Currently my friends and I have our images hanging the gallery at our local library. It is a modest first show but given how well trafficked and relevant our library is to our community a lot people are going to see it. This Sunday is the Artist Reception and I figured that since most of you will not be able to come out and visit us we’d offer up our images here in a virtual gallery.
So step right in and welcome to “Trespass; Exploring Urban Decay”.
In the downtown of a once major city a long abandoned hotel looms over city hall, just two blocks away a massive church sits crumbling beneath a blanket of ivy and trees sprout from its rooftop. Places like these are our memento mori, reminders that in our world of newer, better and shinier everything will one day crumble and return to earth, even the mightiest works of our hands. In them I find not only a reminder of my mortality and the frailty of our creations, but a celebration of life and wonder where owls nest in long forgotten coal hoppers and rabbits make a home on the third floor of a long abandoned factory.
Exploring these places involves risks most people are not comfortable with, but in them there is a sense of completeness the world we choose to live in lacks. This is why I explore.
Arch and Stair
St. Louis Missouri
The Floor Divergent
Grief Brothers Window #2
So close to freedom…
This is a guest post from our companion on our most recent visit to Packard. You can visit her blog at juniorbbq.wordpress.com
So, I have this thing called FOMO…or “Fear Of Missing Out” syndrome. People can’t put an inkling of a thought in my head that even REMOTELY interests me, because I’m going to fixate on it and make life difficult until I just DO it already. My trip to Detroit was just that…a textbook case.
I came across The Idiot Photographer blog just surfing the internet. I love photography, with a main focus on urban exploration. So does The Idiot Photographer, so I struck up a facebook conversation. I gathered that, from the photos on the site, that The Idiot Photographer was PROBABLY from Indiana, and being a regular visitor to Chicago I thought maybe I could get a tour of Gary from said person. I knew nothing else about this person, aside from the photos I saw resonated with me and I wanted to soak up more. This was about 6 months ago, or so.
Then I got an email in January. “Our plans are to be in Detroit in early February to explore all of Packard (and whatever else we may find if time allows). I don’t know how close to Detroit you are, but you’re welcome to join us.” Oh…my…heck. First of all, an invite to the MECCA of urban exploration. Secondly, in DETROIT? How was I going to make this work? I’m a two-and-a-half day drive from Detroit, and a plane ticket would be INSANE! But, FOMO. And I made it work. There I was, on a plane on Valentine’s Day, going to a derelict city I’ve been to ONCE, meeting people I have never laid eyes on, to a place that is the largest abandoned structure in the WORLD. I don’t know if these people are going to knock me out with a tripod and leave me in the ruins that are the Packard Plant. But, FOMO.
We met early Saturday morning at the Eastern Market. My sherpas seem affable…but I’m still wary. It’s cold, it’s early, I had no Tim Hortons in me…I don’t know what to expect. In a foreign country with complete strangers. No one can accuse me of not living life, right? FOMO, after all.
Then, there in front of me, the sprawling ruins of the Packard Automotive Plant. We parked inside one of the warehouses to keep out of suspecting eyes, and off we went.
And it was amazing.
For someone who lives on the prairies, where vast emptiness dotted with abandoned farmhouses are the norm, I felt way out of my element but excited at this new challenge. The Idiot Photographer coined the phrase, “the never ending Packard”…and no truer words had been spoken. It seems rooms went on forever. The graffiti went on forever. The discarded bricks and smashed windows and staircases to more never ending rooms.
The cold went on forever too, it seemed. About two hours in, I was COLD. And I’m a Canadian from The Prairies. I live in a city coined Winter-peg, for crying out loud. And I was COLD. But I don’t say anything, because I don’t want to be “that guy”, right? I’ve got something to prove to these people who were kind enough to think of me and invite me along on a trip that was clearly important to them. But hell. I was getting to the point where I didn’t know how much more I could handle. And it was only nine in the morning! Fortunately Tabula Rasa had a brilliant idea…let’s get some breakfast to warm up, and then re-evaluate the situation. At that point, I was thinking of telling them that I’ll have some coffee and breakfast, but then I was going to head out. I was cold.
Over breakfast, conversation went all over the place, and I got to know my sherpas better. WONDERFUL people. Love what they do. The Idiot Photographer talked about a particular place that needed to be shot…the ring-toss room…and how cool it looked. I’m still on the fence about whether I wanted to go back out into the cold, but…oh…here it comes again…FOMO! The Idiot Photographer was REALLY adamant about the ring-toss room and the way it was described well, I just HAD to see it for myself. So, we bundle up and off we go again…to get back into the depths of Packard.
I am THRILLED that I made the decision not to wuss out. With a belly full of eggs and bacon and coffee…delicious, delicious coffee…I had my second wind. I was seeing the plant now as more than something with four walls (sometimes) that was holding on to the cold and shoving it down my throat. I was SEEING the rooms, the graffiti, the broken glass and discarded bricks that went on forever. Tabula Rasa and The Idiot Photographer were playing a game of dueling staircases…I was soaking it ALL in. And I loved EVERY…SINGLE…SECOND of it all. My lower back was SCREAMING in pain, and I think I popped out my hip climbing through a hole in a wall to get to a precarious ledge, and I lost feeling in a couple toes, but I wasn’t stopping. In fact, I think they would have had to drag me out of there if they were ready to be finished and I wasn’t ready to go.
FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. I have it, and it was the best case of giving in than I can remember.
Trying to stay on theme, but at some point the corridors in Packard grew to wide avenues or else encroaching ruin had made them barely passable. Are these still hallways? Close enough for the purpose of getting a blog post up, I’d say.
The same fantastic hallway as appeared in IP’s last post, but photographed from a different spot. And in sepia tone, because I’m fucking artsy.
A dark hallway opens
Onto morning’s blaze
Regular readers may be loathe to remember the game of ‘Duelin’ Staircases’ the Idiot Photographer and I played last week, a game she won when I was forced to finally jump the shark. I figure it is time to turn to another calling card of ours: a preoccupation with decrepit hallways. This shot is looking down a corridor of what were once offices.
Remnants of top story and elevator motor house glimpsed through slabs of the collapsed roof.
The slumped face of the southwest building of the Packard campus is where the sheer scale of decay hits home. The collapse here seems less like a function of time and weather and more like the product of a violent force of nature, stilled momentarily for us to behold. I never got around to getting the exterior view of this section last October, so I made up for lost opportunities last month.
Doors to nowhere stacked floor-over-floor at the Packard plant in Detroit.
When you’ve been trading stair-themed posts with your co-blogger for a few days, acceptable post titles dry up quickly, especially when you are attempting to come up with said title late at night. Sometimes it’s best to overshoot the sublime and land in the ridiculousness.
Wait, wait! Van Gogh’s Stairy night!
How about, Quit Stairing At Me, You’re Freaking Me Out?
Wait, where you going?
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.
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.
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.
IP may have a bit more to share, but I will close out my contributions to the Detroit series with a look at some of the more “conventionally” pretty parts of the city. Though the gritty and the abandoned were our primary focus during our visit, there is more to the city than that. Not that Detroit’s reputation for blight is undeserved; entire swaths of the town have a post-apocalyptic look. But there are areas where, if you squint a bit, you can see the Motown of the 1950’s in all its glory. Those areas provide hope for the future: redevelopment and gentrification, though dirty words in some cities, may be the key to bringing the affluent back from the suburbs. Lest this come off too much like a neat little bow with which to tie up a photo series, I’ll add that it’ll take a lot more than nostalgia and hipsters to bring back Detroit. There will certainly be painful fiscal decisions, the recent municipal bankruptcy being perhaps the first. It may never come back, or at least not as the industrial juggernaut of the last century. But I love gritty American cities which are so unlike cities elsewhere, with their steel, glass and brick downtowns on display like a peacock’s fan; the ten-lane highways which seem like canyons; the neighborhoods which become home to a new ethnicity each generation; and the now rusted and neglected industries which propelled this nation to superpower status almost a century ago. Unlike some cities which grew up later and became nothing more than faceless sprawl (hello, Phoenix), these older towns have a character you can feel just by driving their streets. And none of these are more American than Detroit.
Goodnight, and good luck.
A couple shots from the roof of the odd, castlelike factory in which the hallway shot from a couple posts ago was taken. In much the same way as Kafka’s novel The Castle is… well, Kafkaesque, such was the layout of this building. At one point, the Idiot Photographer was a floor above me, and called for me to join her. After much wandering, I was unable to find access to the next floor, became convinced the floor did not actually exist, and that my friend was quite possibly a figment of my imagination. All that was missing was a couple Czech bureaucrats to materialize and serve me with a summons for a vague and undefined crime. *sigh*
The rooftop was quite nice though. Once I found it.
(feel free to enhance your enjoyment of this post with a suitable soundtrack by clicking here.)
On Detroit’s east side, just off Jefferson Avenue, we found a curious old plant. The ground floor was crisscrossed with dead end hallways, and the roof was so covered with sheds and outcroppings as to give the entire structure the appearance of a castle. This is an HDR shot of one of the few hallways that had a way out at the end.
Blown out windows, trash, ruin, but brand new condos visible in the window. Detroit is weird.
I had a really hard time placing how long ago Chandler was shut down. It was very obviously an elementary school and oddly enough I suspect it was closed because it was too small for the neighborhood’s needs. Just up the next block a shiny new elementary school had a teeming play lot full of shouting, shrieking little humans enjoy recess. It made for an odd experience; hearing the sounds of children playing while wandering a trashed and abandoned school.
The room in the building we explored was the gym, with climbing ropes still intact. It actually took a little doing to find it, as it was tucked away behind the main building and connected by a neglected hall. We actually made it down to the basement first where we found more evidence that overcrowding was an issue here as several basement rooms had been converted to classroom use. But the gym was still more interesting, as while I’ve seen some massive floor failures before this one was the most interesting.
Like most of our Detroit finds we found this school simply by driving past it. Where the last school building I posted about was pretty wrecked and had been emptied of most everything this one still had a lot of books and supplies that had been left behind. More importantly, there was very little graffiti here and there murals were almost untouched.
One thing I loved about this building was that they never installed drop ceilings here. Too often these older buildings get infested with drop ceilings because it is slightly more expensive to heat a room this tall, but Chandler School never did.
One of the weirdest features of this elementary school were the leather bound doors to the class rooms. It is one of those things that you don’t expect to see, much to see so many of them in fairly decent condition. They had to be original to the building which just makes it all the more impressive to me.