apartments. This is kudzu jungle. It needs a cleanup by goats.

Warfield's ServiceCenter, at 2910½ Clay Street, has served customers for over 30 years. Good people.

One of the nondescript street running into Clay Street from the north is Hope Street. The proprietor at A & V Discount Tobacco & Beer generously let me take a photograph.

The long-unused Parkview Regional Medical Center building looms over the area north of Clay Street. It has been vacant since 2002, except for homeless who occasionally find ways to enter.

Mercy Hospital, Grove St. (Kodak Super-XX film, Tachihara 4×5" camera, 90mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens)

The Sisters of Mercy, who have a long history of care in this town, originally built Mercy Hospital in 1957. The present owners have tried to sell it but with no results. Who wants an obsolete hospital building considering the cost to renovate and upgrade electricity, exits, stairwells, and utilities? Externally, it looks intact, but I do not have information on the roof or the interior. 

When I took photographs in the parking lot in the rear, the neighbors came by and said they watch for vagrants. The police come, clear away the homeless, and then they return later.

Further west is a short segment of Crawford Street. This is not the main Crawford Street downtown but a short detached section running directly next to Stouts Bayou. The houses are on the south side of the road and have access via wood bridges. I photographed more of the Crawford Street region during my tour of neglected Vicksburg houses (Nov. 16, 2020 article).

1517 Main Street (Panatomic-X film, Hasselblad 501CM camera, 80mm lens, 1/8 sec. ƒ/8.0½)

Main Street is one of Vicksburg's historic streets. It is still lined with old houses, but one by one, they have been condemned and demolished. This house at 1517 looks pretty good, and I do not know its issues.

This ends our short tour of upper Clay Street. Standby for more Vicksburg photographs soon. Thank you all for riding along.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Treasure: a Real Camera Store in Carrboro, North Carolina

Southeastern Camera, Carrboro, North Carolina

For all of you film photographers, here is a treasure in Carrboro, North Carolina: Southeastern Camera. Walk in, and a visual delight of cameras, film, tripods, bags, photographic detritus, and stuff awaits you. 

Old timers like me remember when every town and city had at least one camera store. Some were well-equipped, while others mostly provided film and print processing. But regardless, you could step into one and buy film and, often, some sort of hardware. The digital tsunami of the 2000-2010 era eliminated most of these stores. Internet commerce, and especially eBay (ePrey), killed off most of the survivors. Typically, only major cities like New York or Los Angeles had enough customer base for physical camera stores to survive. 

Bodies and lenses? Just rummage and select.
Broken body for parts or repair? Just look around.
Some of these probably work

I saw a large number of classic 1970s bodies, like Pentax Spotmatics and Minoltas, in the bins. Many of these probably work but may need adjustment.

Off-brand zoom lenses. Some may be all right, but many were poor even when new.

In the 1970s and 1980s, various companies sold millions of zoom lenses, often covering 80 to 200mm in focal length. Many were mediocre optical quality. Amateurs often bought one of these in a kit along with their body, prime focal length lens from the camera manufacturer, braided banjo-style neck strap ("for comfort"), and, of course, "protection" filters for those "valuable camera lenses." The protection filter scam has lingered into the digital era. They are aimed at those rugged photographers who riding camels in the Sahara Desert or crossing the Antarctic on snowmobiles, taking pictures all the way.

Enlargers and film scanners.

In the early 2000s, photographers scrapped millions of optical darkroom enlargers. Now that are popular again. Nikon, Minolta, Hasselblad and others made film scanners in the early 2000s. They were discontinued and are now old, unreliable, and unrepairable electronic devices. The units in good operating condition sell for serious $$$s.

Film, real film!

Southeastern stocks all types of film, some of which is in a refrigerated case. I assume some of the customers are students at nearby University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. 

Sample photograph from the 35mm Leitz Summaron lens (Kodak BW400CN film)

When I stopped by in late-October, Southeastern had a beautiful little Leitz 35mm Summaron lens in thread mount for my Leica IIIC. It was $450, and I reluctantly (barely) passed. They had at least one Hasselblad, many Nikons, and a functioning Rollie 3003. I found a brand new Nikon cable release with the wide tip that fits my Leica, so I gave them some commerce. 

Summary: friendly employees and great stock. It's great to see a traditional camera store again. (Thank you SE Camera for letting me take some photographs in your store).

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Levee Street Railroad Yard, Vicksburg, Mississippi

The Kansas City Southern rail yard on Levee Street usually has interesting patterns, shapes, and textures to photograph. Long-term readers know that I have photographed here many times before, but I usually find new material when I explore. Nowadays, it is a rare treat to walk next to or within a rail yard that is not fenced off with security razor wire. The two big rail yards in Jackson are off-limits. 

Fairground Street Bridge, closed since the early 1990s

The rail yard is much quieter than it was before the 2011 Mississippi River flood. I do not know where all the rolling stock went. For older articles on Levee Street:

These photographs are from Kodak Ektar 100 film. I used a venerable Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic camera. Most of the rail yard photos are with my 135mm ƒ/3.5 lens, an inexpensive optic in its day but excellent mechanical and optical quality. Northeast Photographic in Maine developed the film and scanned the negatives with a Noritsu system. I reduced the saturation with Photoshop CS6 software.