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Urbex Challenge #103

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Institutional, Rochester

Even as well as 2015 started, this one just seemed too good to be true. I’d heard a few weeks ago that the Walters Building was wide open, and at my level no less, for the first time in at least 10 years. I even got directions to it so I’d know exactly which door to use – either the best chance I’ll ever have again at an asylum, or an elaborate trap to send me into the teeth of security. All I needed was someone willing to try it with me, and I even managed to make that happen, reconnecting with a cool freak I’d met on my roof a few summers ago and never found again until now.

Getting in was even less trouble than I’d expected. Not only was the door in (almost) exactly the expected spot, but no one was patrolling, or even happened to be outside, on the first day above melting in weeks. It took us a bit of wandering to get out of the basement, but as soon as we found the stairs, it was all I’d expected and more!

Except for every single one of my photos leaning slightly to the right…

There was even an actual inmate left behind! I figured it was the least I could do to help him escape.

I guess we’re still at 102 level, even though I passed the course in sophomore year.

Temporary Autonomous Zone

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Rochester

I’ve had my eyes on this building for years now, since I lived downtown. Not for much good reason, except that it was the local abandonment, not counting the one that was just an elevator ride away. But despite being so close, it always stayed locked up and even defied our efforts to Occupy it instead of wasting everyone’s time fighting for a silly park.

This building began as a hotel, the Richford, in around 1920, founded by one Richard Ford, initially without much success despite a central location in the middle of downtown Rochester and between the then two train stations. By 1929, it became much more busy, and profitable, due to the Greyhound bus station appearing next to it, as well as being at the intersection of the three main roads into and out of the city, a situation which caused a proliferation of hotels within a block of the Richford. During the Depression years, these hotels were reduced from at least 12 properties down to three: Sagamore, affiliated with the namesake Adirondack resort and its level of clientele, Richford, which attempted to bring excellence to bus travel, and the unabashedly cheap (even by 1930s standards) Cadillac.

Suburban sprawl, economic pressure and Rich Ford’s 1959 death led to the hotel’s closure in 1961, leaving only the Cadillac still open (which itself served to prevent much of anything else being able to succeed on the block to the present day). Since then, the former Richford Building has been the ruin of one developer after another, starting with an office conversion (and new white painted metal façade) in 1969, which failed to attract any tenants, then a botched bank conversion in 1973 which saw First Federal open and close a branch in the first year. The next three property owners each failed to make any material changes to the building, let alone fill it, before their own respective bankruptcies. Since 2008, it has belonged to local slumlord Matthew Wood and one of his dozens of sham LLCs, and has been in a constant state of arrears, piling up tax, mechanical and other liens, with still no clear plans to move forward.

In this context, it seemed like a productive place to Occupy as a community space and eventually a crowdsourced renovation. While these plans never materialized in 2011, with the current Sanctuary Village crisis, exploring this building carried a bit more than mere curiosity. What was inside? Would it be of any use as a temporary autonomous zone?

Unfortunately, the answer was a resounding NO! The building is a total wreck, possibly scrapped, more probably the result of the series of botched renovations and various upgrades and abatement projects that evaded completion. Complicating the situation, some of the windows have probably been open since the 90s, and pigeons have made the top floor a winter shelter.

…It’s a fixer upper!

Not even ready for the homeless. A subway tunnel or a tent would be better than this, without a LOT of work.

Somehow, the lower floors took even more water damage over the years.

Even though this floor might have actually been used for something at some point.

At least it’s a photogenic shithole.

This is the ground floor and presumably last used area, where the First Federal branch was. It’s still not much better than the rest of the place.

So the verdict was, nothing worth saving. We won’t be setting up a kickstarter to get this one for Sanctuary Village. Turns out there’s a perfectly good reason there’s a 10-story office building on the market for less than the average south side apartment!

The House That Seph Built

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Cleveland, Uncategorized

After a few successes, and the total surprise that anyone actually showed up to explore with me, I was ready to aim higher and take on Seph Lawless himself. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about Seph – certainly not the revulsion most explorers have to him, although not complete devotion either considering that he’s been less than helpful to me. But I was in his territory in Cleveland, and of course I’d jump at the chance to go somewhere he has, just in case it might give me some semblance of the following he has. Ideally I’d just take the rejects from his social media dominance in the urbex scene, and travel around bringing the various randoms who ask to explore with Seph to whatever was in their area, but the self-proclaimed King of All Urbex wanted nothing to do with that. So we settled for the next best thing: going back to a place that he just claimed for a national audience he was the last person to ever see: Randall Park Mall, in the suburbs of Cleveland.

I did something here that almost never happens: passed a fence (admittedly by going under, and a very shoddy half-assed fence at that) to enter the mall, which was already getting started with demolition.

Without His merciless darkening and sharpening, it looks remarkably like any other mall, just a bit more abandoned.

It’s about the only way I like shopping malls. I was that kid who always dreaded shopping, even Christmas shopping, and never understood why the mall was a popular place to just hang out and have fun.

At least there’s a movie theater….

Haven’t seen any pictures of this part. I wonder if His Travesty just couldn’t find it, or it was too dark and he was scared?

I guess we don’t have to worry about security anymore…

This seems to be Seph’s favorite spot in the mall. Now He’s not the only one with these shots.

You’ve probably seen this concrete egg thing before thanks to Him.

Oh look, another theater! This one was randomly sticking out of the mall office/storage area, they probably converted most of the old theaters and didn’t need this one, and just left it intact.

Goodbye Randall Park… you weren’t first, Mr. Melendez, and now you won’t be last!

Call Of Ducky: Quack Ops

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Cleveland, Industrial

After a night of hipstering around in Brooklyn and a frustrating subway ride lost in Queens, I caught a bus from the festering pit of humanity on 41st street to Cleveland. I will admit my expectations for Cleveland were essentially zero. Despite having made what I thought were plans with Johnny and his friends, it wouldn’t have surprised me one bit to learn that it was all fake, just meant to send me all the way out to Ohio for nothing.

Only a few minutes after I got to Cleveland, something totally unexpected happened. They showed up! We started in east Cleveland at a place they call the Duck Factory, Woodhull Supply. At first it seemed like an ordinary enough trashed abandoned factory…

And then I started to figure out why it’s the duck factory. Piles and piles of random rubber ducks.

So ducking many. And apparently this was after almost all of them ducked out.

And then an epic duck battle was fought between us… notice the incoming duck in the lower center of the shot

Someone, maybe someones, have video of the whole thing that they’re editing at some point. That would do so much more justice to the Great Duck Battle of 2015 than my photos would.

After the ducks, they led me around in circles for a while so I wouldn’t know where I was, then brought me to the Warner Observatory, which once housed two enormous telescopes until there was too much light pollution in Cleveland to see anything useful.

This dome reminded me of the old Myst games. Only the “Tower Rotation” function and the metallic grinding sound were missing.

THAT takes some skill…

And what’s this? Proof that I’ve actually met other explorers?!

Waystation For The Weird

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Institutional, Long Island

It didn’t take me long to get started with 2015. While the TV appearance ended up being a disastrous failure, with Seph Lawless getting the spot I’d been aiming for, and the producer letting me know that he followed up with me by mistake after our interview, I had a few leads to follow and the potential for some huge adventures in the not too distant future. And especially in the winter, I get a horrible chronic case of wanderlust, and make lots of impulsive plans – this time, to spend a weekend in New York City and Cleveland to finally meet a few people I’d been hoping to for months by now. I spent Friday night getting traditionally hammered at my work’s belated Christmas party, furiously planning a trip to Europe, and finally catching the Chinatown bus to New York City on an exceptionally frigid night.

After a little mishap in the train station (The ticket machines are WHERE?!) and breakfast at a Greek diner, we caught the next train to Kings Park, and got into the asylum easily enough, once I remembered where the entrance was (which only took walking the entire way around the building). We headed straight for the roof, and followed a grating mechanical noise to its source: a wheel on an air duct of some type that has been spinning in the wind ever since the place shut down.

It was a beautiful day on Long Island. A bit too cold for sleeping under the stars on this roof this time though.

The asylum is exceptionally trashed, but that just comes with the easy access, and it’s still got enough natural decay and colorful graffiti to be worth the trip.

After a while in that building, I led us into the tunnels, hoping to get to the main tower without the risk of getting caught out on the grounds, especially with the relatively fresh snow available for tracks. We got thoroughly lost, and tried a few crawly passageways, but every path was either a dead end, a circle, or led to the power plant. So we explored the power plant instead, which appears to be Eric’s natural environment.

Someone went “Office Space” on the office. The graffiti has a bit of local flavor too – Downer has gotten to just about every building in Rochester too

The main machine room is still my favorite part though. It’s my first power plant, and probably my last one, considering how secure most of the abandoned ones are around here.

We tried for much longer than it ever should have taken to find a reasonable way out of this building, without making too much noise breaking and exiting, or having to make a preposterous climb out. It wasn’t about to happen, so then we tried the tunnels, got lost all over again, and finally just left the way we came, and took the most direct path we could to the tower.

There was a new fence, and some new boarding up, in the year and a half since I’d been. I still gave it a try, and was on the wrong side of the fence when the park police showed up. It was obvious what we were doing, and we had cameras and tripods and a lot of stuff that wasn’t crowbars and spray paint, so we talked our way out of it easily enough, but we managed to be the lucky winners of “Let’s Get Caught At Kings Park!” for the day. We got scared and we got out, didn’t even try any other buildings after that, and went back to Brooklyn earlier than planned… until next time, I guess.

Anything Goes

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Concrete, Rochester, Underground

It seems like I have the most exploring success when I try the least. Right as I was ready to stop putting any effort into it at least until after Christmas and bonus time, I heard from a TV producer who was thinking of including me in his show. Of course technical difficulties got the better of us for a while, and a video chat and photo slideshow turned into a phone call, but it seemed promising. Then the next day I got a very frightening email saying that they wanted to see a sample of a 10-minute documentary by the end of the week (!) and weren’t in any hurry to answer my questions clarifying it. Having never shot video before, and being at work for almost all of the daylight hours, I knew I was probably screwed. Eventually I found out I got that message in error, and they didn’t actually need me at all anymore.

During that confusion I made a frantic plan to explore the mental hospital again, even though I thought I’d never go back after having one great chance, so I met up with Casey and one of his friends there. This time, Hell’s Hundred Meters got the better of us, as a security guard (who didn’t even work there a few days earlier, and was borrowed from a nearby apartment complex) stopped us and sent us on our way, just as we were about to climb into the wide open window.

We didn’t do much better at the old church on West Main, only this time it was a relentlessly nosy neighbor who circled the property at least six times while we looked for a way in, which there wasn’t one of anyway.

The next day, I made it to the drains at least, showing some people around the tunnels on a frigid December night before we went for garbage plates. There was a suspiciously placed cop at Maplewood, and it just snowed so we would have had to make a lot of noise and/or waste a lot of time trying to make the cover budge. We settled for the “Motivator” drain instead – we really need to go back and see what’s beyond the river of shit sometime. I didn’t bother to take any pictures, but drains don’t really change from one time to the next anyway.

Finally, last night we got out again, and made it into the deep drains. Even after a few times there, it’s still an amazing experience. The thought of being over 100 feet underground and miles from the nearest exit is one thing, but then there’s the tremendous echo (almost a minute in some parts of the tunnel), the pitch blackness, and the sound of being in the city’s vena cava, a slow and steady flow of a buried river, directly below the Genesee.

The scale of this place is such that I doubt any explorers have even been to the end. Just on the most direct main route, there are about 11 miles of tunnel, from the airport to Durand-Eastman park. Most of the distance, however, is in a network of branches that cover downtown and the entire west side, and being less prone to overflow, have gathered deep, putrid mud. Making matters worse, there is only one entrance and exit to the system, most of the ways out consisting of one of these: a dead end with no way up, and a sheer, dripping 100 foot rise up to ground level.

It’s just the ending I want for a year like 2014 though. Far from the dismal failure I expected, I made it to 50 locations, and even made a few exploring friends, admittedly not as many as I lost, but such is the life of the hopelessly inept.