So many of the places I’ve photographed are gone. Places that stood for decades, eliminated in the span of a day or two. I decided it was time to take a look back at the places that will never be seen again, beginning with an old bleach factory that once stood outside of Philadelphia. I’m not even sure of the name of the company, but this decaying structure (which featured an active beer distributor at one end) had that beauty and complexity only found in old industrial sites.
Approaching to the building, we passed an old dam, though whether it was there to support this factory or a long gone mill I don’t know.
Heading east along route 22 towards Easton, one cannot help but notice a large factory building rising up on the right. The buildings size, especially compared to its neighbors automatically draws the eye, but its most striking feature has to be the water tower on its roof, shaped like a paper Dixie Cup. Opened in 1921, it was here that the world famous Dixie Cups were manufactured for most of the twentieth century.
Located in Norwhich, Connecticut, Norwich State Hospital was opened in 1904 under the name Norwich State Hospital for the Insane. It began with one building that housed 95 patients, but demand forced the facility to grow. At its peak, Norwich had more than 30 buildings.
While it was intended to house mentally ill patients and people found not guilty by reason of insanity, it went on to handle addicts, geriatrics and during the 1930′s tuberculosis patients. Norwich’s patient population hit its high point in the mid fifties when it was home to over 3000 patients. It declined over the decades that followed until it was eventually closed in 1996. The last few patients were transferred to another facility and the buildings were left vacant. Currently, the remaining buildings are in the process of being demolished.
As Philadelphia’s population increased and people settled further and further from the city center, providing water throughout the entire city became more challenging. To provide for the expanding areas of Manayunk and Roxborough, it was decided to build new reservoirs on the hill above the communities. Water would then be provided via gravity to the homes businesses below.
To supply the reservoirs, a pumping station was to be built just above the Flat Rock Damn at Shawmont. Begun following the Civil War, the pumping station was completed in 1869. The plant used steam driven pumps to force the water to the reservoir over 300 feet above. Demand continued to increase as so the station was expanded in the 1890s and a larger reservoir was installed as well.
By 1962, the system was obsolete and could not meet the needs of the much larger city. It was replaced by a new system and the pump was closed down. And there it remained, not much more than a landmark on the trails that run along the river. In 2011, the remaining structures were razed.
After the great response I received to my piece on the Grande Ballroom, I decided to do a write up about the Eastown Theater. In the middle of putting this together I came across some very recent pictures online that showed the Eastown being demolished. The loss of this great venue meant that my tribute was now a memorial. I only got to see this place twice, in its final years with decay and neglect taking their toll, but it was obvious what a grand theater it had been. Although we knew its days were numbered from the moment we went inside, there is still a terrible feeling of loss knowing it’s gone.
The Eastown opened in 1931, as a venue for “talkies” or movies with sound. This was a time when movie theaters were not referred to as “plexes” but as palaces, and the name was fitting. Long before people could sit in their living rooms and be entertained by the images on a black and white television (and decades before they could watch a movie on a device that fits in your pocket) going to the cinema was an event. It was an experience, not a short diversion between several other forms of entertainment, as the elaborate decor of such places can attest.
The Eastown was designed by V.J. Waier for the Wisper & Wetsman chain of theaters. Waier used numerous classical influences in his design creating an extremely ornate interior that can best be described as Baroque. Besides the 2,500 seat theater, the building also offered office and retail space, a 35 residential apartments, and a ballroom that could host 300.
At one time, the city of Detroit was known for producing two things: Cars, and amazing music. The Motown sound was born here, taking its name from the city’s nickname, the Motor City. Before that, John Lee Hooker developed a whole new style of blues while playing the dive bars and juke joints that catered to a hard working, hard drinking, and often hard fighting population.
But Detroit was not just Motown. This was Detroit Rock City, and by the late sixties it was producing some the best and heaviest rock music out there. It started with little all-ages clubs that hosted live music for high school kids, but as the music scene blew up across the country, so did the scene in Detroit. While the city and surrounding area was home to numerous clubs, at the vanguard of the scene was the Grande Ballroom (pronounced like grandy).
Built in 1928, the Grande was built to as a place to dance while the big bands of the day played on simple stage. The first floor was actually designed and used for retail space. As the big bands declined, so did the ballrooms. However, the counterculture of the late sixties and the huge surge in rock music that went with it suddenly made them desirable again. In 1966, a high school teacher and part time DJ from Dearborn, named Russ Gibb, purchased the Grande and opened what for the next few years would be THE place to see a show in Detroit.
For years I explored ruins in parks, abandoned farms, small buildings in the city – stuff that many people would not even bother with. It was not until I got a digital camera and started roaming the ghost town that was Bethlehem Steel’s flagship plant that I began to lo0k for more variety. The internet made a huge difference, allowing me to find contacts in other locations. Bit by bit I started hitting locations besides the industrial structures that I love so much.
Soon I hit my first hospital, my first asylum, my first school… Every type of location had its own feel to it. Each one had its special attractions and mysteries to explore. It was almost like I had a checklist of building types to check off. Theater – check. Power station – check. But it took me a while to get to my first house of worship. But thanks to some Philly friends, I finally was able to explore and shoot in an abandoned church. Unfortunately, I was so interested in exploring every corner of the building that I did not shoot nearly as much as I should have. I never got to make a return trip, and the place has since been raised. But it will always be a special place to me and I offer this as a tribute and memorial to the beautiful Transfiguration of Our Lord church in West Philadelphia.
We were in a hurry to get inside, and as often happens, we planned to shoot exteriors once we were done with the interior. Then, we forgot. The above shot is from the Philadelphia Church Project and you can click on the picture to link to their site and a more in depth history of the church.
Transfiguration was a Roman Catholic church, founded in 1905. The construction of the church itself did not occur until 1928 and it remained an active house of worship until 2000, when dwindling congregations caused the Catholic Church to merge smaller congregations and close some churches permanently. The church remained unused until it was demolished in 2009.
Some abandoned places are easy to overlook. Block after block of soot stained brick factories can easily conceal an abandoned place in their midst. Some only stand out as they windows are broken and replaced with plywood, while others go unnoticed until the taggers start covering them with spray paint. Then there are those you just can’t miss, such as the Divine Lorraine Hotel on Philadelphia’s North Broad Street. If its striking architecture was not enough to attract the eye, the fact that it towers over any nearby structure makes it impossible to miss.
The hotel dates back to the 1890′s when North Broad Street was the gateway to the affluent neighborhoods of North Philadelphia. Designed by architect Willis G. Hale, the building is a testament to the age in which is was built. The industrial revolution brought about new technology and new wealth like the country had never known before. At ten stories tall, it was one of the first highrise apartment buildings in the city, and one of the first equipped with elevators. It was a place of luxury for the city’s elite boasting such rare features as electricity and an onsite staff.
In 1948, the controversial leader of the Universal Peace Mission Movement, Father Divine, purchased the building and renamed it the Divine Lorraine. Divine opened the hotel to members of all races, making it the first Philadelphia hotel of its class to be fully integrated. With its religious affiliation, the hotel operated with a strict code or morality, meaning no drinking, smoking, or excessive interaction between members of the opposite sex. Divine believed that all people were created equally in the eyes of God and was active in various social welfare programs as well as civil rights. The hotel closed in 1999 and has been sold twice since then. Currently, the graffiti is being scrubbed away in preparation of a major renovation, where the old structure will be reopened as condominiums.
The interior was gutted in 2008, leaving a shell of the former structure. In 2009, I took my camera inside and captured what was left.
Only the frills and trim of the lobby remained to hint at the hotel’s past glory
Fancy marble stairs curved up from the lobby, promising luxury that had long since been stripped away.
A small room next to where the front desk stood was filled with trash and debris and we quickly assessed that it was someone’s current home. So we headed up to the upper floors.
Every floor between the ground floor and the top was more or less the same. Walls removed, flooring stripped, frequent holes that needed to be avoided. But the views of the outer walls from so close were totally worth the trip.
There was something about the views here that reminded me of pictures I’ve seen from the old left bank of Paris. Until you noticed modern Broad Street in the background.
We took a break in the section seen at the top of the above picture, where the two wings of the building are joined by a bridging hallway. The spot offered great views to the west and I was able to spy some of the wall at Eastern State Penitentiary. It was a popular place to hang out as evidenced by the various empty booze bottles, food wrappers, and three homemade crack pipes we found sitting there. Time to move on.
The top of each wing was a large space under a soaring curved ceiling. One of these had been a place of worship and I believe the other was a dining hall. Both had been gutted, though.
We did not venture out on the roof, which has since become a popular graffiti spot and location for group photos. But we were content with finally getting inside a place that had beckoned us for years. Most of her mysteries had been wiped away with the plaster, but the sense of history that this grand old building retained was easy to perceive.