Abandoned places

Asylum Architecture

To get away from anything angel-related for a bit, I came across this fascinating article on asylum architecture yesterday.

I’ve mentioned it before, but because I’m interested in urbex, and stumbled across that fantastic photograph of the hall of Hellingly asylum which I now have on my wall, I’m completely enthralled by the idea of “institutional architecture”: that it has set constructs and conceits and can be used both for good and for ill.

I can’t remember where I read it now, so you’ll have to take my word for it – but recently I read that the passageway from the former condemned cell at Old Bailey was a series of archways, each narrower than the last. Anyone walking to their execution would have their already (justified) sense of impending doom heightened by the deliberate and increasingly claustrophobic effect.

Brrr.

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Fall of an Empire

Sign at the Empire petrol station

The blog Irregulars might remember I have a thing for ghost towns and derelict places, so it’ll be no surprise that I’m fascinated by the story of Empire in Nevada: America’s newest ghost-town.

One of the last company towns in the US, built around a gypsum mine & drywall factory in operation since the 1920s, it has two churches, a pool and its own airstrip. The one thing it no longer has is residents.

When United States Gypsum mothballed the plant at the end of 2010 due to the recession and downturn in building trade, they gave residents a few months to move out of their homes (although several employees remain to keep an eye on the factory and houses – and, interestingly, to mow the lawns – and the store, just outside the town, is still open: close enough to the Burning Man festival to hopefully supplement any passing trade from the area.)

Perhaps most striking of all, the town’s Zip code, 89405, has been retired: a stark reminder that even in the modern world – just like us, body and soul – towns can die.

In the Underbelly

Dan Witz for Wooster Collective (c/o Wooster Collective)

It’s all going down in New York’s subway system. Literally.

Since news of the ambitious Underbelly Project broke, the hunt has been on to find it.

If you’ve not heard of it, imagine works by 100 of the best street-artists working today, names like Ron English, Swoon and Revok–all created in secret, hidden away in a disused subway station… and sealed away. That’s the Underbelly Project.

It took 18 months of cat-and-mouse with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the artists behind it were all too aware of the fact that not only could they be prosecuted for trespass or criminal damage, but given the location of their “gallery” and the long-term nature of the project, they could face altogether more serious charges… the kind that come with men in black suits, windowless cells and orange jumpsuits with silver accessories as standard) and now it’s done.

And there’s no denying it: the art is incredible: just look at the Vandalog flickr set of Underbelly works. This piece by Jeff Soto has got to be one of my favourites, along with this one by Surge, and this ever-so-slightly creepy one by Dan Witz. He has more of his work from the project (as well as his other pieces) on his site.

I like the idea of this, of all that art hidden away in the dark. From the photos, you can only imagine the working conditions–but you can also argue that hey, that’s part of street art. Should it really all be on gallery walls–or is doing it for the sake of it, somewhere like this, still the point? It’s almost quantum: if the art’s down there in the gloom of the tunnels, does it still exist? Well, yes.

If you’re cynically-minded, you could argue that for all the Underbelly’s comments about the secrecy of the project, they’ve still gone to the press now it’s all over–but, seriously, having managed to pull it off: to get all the artists down there and back out, to collect together a quite-literally-underground gallery on this scale, how can you not want to celebrate it?

If you’re interested in learning more about it, there’s articles here and here, as well as the NYT’s slideshow of photos. There’s another article–and a video tour of the tunnels–here.

And really, go and look at the pictures of the pieces; share the links round. They deserve to be seen, in context with their surroundings, with the weight of the city and its inhabitants pressing down on them, rushing around overhead–unknowing and unseeing…. and isn’t that part of their charm?

Chippewa Lake

I can’t entirely take the credit for this find–well, I can, but it wouldn’t be entirely fair. Not that it usually stops me…..

I’m reading the copy of Best New Horror 21 I picked up at Fantasycon, and I’ve just finished “Out & Back” by Barbara Roden. In her introduction, she mentions the photos of Chippewa Lake Park she’d found online, and it would have been rude not to look, wouldn’t it?

Yes. Yes it would.

Not far from Medina in Ohio, it opened in 1878 and was abandoned a century later. Since then, it has stood derelict with the rides slowly collapsing or being overtaken by forest. In the case of the 1924 Pearce-built wooden rollercoaster, this looks a little weird; almost as though the coaster rails have suddenly woken up again and started to grow leaves.

Deserted amusement parks have always struck me as being slightly spooky places, but one that’s been that way for 30 years and has run to wilderness… that’s a whole new level of creepy.

Sadly, as with all abandoned places, the park has fallen victim to more than the elements: vandalism is rife, and the Grand Ballroom finally gave up the ghost (or however many it had) and burned down in mid-2oo2 in a suspected arson attack.

But it would have taken more than a couple of fires to drive the spooks out of Chippewa: if anything, the buildings ground it. Only if they were gone–the ticket booths, the restaurants and the restrooms–could it start to look really haunted. Not by people or monsters, but by the ghosts of amusement rides long-left and forgotten.

It’s a shame that it never got to be quite that way: earlier this year, the site was cleared for redevelopment. Somehow, it feels like a greater loss than the closure of the original park.

There are more pictures–and a lot more detail–on the Defunct Parks site, where these photos were originally posted. And go read Barbara’s story. It’s creepy as hell.