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…

All Things Go, All Things Know

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Memphis, Religious, Residential

After the hospital, with my camera completely useless, we didn’t even try to explore anything else in Memphis, and just wandered back toward Beale street for some blues halls. Which was much easier said than done, in a typical city in the American South: not particularly designed for pedestrians, or even supportive of those who chose not to drive around for whatever reason. At first we thought it would be a pleasant walk along the river, but all we found there was steep slopes, thick brush, and the scattered flour of hashers, which of course Ben wouldn’t follow even when I suggested there was likely beer, and a way out, at the end of it. With that option eliminated, the next logical way was across the railroad tracks. Even though there were no trains in sight, no-trespassing signs and the vague suggestion there might be cameras turned us back. So we took the only option left, walking right along I-40, as if walking an Interstate was somehow better, even though it took us farther away from our destination, and through more of the unsavory 95 degree Tennessee heat.

This sign let us know we’d arrived at Beale(e) Street. There’s a specific note on it not to take pictures of it. Probably so the artist isn’t remembered as the one who can’t spell?

We spent as much of the night as we could plunked down in the corners of various blues halls, taking in the unique music scene of the bluest city, until the bars closed and we had no choice but to go wait at the airport. Sleeping, or trying to sleep, in an airport, even to make a 6am flight, is not something I can recommend as a good option. It seemed like a good idea at the time to fly between our cities, especially with how cheap Southwest tickets were, but the train was really the better option for a whirlwind tour like this. Chicago Midway only confirmed this, losing Ben’s luggage for a frustrating hour until we figured out by dumb luck and running out of people to ask that his carry-on camera bag of modest size somehow became “oversize” for just long enough to find its way to the special baggage claim.

Badly missing our train to Gary with the newfound frustration, we stopped in downtown Chicago for breakfast, consulting Yelp to lead us to a hipster Jewish deli/brunch spot that took the edge off our failure and made us at least somewhat forget we didn’t sleep the last two nights.

This might be blasphemy, but I think I like Chicago even more than New York City…

Gary shocked us immediately; the old standard Methodist Church now has one less roof than it used to, leaving it wide open to the sky like an old English cloister.

This is new. Of course we just went right over the little 2×4 tourist barriers. Which doesn’t count as climbing a fence.

After the church, we gave the Washington St buildings another try, which turned out a lot more interesting than I had expected them to be in the winter.

Apparently it used to be, at least partially, a car dealership

This is a typical Gary street scene – no traffic whatsoever except on broadway and 53, and a juxtaposition between new “renewal” construction and burned-out abandoned desolation. Detroit is still filled with what explorers euphemistically call “wildlife,” the homeless, homefree or just bored locals who inhabit these sorts of places. Gary truly is life after people, it would be less surprising to see deer roaming the streets in some parts of town.

The half theater is really only worth this one shot, but it was directly on our way to the Post Office…

[continued in part 2]

God Is Not Dead, Nor Doth He Sleep

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

…but then, what exactly was this place? God’s Rest Home, I must say, seemed like an absolutely dismal place to live out one’s last years, in a rotting brick building in the midst of a decaying city battered by the bleak Midwestern climate.

After that place, our fifteenth successful explore of the day, we finally lost our daylight and got up to a roof for a few last shots of the city

…and eventually returned to our parking space from which we could wander around to all of this, right next to the church where it all began

I decided to have some fun in the more or less abandoned parking garage before we went to our motel for the night

And there ended my overwhelmingly best day ever as an explorer. 16 for 17 in a city I’d never been to (but admittedly not so tough a challenge…), and the whole variety from churches to factories to apartments to random things we’d never expected. The main thing we missed was a school, so we decided with our limited time before the far too long trip home, we’d try one of those in the morning

[continued in part 8]

Where The Stores Are All Closed

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

[continued from part 5]

Just like everywhere else in Gary, all it took was a quick look around the block to find yet more places to explore. Above and next to the theater there were more storefront-type places that weren’t all that interesting on their own, but did still have a few products left, and this idyllic mural — could this have been Gary in its early days?

There isn’t much of a village left here, but who knows, maybe Gary will rise again someday…

I didn’t have to go far to find still more abandonment, this time an entire block of storefronts and factories that seem to have met their fate quite a while ago.

These buildings surrendered most of their front walls to the sidewalk, literally wide open to explorers and the elements. Someone, though, left helpful hints through them of where there were danger zones or holes (most of which led straight into collapsed, flooded basements)

Behind this, headed back toward Broadway again, the entrance to the Coronet store, one of far too many abandoned retail relics, presented itself, along with a reminder that we weren’t quite in Illinois.

Even for an abandoned building, Coronet was a disaster, ravaged, it seems, as much by fire as the water it took to put the fire out.

We took a try at a school on the east side but this opening wasn’t going to do it for me…

[continued in part 7]

The Aristocrats

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

The environment for exploring here is truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen… we saw this building from the roof of the Methodist Church and thought it looked interesting, so we walked down 6th street toward it. A local saw us and our cameras and, instead of being suspicious or avaricious, asked us if we were going to see “the Aristocrats”. I said, maybe — we didn’t know where they were — and he told us that it was the abandoned hotel we saw, and that it was once the residence of U.S. Steel executives when they spent time in Gary, before being made into apartments and finally abandoned in the 90s.

(Upon further research, this wasn’t quite right. This building was actually called the Ambassador, and the US Steel executives actually stayed at Mahencia, a few blocks further down 6th Street. But it was the thought that counts!)

It’s not exactly in the best shape anymore. The stairs were, to put it kindly, an adventure, finding some with enough steps intact to even get to the upper floors.

Not going to the roof. Nope. Nope.

Overall, it was a pretty trashed place, and a total asbestosfest, but quite a big building for a surprise discovery… from there, we got back on our intended course through the “buffet line” of Broadway, to the old Post Office. Like most of Gary so far, it’s a cliché destination, but who gives a damn? We aren’t trying to compete with anyone, just to see as much as we can in one weekend.

I have to wonder what the architect was thinking having offices connected by this impossibly narrow corridor?

Actually not much made sense about this building at all. I can’t even guess what this room might have been.

Oh look! We found the morgue!

(continued in part 4)

Common Knowledge

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Residential, Rochester

When looking for a place to explore, never discount the obvious. Anyone who has seen this building enough times would notice the lights are never on, and the windows are broken, on the first two floors. This one is only an elevator ride away from me – the building where I live, 111 East Avenue, used to be the Sagamore Hotel, one of the most luxurious places in the city in the 1920s and 30s. Among the more interesting historical uses of the building, the penthouse once housed W2XRT, among the first television stations ever built, going on the air in 1938. After the war, the hotel was converted into apartments, and the building more or less left to rot for the past 70 years, becoming an artists’ and students’ haven across the street from the Eastman School. The second, tenth, and half of the first floor are sitting abandoned, and no one really bothers with them, they’ve been in a perpetual state of near-renovation for what looks like at least ten years. I wouldn’t be surprised if their days are numbered though with yet another new owner taking over the building, and a wave of evictions and rent hikes throwing out most of the people who already live here. And now that I’ve gotten my own notice to be out by the end of July, I figure I have nothing left to lose even if I did get caught here.

This entrance once belonged to the Monroe County Democrats’ office, before they moved to an industrial park on the east side.

Being a semi-active building (and UE layer cake), the decay isn’t particularly extreme here, and looks more like aborted construction. But what can I expect, for a place 30 seconds from home?

There used to be some government offices here too. Locked door? no problem, just go around the side.

…and run into construction workers smashing down some walls in what used to be a subprime mortgage brokerage. They threatened to call the cops but I told them I live upstairs, and I can’t get evicted twice anyway, and they let me go in peace.

The penthouse was the most interesting part by far. I’m not sure if this is original, or when it was added, but I could imagine this lobby having been the entrance to an experimental, and distinctly classy, TV station 60 years before Reality TV was even a concept. This was a time when it made sense to put the TV studio across the street from the Philharmonic, when radio was the entertainment of the masses, and television featured mostly classical and jazz music, live theatre, political talking heads… and boxing, fought in an improvised studio ring.

Even the ornately stenciled ceiling remains, evocative of the ceiling tiles at the old Eastman Theatre before the new renovations there.

And finally, from on top of the studio roof, a view of the East End.