Thursday, December 28, 2023

From the Space Needle in 1995 (Seattle, Washington)

Business took me to western Washington in 1995. A coworker and I looked at the beach at Ocean Shores, which faces the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of Grays Harbor. Southward sediment transport had built a wide beach against the north jetty. Developers were building condominiums on the beach. Was this a vulnerable location? Were there feasible escape routes if sirens warned of a tsunami? What would happen to the beach if the sediment transport shifted to moving north? 

After the field trip, we had a few days to spend in Seattle. My coworker had never been to the city and was intrigued by the Space Needle. A fellow we met under the Needle generously offered us two free tickets for the elevator. It was a gorgeous sunny day, so, of course we took the lift to the viewing balcony.

Room with a view: Space Needle from the Mediterranean Inn (Fuji digital photograph taken with a Jupiter-8 lens)
2004 panorama of South Lake Union district from Eastlake Avenue E

First, the general setting. This is a 2004 panoramic photograph of Queen Anne (the hill to the right), South Lake Union, Uptown, and Belltown districts (taken with a Hasselblad X-Pan camera). The Needle is the iconic tower built for the 1962 World's Fair. In the 1970s, when I was a student here, this area south of Lake Union was a commercial district of warehouses and manufacturing. By the early 2000s, it was transforming into condos, clubs, museums, and modern businesses. In the photograph above, the red building in the foreground is part of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, one of the foremost cancer research institutes in the world. Click the picture to enlarge the scene and see the snowy Olympic Mountains in the distance.

Port of Seattle, view south from Space Needle

Now, let's ascend to the viewing balcony on the Space Needle and look south. Seattle is a high value seaport. It is a spectacular natural harbor because it is ice-free, deep, and sheltered from Pacific Ocean storms. In the photograph above, you can see the container terminal in the distance with a freighter in the roadstead. A ferry boat is on its way to Bremerton. Many Seattleites commute daily via the ferries. Seattle is also a major cruise terminal, but I do not see any cruise ships in this scene. 

To the left, you can see two features that are now, thankfully, gone. 

The big white dome is the infamous Kingdome. I recall some of the controversy during construction in the 1972-1973 period. It was sited in the Industrial District south of Pioneer Square. African-American businesses were displaced (i.e., forced out at low real estate values). Construction was plagued with errors, poor design, and a contractor who was unable to complete the work. The building suffered water problems. Parts of the roof collapsed in 1994. Finally, controlled implosion brought down the nasty structure in March of 2000. A century-old African-American community had been replaced by a boondoggle that lasted 27 years. King County taxpayers had to pay for the bonds for another 15 years. Hmmm, is it possible some corruption might have been involved?

Alaskan Way Viaduct before demolition (from Wikimedia, based on Open Street Maps)

To the right of The Kingdome is the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a double-decked freeway that carried State Route 99 along the waterfront. The city built the viaduct in three phases between 1949 and 1953. It cut off the city from the waterfront, similar to the way the Southeast Expressway in Boston became a barrier between Boston, the North End, and the waterfront. The web site, The Historic Pacific Highway in Washington, has more information about the viaduct

Engineers knew that the viaduct was vulerable to earthquakes. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in Oakland, California, destroyed the similar Cypress Street Viaduct, causing 42 deaths.  The 2001 Nisqually earthquake in Seattle damaged the viaduct and its supporting Alaskan Way Seawall. The steel flanges, girders, and bolts that I saw in 2004 were attempts to shore up the structure of the viaduct.  

My coworkers at the Corps of Engineers were well aware of the viaduct's earthquake vulnerability. They told me which lanes to use in case the upper structure collapsed. By carefully driving between the concrete support rows, my car would be only partly squashed by the descending concrete roadway. I was so reassured....

After long and heated debate, King County, the city, and the Port of Seattle decided to bore a tunnel under the route of the viaduct and totally remove the concrete eyesore. You know the story: the tunnel cost vastly more than originally predicted and numerous technical issues slowed construction, but it finally opened to traffic in February of 2019. Demolishing and crunching up the viaduct took only a year. The city now has access to the waterfront without the concrete eyesore. 

On recent trips to Seattle, I have driven Route 99 instead of fight the traffic on I-5. The tunnel appears to flow well while I-5 is bumper-to-bumper. Cameras automatically tag your car to identify where to send a bill for the toll. 

Union Bay with University of Washington Campus in the distance

Turn to the northeast and look at the body of water. Union Bay is a freshwater bay in the center of Seattle. The Fremont Cut (to the left) lets boats reach Puget Sound via the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. The Montlake Cut, beyond the I-5 bridge in the distance, gives access to Lake Washington. Museums, shipyards, houseboats, and seaplane companies line the shore of Lake Union. "Sleepless in Seattle" takes place in these houseboats. The Vashon Glacier excavated the lake about 12,000 years ago and sculpted most of the contemporary geomorphology in the Puget lowlands.

Lake Union view south

This is Lake Union from the Gas Works Park, the site of a former coal gasification plant from the early 20th century. The Gas Works operated from 1873 to 1956, when natural gas from Canada supplanted the nasty and toxic gas plant. A landscape architect and University of Washington professor, Richard Haag, designed a plan to convert the site into a park, retaining some of the steel towers and tubes.

This ends our much too quick overview of Seattle. I want to look at my 1970s archives and see if there are more photographs from downtown.

By the way, if you want to see a really bad Elvis movie that features the Space Needle, watch "It Happened at the World's Fair." As TCM described it, "The Monorail and Space Needle are prominent as Mike (Elvis Presley) and friend Sue-Lin (Vicky Tiu) take in the sights". It is an utterly absurd plot, but Elvis sings. What more could you want in a movie?

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Cruising Rural South Central Washington

Years ago, when I was young and strong, I sometimes hiked on Mount Rainier in south central Washington state. Back then, I did not do urban decay photography and did not pay attention to the rural towns south of Seattle. Finally, in summer of 2023, I had a chance to revisit the area and take a few snapshots. These towns were probably a lot more interesting in the 1970s, when the lumber industry was beginning to wind down and western Washington state had not gone through its conversion from a resource extraction economy to a high technology, finance, and arts economy. 

I sometimes regret not photographing good grunge when it was available. However, many people argue with plenty of backup evidence that infrastructure and small town society in USA has deteriorated in recent decades. The rural South certainly shows this pattern. But even here in the Pacific Northwest, I expect to find interesting material to photograph in the future as I explore. 

Let us take a short drive from Olympia towards Paradise, on the south side of Mount Rainier. 

Looking for coffee in Rainier

Rainier is a former lumber town and appears to be a bit rough. I want to explore soon.


Mountain Highway E, La Grande, Washington
Old La Grande Post Office

La Grande is an unincorporated community in Pierce County. Most people heading to Mount Rainier buzz on through in a hurry.

Elbe, Washington

The Mount Rainier Scenic Railway runs between the towns of Elbe and Mineral. I am not sure if the cars on the siding above are currently used or if the railroad has other rolling stock. 
Time for coffee in Ashford

Keep driving east and going up in elevation, and you pass Ashford. There is not much there, but you could pick up a coffee.

Copper Creek Inn

Near the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park is the Copper Creek Inn, Cabins, and Lodge. They claim that this is the oldest continuously-operating restaurant in the state, in business since 1946. We has a superb salmon meal, and their blackberry pie is a piece of berry and culinary heaven (dare I compare it with the chocolate baklava at Niko Niko's in Houston??). Regardless, I am heading back to Copper Creek. 

Mount Rainier is an impressive stratovolcano, rising to 14,410 ft above sea level. I have not climbed to the summit but have walked a section of the Wilderness Trail, which circles the mountain. The Paradise visitor center on the south side of the mountain is mobbed in summer with tourists. Plan ahead, go early.

Snow lake - you can't see the mosquitoes

Snow Lake is an easy walk from the Stevens Pass Road, a short distance from the Paradise Visitor's Center. The highest elevation is 4,700 ft (1440 m), so easy breathing. In June, the mosquitoes were not easy!! 

At Tugboat Annie's, Olympia

Back to Olympia and dinner at Tugboat Annie's. Someone is still in the 1970s with his VW dune buggy.

I took most of the photographs with expired Kodak Bright Sun (= Gold 100) film using my Voigtländer Vito BL camera. The 50mm ƒ/3.5 Color-Skopar lens (a 4-element Tessar design) always performs well. I exposed the film at EI=100, but for the next roll, I will give more exposure (EI=64). The film is more grainy than fresh rolls, and some of the colors are a bit off. It was a worthwhile experiment, and I have three more rolls to use. 

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Ladies of Athens

Everyone knows that Greece produces beautiful ladies. Is it true? Well, let's see some proof. Here are my examples (I know, I know, it's a cliche, but I could not resist).

Athens Flea Market

This is the modern flea market, not the interesting and organic one that my dad explored in the 1950s. I think much of the merchandise in the modern market is from China, made for the tourist trade. But a few vendors sell military uniforms, and at least two vendors sell LP records and CDs. I bought some Maria Callas CDs in 2023 to take on my cross-country drive.

Let's look at the lovelies of the market.

The nautical look, ready for a shipowner to come along with his yacht (or oil tanker)
The scooter look, when a shipowner is not available.
The Little Red Riding Hood look?
The mysterious look
The Soviet nostalgia look. I saw this odd phenomena in Cartagena, Columbia, as well.
A wolverine ruff for those brutal Arctic winter days in Athens
Oops, wrong outfit. Just a fur ruff atop a sheer blouse and tights. 
Here's looking at you, kid. I may try yellow frames the next time I renew my glasses.

Nea Ionia

Nea Ionia is a suburb about 7 km north of the Athens city center. It is a vibrant commercial area originally settled by refugees from the defeat in Anatolia in 1923. Today, it features great restaurants and a large Pakistani community. 

That is a tough and sassy lady. But her guy does not look too tough to me.
Well, this guy does not look much tougher, either. She is putting him in his place.


Halandri (sometimes written as Chalandri) is a hip and trendy suburb about 12 km north of the downtown. Some of the streets in the central area have been converted into pedestrian walkways. I have eaten in some excellent restaurants in Halandri. My elementary school is still has its Halandri campus, but the former surrounding farm fields are now an urban sprawl. But Halandri has its beauties, too.

Blond in the wind
Brunette in the wind. 
Hat as large as a sail or parachute
Is this Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago?
Forgot to trim my bangs


Piraeus is the port of Athens. It is a bustling marine and commercial/industrial city. Although still a separate city, today the urban sprawl covers all the land between Athens and Piraeus. It is always interesting to explore. The original 1970s Metro line will take you there, as will the newer tram. I have written about Piraeus before. 

It must be warm in the showcase
Ready to party

I captured many of these lovelies with my Olympus E-330 digital camera. It was "only" 7.5 megapixels, but for web display or printing 11×14 inch paper prints, that is more than adequate data. These digital files were easy to manipulate. The E-330 is gone, but I should revise my Fuji X-E1 camera soon.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

From the Archives: Rolling Fork, Mississippi

Rolling Fork, the county seat of Sharkey County, is a city in the southern Mississippi Delta north of Vicksburg. On March 24, 2023, a deadly EF4 tornado struck the city and flattened a strip through the community. The tornado killed 17 people in Rolling Fork and in nearby Midnight and Silver City. In March, my wife and I donated bottled water to the relief effort (photographs in my May 13 post). 

While sorting through folders of negatives and slides, I found some early 2000s digital and film photographs from Rolling Fork. Here is a quick look when the was semi-intact. The town had been poor and struggling economically for decades, so much of the downtown was in poor condition even 20+ years ago.

Bear Affair, 2008

Rolling Fork celebrates the Great Delta Bear Affair most years. The photograph above was from a cheerful 2008 Affair. The fest celebrates the time that president Teddy Roosevelt refused to shoot a baby bear that had been tied to a tree for him. A toy company saw the marketing potential, and the Teddy Bear has become a beloved children's toy. Despite the tornado damage, Bear Affair returned to Rolling Fork on October 27 and 28. I was out of state, but I read that Elvis showed up. Darn, missed the good stuff again.

Former Courtney's Store (hardware and garden supplies). 

Courtney's Store was a long-time hardware and garden supply vendor on Walnut Street. A friend and I explored many years ago and saw vacuum tubes and other goodies in the back. Mrs. Courtney's son, Willard, was our hairdresser in Vicksburg for some years. He was murdered during a drug deal in Rolling Fork sometime after 2010. 

McKenzie's store, also on Walnut, was mostly demolished by the tornado.
Sharecropper cottage south of town near the former Red Barn
The former Red Barn, built in 1918, collapsed on April 30, 2011. All wood has been removed, but the two silos still stand.
Mont Helena mansion north of town.

Mont Helena is a remarkable colonial revival mansion built by Helen Johnstone and George Harris in 1896. Fire destroyed the first mansion, and I do not know if the one you see today is from 1896 or slightly later. In the late-1980s, the house was vandalized and a wreck, but various owners lovingly restored it. Somewhere, I have some slides of the house in its ruined condition.
53 East China Street, March 2003 (Olympus OM2s camera, 35mm ƒ/2.8 Zuiko Shift lens, Fuji Superior 200 film)

China Street, once a busy commercial hub, was lined with abandoned stores. I do not know their condition now.

24 East China Street, the former Danzig's Furniture store
Barnes' Grocery 614 Chestnut Street) and an asphalt-sided shotgun house (612 Chestnut).
Blue Front Cafe, Chestnut Street (50mm ƒ/3.5 Zuiko Auto-Macro lens)
Grace United Methodist Church, 6260 Grace Road, Grace, Mississippi (35mm Shift Zuiko lens)

The residents of Rolling Fork are a tough bunch and are in the process of rebuilding. Good for them. 

I took the 2003 photographs with an Olympus OM2s camera on Fuji Superia 200 film. I still have two Olympus lenses and need to buy a body on which to use them.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Mouldering Unused: Vicksburg's former Post Office and Federal Court House

Former Post Office and Federal Court House, undated post card
Former court house from Monroe Street (135mm ƒ/3.5 SMC Takumar lens)

The former U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is an imposing limestone edifice at 820 Crawford Street in Vicksburg. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History's Historic Resources Inventory describes it as a Classical Revival building begun in 1935 and completed in 1937. It was designed by architect Claude Lindsley under the administration of of Louis A. Simon, Supervising Architect of the Treasury from 1933 to 1939. 

A five-story, stuccoed, Classical Revival office building, facing north, with a flat roof. The first floor facade is scored to look like stone and has three sets of double bronze doors with fanlights and elaborate bronze entablatures and eight casement windows with transoms. The three entrances are recessed behind large arches. The second, third and fourth floors are separated from the fifth floor by a heavy cornice and from the first floor by a heavy belt course on which is inscribed "United States Post Office and Court House". The facade of these floors is broken by two recesses dominated by three-story Ionic columns and pilasters. The original lobby is intact.

In 2003, the federal government planned to transfer the Post Office to the City of Vicksburg, but the plan fell through and the City never took possession. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that the building contained asbestos throughout that had not been removed. Possibly this or other potential maintenance issues convinced the city to not accept the property. The federal government sold the building to private owners around 2007.

Vicksburg's new post office is a functional but totally uninteresting (OK, ugly) building on Pemberton Boulevard. Because of reduced need for space, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi relocated to the city of Natchez. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, my friends in the Cam-Arts camera club and I met in a conference room on an upper floor in the building. At that time, the US Army Corps of Engineers Lower Mississippi Valley Division occupied offices on the upper floors. It was a comfortable room with reclining, sleep-inducing plush chairs and a 1970s color scheme.

At one time, there was a well-equipped photographic darkroom somewhere in the building. Via a convoluted path, I ended up with a giant stainless steel sink that had once been in this darkroom. In 2003, I donated it to Vicksburg High School when the art teacher taught a photography class. The City plumbers plumbed the sink, which I hope it is still in place.  

Several times, I asked Shirley Waring, who represents a company that owns the building, if I could take some photographs inside. She agreed but subsequently never responded when I sent emails or called. Nancy Bell, director of the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, told me that one photographer offered serious money to photograph inside, but to no avail. 

This handsome old building sits, leaks, and moulders, year after year. Fate: unknown. 

Handsome entrance with arched doorways (28mm ƒ/3.5 SMC Takumar lens.
Ramp added long after original construction (24mm ƒ/3.5 SMC Takumar)
Arched doorway with heavy bronze doors (24mm lens).
Detail of facade above arch (24mm lens)
A now-rare fallout shelter sign has survived

The rear of the building was distinctly more utilitarian, with a loading dock and fire escape stairs.

Original steel frame windows (30mm ƒ/10 Kodak lens adapted to Leica thread mount).
Loading dock stair (30mm ƒ/10 lens).

As I wrote above, this fine old building sits unoccupied and unmaintained. Eventually, decay, leaks, and plumbing issues will render it uneconomical for anyone to reuse it (this may be already happening). Too much time has passed. Who will pay to demolish it? 

I took the 2023 photographs on Kodak Plus-X film with a Pentax Spotmatic F camera. The last two photographs are on Fuji Acros film.