Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hangars at Naval Station Norfolk

Naval Station Norfolk covers about 3400 acres and is the largest naval station in the world. It is an immense complex of wharfs, warehouses, barracks, repair shops, hangars, offices, and runways. Thousands of servicemen, servicewomen, and civilians enter and leave every day as they do their work supporting fleet operation, repair and overhaul, and administrative duties. The base began operations in World War I and has been in continuous operation since then. You can read more about the base in
History of the facility is here:

In 1940, with war imminent, the government dredged Willoughby Bay just north of the base and built hangars for seaplanes. I think the hangar in the photographs above is one of the 1940 units but am not sure. I saw workers inside but it was a hard hat area and I could not enter.

Looking through the building, you see Willoughby Bay through the hangar doors. The wharf facing the bay now has steel sheet pile bulkheads, but in the 1940s, there must have been ramps to allow seaplanes to be winched into the hangar.

The building consisted of steel girders and steel panels, assembled like a giant Meccano construction kit. I wonder if it was custom made or if some hangar company sold units in various standard sizes (the 100-ft unit, the 200-ft unit, etc.)?

At the northern tip of the base is the old degaussing station. Degaussing is a process to reduce the magnetic signature of a steel hull. The tower was formerly housed control building for the process but has been converted to some new test equipment (of undisclosed function).

(All photographs taken with a Sony R1 digital camera)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

On the Beach, South Nags Head, North Carolina - 2010

East Seagull Drive, South Nags Head, North Carolina
South Nags Head is a summer playground of sun, surf, beer, and jolly good times. It's also an area of uncontrolled overbuilding on the rapidly eroding barrier island. These cottages on East Seagull Drive have been condemned because they are in imminent danger of collapsing into the surf. The view above is looking to the north, with the Atlantic Ocean to the right.The dune line is well landwards of the cottages.
The cottages were originally built on piles because in this environment, occasional flooding is inevitable. But as you can see in the photograph above, the beach has eroded so severely, the original piles were undermined. To keep the houses from collapsing, extension piles were added below the original ones. The bags are geotubes filled with sand to protect the houses. North Carolina law only allows such bags when a house is threatened. Also, North Carolina no longer allows any hard structures like rock seawalls to be erected as shore protection devices (Update: this may no longer be true as of 2020). I wish other states would follow this example.
Exposed septic tanks, South Nags Head, North Carolina

When the septic tanks are exposed (the concrete tubs above), the town or county condemns property. But then a major problem arises: what to do with the structures? FEMA formerly funded removal of houses, but I was told that the program ended. The town is taking legal action against the homeowners to remove them, but the town will not pay any of the costs. If the owners walk away and the structures collapse, the town would have to foot the bill for hazardous debris removal, not a trivial issue in the marine environment. Consider also that taking over the properties would not yield a salable commodity for the town. The town might do a beach nourishment to add enough sand to un-condemn the houses. Then they would be back on the tax rolls and generate revenue. It is an odd twist of logic.

Notice that even though only five years have passed since the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, we still are politically too cowardly to ask serious questions about whether people should live in hazardous locations, and whether municipalities have a responsibility to provide protection and services to residents of these hazardous areas. 

  • Should developers be restricted by means of setback lines? 
  • Why don't building codes require highly robust construction, thereby thwarting the quick buck artists who build shoddy homes and move on after selling to naive buyers? 
  • Should the buyer beware? 
  • Is uncontrolled building "capitalism," while spreading the rebuilding risk throughout the town/county is not considered "socialism"? 

These are all troubling questions.
The scene above shows swells from Hurricane Danielle on August 29, 2010. I took this photograph from the U.S Army Corps of Engineers' Field Research Facility (FRF) pier at Duck, NC. They are about 9-10 second period and approaching the coast at an unusually steep angle. The FRF has an excellent web page with live cameras, wave statistics, and other oceanographic data:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lost architecture: Pearl Street, Vicksburg

Pearl Street is one of Vicksburg's older streets and one of its more interesting. It parallels the railroad line, which has run along here since before the Civil War. The architecture ranges from beautiful bed-and-breakfast homes to shotgun shacks. In the photograph above, the brick building to the left once housed Tuminello's Restaurant. It has been closed since the 1990s and the building stands empty. Visitors who have not been here recently occasionally ask me about it.
The land drops off quite steeply to the west, as you can see in this view of no. 1806. Like many early 20th century Vicksburg houses, the builders placed the front at ground level and had no qualms about supporting the rear on stilts, often 10 or 12 ft above the ground. This building has been razed. Houses can no longer be built on these steep lots anywhere in town.
Number 1804 was its neighbor, seen here in a 2002 photograph. It, too, has been razed.
At one time, there must have been tens of shotgun houses facing the tracks, but most have been torn down. The two above are at 2302 and 2304 (all square photographs are from a Rolleiflex camera using Kodak Ektar 25 film).
No. 2330 is a classic neighborhood store. In an era before people had private cars, the city had dozens of stores like this serving neighborhoods, but most have closed now.
Many of the houses on the 2400 and 2500 block dated from the late 1800s or early 20th century. One by one they have been torn down. The one above is no. 2414.
1997 photograph of 2521 Pearl Street, taken on Agfa Scala film.

The two houses above are 2515 and 2521. They had a view over the tracks and the railroad yard further down the hill along Levee Street. During the steam era, coal smoke must have deposited grime whenever a locomotive puffed by. Now the residents have to listen to the deafening horns of the diesel locomotives.
These two cottages above (nos 2529 and 2531) were identical architecture and are now gone. They were near the corner of Pearl and Fairground Street. Fairground will be the subject of a future essay.
No. 2607 was a handsome duplex.
Further north, near the former Vicksburg Lumber Co., was a trio of shotguns, nos. 2004, 2006, and 2008. As of 2016, the one on the right has been razed, and the two others are empty.

The photographs above are from a variety of early-vintage digital cameras and from film. The square frames are scans of Kodak Ektar 25 film shot through a Rolleiflex medium-format camera.

 UPDATE JULY 2021:  For a more complete inventory of Pearl Street houses, please click the links below

South of Fairground Street

Central section

North of Klein Street

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Update on the Mississippi Basin Model in Jackson, Mississippi

July 31, 2010 update: A coworker sent me a scan of this wonderful postcard from, I am guessing, the early 1960s, showing tourists or engineers examining the Mississippi Basin Model. They are standing at the Vicksburg harbor project. Close to the camera, you can see the old Hwy US 80 bridge where it crosses the river from Vicksburg to Delta, Louisiana. The Interstate 20 bridge has not yet been built.

How times have changed: the gent is wearing a necktie and the ladies are elegantly dressed. In 50 years, we have become a nation of swine.

Sections of the model might be recovered and moved to Vicksburg to become a part of the new transportation museum. The museum will be on Washington Street near the old Levee Street Depot. I do not know if water will be run through the model; that would be a fantastic way to demonstrate the technology of a physical model.

July 2015 update: None of this old model was reused. It continues to languish and decay. Much of the remaining machinery has been looted.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Yazoo City, Gateway to the Mississippi Delta, and Satartia, Mississippi

Yazoo City, the Gateway to the Delta, is situated at the transition of the two main landforms that make up Mississippi's geomorphology, the loess bluffs in the east and the flat alluvial Delta to the west. It is still the county seat of Yazoo County and is located on the banks of the Yazoo River about 40 miles northwest of Jackson. It is only about a hour's drive from Vicksburg along Highway 3, which follows the edge of the loess hills.

Yazoo City must have once been prosperous because the central business core has blocks of early 20th century commercial buildings. But it is quiet now; History Channel could have filmed an episode of Life After People here. Looking down Main Street, I can almost imagine it crowded with merchants and shoppers in a previous era. The limestone-clad Bank of Yazoo City (1876-1904) has the solid and reassuring facade that was supposed to make patrons trust the institution's solidity. Clearly it was built in an era of optimism and wealth.Why has the optimism disappeared from thousands of small American towns like this? How have we destroyed our society?

There are still a few going concerns on Main Street, but not many. Oddly, the city set up loudspeakers on the light poles which play jazz to the lonely sidewalks.

Update August 20, 2014:
This is an undated post card of Main Street, from the Tichnor Collection at the Boston Public Library.

The elegant wood mansions on Jefferson Street resemble similar examples throughout the mid-west. I recall Indianapolis having hundreds of magnificent houses like this.

The house in the photograph above is the Oakes African American Cultural Center at 312 West Monroe Street. It is on the Mississippi Heritage Trust's 2009 list of most endangered historic places.

The owners may have done some work recently to preserve the structure, but in 2009, the Heritage Trust was concerned about it's survival:

"In 1884, their son, A.J., founded Oakes Academy, a private school for blacks, and served as principal for the next 16 years. He resigned in 1900 to work full-time for the Oakes Lumber Company and his construction company, which helped rebuild Yazoo City after a 1904 fire destroyed much of the town. The fire did not reach his company, nor did it climb the hill to the Oakes House, thus allowing it to remain in its original state. By 1930, the one-room structure had grown to a two-story home with Colonial Revival detailing, including a wrap-around two-story gallery supported by Tuscan columns.

Currently the Oakes House is being used as a museum that not only tells the history of the Oakes family, but it also tells of the struggles and triumphs of African Americans in Yazoo County and the State of Mississippi. In the 1990's, an intense project helped restore the leaded-glass entrance doors, original mantels, chimneys, walls, and stairs."

The Bethel AME church, also on South Monroe, is a fine example of church architecture.

Entering town from the west, you drive up West Broadway, which is Hwy. 149. The scene is grim. The commercial block is deserted except for package and cig. stores, which on Saturday do a booming business. Beer & Butts.....

The Amtrak train from Chicago comes through Yazoo City and stops here. I took the sleeper from Chicago in June of 2006 and was a bit surprised how many people disembarked here and in Greenwood. There once must have been a depot but am not sure of its fate or whereabouts.

The photograph above, taken through the train window, shows the station in Greenwood, but the scene in Yazoo City is similar.

Some trivia: The actress, Stella Stevens (née Estelle Eggleston) was born in Yazoo City on October 1, 1936. She moved away at age 4.

Please click the link to see my article on the historic Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital, also in Yazoo City and now deserted and collapsing.

Heading south on Hwy 3, the town of Satartia is also pretty quiet, and the convenience store is closed.

Of interest to archaeologists are the Indian burial mounds off Satartia Road between Satartia and Holly Bluff. One is tree-covered, and on the rainy day when a group and I visited the site, the rain had washed out numerous pottery shards. Another mound has a modern home on it. There is a lot to see in the Delta, and I need to do more exploring.

I took these photographs with an Olympus E-330 digital camera or a compact Fuji F31fd.

UPDATE:  I have also photographed the Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital, which is badly decaying (click the link).

UPDATE:  Some examples of GAF Versapan film in Yazoo City.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More shotgun shacks, Marys Alley, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Marys Alley is north of the Ford Subdivision and west of the railroad tracks that run approximately parallel to North Washington Street. As you can see in photographs 1 and 2 (taken on 6 April, 2008), this area has a problem: when the Mississippi river rises to slightly above flood stage, about 49 of 50 feet on the Vicksburg gauge, the terrain floods. Houses east of the railroad tracks are protected by the rail embankment, but the land drops off to the west, and there are no levees between this small residential area and the Yazoo River. At about the same time, the city has to close Chickasaw and Long Lake Roads and the Kings Point Ferry becomes inaccessible.

The houses here are decades old, possibly from the 1930s or 1940s. Who knows why this area was developed then; I assume the land was cheap and an occasional flood was considered an accepted risk. It is also possibly that the area did not flood as often, and subsequent levee construction changed water patterns.

Marys Alley (no apostrophe in the name) resembles a classic Southern "Court." Originally, houses probably lined both sides of the Alley, but now we only have the structures on the north side. Photograph 3 above is from January 31, 2010.

All the houses have spray-painted numbers on them, which means the city inspector has condemned them. I am not sure if they were purchased on a FEMA program to tear down structures in areas that chronically flood. The east-most house is no. 63, in poor condition.

The next house is no. 20, also badly neglected. These houses were built with post-and-beam foundations, which at least elevated them about 2 or 3 feet above the ground, but why could they not have been given 4 or 5 feet, considering this was flood-prone area?

No. 24, the next in the group, was a more substantial house but was also elevated only about 2 ft off the ground. At least they were not built on slabs, like many of the ghastly ranch-style houses of the 1960s and 1970s.

No. 30 was closer to the shape of a traditional shotgun shack, and was once a cheerful blue.

Finally, the last house still standing (as of January 2010) was no. 38. These houses were listed in the Vicksburg Post on the demolition list, so they will probably be crushed soon.

All images are from a Sony DSC-R1 digital camera (a superb APS-format unit), tripod-mounted.

For some black and white film pictures, please click here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Deconstruction, Hannah Avenue, Vicksburg

Hannah Avenue is another one of Vicksburg's out-of-the-way streets that few people visit except for local residents. It runs perpendicular to Military Avenue, about one half mile east of Marcus Bottom. I was drawn there by one of the houses on the city's demolition list, number 2631.

This modest house is typical of many late-1930s or 1940s wood-frame units built as single-family dwellings. It was in bad condition with some of the roof caved-in.

Despite its present poor condition, I could tell that it had been built with good materials, and it had served its purpose for six decades. The fireplace probably had a coal stove insert originally.

Like many of these demolition homes I have photographed, this one looked like it had been evacuated in a hurry. Does the child who once owned this little teddy bear miss it? I have also seen abandoned high school yearbooks, bank statements, photographs, and other personal mementos.

Across the street was a classic narrow shotgun house. This one is occupied and has new brick foundation posts. I expect there were more shotgun houses in years past, possibly right next to the one in the photograph.

All photographs taken with a Sony DSC-R1 camera, tripod-mounted.