Archive for November, 2013

Highland Park Hospital/School II

I can only imagine the lurid fascination with which the schoolkids must have regarded the derelict hospital adjacent to their classrooms. Reality seldom compares to teenage fantasy, but should any kids have sneaked into the hospital, they would not have been disappointed in what they saw.


Room Numbers


Psych Ward


Exam Chair



Sometimes we come across a location that seems like it is full of promise and we walk away with next to nothing, this building was one of those.  It was very obviously a school of fairly modern construction and it had been beaten to hell in the time that it has been closed, walls were torn down, doors were totally gone, spiders had spun massive webs across the hallways and there was very little of actual interest to be found.  On one level this is somewhat hilarious, because a couple of years ago we would have been thrilled to find a location like this.  Now that we’re a little more experienced we were disappointed.  However I did find one thing that justified our time in this building.


moss tiles large

In the auditorium the glass wall and windows were destroyed long ago, nature’s hand has reached in to pull the tiles loose from the floor and in some places turn individual tiles into little islands of moss.  Some of the more ambitious islands are sprouting a few weeds too.

moss tiles

I find moss endlessly fascinating, and I cannot fathom why it has so wholeheartedly taken over only a select few tiles while leaving almost all of the rest pristine.  Nature

Happy Thanksgiving!

Remember, if you were truly thankful, you’d commission a giant church containing a mosaic showing you presenting said church to St. Mary. Just saying.



Hagia Sophia Mosaic, Istanbul


Highland Park Hospital/School

As our fellow blogger Sometimes Interesting has documented extensively in Gary, Indiana, urban decay is a slow process. Rarely do buildings just go dark overnight; more often a succession of tenants come through after the original. Grand edifices get repurposed towards ever more menial ends until finally the lights go off for good. Never was this dynamic more vividly on display than in Highland Park, an independent enclave which lies completely within Detroit. Upon first inspection, we thought it must be an abandoned hospital.


The exterior.

So we were surprised to see all the trappings of a school upon entering. It was a school, but it had been a hospital. Classrooms were walled off; all the hoses, fittings and plugs which typically line hospital rooms were simply drywalled over. Very often, however, the original purpose showed through all too clearly, as in this nurses’ station cum teacher’s resource center.



There was an entire wing of the building, which the school had bricked up access to, that remained hospital. Your intrepid explorers did find a way in, however. Pictures of that will come next.


A collection of violin cases strewn about the floor of Chandler Elementary in Detroit, with the instruments themselves nowhere to be found.





Organ Failure


We all know that no one loves a piano, but tearing up an organ and tossing it like that is going the extra mile.


Oh Happy Day

I had thought that it would be a few months before I would be able to get my old computer to my brother to attempt data recovery but something went right for me and as it turned out he was planning on visiting my parents this past weekend.  He offered to bring me a new computer and back up drive and to try recovering my data right away.  Upon arriving at my parents house we had an additional set back, the power supply to the new computer blew a fuse.  We found ourselves a new fuse and tried it again, this time the power supply started arcing and the lights began flickering.  *sigh*  So we drove for an hour to the computer supply store that was open at 9pm on Saturday (Tiger Direct, you’re my heroes!) and bought a new one.  From there everything was smooth sailing, the issue with my old hard drive was sorted fairly quickly and almost everything was recovered, the important stuff (the source files) were saved!  I did lose a folder of finished images that I was going to have printed, but I can always go back and reprocess those images.  My back up now consists of an internal data drive plus an external back up drive and I have almost 6 terabytes of memory sitting on my desk.  I have my awesome brother to thank for all of this, he is the guy the pros go to when they’re having problems.  I also need to thank for my parents for allowing us to take over their kitchen for the weekend as it was the easiest place for us to meet and work on this issue.


all hail the master nerd

I knew my old computer was dying before this happened and I was actually backing up the St. Louis and Detroit trip when everything went pear shaped.  My lesson has been learned and hopefully no one else out there has to go through what I did because they will back up all their work all the time in multiple spots.   I have forgiven The Niblet for smashing my hard drive, now I just need to fix the dent in the wall where it struck.  Never under estimate the power of frightened cat, that drive flew over 6 feet at a pretty high velocity before being suddenly stopped by the wall.  Regular posts by me will resume tonight after I’ve had a chance to sort through the mess of data, my organizational system was mostly preserved, but I haven’t had a chance to really go through everything.   As a bonus I now have a dual monitor setup so that should help smooth out my work flow by quite a bit.  I did lose all my programs in the computer failure, but Photomatix was the only thing that was not free shareware and they’ve already provided me with my software key so it is installed and ready to go.

Hopefully everyone has learned the lesson through my experience, back up often and in multiple spots!

Bookshelf and Trees

Light chases paper debris across the the classroom floor.


schoolHDR (2).wp



Eastown Theater II

A continuation of yesterday’s post on the Eastown theater in Detroit. The view from the balcony was spectacular, with the solitary red chair on the floor being too perfect a subject to resist.



Sad Chair


Eastown Theater

Most of you that check in on this blog regularly read the news earlier today that my coblogger, the eponymous Idiot Photographer, lost her entire photo collection due to a computer crash. We’re hoping that with some help, she’ll be able to recover much of what’s lost. In the meantime, I feel like the clown that has been pushed out into the ring to entertain the crowd while the acrobat’s gruesome compound fracture looms in the background. Nothing to see there, folks! Look at me. Yuk yuk yuk!
And so,  I present the next stop on our tour of Detroit: the Eastown Theater. Opened in 1931, it was one of the city’s movie palaces, then later a live music venue hosting major acts such as Cream and Jefferson Airplane. Since finally being shuttered in 2004, it’s decay has been rapid, hastened by a fire which took out a section of the building. This is the view that greets the interloper who walks through the lobby into the theater.


Eastown Stage.

The Bad News

So my main computer just died, normally this wouldn’t be a huge issue since I have this elderly computer to run as a back up and all my photographic work backed up onto an external hard drive.  However since my external hard drive is currently in a hundred little pieces in the dumpster (thanks for doing such a thorough job, cat.) I’m feeling totally screwed and more than a little despondent.

I will be attempting to rescue what I can from the old computer once I can get my brother on the case, but that won’t be until January or so.  In the mean time Tabula Rasa will do what he can to fill the void and I will be working on building my portfolio back up but posts from me are going to a little light over the next few months until I can afford a new computer and a trip to my brother’s place downstate.

Where Have the Animals Gone?

We saw this building from the road and knew we had to stop and check it out.

z entry


At first we didn’t know what we were wandering in to, then we realized that we were not alone.

z under


We decided to not go up the stairs at first and instead  wandered around under the walkway for a bit.  It finally dawned on us that we were in an abandoned zoo.

z under3


I admit,  it was a little eerie walking through here and seeing the overgrown, empty enclosures from the ground level.

z under2


Above us we could hear some people calling out “Marco!”… “Polo!”, and decided to take the chance of meeting the them.  So we headed upstairs.

z overlook


The wooden walk ways are in decent shape, but totally overgrown with grape vines and the occasional fallen tree.

z walkway impeded


We ended meeting a group of young men who are living the life on the road.  They were nice enough and we had a pleasant chat but sunset was fast approaching.

z lion cage


All the time I wondered, where have all the animals gone?

bi zoo sunset


School Stairwell

A peek inside a shuttered school on Detroit’s east side.










St. Margaret Mary Sanctuary


A view from the altar shows the extant of the church’s decay. A piano in the foreground has suffered much at the hands of vandals, a fate which awaits all abandoned pianos.





Mary Margaret Nave

It was like being inside the carcass of great some great beast, only not as odoriferous.

This beast had pretty bones.

Mary Margaret Arch

St. Margaret Mary Church and School


Side chapel.

There is plenty of guidance for your intrepid urbexer to be found online if your destination is Detroit. While we took of advantage of those resources, much of what we found was just by driving around randomly with our heads on swivels. This church is one example of that, as it answered our two simple flowchart questions in the affirmative:
Is it abandoned?
Can we get inside?
The rest is history, or rather, photography.


Oh… hi.
I didn’t think I’d run into you here.
You followed me?
We can’t just keep meeting like this.It isn’t healthy.
You know that I’m trying… to be rid of you.
But, since we’re here…
You can sit on me.  Just for a minute.
That’s it. Use my armrests, make yourself really comfortable.
Lean back?
That’s it.
Just like we used to.
Right, baby?
Just do one more thing. Just one little thing for me, baby.
Swivel me, baby?



Suddenly, Chair.


Shot at the same church as previous several posts, so not a completely random non sequitur.


CM stained glass

The sanctuary of the church was interesting enough, but small and not terribly photogenic.  I went ahead and took a gander at the rest of the building which proved to be slightly more interesting, if only for what I found in the basement.   But that is getting ahead of myself.

CM door


The building was added on to at some point in its history, which left an odd  but nice little courtyard tucked away right in the middle of it.


Best of all was the nursery in the basement.


Boxy, But Good

Double points to anyone who gets the reference in the title.

MC balcony view


I think this is the only square church I have ever seen, also, the views from the balcony seats are terrible.




In some places the bird crap has eaten through the wood of the floorboards, and the giant creepy people on the walls doesn’t help the atmosphere one bit.


MC balcony



I had to wonder though, why did they brick in the windows, and why didn’t they try to hide the fact that they bricked the windows?





Gratiot Avenue Church II


Congregation! Please be seated, and open your prayer guides to the Book of Revelation, Psalm 69

-Ministry, Psalm 69


View from altar.


Gratiot Avenue Church

A curious place of worship, its square, boxy shape recalling a courthouse more than a church. On a warm day in autumn, it glowed like an oven from the late afternoon sun.



From the balcony, the extent of rot becomes very apparent.

Reflections on Packard

At the end of the day (or in this case, the week) when I get home and download my photos I’m not totally sure of what I have.  There might be one or two that I though for sure were keepers when viewed on my little camera screen, but fail miserably once viewed in full resolution.  I’ve worked hard to become a better photographer, and when I look a the photos I took 5 years ago I can see the difference all my hard work has made.   This trip was a bit of a humbling experience, we had 7 days and two cities to burn through with very little knowledge of where our desired locations were, with the exception of the main attractions of Packard and Armour.  It is very easy for me to look at the mass of photographs I took and weep for how many were abject losers and count the winners as being a matter of luck over a matter of skill.  It is true that for every 300 or so photos you’re bound to get at least one good one just a matter of luck, but I think I managed to do better than that, as did Tabula Rasa.


It is, however, easy to berate oneself over the shots not taken, the perspective missed.  Every time I go to a new location and spend time photographing it that night is spent in uneasy speculation over what I could have done differently, the vision I thought I saw that did not appear in the image I captured.   The endless questioning of why a photo didn’t turn out the way I wanted, and why I didn’t stop for a moment to catch that stray ray of light piercing through the gloom of a fire blackened room.   This trip was exhilarating and intense for all of the highs and lows and new places seen, but depressing for all the perceived missed opportunities.  I don’t regret it one bit for all that.  I will always ask myself if I could have done a better job of it, and the answer will always be, “Probably.”  No matter how skilled I become as a photographer, even in my middle-of-the-road state, I am thrilled I had the chance to be where I was and take the photos that I did.  Even if most of them are crap.


For all the troubles I had with my gear (a malfunctioning lens as well as an unfamiliar and substandard tripod), I came away from St. Louis, from Detroit and most importantly from Packard with quite a few new lessons learned and more than 4 or 5 good photos.  Sure, some of them may not be print worthy, but I still feel I can display them with pride, and I did find some gold that wasn’t merely a matter of luck.  It was a matter of seeing what was there and capturing it with the skills that I have despite the limitations I was under.  A year ago I would never have seen these images, I would have walked right past them and never known I had missed them.  Perhaps when we return to these locations in a year or two we will wonder how we ever managed to walk past certain things, or we will be able to capture what we saw previously yet lacked the skill to catch.  I don’t even know if these locations will be around by then, but I am glad that I went when I did, saw what I saw, and that I managed to catch a gossamer thread of the magic these places hold.