Archive for October, 2014

Oompa-Loompa Doopadee-Doo

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Industrial, North Country, Syracuse

Apologies for the title — but you deserve just as much of a constant torment coursing through your head in an impossibly lilting and plodding e minor as we were both stuck with as we wandered around an abandoned chocolate factory. At one time Nestlé, then based in Fulton, NY, manufactured about 40% of the chocolate eaten in the US, including even franchised production for Cadbury and Hershey’s, in this one enormous factory. Open from 1899-2003, it briefly played the role of Oswego County’s largest employer, after the Miller brewery closed, but like so many other American factories, foreign production became so much cheaper that the operation moved to Mexico and Spain, leaving behind yet another massive industrial hulk. There have been some plans, and a botched demolition that took out some of the newer sheet-metal construction and left the brick behemoth largely untouched, but it has been the ruin of one developer after another, ranging from another chocolate factory to Anheuser-Busch to razing the entire thing for an Aldi and a Dollar General.

Until then, it’s just like you’d imagine an abandoned chocolate factory, right down to puddles of sticky syrup on the floor!

Necessarily for the nature of their product, this factory kept up with maintenance and cleanliness much more than, for example, a paper mill. Even though decay has obviously started, it’s notably more modern than many industrial sites that closed a few years later in the recession era.

The device to the left was some kind of bulk nozzle, capable of filling 192 bottles at a time. A likely guess for the product would be Nesquik chocolate syrup, but other than the sugar floods, no trace of finished product or packaging remains in the factory.

Notice anything wrong with this phone?

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but all the specks in this sugar-glacier are writhing maggots. Blechhh!

Quoth the spiders, “Never More.” April 9, 2003 was not in fact the day the chocolate died. But it would go to logic that the plant closed gradually, one product at a time. According to the New York Times, May 2 was the final day any product passed through the loading docks, and the last day at work for 474 upstate New Yorkers.

This time, they WERE all full…

Emphasis on WERE… Next time we should wear white. This was just one can each.

What is it with racks of keys?

There was yet another building, but we were out of daylight and the glassy syrup mirror was just too pretty to shatter.

So we left across the rubble field, and caught the end of the Bills game on the ride home instead. For the 9½th time in a row, North Country was all we could have imagined and more. Can’t wait to go back in the spring!

Fallen Champion

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Adirondacks, Industrial, North Country

Deferiet is everything you might expect a company town to be, when the company leaves. From the potholed entrance road off the highway, to the complete lack of businesses on the village’s three streets (which wrap around one side of the mill), this is clearly no boom town. Even the bank, the post office and the fire department closed, all of them maintained by the Champion Paper Company of St Regis, just like the enormous industrial hulk that is still the focal point of Deferiet, even in its inglorious death.

The houses aren’t all empty, at least — the town borders Fort Drum, and is only 8 miles from Watertown, so especially with the undoubtedly plunging real estate prices, enough people still live here. But they only live here, with no jobs in sight. Most of the people left probably don’t even remember the mill, even though it only closed 9 years ago: those of working age would have moved to another mill town or left the paper business entirely. Even fewer care about the mill. The gates are wide open, no one is watching. The last action on the property was in the fall of 2010, when the Army tested some demolition explosives on the main building, leaving a crater of shattered brick and twisted melted re-bar. The result is too broken to salvage, and too solid, not to mention isolated, to ever be worth demolishing.

Like everywhere we’ve found in the north country, getting in was beyond obvious: follow the gaping hole, this time larger than a football field, directly into the factory, taking a short detour through the firehouse.

Like most places in the chemical business, laboratories were all over, at least one in every building, with most of the toxic fun stuff still intact (and the rest spilled, shattered and fuming the place up)

At the edge of the “demolished” section, you can start to imagine the sheer power of what broke half the massive factory apart

Looking the other way, you can see just how much is still left, AFTER half of it met the bomb!

Compared to Lyons Falls, it’s nowhere near as photogenic, being of more recent renovation. Lyons Falls was built in 1918-38; Champion has had a mill on this site since before 1900, but most of the surviving buildings date from just after World War II.

The last paper left the mill in January 2005, giving it plenty of time to reach the information age. The control panels of Lyons Falls were long since replaced by electronic terminals like this on many of the columns, each controlling one or two processes.

Most of the machines, presumably of tremendous scale, were salvaged when the mill closed, leaving gaping holes into the basement and sometimes even sub-basement

Adding to the carnage the Army inflicted on these ruins, winter (maybe aided by a blast wave) took down a few sections too.

These confuse me. Not just here either – Bensons Mines and Sykes have them too. Electrical outlets hanging from conduit, 4 feet above floor level, and not on a wall. Any idea what these might have been for?

I think this is my favorite sign I’ve found in an abandonment. If it were a little bit smaller and not nailed to the wall I’d have to admit it would be on my office wall.

This was just about the only graffiti in this place. Or in the whole north country for that matter.

Do as you ought’er:

After the mill, we went through the office, one of the more interesting parts in 2011 but now hopelessly water damaged with mushy floors and moldy just about everything inside… The hallway was the only worthwhile shot in the place, and we had better things to get to anyway after Deferiet.

Gould’s Mills

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Adirondacks, Industrial, North Country

Even though we didn’t see all we could have in Utica, we had to get to our next destination, the paper mills at Lyons Falls. Just from the one building we could get into last year, we knew it would be well worth a return trip. A whole building went missing since last time, but the demolition seemed to have stopped with that, at least for the winter if not forever, with some of the fencing and one excavator left but no signs of immediate work going on. The one remaining scaffold gave access to a historical plaque that seemed to take more effort to remove than the demolition crew were willing to spend.

We entered from the hole left by the missing building, into what was originally a basement, now open to the outside. Shelves of lab equipment and chemicals rot away into the miasma, seeing a few spots of daylight for the first time since the mills closed.

There was no adequate explanation for all these keys in the basement, nor did we find one in the rest of the mill. There simply aren’t that many doors in the remaining parts, nor evidence of corresponding room numbers. Maybe there were lockers or something in a missing section?

This section had its own special little control room, for the sulphate section. Even now, the air smells and tastes of sulfur…

As we continued, we figured out we missed the main building last time, and only saw the two ends of the mill. Which wasn’t such a big loss after all, most of the factory floor was cleaned out, except for the side rooms. These were probably more common mechanical machines that could be auctioned off and used in another mill, as opposed to the idiosyncratic processes and tanks in the chemical plant.

It seems to be the case in many industrial sites that the last of the product never got shipped as the business went under.

The last to-do list remained on the board too… it doesn’t look like directions to shut a mill down, but just another day at work. It makes me wonder just how suddenly these factories closed, whether the employees even knew time was up, or if there were just a few vague rumblings then one Monday morning they show up and the doors are locked and the machines are silent?

No, it doesn’t still spray.

ACME Corporation

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Industrial, North Country, Utica

Out of all the buildings I’ve explored so far, this one might win the prize for most varied history. Starting as a textile mill in the 19th century, G.C. Charles and Co., no single industry has been able to prosper here for more than 20 or 30 years at a time. Facing economic woes, G.C. Charles left their mill behind in 1913, eventually selling the distressed property to the US Government for production of submachine guns. Savage Arms, a local gun manufacturer, took over in 1920, using the entire complex and building more additions, at the time becoming the third-largest arms manufacturer in America, behind Colt and Remington (each based in a massive factory in Connecticut), producing well over a million arms every year for the American and European market. After World War II, however, demand for guns dropped sharply for both civilian and military use, with the glut of surplus guns on the market, and Savage relocated to a smaller plant in the Berkshires.

In 1951, the factory found a new use as the headquarters of Sperry-UNIVAC, makers of one of the first viable business computers (this in the era when vacuum-tube-based electronics were still relevant, and a computer would occupy multiple rooms). By 1975, seven of the 10 largest technology and computing companies in the US were headquartered in upstate New York: IBM (Binghamton), Xerox (Rochester), UNIVAC (Utica), Sykes Datatronics (Rochester), NCR (Ithaca/Seneca Falls) and Coleco (Amsterdam). Unfortunately for the region, just a few years later California and Japan caught up, and as the computer industry left, so did the remains of the Sperry corporation, whose UNIVAC was hopelessly out of date, and VAX-32 well on its way out.

By 1985, optimistic real estate developers, bolstered by state funding intended to stop upstate blight, began repurposing the complex as an outlet mall, creating stores, artists’ studios and restaurants out of the former factory. Partially due to location, these businesses struggled, and their fortunes continued to decline with modern, car-friendly outlet malls opening in Waterloo and Watertown, and the retail phase sputtered to a halt through the late 90s. The developers desperately tried to hold on, attracting any and all businesses that would relocate into the increasingly decrepit building, with the last ones, a screen printing shop and a chiropractic pain clinic, closing in 2008.

Using still more state and county money, demolition started on (only) the Herkimer County portion of the building, an effort given up in futility by 2012, with Utica’s portion still fully intact and awaiting another developer who will probably never come to the rotting factory.

The entrance was, as you might expect for a building missing its other half, obvious and easy: most of the doors are unlocked, and failing that, you can just go in at the county line where the demolition ends. We chose the front door of the pain clinic, and found mostly gutted rooms reeking of rot and festooned with black mold. Not exactly the best start to a place, so we moved on quickly from there…

The mold stopped almost immediately, along with the drop ceilings and flimsy drywall, and we found ourselves in an old, nonspecific factory.

Bits and pieces of just about everything ended up in this basement. There were an exceptional proportion of Christmas decorations, screen printing equipment, and rotting little league sports jerseys.

Upstairs seemed to have changed very little since the textile mill or gun factory days, other than the machinery being removed, and maybe one or two more coats of paint in the last century. Judging by the institutional green, it’s been a while…

They must have had some leftovers from Adler?

And from Sykes… ever seen a rhomboidal doorway before?

Looking out at the county line, and the missing Herkimer portion of the building… as huge as it is, it used to be almost twice the size!

Headed toward the intact part of the building, we wandered into the former mall area. To help those who inevitably get lost in the place, the hallways were designated yellow, orange, and red routes, and decorated as such — the missing part of the building may have had the green and blue sections. Advertising signs like this for stores and restaurants within the same mall appeared at most of the hallway intersections.

There were also outer (service?) corridors, which are more exposed to the elements

This office was one of the last survivors in the building, with Google Analytics reports continuing into 2009.

Someone played paintball in the mall section. It needed a bit of color.

The Yellow Corridor lived up to its name…

The restaurant looking out over the green swampy miasma appears to have been the aforementioned Charlie’s. We didn’t get to check it out because scrappers were hauling heavy equipment out into a fleet of pickup trucks, and we wanted to keep our distance from that scene.

This space was either a storage unit, a thrift store, or a hoarder’s apartment before this place closed down. Or maybe some combination of these things.

And finally, a discount shoe store dumped its wares. Looks like mostly sneakers and basketball shoes from at least 20 years ago…

I’m sure there was more to see, but we had places to go and more north country wrecks to explore… I’d certainly like to come back here again though!

Occupy Lives On

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Activism, Rochester

It was just the kind of dark and stormy night we remembered, gathered in the October rains at Washington Square, helping set up tents with a crowd gathered around a cooking fire and huddled in the kitchen tent while stump speeches emanated from the statue, free to all with the passion. It’s been two years since I’ve even protested, three since I was here last, but the same scene we knew so well was about to play out – and this time we’d seen the show before, and had some idea what was headed our way.

This time the conflict was a purely local one, coming to us from below the grass roots, taking up the fight for Rochester’s beleaguered homeless. After a few thwarted attempts, Maggie Brooks’ county government forced the last few dozen ‘residents’ of the Civic Center Garage onto the streets at the end of last month. With political means not getting them very far, direct action at the garage stymied twice (the county went as far as to detain and threaten to arrest not only the homeless but also the activists assisting), and Election Day just two weeks away, it was time to take a stand. And so Sanctuary Village appeared, a tent city in Washington Square, designed to provide temporary shelter while shoving the issue of Rochester’s homeless front and center for visitors and workers downtown.

Still knowing to tread lightly after their first experience trying to clear out Washington Square of that potent mixture of transients and activists, the county response started off slowly, with no police raids, but also no concessions made, on the first night of the camp. However, this afternoon, the City government, led by Mayor ‘Lovely’ Warren, stepped in and put a deadline on the camp to clear out by the time the park closed tonight. An ultimatum which many of us remembered all too well.

And as soon as I heard about it, I was on my way to the square too to join in and record what was going on, just like on those Occupy nights.

10:20 — The spirit of Occupy lives on! Action and police involvement expected NOW / within the hour at Washington Square, come support the cause of Rochester’s displaced homeless population!

10.25: Sister Grace advises that arrests are likely to occur and if anyone needs a place to stay tbey are welcome to move tents somewhere else. No one appears to be moving. SOLIDARITY!

10.48: All tents and people who are not getting arrested: the camp will move to the Subway entrance when the action begins

10.53 We have about 20 protestors willing to face arrest, but we’re always open to more. The action has yet to begin, join us at Washington Square!

10.56 Channel 8 is here and will be going live at 11.

11.00 My own personal prediction based on the events of 2011 is that the action will start in 35 minutes when the news ends. There’s still plenty of time to come support, even if you aren’t getting arrested there’s still solidarity.

11.10 the TV has come and gone, but the chanting is just starting. Who shuts shit down? WE SHUT SHIT DOWN!

11.35 We think this is about to begin. No cops yet though

11.36 “Rochester is full of empty buildings, empty blocks, empty houses. We need to confront the city, make a proposal, USE THEM! ”

11.43 A whole lot of nothing so far. I have to wonder if they’re playing the waiting game, hoping we’ll leave before shit gets real.

11.52 More speeches and chanting. All riled up with nowhere to go.

11.58 no sign of them yet. It’s only a matter of time now. Come to Washington Square and support the Occupation!

12.00 midnight Ryan called the police chief, asked for another night in the park and negotiation with the City. Expecting an answer in 10 minutes.

12.04 an RPD black car, presumably the chief, has arrived.

12.09 THEY’RE STAYING THE NIGHT! No police involvement tonight, and there will be a meeting with the city tomorrow! Thanks Sister Grace, Ryan and whoever else made this happen!

Return To Sender

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Institutional, Residential

We started off with some lofty plans for Gary, seeing the schools and Screw and Nail that I hadn’t been to yet, but between the late arrival, the surprising September heat, and not having slept much all weekend our eventual strategy consisted of exploring everything in sight. The next thing we saw after the half theater was the post office, and the door was still open, so in we went.

Either I didn’t notice all this last time or it’s new:

…and perhaps still in progress?

The robots came and destroyed any need for this facility. At one time there would have been well over a hundred mail sorters employed here, making sure letters to and from Chicago, and around the nation, found their way to the right place. Are the robots better? Probably…

This room is an installation art piece that is frustratingly hard to get into a picture: it’s full of elaborately, randomly networked orange thread, like the web of a giant, tripping spider.

Maybe I wouldn’t be #foreveralone if I met Jenny instead of Sean… this must have been quite the wedding.

By this time, all that was really left was surrender. Looking for anywhere to go seemed like too much effort, all we wanted was Chicago pizza, the plane ride home, and a bed. So we went to the closest thing we could find, once again: The Ambassadors. From what I can find about the history of this place, it was NOT where the executives of US Steel lived when they were in Gary, but it was one of the nicer hotels in town in its time, before being converted to apartments in the 60s, and declining with the rest of the city. Structural issues were eventually the building’s undoing, being one of the rare ones condemned before it was abandoned, the last residents forced out in 2003. Mostly due to a notable lack of windows on the eighth floor, and the resulting water damage, the structure has only gotten worse since then, with the stairways in a state of inconsistent disrepair, and many of the wooden floors in the apartments spongy with wet rot.

Ever wanted to fall through a set of stairs? Now is your chance…