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…

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]

Navy Blues

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Albany, Industrial, Institutional, Memphis

Once we got out of the power plant, the rest of Amsterdam was more or less a bust. Without cars, or a solid idea of where we were going, the best we could do was guess and look around, wandering from one seemingly derelict building to another without finding any of them quite dead enough. We eventually settled for a stop at a bar downtown, and waiting for our bus to Albany and onward.

The bus finally arrived about half an hour late, and thoroughly packed, besides being the last one of the day. The driver wanted to leave us, and a few other travelers, stranded in Amsterdam but with some palavering he agreed to let us on even though there were no seats. As soon as the bus started moving, we were serenaded to “Fat Bottomed Girls”, belted out by, well, a fat-bottomed girl. The next 45 minutes consisted of “only in America” weirdness that would make even less sense in the written word as it did at the time. Once that was over, we did get to Albany though, and went to a Thai restaurant I’d eaten at a few times before, then on a bus to Watervliet for a night explore at AlTech Steel.

As soon as we got to AlTech, something felt wrong. It was one of those explores for me where I just started going through the motions, didn’t even bother to take a single picture the whole time (all of a few minutes) that we were there, and as ennui as I felt, Ben was downright creeped out by the place, all he wanted was a few shots from the roof, and I couldn’t find the way up, all the paths between the buildings consumed by night and summertime growth. That and maybe I was a bit too sober for AlTech, I’d never been there even remotely close to sober.

So we disposed of the rest of the night waiting too long at the bus station, then going to New York, and from there to Newark, and a plane to Atlanta, and another plane to Memphis. This was supposed to be the highlight of our trip: a rare tour of Memphis Marine Hospital, a more or less untouched and unexplored complex just south of downtown on the Mississippi River. We arrived at the hospital to the typical Southern hospitality, a table set out in front to welcome us, and an open door to explore as we pleased!

And it was everything I could have hoped for, even if I found myself there with an inert brick of a camera, and a point and shoot I’d just bought in Albany…

It only took me a few minutes to discover that my camera woes weren’t over. As if I didn’t have enough trouble already, the battery on this thing lasted maybe 1/10 as long as my actual camera, and it started spontaneously shutting off after every shot.

And then, having seen just half of one building, that camera failed completely, and of course, being an abandoned building, there wasn’t a working outlet to be found.

I was reduced to a smartphone for my photo-taking abilities. Not exactly my brightest moment. I should be better at this living in the Instagram generation but I’ve never really tried to take serious phone photos. Some people can do amazing things with an Android — for that matter some people can do amazing things with a camera and I manage mediocre things. Oh well.

Given the situation, I felt like it was my obligation to take a selfie.

This must have gone over so well in a Navy hospital?