Thursday, December 26, 2013

What's in a Named Building? (Part 1)

From Dave Brigham:

Architects still design buildings with corporate names on them, but too often these days signs designating a business tend toward the ugly and temporary. The same is true of apartment buildings and condos -- the name may be on a sign out front, but rarely it is etched into the stone.

This is a new fascination for me -- seeking out old buildings with names carved in for all eternity. Or at least until a developer comes along and knocks it down. Below are five named buildings I found on a recent walkabout. There will be more in coming months.

Otis Building

The Otis Building in Watertown, Mass., was built in 1899; an addition was built in 1913. Both were designed by Alberto F. Haynes, an architect who also designed St. John's Methodist Church, which is right around the corner from the Otis Building.

Natoli Building

The Natoli Building is also in Watertown. I've been unable to find out anything about its history. Located in a rather unremarkable commercial block, the structure is nowhere near as imposing as the Otis Building.

Yerxa Building

The Yerxa Building is also in Watertown, and was evidently named after a grocery store that dates back at least a hundred years.

BPOE 1327

This is the Elks Lodge in Newton, Mass.


Built in 1905, the Evans Hotel in Newton, Mass., was incorporated into an assisted living facility about 20 years ago.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When the Fun Dies

From Dave Brigham:

Tip of the hat to my buddy Ken Tretler for pointing me to this feature on creepy abandoned theme parks on the Weather Channel's web site.

They're not all in the U.S., but once in a while I bend my rules.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Big Reveal

From Dave Brigham:

A former elementary school close to my house is coming back to life. The city of Newton sold the Carr School decades ago, and then bought it back at a loss, of course. For quite some time, the building housed a nursery school, a Suzuki music school and other non-profit groups. Now the city is spending upwards of $12 million to renovate the facility, which will be used as a "swing" school while other elementary schools in the city are rebuilt or renovated in the coming years.

Recently, I checked on the school's progress. Demolition crews tore down a cement patio, shedding light on this 32-year-old mural for the first time in, well, who knows how long.

Carr 1981

I'm not sure what's going to become of this piece of art. I love all of the Boston references here: Boston Celtics mascot, Lucky the Leprechaun; the Hatch Shell along the Charles River; the Prudential tower. And of course I dig the music stuff -- the Van Halen logo; the Lynyrd Skynyrd hot air balloon; and the Grateful Dead skull.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Two by Two

From Pete Zarria:

Remnant of the animal park that was part of the Blue Whale attraction along Route 66 in Catoosa, Oklahoma.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

It's All Downhill

From Dave Brigham:

Like so many New England communities, Waltham, Mass., once had a ski hill. More than one, probably. Prospect Hill, like nearby Cat Rock in Weston (see July 27, 2012, "Cat Rock, Part I"), thrived for years until corporations started building larger resorts.

Here's a view of the slope these days:

Prospect Hill, Waltham, Mass.

And here's what it looked like in its heyday, courtesy of the New England Lost Ski Areas Project web site.

Unlike Cat Rock, Prospect Hill has little evidence of its ski hill past. But as I meandered down the path, I spied something in the woods.


I'm not sure what this little building was, but I'm guessing it was a storage shed, snack shack or power supply cabin.

Window in the woods

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Yet More Signs That Say "Boo"

Just in time for Halloween, here are a bunch of ghost signs from a few photographers here at the Backside.

The Burlington Route

(Photo by Pete Zarria, Galena, Illinois, along the Burlington Route)

The Corner of Spearmint and Vine

(Photo by Pete Zarria, Galena, Illinois)

Leon's of Mayberry

(Photo by Pete Zarria, Mt. Airy, North Carolina)


(Photo by Dave Brigham, Burlington, Vermont)

Beacon Valves #2

(Photo by Dave Brigham, Waltham, Massachusetts)

Canal Street Ghost

(Photo by Dave Brigham, Boston, Massachusetts)

Bigelow Auto Body

(Photo by Dave Brigham, Watertown, Massachusetts)

North End ghost

(Photo by Dave Brigham, Boston, Massachusetts)

Drink Tafel!

(Photo by Pete Zarria, Crawfordsville, Indiana)

International Shoe of St. Louis

(Photo by Pete Zarria, Olney, Illinois)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cool Book

From Dave Brigham:

I read a fair amount, so I keep an eye out for cool books. I just added Bradley Garrett's Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City to my Amazon wish list.

Here's what the publisher has to say about the book:

Plotting expeditions from London, Paris, Berlin, Detroit, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Bradley L. Garrett has evaded urban security in order to experience the city in ways beyond the boundaries of conventional life. He calls it ‘place hacking’: the recoding of closed, secret, hidden and forgotten urban space to make them realms of opportunity.

Explore Everything is an account of the author’s escapades with the London Consolidation Crew, an urban exploration collective.

The book is also a manifesto, combining philosophy, politics and adventure, on our rights to the city and how to understand the twenty-first century metropolis.

Sounds pretty cool to me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Open Door Policy

From Lostlosangeles:

(Detroit's long-abandoned Packard auto plant has been in the news lately. Built in 1903 and vacant for more than two decades, the plant is on the auction block. Last month, an Illinois developer announced a plan to buy the 35-acre site for nearly $1 million, but that effort fell through. Bidding in the auction's second round closes October 25. -- DB)

Open resources

(Packard Plant, Detroit, Michigan)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fill 'er Up, Part III

From Pete Zarria:

The Backside's man in the Midwest, Pete Zarria, has taken some great shots of gas stations over the years. Here's the latest batch.

German Valley, Illinois.

(German Valley, Illinois)

Terry's Gas


Old Tymes


B&B Service

(Platteville, Wisconsin)


(Spencer, Missouri)

Corner Gas

(Macon, Missouri)

Commerce Conoco

(Commerce, Oklahoma)

For more of Pete's gas station shots, see June 6, 2012, "Fill 'er Up" and July 2, 2012, "Fill 'er Up, Part II."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

On the Road Again

From Mick Melvin:

IMG_9228 (2)

My wife and I go catch live music as much as possible. We love to support the arts, especially local talent. I often think about the places these performers travel. When I saw the case pictured, I had to snap a shot. It's a kind of itinerary for traveling performers.

The case pictured is of a former disco band member, Joe. Joe has been to many places and we have enjoyed his music and great personality here in West Hartford, CT. Like many artists, Joe and his mates bring a lot of talent and joy to our towns. I'm sure Joe will see many more places and sing in many more towns.

I'm going to make sure we tag that case with a WH (West Hartford) sticker in the weeks ahead so he can look at his case with fond memories of West Hartford. Now go out and enjoy some live music and support your local artists.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Urban Wild

From Dave Brigham:

This is the final part of a four-part series about Chelsea, Massachusetts. The first part focused on random buildings and sites around the small city just north of Boston (see September 4, 2013, "Chelsea Stroll"); the second part on its use as a movie set (see September 10, 2013, "Hollywood in Chelsea"); and the third part on the city's waterfront (see September 16, 2013, "On the (Chelsea) Waterfront").

Something about seeing the words "urban wild" on Google Maps drives me a little, well, wild.

I imagine a secret spot filled with large animals, jungle vines and patches of graffiti. Usually, upon closer examination, the spot turns out to be just a small patch of woods tucked between tall buildings or office parks.

Turns out, the city of Boston has quite a program dedicated to protecting, managing and developing such areas. Here's how the city describes urban wilds on its web site:

"Although almost all significant portions of [meadows, marshes and streams] have been lost due to extensive human-induced manipulation of land and water, remnants of these original ecosystems - urban wilds - still dot the landscape and provide brief glimpses of the natural world. They harbor native plants and animals and perform a wealth of ecological services, such as storing floodwater, producing oxygen, and filtering stormwater run-off. They offer refuge from hectic city streets and serve as outdoor classrooms for children and adults learning about nature."

I recently checked out the Condor Street Urban Wild in Chelsea, which is just over the border from East Boston. According to the Boston Natural Areas Network web site, the Chelsea spot was formerly a storage and cleaning facility for a local sand and gravel company.

The City of Boston acquired the site in 1980, and fenced it off for 20 years due to the presence of numerous hazardous chemicals in the soil. After years of coordinated cleanup, the urban wild opened in 2003. Read more about the process here.

I was impressed with the site. Here's the view from the top of a small hill, looking across some beautiful stones and a graceful wrought iron fence (where sea birds gather), toward the mangy shores of the Chelsea River.

Condor Street Urban Wild

Here's a bench with the ever-present Tobin Bridge in the background.

Condor Street Urban Wild #2

Just out of sight from this photo is a fenced-off spot that, based on my interpretation from Google Maps, looks like it once housed a small oil tank farm. There are huge, indented circled in the ground. I hope that the city and local groups clean that site up next.

Speaking of tank farms, here's another view from the top of the urban wild:

Tank farm

Off to the north you get a view of, naturally, the Tobin Bridge, some piers and cranes, and a massive covered supply of what I believe is sand.

View from Condor Street Urban Wild

I plan to check out some of the city's other urban wild spots in the future.

Monday, September 16, 2013

On the (Chelsea) Waterfront

From Dave Brigham:

This is part three of a four-part series about Chelsea, Massachusetts. The first part focused on random buildings and sites around the small city just north of Boston (see September 4, 2013, "Chelsea Stroll") and the second part on its use as a movie set (see September 10, 2013, "Hollywood in Chelsea").

As I took in the sites of Chelsea, from the bars and restaurants of the downtown, to the mammoth produce market and the overbearing Tobin Bridge, I eventually realized that I needed to find a way to catch the small city's views of Boston.

I found my way to Admiral's Hill, which encompasses a marina, numerous apartment buildings, a big public park and a few buildings from the former naval hospital. From here, you get great views of the Bunker Hill Monument, the ZBH suspension bridge and downtown skyscrapers.

Tobin Bridge

(The Tobin Bridge splits Chelsea and can be an eyesore, for sure, but over the Chelsea River it looks majestic. Directly below the tallest part of the bridge is a pier and some massive industrial buildings of one sort or another.)

Mary O'Malley Memorial Park is a great space, right along the water. This is a painted backdrop with a stage in front. I'm sure the locals put on some great shows here.


I knew I'd get some great views of Boston from Admiral's Hill and the park, but wasn't even thinking about seeing huge ships. But sure enough, I spied this Liberian tanker. Thanks to the Internet, I know that after leaving Chelsea, this ship headed to New York, and then on to Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Panagia Lady

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hollywood in Chelsea

From Dave Brigham:

This is part two of a series about Chelsea, Massachusetts. The first part, "Chelsea Stroll," was published September 4, 2013.

Thanks to tax breaks offered by the state, Massachusetts has become a movie-making hot spot. Films made here at least in part in recent years include "R.I.P.D.," "Ted," "Grown Ups 2" and "The Equalizer."

"The Equalizer," which is based on the '80s TV series of the same name, stars Denzel Washington and Chloe Grace Moretz. It's been filming recently in Chelsea, a small, blue collar city just north of Boston. The movie makers weren't filming on the day I swung through the city to take pictures, but I saw evidence of their craft.

Bad camouflage

Not sure if somebody was trying to hide this box. If so, they didn't do a very good job.

Power up

Boxes and wires likes these were all over the place around the neighborhood between the Tobin Bridge (which hulks over the city) and the square where the police station is. There were also random light riggings and trucks tucked away here and there. Wish I'd been there to see some filming, but the city was pretty cool to walk around in just the same.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Chelsea Stroll

From Dave Brigham:

This is part one of a four-part series about Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Chelsea calls itself an "inner urban suburb of Boston," which is a mouthful that means this city of 35,000 sits in the shadow of the capital of Massachusetts, while enjoying great views across the harbor and struggling with the attendant problems that all small cities battle.

In the 19th century, the city thrived as an industrial and naval center. In 1908, however, nearly half the city was destroyed in a fire. In 1973, another massive fire burned 18 blocks.

By 1991, Chelsea was placed into state receivership, a result of deepening economic decline, fiscal crisis and political stalemates (thanks, Wikipedia!).

The city is densely packed, and bisected by the Tobin Bridge, which carries Route 1 north from Boston to Revere and beyond. I'd driven over Chelsea before, but never set foot there. When I decided recently to explore somewhere to take a bunch of pictures before having hip surgery that would sideline me for several weeks, I scanned Google Maps and picked Chelsea.

I've visited dozens of places in recent years taking pictures for this blog. For a while, I was into locations in my hometown, Newton, Mass., and nearby towns such as Waltham and Watertown. Then I expanded westward and northward to old ski hills and other places out in the woods such as old dams.

Considering that I live close to Boston, you'd think I'd have taken more pictures in the city. I'll get around to that eventually, but for now I'm into smaller cities.

I recently snapped some pictures in Everett, another gritty place just north of Boston (see June 25, "Roll the Dice").

I had no idea what to expect in Chelsea, but I wasn't disappointed. I knew the city had a large Hispanic population, and that there's a massive produce center there that distributes fruits and vegetables throughout New England. As with any city of any size, all you have to do is get out of your car and the pictures are there waiting for you.

Here are some pictures I took as I wandered around the city. I've got three other posts planned about my trip to Chelsea, so you'll see other aspects of the city in coming weeks. And I'll surely get back there to take other shots in the future.

Old Pals / Parrotta's Alpine Lodge

(Old Pals Piano Bar / Parrotta's Alpine Lodge -- Chris Trapper, front man for '90s Boston band Push Stars, has this to say about Old Pals on the band's web: "[W]hen my friends and I go there, we're the only ones in there who are under 70 years of age, and yet they always make us feel welcome. The piano is situated in the middle of the bar, and the pianist is amazing. They don't know any songs after 1965." As for the adjacent Parrotta's, Yelp reviews aren't quite so glowing, with one woman calling the place "a pretty good time if you're in the mood for a serious dive -- and a little 'life's not so bad' pick-me-up," and another guy saying, "There is absolutely no reason to go to this bar, and that is what makes it awesome.")


(The Tobin Bridge is a fact of life in Chelsea.)

Winnismet Garage

(I bet the Winnismet Garage has seen a lot since 1925, and looked terrific when it opened. It doesn't look so great these days, though.)

Hotel Stanley

(This is the back of Hotel Stanley. The front isn't much better looking. There wasn't much going on around it, but I suspect it's seen its share of shady characters. I hope it has a colorful history.)


(I was taking a picture of a piece of heavy equipment related to a movie that was being made in Chelsea during my visit when I noticed this place. I love that it's called Dillon's Russian Steam Bath and that it's been in business for more than 125 years. As I was walking away, a guy with a towel around his neck was heading towards the parking lot.)

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Final Flag

From Dave Brigham:

My buddy Andy, who I've known since elementary school, has always loved stock car racing. He's a fan of this blog, and has told me on a few occasions that he wants to contribute. I'm still waiting for him to send me some photos he's taken, but in the meantime, he's directed me to a link of pictures of abandoned race tracks in Colorado.

Check them out.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Backside Business

From Pete Zarria:

Here's a great collection of shots Pete Zarria took of hotels, restaurants, stores and markets around the country -- DB.

Still Life with Rose

(Superior, Wisconsin)

Weeks Dept. Store

(St. George, South Carolina)


(Preston, Iowa)

4th Street Fountain

(Elsberry, Missouri)

Wrink's Market

(Lebanon, Missouri)


(Rhinelander, Wisconsin)