Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On my interest in forgotten places

I usually refrain from writing at length about why I am so drawn to decayed and forlorn historic buildings and communities, but permit me to express exactly what it is that fascinates me in these places.

We live in a culture that has directly contributed to the deplorable conditions of countless urban, historic neighborhoods and towns. That is the culture of sprawl, the culture of "out with the old, in with the new," the disposable world we live in today, where nothing can or should be repaired, but replaced.  This includes our towns, which instead of being repaired, are replaced with bright, shiny, vinyl box suburbs, and gradually demolished or rebuilt until no trace remains of their former existence.

It seems as if the same culture that favors modern and new is afraid of anything that does not appear to be modern or new.  If an object is faded or worn, it has not aged beautifully, but must be replaced. If a face has a line, it must be filled.  There is no appreciation for the span of years that something or someone has endured, the history that it has witnessed, the patina that has been acquired.

I cannot relate to a building or a place that does not betray its origins, its experiences, the lives that have inhabited it, its identity and relation to its surroundings.

I can relate to the narrow, upright mill houses of the Mon Valley.  I can relate to the rusty art deco railings on West Carson Street.  When I look at a street or neighborhood full of once grand, now wrecked Victorians, I see beauty in the decay.  In many ways, I feel the way that this place looks. How can one exist in a disposable world, where people are held just as disposable as objects, and not understand the emotion that an abandoned building or community represents?

Most importantly, I see opportunity -- the opportunity to own and restore something beautiful, that someone else thought should be thrown away.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ambridge: Old Economy Village

Old Economy Village is a National Historic Landmark District in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.  The community was established in 1824, thus many of the buildings date from the early to mid 19th century. Vistors can take a historic tour of the village. For more information, the Old Economy Village website can be found here.

Visitors Center

Restoration in progress.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Demolished: Lamar Building in Oakland

The Lamar Building, as it looked when this writer photographed it in October, 2011.

The Lamar Building in Oakland has been demolished. Bulldozers are on the site as of today and the building is rubble.

Thankfully, we have a new, vinyl-sided apartment building across the street that looks like a suburban Microtell Inn.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Oldest Buildings in McKees Rocks

Since the oldest and most significant landmark in McKees Rocks, Corny Mann's Tavern, was demolished a month before I moved to McKees Rocks in 2009, I have been on a quest to find the oldest surviving buildings in the town.  The 1886 GM Hopkins map and Google Maps Satellite View have been an aid to me in this process.  The following are four homes that appear to be on this map, making them potentially among the oldest surviving buildings in McKees Rocks.  Whether they are as old as Corny Mann's is another question, but it's good to know that the demolished landmark was not the only potential landmark in McKees Rocks.

Can you help find more surviving pre-1886 buildings in McKees Rocks or Stowe Township?

208 Singer Avenue, McKees Rocks
Chartiers Avenue, McKees Rocks

O'Donovan Street, McKees Rocks

Kennedy Street, McKees Rocks