Archive for May, 2013

Crossing the Line

Nature knows no boundaries, and given the opportunity will always cross the line between the areas designated by humans as to be “for humans”, and the areas where it tolerated.  Often in the context of an industrial site this means the patch of grass along the drive and a shrub or two by the office door as “landscaping”.  I often find urban plantings quite depressing for this very reason.

A large part of the magic in the Grief Brothers factory is where natural forces have crossed the artificial boundaries we have placed.  Tabula Rasa took a photo here that is the embodiment of this concept.

I found myself rather entranced with this tree that has managed to reach quite far into what was once part of the main hall of the factory.



Yet in other places the greenery has mostly stayed on the other side of the line.  It is biding its time, awaiting the failing of a key roof support perhaps.

ivy wall


No where was the demarcation between inside and outside more obvious than at this point.  One wonders if the tree that grew there was once planted by some industrious squirrel  40 years ago then forgot about it, or if the wind bore the seed there to take root in a small crack in the pavement.

exit snb

As for me, I found a different exit to use that day.


Grief Brother’s Boiler Room


This room is the single most frustrating room to get a good photo in, in all of the factory’s many buildings it has the most equipment in it and the least amount of space.

While in this shot I captured the objects I wanted, the lighting and limited places to stand just didn’t work out for an interesting composition.  The HDR flattens the light too much and the natural light is not helpful at all for a direct photo.  Of course, I have an idea for next time.

boiler room



I was very lucky that when I walked into this room the light was falling perfectly on the front of this boiler and fallen bricks.  Of course since it is a dark room I went with HDR so you could see more than just the central object, but retain some of the spotlight effect at the same time.  Still, it isn’t a big winner.  This room drives me mad, mad I say!

boiler and bricks


I spent a little more time fussing about attempting to get a photo of the gauges, but wasn’t feeling very inspired by them.  Then I looked up at the ceiling since I was wondering where all the light was coming from.  I saw something when I looked up.  Then I had an idea.

snb boiler room ceiling



Looking up became a bit of a theme for me in that location.  This is that annoying passageway that Tabula Rasa got the great photo of and I couldn’t seem to capture for the life of me.  So I looked up.

boiler room looking up


As TR mentioned in his last somewhat cheeky post we have a healthy competition when it comes to our photography.  I knew walking out of this building that I had him beat for this location, possibly even for the day.  There was no gloating, just a sense of pride in a job well done.  He had me beat good on the last trip (amusingly enough, in the same locations) so it was nice to know I could turn the tables on him this time.

You Gotta Know When To Fold ’em.

(To get the full camp value of this post, feel free to listen to this while reading.)

The Idiot Photographer and I have a healthy competition going when it comes to photography and covering all there is to see at the sites we visit. We push each other to look at things in new ways, to find new locations to see, or just to find the energy to get up on a midwinter morning when it’s still dark outside. We cheer each others successes and offer constructive critiques. There is also the sense (for me, anyway) when we finish a day’s shoot that each of our sets of photos on our respective memory cards are much like poker hands. We know roughly what the other has, and the question becomes, what sort of ‘hand’ is the other holding? Who got the definitive shot of some room or object? After going through my pictures of the Grief Brothers plant, I thought I had a winner. It is a winner, I would say, in the way a straight to the ace in your poker hand seems to be a winner. Unfortunately, I’ve already had a sneak peek of IP’s hand, and she’s got a full house.
The silver lining of this post is twofold: one, I do have a nice hand, though it might not be a winner. Two, I get to imagine IP reading this at her computer, shaking her fist at me because of the pressure I’ve now put on her. Mwahaha!
Without further ado, I gotta run.






One of the most striking things about the Grief Brothers factory is how empty it is.  The main building is massive, and yet there is not one bit of machinery left behind.  In one of the smaller outbuildings I came across this floor mount and breaker box for 460volts, yet another hint as to what might have once been here.

460 volts


In another, larger outbuilding which is curiously wedge shaped, I found Number 4 sitting next to an office.  What Number 4 is I don’t know.  I  find myself wondering how many other numbers there were, or if there were multiple machines with a giant “No. 4” on them?  I also wonder who made the machines.  It is a curiosity to me, the manufacturers of manufacturing machinery.  All these things have to come from somewhere, and who made the machine that made this machine?  Were I a little more capable of conducting research I’d look all this up.  Somewhere out there is a company that not only makes machines for other companies to make stuff on, but manufactures their own machines.  And that would be super cool to see.

old number 4


Next to the wedge building there is a mysteriously uncovered and mostly wall-less building.  Here one can find large steel barrels not just sitting in the open but also hidden in the undergrowth to either side of the building.  Why are these here, what were they for?  They are the little hints that speak of the time when this place was a busy, bustling industrial location.

4 barrels



The light we work with in the sites we visit varies, but it often has a drowned, underwater quality. Filtered through dirty windows and foliage, it is diffuse enough to light a scene well and strong enough to make the highlights glow. Some places in the Grief Bros. plant had just that light, great for photography. A picture taken can have the seeming of a Ribera painting; work it in HDR, and you get closer to El Greco. The blueprint room in the offices had just this light.






Blueprint Display



The machine shop had a workbench strewn with stencils and paperwork in deep shadows.




Ambassador Redux

I think I know why my first trip to Ambassador was so, well, unrewarding.  It has been a while since I’ve photographed a derelict apartment building, and something like that you have to approach very differently from a large industrial derelict like Grief Brothers.

Apartment buildings tend to be pretty empty and the same on every floor; you may get a coat hanger here and there, perhaps the odd couch or armchair, but nothing to make a focal point.  With Ambassador you run the risk of making your focal point the great outdoors, especially when you’re shooting HDR.  This obviously runs counter to the idea of photographing the building itself.  This time around I thought things out a little better.

This is the Ambassador Arms Apartment building, seventh floor.

ambassador falling down


One of the most striking things about Ambassador is, of course, the large gaping holes on the exterior of the building.  The fact that part of the west face and all of the  south face of the building wears no facade and sheds terra cotta in even the most gentle breezes is hard to convey in an interior shot.

gaping holes


This time I think I managed to take the shot I had wanted the first time around.  There are no walls in this apartment, only the doors remain.

no walls only doors


I also managed to quell my fear of tiny yet mostly open staircases and climb up to the penthouse.

ambassador penthouse



I even wandered out onto the rooftop to check out the little garden there.   This was once the dream apartment, huge with a private rooftop garden looking out from the tallest building in the area.  Now it could easily double as a set for a post-apocalyptic horror drama.



Last week was a bit of a wash for me.  Honestly in my eyes it was damn near a total failure, sure I got a couple of decent photos but nothing that really evoked any emotion in me.  It was more of the “I was there, I saw that” photography that I have been striving to rise above.

This week we took Bent Bottle along with us and decided to repeat locations since he had been to neither.  We started at what is now my favorite location to shoot in, the Grief Brothers Cooperage Company, Screw and Bolt Division.  Great name, right?

sat view grief bros


As you can see from the satellite image this is not a small location and our first visit was insufficient to explore it fully.  The three of us split up pretty much right from the get-go and it was hours before I saw anyone again, it is just that big.  It was this location that offered me my redemption, while some of shots didn’t go as I had planned them I still managed to capture some of the weird beauty this place has.

Like where the trees have grown up against the windows  and even crept inside through the broken panes of glass.

nature invades


Or the delightfully creepy old office with the canvas shrouded insulation hanging from the ceiling.

yellow office

This location is going on the yearly visit list, as well as my “locations to photograph while it is snowing” list, though that will have to wait for a few months for obvious reasons.





It seems I have limited time recently to edit photos. Are my responsibilities encroaching on my photography, or vice versa? While I figure it out, here’s a shot of trees encroaching into an office hallway (see what I did there?).


Screw & Bolt Factory Offices

Mission Do-Over

Mission: Do-Over

Hopefully I’ll manage to take more shots like this, only better.

Ambassador Arms door to sky

We’re on the 6th floor, so I’d not step outside here.

Ambassador Arms hall face

The face at the end of the hall.

Ambassador Arms stairs and chair

Next time chair, next time.

Ambassador Arms facade

this gives me an idea

Ambassador Arms the walls are melting

the walls are melting, I’ll prove it to you tomorrow

The Downtown Sheraton

As exploring goes, there isn’t much to this gutted, fourteen story tower that is a must see. The city in recent months has gotten more thorough in trying to seal the building off; signs warning of asbestos are on every padlocked gate and door. They might be true, but could only apply to the dank first floor. From the second story up, the entire edifice is stripped bare to its concrete skeleton. That might be the most remarkable thing about this hotel, that everything from the interior walls to even bathroom floor tile has been taken away. Here is the second story pool deck.


Sheraton Pool Deck


As you head upstairs, monotony sets in. Every floor looks the same. Occasionally, a bit of graffiti provides some relief.


Graffiti in Sheraton



It is the roof of this, the tallest building in Gary, that provides some of the best views. Up here, I dispensed with camera and tripod and turned to the iPhone, whose panoramic camera function comes in handy in places like these.

073 (2)

Looking West From Sheraton






It is always an option.  Or, it is always a possiblity.

I was defeated by the Ambassador Arms, I walked away very happy with the experience but photographically?  I’ve got squat.  Diddly squat, even.  Ok, maybe it wasn’t that bad but I still failed to attain the level of photography I strive for.

There were perhaps a couple of shots that I am satisfied with, but over all, not so much.  I call for a do-over.

Ambassador Arms 5th floor tree

Tree growing from the 6th floor? check.

Ambassador Arms stairs

collapsed wall revealing rubble strewn staircase? check.


Ambassador Arms

hdr shot looking out on the church across the street? check.

I took the photos I was looking for, they just weren’t what I was looking for.


The Ambassador is slowly turning into a giant treehouse of sorts, a post-apocalyptic abode of the Swiss family Robinson. Trees fill the courtyard and obstruct windows. Seven stories up, saplings sprout from the floorboards and carpeting. The lobby is tinged emerald with the light filtering through the foliage outside.


Front hall, looking east.

Treetops stand in for a ruined wall on the fourth floor.


Into the great wide open.

Finally, walls and ceiling give way to sky on the seventh floor.


A view eastward.

From Above (Part the Sheraton)

Did I mention I am afraid of heights?  Tabula Rasa knows this, yet he didn’t voice any surprise when I said that I wanted to end the day by climbing the 14 story Sheradon hotel for the view.  I avoid rooftops like nobody’s business, but I wanted photos of Gary from above so I was going to have suck it up and deal.

I’m also horribly out of shape, where TR isn’t.  The climb had me huffing and puffing and I was saying (the whole way up) “I’m not gonna make it!” but I did.  Once there I had to quell the panic about being on a rooftop, much less one 14 stories up.

Sheraton rooftop

I managed to get a pretty decent shot Gary City Hall though.

gary city hall

Looking south down Broadway, this town has seen better days.  This was around 5 in the afternoon on a Saturday, just look at all that traffic!  No really, that is a lot of traffic!

looking south on broadway

One of the little treats of this climb was getting to see from on high something that has always given me a little laugh.  You see, when the old post office was falling into disrepair they built a new one, right next door to the old one. In the grand tradition of Gary the old post office was boarded up and forgotten about.  But there it is, right next its replacement.

gary post offices old and new

Looking north you have the courthouse with Gary Steel Works and the expressway.


Of course, right next door to the Sheraton we have the Genesis Convention Center.

genisis convention center

In the distance you can see the Knights of Columbus building, and even further away is the Ambassador Arms and way off in the haze is St. Mary Mercy hospital (look right behind the KoC building).

This is the city we have spend the last few years poking around in.  It is nearly a ghost town at this point and should US Steel ever shutter their operation here it will die completely.   It is still a beautiful town in many ways and there are some nice neighborhoods here and there.  The people of Gary have always been kind to us and we’ve never had any problems, even the one homeless person we’ve met was a nice guy.

Gary Indiana will always have a special place in my shriveled little curmudgeonly heart.  It has given me a lot of great memories, and a host of great images.

Inside the Ambassador

Considering just how derelict this building is, it’s remarkable to find any signs of the former occupants laying around. Yet furniture, clothes, and other items are strewn around, sometimes half-hidden in rubble. Here, a chair stands in front of a collapsed wall, exposing the staircase.


Chair Before Staircase

An sandal sized for an infant lays on a fold of carpet.


Baby’s Sandal

A shattered 45rpm record in the doorway of a bedroom.


Vinyl on Gypsum

A torah left behind in the kitchen drawer of the penthouse apartment.


Torah in Drawer

From Above (Part the Ambassador Arms)


I don’t make it a point to keep quiet about the fact that I have a significant fear of heights, or that I get really bad vertigo any time I am above the third floor.  Usually this isn’t an issue in my regular life as having solid walls around me helps to contain my fear and calm my vertigo.  Yet my hobby and passion is in urban exploring and solid walls are in short supply, especially when exploring the fantastic Ambassador Arms which we’ve been posting about recently.

ambassador from the rooftop

the ambassador arms as viewed from the Sheraton hotel

This trip challenged me in more ways than photographically.  It challenged my fear of heights, and my paranoia of the crumbling nature of the edifices we scramble through.  This was the first time a floor actually gave way beneath my foot while attempting to scurry over a pile of fallen brick and pyrobar and I just happened to be right next to a gaping hole in the wall, on the seventh floor.   I was already afraid before the floor gave way so when it did I went straight to terrified.

Ambassador arms view

Somehow I managed to keep my balance and shift my weight to the other foot before I had sunk past the top of my boot.  Using my tripod as a walking stick and balancing device I extricated my foot and kept moving forward.

That, was the key, the moving forward.  If I had backed away and sought another view, I would have failed this test.  I did not even realize until I had gotten home that night that it was a Test.   So often in life, I, like everyone else, have allowed the fear of what might happen to prevent me from going ahead and doing something that I might enjoy.   When confronted with a small taste of what might go wrong, I would back down, give up and be slightly envious of those who kept going and returned to me glowing with joy and satisfaction in a mission accomplished.

View from the Ambassador Arms

I refused to give in to the fear this time, not by blindly leaping forward or by slowly backing away either.  I considered for a moment, reevaluated my surroundings, and chose a slightly different path which would still lead me to my goal, an open view of downtown Gary , perhaps one framed by the falling bricks of the upper floors of Ambassador.  My heart was pounding and my nerves on edge but I wanted this and would not be denied this time.

My reward was greater than the view of the Gary Steelworks and Knights of Columbus building.

gary steel works and kngths of clmbs buld

It was even greater than the amazing view of City United Methodist Church that I had from my seventh story perch.

methodist church from ambassador

This time I conquered my fear, I sanely and rationally responded to a fear inducing event and I did not allow the voice in my head that screams at me   “Run, run away!”, and went forward, listening to the quiet voice that said “Go forward, slowly.  Be calm and see things for what they are.”

Were I listening to the quiet voice to begin with, I would have never broken through the floor, but then I would have never overcome my terror either.

Ambassador Apartments

Built in 1927 as a luxury residence for management of nearby U.S. Steel, this was for years the Grand Dame of Gary, dominating the western part of the skyline. The details of its decline may be sketchy, but the history of this town suggests white flight followed by poorer and poorer landlords until tax liens force the building to be shuttered in the late 80’s. Decay quickly sets in. Today, adjacent sidewalks are cordoned off as the terra cotta regularly rains down from the crumbling facade. These exterior shots clearly show the derelict state of this once beautiful building.



Front View





Seventh Floor




Rooftop View Into Courtyard


A goodly portion of the fun of exploring lost places is attempting to figure out the puzzles left behind.

Tabula Rasa and I had minor disagreement (as happens not infrequently with us) regarding the metal roof of this building and the cool dapples of light it lets in.  I say that hail damage coupled with standing water rusted certain spots of the metal faster, causing the holes.  He disagrees.  We both found it fascinating and wonderful.

Screw and Bolt Factory light speckles


Then we have a boiler?  or a furnace?  Let me know if you have an idea, either way these were huge beasts of machines, tucked into a too small room.

Screw and Bolt Factory Boiler room


The slide of why?  Obviously little boxes were sent down this slide, I just cannot fathom with as large as the factory was why they would be sending one little box at a time down a slide into the second floor of another building.  It seems, inefficient.

Crew and Bolt factory belt


But the largest puzzle of all in this location was the clothes.  Bales and bales of clothes that had been sitting so long they were full of algae and covered in moss.  (And probably less pleasant to think about things.)  I’ve heard theories, but they why still remains unanswered.


Screw and Bolt factory clothes




Hidden away behind a rail road trestle there is a little drive with two small buildings at the open gate.  They are empty shells, forlorn and overgrown.  Should one choose to travel down the worn and cracked pavement they would be treated to this sight, tucked away in a miniature forest.

Screw and Bolt Factory exterior

Abandon your dignity and scramble up where the steps are now missing and you will find yourself listening to the chirping of house sparrows echoing through hollow space.

Screw and Bolt factory main floor

Crossing through the factory and returning to the outdoors,  you are greeted by yet another building surrounded by a wall of vegetation.

Screw and Bolt factory south building

Time and nature are taking their toll, returning the works of man to the earth from which all things emerge.


Screw and Bolt factory flooded room

The Graffiti of Gary

One thing we like about this city is that, with all the unpatrolled abandoned buildings, taggers and graffiti artists have free reign to practice their craft with abandon. The work ranges from simple tags and scrawls to full blown murals. Often, they give a building or place its character.

No donut.

Bad Cop?

The “Bad Cop” on the second floor of the Sheraton always gives me a chuckle.


Live Gator


I’ll pause to admire the big, wall filling tags.

Advice I still follow to this day.

Don’t Die.

There are plenty of tags in the style of, “abandon all ye who enter here”, but I enjoy a simple imperative sentence. Naturally, the biggest and boldest murals are found on the highest floors and hardest to reach places. The next two are both from the Ambassador, the top floor and the penthouse, respectively.


Seventh Floor Lookout

Zombie Roy Orbison?

Toxic Fun in a Burned Out Sun



In the places of human industry nature is driven back, controlled, and in some cases even extinguished.  It is forever the enemy as it decays and consumes that which humans attempt to preserve.  However, once industry moves on nature returns and lays claim once again.

snb factory floor moss

Reaching higher, finding escape from the walls humanity has placed to impede it.

snb factory nature escapes

One day the walls will fall, and nature will reclaim even that which once held it back.


We finally decided to give the Ambassador apartments a thorough exploration. We had received differing opinions as to the safety of such an endeavor, but in the end decided to try. We agreed on some ground rules ahead of time, such as staying within shouting distance of one another; taking the very decrepit staircases one person at a time; and just being a bit more cautious than usual. The building proved to be as rickety as advertised, but luckily for us, things went well. So it is with tongue somewhat in cheek that I present the shot that awaited me as I stepped onto the roof.



I’ve never felt so brave.


Much more editing awaits myself, and, I’m sure, the Idiot Photographer. Hopefully, we’ll have some decent shots for today’s labors.


Have a trophy.  I’m going exploring again today.  Next up we’re taking on the Ambassador Arms and the screw and bolt factory.


Emerson trophy




The Unwanted

“We are symbols, and inhabit symbols.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson Guitar

Emerson Apple

Emerson left behind

Emerson Art in the Hall


I have an easier time ascribing mental states to machines than to some people, so this little guy struck me as a perfectly sad castaway: clearly obsolete (what did he even do?) and left behind to rot. If you want a brilliant summation of what I felt when I came upon this scene, read this xkcd strip; it made my wife cry the first time I showed it to her.

A Doohickey.

The General Electric Pathos-Wringer, all new for 1963!