In keeping in the spirit of the theme Tabula Rasa and I have inadvertently been on I give you this, a place of transitions between elevations.
Keeping with the theme of late, and matching the Idiot Photographer blow for blow, I present to you: more stairs.
A topic not often broached among urbexers, unless in bragging of its disregard, is danger. Now, I’m not trying to present us as brave adventurers á la Indiana Jones, but we do face risks. Nothing exemplifies these risks better than stairs. We do try to be careful; some flights we will only take one person at a time, others are felt out a step at a time with a tripod. These little cautions are really rudimentary; one can only hope that one doesn’t follow in the footsteps of Richard Nickel, the godfather of modern urban explorers, who died when a portion of the building he was photographing collapsed onto him. So it is that we each choose one of the three paths when confronting our risks: fate, faith, or fatalism. None are particularly efficacious at warding off imminent catastrophic structural failure, but are the crutches we use to be able to climb those stairs nevertheless. Ultimately, the only practical advice to be given on the subject of climbing that last flight of stairs is: don’t look down.
One of the great parts of winter exploring is not knowing what is under all that snow.
The tallest point in the Packard automotive plant is the water tower, visible for miles around. We were told by “security” that the new owners of the property intend on preserving it, an engineering goal sure to be made more difficult since the all four of the tower’s legs have been severed by scrappers. Indeed, the weight of the whole tower rests on the concrete floor of the second story. Here it stands framed by debris, seen from the roof of a building on the north end of the complex.
Trees sprout from the crumbling Packard edifice; the General Motors headquarters looms victorious over its long-vanquished rival.
There is a cemetery just across the tracks to the west of the Packard plant, something which is often overlooked both literally and figuratively. Having consumed many Reese’s confections as a child and possessing the superior artistic acumen that comes with having a blog, I quickly descried two great things that go great together. Should I be accused of being maudlin, or of laying it on too thick, I will gladly stand those slings and arrows to bring you this, the photograph that goes to eleven. Ladies and gentlemen, kids in lycra capes and cheap eyeliner, I give you: gravestones as seen from inside a ruined factory.
There is something about crawling out of bed 15 minutes before we’re supposed to be leaving, grabbing my gear and heading out into the dark, bitter cold that I simply love. Well, not so much the cold part, screw that. I’m a bit of a not-a-morning-person who perversely loves mornings and tends to wake up early anyway. Tabula Rasa, on the other hand, is a not-a-morning-person who doesn’t wake up early and merely tolerates mornings. This had led to some disagreements as to what hour we leave on our trips. This time we compromised and I’m happy we did or our frostbite would have been worse.
It all paid off for us as we reached the third floor and the sun came over the horizon.
Someone remind me again why I think clambering through abandoned buildings is a good idea.
I have barely started editing my shots from Saturday, but it was fitting to start off with the beginning of our day: sunrise. I;m not sure if any of my shots will turn out to be memorable, but I won’t soon forget how really, really fucking cold it was.
It is in our nature as social creatures to attempt to seek out validation from people who’s opinion we agree with or esteem. The first gives us a feeling of social cohesion and familiarity and is one of the bases of good friendships, the second helps us strive to better ourselves and rise above our current level of personal achievements. However when the validation is offered from someone who is just looking to cage some cash or beer out of you the game changes.
This weekend Tabula Rasa and I packed up the car and headed for a very sort road trip to Detroit. More specifically, to say good-bye to the Packard Plant and get in one last explore, just in the off chance that the developer actually manages to pull the rehabilitation and resurrection of this magnificent edifice. Despite that fact that in some places only a single wall remains standing out of defiance.
Meeting us for the very first time was a friend of the blog, Holly. She had come in from the frosty land of Canada to the only slightly less frosty land of Michigan to join us on what is probably the last time we get to set foot in this place as a derelict. We met up at Detroit’s excellent Eastern Market and headed over to Packard while plotting the course of our day. Since we didn’t want to leave the car sitting out in the open upon our arrival we drove into one of the bays and hid it far out of sight. We then struck off toward the most westerly portion of the complex as we had never explored there before.
I’m not going to kid you, it was cold out. Something like lower teens to single digits and we were impossibly cold. It was to the point where Tabula Rasa was taking a moment here and there to run up and down the hall just to generate more heat. Holly was worried that she wasn’t going to be able to make it and I was right there with her. We decided that after 3 hours of this intense cold perhaps some breakfast and coffee and was in order.
On our way out of the the complex rather than crossing the streets through the plant by taking the walkways we chose to leave at ground level. This actually turned out to be to our good fortune as the security patrol saw us exiting the building. At first blush this seems like it might be a bad thing but the security guy’s first words of, “Tourists taking pictures huh? Where did you park?” reassured us. Sure! I’ve never been so happy to be thought of as a tourist! Once we explained that we hid the car the guard told us he had already called the police on trespassers, but that he would call them off. This is where we got our first word on the locals including the man who lives at the facility and a neighbor who gives “tours” for “tips”. Oh really?
We headed out for an excellent breakfast at Farmer’s Restaurant (again in Eastern Market, if you’re ever in Detroit this is a must-visit location) and this turned out to be just the thing we needed. 4 cups of coffee and a plate of french toast later we were warmed up and revitalized, ready to tackle the re-shoots and the rest of the complex which we still hadn’t seen.
As we arrived back at the complex we were greeted by the same security guard and “John”, the local who gives “tours”. After hitting us up for a “tip” he explained that he had met with Fernando, the buyer of the plant, and couldn’t let us inside the building with out escorting us because that would loose him his job. Because of liability. He had even shaken Fernando’s hand, they were best buds! After much round about discussion involving John invoking himself as the be all end all of allowing people inside he finally decided that we were “Good People” and he’d let us inside so long as we promised to stay off the roof as that is a particularly dangerous area, especially in the snow and ice. Several hours later we ran into him again and he once again reassured us that we were “Good People”; this after jokingly telling us that someone had stolen our car to which Tabua Rasa and I just shrugged and Holly rather cheerfully exclaimed, “It’s gonna be a long walk home!”.
At our final exit from the complex we ran into him one last time and he regaled us with stories about his great uncle (or some such) who used to work for the Purple Gang and had a hand in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. It is relevant, see, because we’re from Chicago and it is Valentine’s weekend! He reassured us several more times that we’re “Good People” and that is why he let us in to the building unshepherded, and then pointed out it would be really nice if we were like the other people that had just pulled up and handed him a couple tall cans of beer. *sigh*
For what ever reason John decided that he wasn’t going to harass us the whole time we were there, and for that I am profoundly thankful. I don’t think that I could have survived 5 hours of his stories, tall tales, bad jokes and whatever else he had to throw at us without demonstrating that I am not always a “Good Person”.
On the other hand we had with us the the most enthusiastic cheerleader/fellow photographer we could ask for and I am very happy that she could join us on our adventure through this most massive, magnificent ruin before it (hopefully) is turned into a vital and functioning part of the neighborhood. As much as I love wandering this place with my camera I know that restoration or full demolition is the best option for the people and the city itself. Detroit is beginning to revive and heal itself after so many decades of misery and neglect and I wish them nothing but the very best in their efforts. I hope that they are able to preserve and restore the fabulous heritage of architecture they have so the coming generations can know these places as something whole and beautiful rather than as a symbol of neglect and suffering.
I’ll admit it, I am really digging my new wide angle lens. All those shots I was so frustrated I couldn’t pull off before have finally come together for me and now I just have to deal with my aversion to the distortion caused by wide angle lenses. *sigh*
Tonight Tabula Rasa and I head out on the road for the first of our weekend traveling explores. We’ve exhausted Gary Indiana and our local area so we’re planning several road trips of the drive Friday night, explore one day and drive home Sunday morning variety. Because sleep is over rated. This weekend’s trip is all the more special as we’re being joined by The Canadian for her first major explore and the first time we are meeting IRL. Go internet, bringing people together all over the world! I’ll see you guys on Monday and will attempt to update Facebook tomorrow after the explore is finished.
Sign for defunct bar, Miller neighborhood of Gary.
The stair thief has struck again, but as usual he has taken only the first floor stairs. Not that those stairs were too useful unless you were either very foolhardy or had safety gear seeing as the floor thief has been through here as well.
Light streams onto power plant machinery through a hole in the roof.
There is no place like home
One of the Idiot Photographer’s favorite sites is the former Greif Brothers plant. Though I like the place as well, I feel it’s been hard to shoot. The key feature of the place is a series of massive halls, each easily half again as big as a football* field in size. They are impressive places to be in, but the photos taken there don’t capture their cavernous size; the sense of scale is lost. So it is that I meet IP’s enthusiasm for each visit there with a tempered optimism. Such is the frustration of the photographer, when he knows the subject has a great shot in it, but he cannot find it.
Meanwhile, here’s an angular attempt from the late fall.
The past is a foreign country
whose emissaries stoically face
of dying in a strange land.