Thursday, October 28, 2010

UPDATE: Butt Ugly Building

From Dave Brigham:

Thanks to my buddy Gary Holmes for letting us know that demolition began yesterday on Hartford's Butt Ugly Building (see 8-15-10 "The Butt Ugly Building").

This article in the Hartford Courant indicates that the tear-down should be complete by mid-November, and that the city, which acquired the building earlier this year, is soliciting developers from across the country in hopes of building a multi-use development.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Off the Air

From Mick Melvin:

When I was kid, my father told me that when he moved to a new area he would take a ride and get lost. He said he would familiarize himself with the area that way. I was out for one of my weekend “Backside” rides in CT and had gotten lost. Thinking of my dad, I just took in the sights and familiarized myself with the area. In doing so, I came upon a Backside gem.


As I drove along Route 173 in Newington, I saw a building with the call letters of a radio station, WPOP. Not being from CT, I was not aware of this station. I asked my wife, who is from West Hartford, about WPOP and she said she listened to the station when she was young. She said right away, “WPOP Good Guys,” recalling a time in the '60's and '70's when the station's DJs were called the Good Guys. The station played Top 40 music at the time. The station was sold to Merv Griffin in the early '70's and soon became an NBC news and information station. The radio station left the Newington location in 1998, leaving the space abandoned like many of our backside subjects.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

These Boots Were Made for Explorin'

From Dave Brigham:

Because their sensibility about America's rump is right in line with The Backside, the folks at Palladium Boots have almost convinced me to buy some quality French footwear. Recently, I highlighted the documentary about Detroit that the company made with Johnny Knoxville of "Jackass" fame (see October 10, 2010: Reppin' for the Motor City). Today I'm pimpin' three more of the company's short films about hidden and dilapidated parts of the country, as well as one coal mine that's been burning since 1962.

In the first doc, a pleasant young woman and her crew go in search of abandoned missile silos in Washington and Kansas that have been left for graffiti artists, amateur spelunkers, UFO researchers, and real estate prospectors, among others. Stick around 'til the end for a tour of a silo property that's been converted into a hippy haven.

In the second film, a pleasant young man takes a tour of a slew of New York City's ruins, including a power station in Yonkers, a subway tunnel in Harlem, and a grain terminal in Brooklyn.

In the third documentary, another fine, upstanding young man tours Centralia, PA, home to a labyrinth of coal mines that caught fire in 1962, and is still burning.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Faded Glory

From Dave Brigham:

I recently took my daughter, Amelia, to the Joanne C. Pellegrini playground in Newton, just a few minutes from where we live. I hadn't been there in years, and had forgotten about the three huge murals on the walls of the small community center, and a retaining wall at the back of the property.

The park is named for the late wife of the late Anthony "Fat" Pellegrini, the colorful, unofficial (mobbed up?) mayor of Newton's Nonantum section. Known to locals as The Lake, Nonantum was for years the Italian section of town, and still is to some degree. Fat's son, an Elvis impersonator who went by the name Monk Pelli, used to perform regularly at this park, right in front of the mural of The King.

Hawthorn Playground Mural, Newton MA

I never saw Pelli perform; I went to the park once with my girlfriend (now wife) and a few friends hoping to see the show, but it got delayed so long that we bagged it. Lifelong regret, that one.

The detail from mural below shows the Marx Brothers. Other characters on the wall include Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Charlie Chan, Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Brown. My wife, who grew up in Newton and knows The Lake well, claims Fat is depicted on the mural as well, but I couldn't pick him out.

Hawthorn Playground Mural, Newton MA

The most prominent mural, and best preserved, is the one of the late Arthur Fiedler conducting the Boston Pops for their world renowned Fourth of July concert in Boston.

Arthur Fiedler Mural, Newton MA

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Reppin' for the Motor City

From Dave Brigham:

Thanks to my father-in-law, Rich, for tipping me off to this David Byrne article about the long decline of Detroit. Musician, writer, actor, artist, advocate for world music and former leader of Talking Heads, Byrne gives a great sense of why the Motor City is in the dire straits that it's in today: domination by the auto industry shut out any public transportation presence; white flight, as in many other big cities in the 1960's, following fierce riots; the financial meltdown that has hit few cities as hard. It's a great read and features some cool photos and Byrne's hope that "if the city center here can become more of the focus then a much smaller town with vibrant life might emerge."

While Byrne focuses largely on the problems besetting Motown, actor/professional jackass Johnny Knoxville has teamed with Palladium Boots to produce "Detroit Lives," a 30-minute documentary highlighting what's right with the city.

The first part, through film-strip footage and talking head commentary, provides a quick story of the rise and fall of the city. Then, local artists, activists, restaurateurs and musicians step up to talk about opportunity for creativity and commerce:

In the second part, Knoxville tours the city with two members of longtime local band The Dirtbombs, talks with MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, tromps through a dilapidated movie and music theater, and even strolls through Berry Gordy's former mansion:

In the third and final part, Knoxville and guests in his beautiful old Cadillac convertible discuss urban farming, explore an old Cadillac factory, hang out in an old industrial building that's been converted to artist lofts, and learn about Detroit's DIY ethic. Stick around 'til the end to see the Heidelberg Project:

Monday, October 4, 2010


From Chris St. Cyr:

One of the aspects of Florida living that I really enjoy is the architecture -- the modern architecture, to be specific. And by modern I don’t mean the latest gated-community McMansion development next to the strip mall. I mean modern as in 20th-century. The kind of architecture that is geometric and clean with open spaces and lots of glass. The kinds of surfaces that are flat and minimal and have no need for decoration to stand out in the neighborhood.

When I moved here a few years ago I rented office space in downtown Sarasota for my graphic design firm. As I became familiar with the side streets and back alleys I began to notice a fascinating artifact that was the merging of this modern architecture and street culture. Or should I say modern art and street art.




To some people the modern architecture was a beautiful clean canvas on which to create art -- in this case graffiti art. The reaction to this type of public art is of course to cover it up by painting over it. The resulting images you see here are these amazing paintings of bands of color that are reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s abstract expressionist paintings from the 1940’s and 50’s.

It’s this unintentional art that makes the backside of America so beautiful.