Small Town, Saved—By Individuals

Red Cloud Farmer's and Merchant's Bank from NW

Red Cloud Farmer’s & Merchant’s Bank. By Ammodramus (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a terrific and encouraging article over at the PreservationNation Blog about the preservation of author Willa Cather’s Nebraska hometown of Red Cloud. How was Red Cloud preserved? Why, by the actions of individuals, of course! That’s probably my favourite part of the story—it wasn’t eminent domain, it wasn’t anything overbearing, it was simply someone who learned about and became interested in Cather who decided to do what she could to save the writer’s home town.

The woman in question is Mildred Bennett, who found herself teaching the descendants of those written about by Cather—and then moved to Red Cloud itself, a perfect opportunity for Bennett to learn more about the Pulitzer Prize winner, to the point that she published The World of Willa Cather (afil) in 1951. But that was not enough for Mildred.

Willa Cather house from NE 1

Willa Cather’s childhood home, By Ammodramus (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Realizing the town’s potential, Bennett gathered a group of friends around her kitchen table — her “kitchen cabinet” — and the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation was born. When it incorporated in 1955, eight participants kicked in $20 each, most of which went to pay for the notice of incorporation in the newspaper. Bennett was named president, a post she held on and off until her death in 1989. And with donations, grants, and grit, the foundation began preserving the structures that inform Cather’s work. (via)

Continue reading


Columbus’ T&OC, the Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad Station

Toledo & Ohio Central RR Station As part of my continuing effort to photograph Columbus’ architecturally significant buildings, abandoned or otherwise, I today offer you the very handsome Toledo & Ohio Central railroad station, or the T&OC, as it is called by natives. This marvellous place stands on Broad downtown—surely no one could drive by the first time without at least wanting to stop and take a closer look! This is the only remaining Columbus station, the last jewel in a crown that once held three. Toledo & Ohio Central Railroad Station, Columbus Designed by the well-regarded Columbus architecture firm of Yost & Packard (some of their buildings here), the T&OC was built in 1895 for the Toledo & Ohio Railroad. Though I know you are thinking “Asian design!” just as I did, the architects stated that it is actually based upon French and Swiss feudal architecture. Lantern Love at the Toledo & Ohio Central rail station Continue reading

“The World’s Greatest Air Harbor”: Old Port Columbus Airport

Old Port Columbus Air Terminal & Control Tower Recently the Columbus Landmarks Foundation released their list of the most endangered historic properties in the central Ohio area for 2014. One of my goals is to visit as many of these places as is possible and photograph them as they stand today, so long as they are able to be visited and viewed.

At the very top of this year’s list is the Old Port Columbus Airport terminal on the east side. Opened in 1929, it’s a rather attractive Art Deco building, one hailed as “The World’s Greatest Air Harbor” by the city officials who had spent nearly a decade lobbying for it. None other than Charles Lindbergh himself selected the site for the airport, which also—this is fascinating to me—served as a train terminal for the Transcontinental Air Transport New York to Los Angeles air-rail system.

Old Port Columbus

The “street-side” of the building—this is one of the first things seen by rail passengers entering Port Columbus.

It sounds as if travelling such a distance was a bit convoluted back in ’29: For a $351.94 ticket, you’d go from New York to Columbus via the Pennsylvania Railroad, from Columbus to Waynoka, Oklahoma via air, then back onto a train to head to Clovis, New Mexico, and a final leg in the air from Clovis to LA. I’d probably handcuff my luggage to myself lest it be lost! All of that train- and plane-hopping over the course of the required 48 hours sounds exhausting, but of course it was a much different time—travel was a luxurious pleasure and event back then.

(I’ll pause so we can all lean back and fantasize about romantic railcar trips and airplane stewardesses serving cocktails. Ahhhh…) Continue reading

Visiting the octagon vintage filling station in Delaware, Ohio

Delaware's Octagon Filling Station photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay.

We’re standing at the corner of Lake & Central in Delaware, Ohio.

Delaware's Octagon Filling Station photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay.

Tired of the snow, you say? I suppose you could check this older view of the station. But time marches on, does it not?

Delaware's Octagon Filling Station photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay.

I’m sorry—and can completely understand, especially as the stuff was until this morning in today’s forecast—but thought you might forgive seeing the last scraps of it. (Hey, at least the first photo involves no snow whatsoever.)

Delaware's Octagon Filling Station photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved. Pinning to this page is okay.

Somehow, these photos of Delaware, Ohio’s octagonal filling station got lost in the shuffle, so we’ll have to put up with the snow—but I think you’ll like them anyhow. Continue reading

Old filling stations finding new life (and welcome publicity)

"Alone Time"; abandoned filling station, Route 66 USA. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images (pinning is okay).

“Alone Time”
Oklahoma, Route 66

Time and again I’ve been completely unable to resist yammering on about the nearly endless possibilities lying dormant in abandoned old service stations. To my mind, their smallish footprint and often stylish, charming, Americana appearance make them a fine opportunity for entrepreneurs of various stripes, and every time I see one, my mind scampers off in fifteen different directions regarding prospects for their future. Happily, others are of the very same bent (and have the capital to do something about it)!

Although the population and the number of cars have increased, there’s been an 8.2% decline in the number of gas stations throughout the country from 2002 to 2012, according to National Petroleum News’ MarketFacts 2012.

"Crumbs": Abandoned filling/service station on Route 66 in Baxter Springs, KS. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images (pinning to this page is okay)

Baxter Springs, Kansas

Dunham-Jones, who studies adaptive reuse of many types of buildings, said gas stations repurposed into eateries tend to be near residential neighborhoods — and many of those households do not have kids at home, she said. That makes aging gas stations, strip malls and office parks prime sites for the eateries and coffee shops where they now spend their time.

“More people are eating out. And, instead of the school as the anchor of social life, those childless households are eager for more alternatives and options of places where they can be social,” Dunham-Jones said.

It might also be noted that with many women working outside the home, fewer have the time, energy, or even inclination to cook dinner at night (alas—so sad, really), which only helps restaurants do more business today than they did in the past. That more and more people recognize the importance of supporting small, locally-owned businesses works in the favour of such new restaurants as well. One restaurant owner featured in the article noted that 90% of their business lives within walking distance.

What makes me especially happy about the article, which I found thanks to Ron over at Route 66 News, is that not only are these old gas stations chosen for prime locations, they’re selected because of their good looks. Continue reading

Preserving “non-significant” places: Why bother?

Santa Fe R.R. locomotive shops, Topeka, Kansas  (LOC)

The Santa Fe RxR locomotive shops in Topeka, KS. Photographed by Jack Delano, March 1943; courtesy The Library of Congress.

Recently I stumbled across an interesting article about plans to preserve older buildings in Topeka, Kansas:

The plan stressed encouraging private investment downtown and working with neighborhoods to preserve historic architecture. …“If people are taking care of their historic houses and historic neighborhoods properly there’s almost no need for incentive programs,” he (Bill Fiander, head of the planning department) said. “Even the modest neighborhoods are so beautiful — and great places to raise kids.” The city’s code enforcement officers also have a role to play in preventing “demolition by neglect,” when a building becomes so dilapidated that tearing it down is the only option, Benton said. The city can work with the building owner or help find someone else to repurpose it, while seeing that at least basic maintenance is performed, he said. “If you take care of the roof, you don’t necessarily have to paint the building. The building will survive at least,” he said.

Welcome To Depew, OK, Route 66 USA. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

Depew, Oklahoma.

All of these things are good ideas when it comes to preserving the often-charming downtown buildings in cities and towns across the country. I’m especially happy to see that the city is willing to help owners find potential buyers willing to repurpose older buildings—all too often, handsome or just plain interesting buildings and even entire neighborhoods are razed to make room for something cold and banal. Even with the cost of rehabilitation included, re-using an older building is more cost-effective than building new, and also again, retains local charm and history. Continue reading

Finding sanguinity in America’s abandoned places

Wilkerson's abandoned store, Newkirk, NM, Route 66 USA. Copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

Newkirk, New Mexico

Since discovering it last year, I’ve really been enjoying the blog of Leanne Cole, a fellow photographer who lives in Australia. A while ago, she began a series of posts, “Influencing Me”, about the artists who inspire her, and this has been great fun to read—it gives us insight into her work, which of course causes others to reflect upon their own.

Leanne’s series came around the same time I got to sit and listen to not one, but two people contemptuously deride me and my work as not just “living in the past” but actually being “stuck” there (you can tell, what with my cameras, computer, smartphone, mild TCM addiction and deep affection for the Lightning Bug app I’m pretty sure I’d never sleep again without). I also got into a conversation with someone about my liking to shoot abandoned places.

Leaving aside the painful mental dissonance we’re all bound to experience considering my photographing abandoned, crumbling buildings as they are while simultaneously living in the day when said things were new (perhaps I know The Doctor after all, but I’ll never tell), I once again felt the urge to try and explain why I shoot what I shoot and my mindset going into each and every photography journey (which, as I’ll bet Leanne can tell you, is more difficult than it sounds at the first). This topic of shooting forsaken places seemed like a decent place to begin. Continue reading