As those of you know who read my original 2013 post, Pismo Beach Stairway to Nowhere, earlier this year I received conflicting information as to whether a vintage spiral staircase – long since abandoned – had indeed been demolished. This decaying gem, which once transported happy beachcombers safely down the steep rugged cliffs to a picturesque cove, is a source of fond memories to locals. I am happy to finally report that, as of April 2015, the staircase still stands in all its glory, although plans have been proposed for its partial demolition and restoration. In honor of one of my favorite James Bond movies, I titled the image You Only Live Twice, as it seemed rather appropriate.
According to newspaper articles, Noreen Martin, owner of Martin Resorts, has applied for a coastal development permit to repair and reconstruct the staircase, which can only be accessed via kayak or brave souls who dare swim to the beach. At one time the staircase was connected to the coastal bluffs by a bridge that has long since rotted away, leaving the now disconnected stairway alone and decaying from the salty ocean air. Martin’s plans include preserving the existing staircase core and constructing a new spiral staircase around it.
In addition, the existing seawall would be restored and a new pedestrian bridge would be built from the Ventana Grill – located on hotel row just above the staircase – down to the stairs. For those of you who are interested in viewing or photographing the original staircase, I would recommend a timely visit to the Ventana Grill in Pismo Beach before the restoration work commences. And have a lovely James Bond Vesper martini – shaken not stirred – in the lounge. A heap of thanks to Richard Bryant for sending me the newspaper article.
I spent the better part of June in St. Louis, Missouri, for my father’s memorial service and family and friend reunions. In between all the events, I braved the intense high heat and humidity, and went out to shoot as many abandoned and historic places as I could safely find and access. Growing up in southern Illinois across the Mississippi River from St. Louis (the so-called Riverbend region), I have fond memories of the once-humming factories and rich architectural gems that defined St. Louis. Sadly, most of the factories that sustained the working class community have long been shuttered, yet their beautiful decaying shells remain.
Abandoned buildings and the discarded objects left behind, to me, make the most compelling, atmospheric and emotionally moving photographic subjects. Derelict buildings intrigue me as they are tossed to the wind, ghosts, and the brutal forces of nature. Upon entering these abandoned places, there seems to be a feeling or resonant imprint of lives left behind with the passage of time. My images attempt to convey stories of time and place filled with emotion and historic significance.
When entering derelict structures, I imagine myself amidst the remains of our own civilization after its extinction in the future – a post-apocalyptic vision. In my photographs, I attempt to capture a sense of lives that once existed. Photography is a vehicle that allows me to hold on to some of this ephemeral state. My urban decay photographic art is an attempt to explore the impermanence of life through detritus. The narrative within an image is more powerful than the written word and is how I convey emotions.
The first shot at the top is of an abandoned factory in a historic St. Louis Italian neighborhood affectionately known as “The Hill.” The Hill still maintains the look and feel of old St. Louis, and is filled with wonderful restaurants, bars, beautiful architecture and abandoned factories in days of yore. The second shot (above) is of the old abandoned Lever Soap factory in Pagedale. As I am a huge fan of the AMC TV series The Walking Dead, I processed this image to give it the look and feel of the show.
The above image is of the famous Old Chain of Rocks Bridge that connects St. Louis, Missouri, to Madison County, Illinois, over the Mississippi River. Although it can no longer be driven on, you can hike across the bridge between the two states. This bridge used to be part of the original historic Route 66 as you can see from the signage. I grew up near here and have fond memories of driving across the river on the old bridge. A word of caution though to potential visitors: do not walk on the bridge alone at any time, and do so in daylight only. Sadly, several assaults have been perpetrated on unsuspecting visitors.
The photograph above was taken in the charming, historic Mississippi River town of Kimmswick, Missouri, just south of St. Louis. In Kimmswick you step back in time as you wander about the small village chock full of antique shops, historic estates, the Anheuser Museum and Estate, quaint shops and restaurants, old log cabin homes, and much more. I received a tip from the very nice owner of the local Blue Owl Restaurant, who told me to head out on a remote road where I would find a crumbling old stone wall and archway surrounding what once was an estate in the forest. The creepy faces embedded in the crumbling stone are striking.
The above image was taken at an old abandoned cement factory near the Mississippi River in North St. Louis. The two trucks in the image are owned by a local company that has operations nearby, and uses the abandoned property for storing vehicles. I titled the image “Waiting for Godot” even though the Beckett play title is open to interpretation. Is it hope or despair? Whatever one thinks, the meaning of time and waiting for something, being saved or resurrected, conveys the melancholy of abandoned and derelict places.
The photograph above was taken at an old flour mill still in operation in Alton, Illinois, located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Madison County, not far from where I grew up. The mill is owned by ConAgra Foods. Alton is a very historic town with beautiful residential and commercial architecture and old factories, famous for its limestone bluffs along the Great River Road just north of the city. The town is considered part of the St. Louis Metro area. Founded in 1837, Alton was the site of the final debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Alton is considered one of the most haunted cities in America and is home to the creepy McPike Mansion.
The final photograph above was another taken in Kimmswick, Missouri, just 25 miles south of St. Louis. Kimmswick has Missouri’s highest number of locations listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This shot was taken inside the Burgess-How House and Museum, a log home built in the 1840s. It has been beautifully restored and tours are given by the wonderful people of the Kimmswick Historical Society.
I will post more images as I get them processed, along with the ton of images I still have to work up from my May Death Valley excursion. If you are interested in urban exploration (urbex) photography, I highly recommend a new book (2015) by well-known San Francisco Bay area photographer and UE Todd Sipes, Urban Exploration Photography: A Guide to Creating and Editing Images of Abandoned Places. This superb book not only offers great tips on how to photograph abandoned locations, but has excellent post-processing tutorials.