This Is Where We Belong

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

(unfortunately, this is a partial post for now – I took my phone for a swim I probably shouldn’t have tonight, and lost a lot of photos that way…)

It’s really been way too long since I’ve had an adventure like this… meet a new friend, and explore – that’s all there is to it. No one to impress, no group to lead, no cats to herd, Of course nothing I ever do goes all the way to plan, and the trip started with fixing a flat tire, but after that, we were on our way exploring.

First stop was the very, very rotten Veteran Foods (Vacuum Oil) factory. Originally a predecessor of ExxonMobil, the factory was repurposed in World War II to pack military rations, and ever since then, has been generally derelict, occasionally finding use as storage units, artist/squatter lofts and some kind of workshop before the water damage and mold forced everyone out in 2008 or so.





At this point the interior is mostly good for testing out gas masks, but there are still some interesting things lost amid the rot – this particular time I found a Godley and Creme album in surprisingly playable condition!

The best part though is probably the roof, with its views of the river and skyline…

After that, it was time to go to the subway and play with fire. I brought some steel wool fire poi, to try to FINALLY make up for the ones I did last fall with Phil in the abandoned paper mill before I was my usual halfmind self and managed to leave the entire SD card there!

A few of my attempts…




And some I took of Jake (btw I’d really be interested to see the film shots, do you post them anywhere?)




And finally, some views of the river-level construction going on near the Dinosaur end of the subway. While it’s not great that this will be built over by apartments, at least it created an interesting new opportunity for a while for explorers. Pretty sure this is the first live construction site I’ve ever explored too… it’s also where those instagram kids were rescued a few weeks ago when one fell into the river somehow!





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!

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.

Keep It Simple

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Institutional, Rochester

Needless to say, after that kind of success in a place like Terrence, it didn’t take me long to come back. Christmas must have come early this year, letting me into a building I’d wanted for so many years, and without any chance of getting caught.

Even the ceiling fans have given up…

The graffiti in here isn’t great, but at least they try to be clever.

Every level has its own color. Almost as if different psychiatric conditions might benefit from being surrounded by one particular shade for months at a time. Notably absent: institutional green.

…maybe just because it got painted over.

Caged birds are an odd symbolism on an asylum wall. Who knows why the caged bird sings?

Weirdly enough, the water damage increases from top to bottom through the building.

Inspiring to some — I’ve always found better results by aiming lower and lower until I don’t – can’t – miss. Lofty goals make long falls.

This should be on the stairwell to the roof.

Something is missing here. Somehow, the autopsy table got taken out.

Here’s a little clue if any of you would like to go. I saw this on my way out.

And we even made it through Hell’s Hundred Meters. Without so much as seeing one cop or security guard…

White Whale

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Institutional, Rochester

And just like that, it happened. I’d heard mumblings that there was a way in for a few weeks, but I didn’t entirely believe anyone that told me, and besides, it was probably some climb that would leave me re-enacting the plight of the beached manatee, only this time in broad daylight and fully sober. I’d had a few close calls with this building already — in 2011, with an unloaded camera; in 2013, at night, twice; earlier this year, not quite able to get in the hole in the window as I thrashed away at it helplessly. This time was different though, the entrance was a fully open window, with a larger than me-sized hole, only 3 feet off the ground. I could do this. We did do this.

The top floor is about as interesting as the rest of them combined… most of the very few medical implements left were in the surgery wing.

One advantage this place does have though is its sheer size and condemned status mean there is almost no risk of security once you’re inside the cuckoos’ nest.

For the most part, every floor is a subtly different repeat of the last one, a layer cake where it’s all the same flavor, but the frosting might be another color.

There is a reason I took a picture of this one in particular. Anyone know why?

Again, it’s just like upstairs. Only this time it’s mauve.

Asylum corridors and peeling paint, because people are supposed to love this stuff.