Thursday, May 25, 2017

Duke City Downtown

From Dave Brigham:

In the first post about my recent trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, I wrote about the place where I lived with some friends 29 years ago, and some of our hangout spots (see May 24, 2017, "The Land of Enchantment"). In this installment in my three-part series, I'll cover some cool things I saw downtown on an early-morning walk.

I was happy to see that El Rey Theater is not only still standing, but also active. My friends and I saw the Rollins Band here back in 1988 during our three-month stay in the Duke City. Built in 1941, the theater closed for a time in 2014 after the owner had money problems, according to reports I read online. For a little history of El Rey, check this link on the theater's web site.

Albuquerque is known for its murals.

This set is located on the patio of a former Studebaker Automotive Company dealership and garage, now home to Boese Brothers Brewery. Our visit was too quick. Next time I'll hit this place.

"The City of Albuquerque's Public Art Program, one of the oldest in the country, began in 1978, with the passage of the Art in Municipal Places Ordinance. This bold initiative set aside 1% of city construction funds derived from the general obligation bond program and certain revenue bonds for the purchase or commission of works of art." -- from

Murals feature Native American images, train conductors, old cars and historic buildings, trees, peace signs, traffic jams, street scenes, civic celebrations, hallucinations, classic motel signs, and much, much more. Below is one of many that caught my eye, and one of the few in decent light at that early hour.

The mural, in part, depicts the Alvarado Hotel, which was torn down by the Santa Fe Railway in the 1960’s. The mural also shows how some, probably most, people felt about that demolition. For more on the once-grand hotel, read this Santa Fe New Mexican article.

For more on the city's murals, read this article and also this one.

The Century Theatre sign isn't historic or even made of neon (I don't think) but it looks really cool, especially at sunrise. The complex was constructed as the first phase of the Downtown Revitalization plan led by Hartman + Majewski and the Historic District Improvement Company. Century traces its history to 1940; the company was acquired by Cinemark in 2006.

I would have loved to have spent much more time wandering through Albuquerque's downtown. The architecture is quite different from what I see around Boston, more colorful and constructed with different materials and with much better signage. I was a bit concerned being in a strange environment so early in the morning -- just me, the birds and the bums, I told myself. Also, I needed to get back to my hotel to start waking up my traveling buddies for that day's adventure, which I'll chronicle in the final post of this three-part series.

Rosenwald Brothers department store was built in 1910 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, per Wikipedia. It is now office and municipal space.

The Yrisarri Block was erected in 1909, and sits across the street from the Rosenwald building. I love the colors and architectural details on this place, which houses several small businesses, including a bar called Downtown Distillery. The block was formerly home to Maisel's Indian Trading Post. For more details about the Rosenwald and Yrisarri buildings, check this link.

Finally, the Telephone Museum of New Mexico, a place that surely would've been worth a visit. I dig the sign, and its juxtaposition with the "Big Brother" video camera.

The last installment of this mini-series will focus on my visit to some historic ruins an hour north of the city.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Land of Enchantment

From Dave Brigham:

I lived here 29 years ago. No, I wasn't homeless, although there was a Salvation Army shelter just up the street all those years ago. And no, I wasn't squatting in a tent on the property, at 314 Broadway SE in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There was a small house, with a few attached apartments, here three decades ago. I lived there with friends for three months, following a three-week road trip.

I've been writing a memoir covering the trip and my time spent in the Land of Enchantment. I decided a while back I would write the last chapter only after returning to the city. I tried to convince my wife and kids to take a family vacation in New Mexico, but they wouldn't go for it. Then I realized that the better idea was to hang out in Albuquerque with the guys who I traveled and lived with in 1988.

So in early May my college buddy Pete and I flew out of Boston and met our fellow road-tripper, my high school friend and Seattle resident Andy, in the Duke City. Primary on my agenda for our quick two-day visit was to check out a few old haunts. That's what this post is about. I will also write two other posts, one featuring shots I took on an early-morning walk through downtown Albuquerque, the other, photos of Native American and Spanish ruins in the desert north of the city.

I like the look of the Broadway Market Building, which was just a few blocks from our house. I don't have any idea if there was a market in this building 29 years ago. We never shopped at markets or grocery stores back then; we ate out once in a while, or bought ramen noodles, soup, bread, mayo, tuna, cereal and beer at places like the Circle K or 7-Eleven. We also bought more than our share of chili-and-cheese hot dogs at the latter joint. The building was converted to apartments at some point.

One place we ate is the Frontier Restaurant, an institution for students at the University of New Mexico. Located on Central Avenue (aka Route 66), the restaurant served as a hangout for Pete and me, as well as another guy on our trip, John. Andy left our road trip, which started in New England, part way through in order to return to Connecticut for a family party. He joined us in Albuquerque after we'd already been there for at least a month.

I have a thing for clever hair salon names, which started when I was living in Albuquerque. On the 1.5-mile walk from our rental house to the Frontier, I passed a place called Hairforce One, which to this day is my favorite salon name. I didn't see it on my return trip, but Hair We Are is a pretty good name, and I just love the colors and the artwork on their shop.

We didn't have a lot of money when we lived in the Duke City, but luckily drinks and cover charges were pretty low, so we managed to get out with some regularity to see local and national bands. We spent plenty of nights at the Fat Chance Saloon, which no longer exists. We asked the owner of a bar on Central Ave. where we were tipping a pint, "Where was the Fat Chance?" He told us it was in the space where Brickyard Pizza is now, so we popped in for a quick look.

There was a much closer bar that we also visited on occasion. El Madrid (or, as we gringoes called it, The El Madrid), was a short walk from our house, across a bridge over some railroad tracks. We drank cheap beer out of mismatched mugs -- Black Label beer, Mason jars, cartoon characters -- and watched local bands and performance artists.

(Pete in the doorway of El Madrid.)

The place has obviously been shuttered for a while. I was saddened but not completely shocked to see that the awesome Elvis mural on the outside of the bar has been defaced. That's just tragic. It was painted by Kenneth Wolverton.

Here's a photo of the full mural -- on each side of the front door, and above as well -- in all its glory.

I want this sign and light from outside El Madrid. Now, look in the background of this photo, to the right of the "BAR" sign. It's a turret.

And here's that turret from the front.

Built in 2006, this mansion belonged to the late local jewelry and antique seller Gertrude Zachary. Her store is located next to the house, in a neighborhood that various publications I found online refer to as "skid row," "a battlefield of failed homes [and] empty parking lots" and "a barren industrial neighborhood." Those terms may still apply somewhat, but when we walked through the 'hood we spied a brew pub, an artists' collective called Sanitary Tortilla Factory, several funky new apartment buildings and a Fast Signs franchise.

I'm not sure why this poster of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King was plastered on this building, but I like it.

Just two blocks from the mansion and antique/jewelry store, you get a sense of why folks refer to this area as skid row. The building above until recently was the Albuquerque Rescue Mission. The mission changed its name to Steelbridge and houses nearly 100 men and women on a daily basis and offers "faith-based" programs. I spied at least one building with the Steelbridge name on it, and saw a handful of apparently homeless men lolling about nearby.

After walking through some of our old neighborhood in the midday sun, we drove up Central Ave. to the Route 66 Diner, where Pete worked when we lived there.

Pete had the Pile Up, a "pile of pan fried potatoes, chopped bacon, chopped green chile, two eggs any style, cheddar cheese & red or green chile sauce on top," per the restaurant's menu. I had the 66 Burger, topped with New Mexico Green Chile. Andy had 66 Chicken Fried Steak. They were all terrific.

The next installment in this mini-series will focus on photos I took early one morning in the downtown Albuquerque area.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Anniversary Post #6: My Favorites from 2015

From Dave Brigham:

Welcome to the sixth installment in a series celebrating the 7th anniversary of the blog (for links to the prior five installments, see the bottom of this post). This post covers 2015.

I need to mention that Joe Viger has contributed some amazing photos and fantastic write-ups over the years, but I'll be linking to very few of them in this series. Why? Because Joe -- an amazing photographer who has served as a mentor of sorts to me in that regard, and a great friend I've known for nearly 30 years -- has changed the security settings on his Flickr account so that many of his photos that have run on this blog show up as broken links now. I will instead direct you to his wonderful online portfolio.

I take pride in this blog, as I'm sure you can imagine. I love exploring, taking photos, doing research and writing posts, as well as editing the work of others. One of the trickier elements of running this blog is writing headlines. I first learned this art during college, when I worked as news editor for my school paper. A good headline should be clear and concise and give the reader a general idea of the story. I follow those rules most of the time, but I also lean on my love of music and a good joke whenever possible.

Such was the case from the first highlighted story of 2015. "Maryland Mansion", from January 19, 2015, is the one and only story submitted by my brother, Steve Brigham. I hope I don't need to tell you the music joke that I made with that headline. Anyway, the post features some cool photos of a long-abandoned home near where my brother lives in the Old Line State.

(The pool of the abandoned Maryland mansion. Photo by Steve Brigham.)

"The Price of Gas" from February 7, 2015, is on this list for three reasons: it represents the first (and so far, only) use of a Google Maps capture on the blog; through online research I learned about the history of the Waltham Gas Light Company in this area; and my speculation in the post that improvements in the surrounding area seemed to be evidence that the lot in question would soon be developed has turned out to be true.

Just one week later, on February 14, 2015, in "Crumpled Paper Company," Heidi Waugaman-Page shared some amazing photos she took inside an old paper mill in Bellows Falls, Vermont.

(On the inside, looking out of the Robertson Paper Company. Photo by Heidi Waugaman-Page.)

Any time we can showcase states outside of the Northeast, I'm happy. So on March 9, 2015, when Kristen Smith shared some shots of Idaho and Wyoming in "Chewed Up, Spit Out," I was ecstatic. The backdrops for these photos are simply stunning.

The next post in March also took readers out of the Northeast. On March 17, 2015, in "Take Me Down to Panama City," I wrote about and shared photos from my family vacation in Panama City, Florida. I got up early a few mornings and cruised around taking photos of abandoned bars, motels and amusement parks. It was a lot of fun.

(Shuttered motel in Panama City Beach, Florida.)

On June 30, 2015, Mick Melvin posted about the former headquarters of the Colt firearms company in Hartford, Connecticut, in "Hartford Arming for New National Park."

(Former Colt armory headquarters. Photo by Mick Melvin.)

"Cavalier Attitude About Motels" from July 26, 2015, represents my favorite kind of post: the successful "find" after an aimless and frustrating drive.

The Internet is this blog's best friend. It's a rare case when I can't find at least a little bit of information about a small conservation area, long-abandoned building or repurposed mill complex. In "Bigelow's Little Office," from September 5, 2015, I was able to distinguish between two small former law offices in Weston, Massachusetts.

(The former Alpheus Bigelow, Jr., House, Weston, Mass.)

I love Mick Melvin's "Is That Paul Bunyan?" from October 16, 2015, because he found a true roadside American icon: the muffler man.

November 30, 2015's, "Walking Dead Tracks" reminds me of my childhood, when I spent countless hours meandering along the rarely used railbed in my hometown.

I encourage contributors to the blog to interpret "the backside" any way they wish, and to simply send me photos if they don't want to write any words. For the most part I like to conduct research and write a story to go with my pictures. Sometimes, however, I just let the photos do the talking. Such was the case with my December 9, 2015, post, "Scenes From An Old Shoe Town," about Hudson, Mass.

The final post of the year, from December 29, 2015, was the result of my slamming on the brakes and doubling back. "Gravity Can Lift You Up" features a cool old building with an interesting story.

Here are the links to the previous five installments of this series:

"Anniversary Post #5: My Favorites from 2014"

"Anniversary Post #4: My Favorites from 2013"

"Anniversary Post #3: My Favorites from 2012"

"Anniversary Post #2: My Favorites from 2011"

"Anniversary Post #1: My Favorites from 2010"

Stay tuned for my favorites from 2016, including a look at Clinton, Mass.; a fascinating journey through a former military training annex in the suburbs west of Boston; a skateboard park in Hartford, CT; the long-abandoned Medfield State Hospital; a Shaker cemetery; a junkyard in Somerville, Mass.; and a beautiful church in the woods of Maine.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Put Some Lustron In Your Life!

From Dave Brigham:

The future's so bright, you got to pull down the shades....

Sorry, I couldn't help myself, but that is one ugly house.

Post-World War II Americans buzzed with excitement for greater telephone and TV access, bigger, more beautiful cars, an expanded highway system and TV dinners. Soldiers returning from the battlefronts got married, had kids and sought out places to live outside the cities of our great land. In order to help meet that demand, a Chicago industrialist named Carl Strandlund designed, marketed and sold enameled metal homes, looking to push the market that Sears, Roebuck & Co. opened up with its prefab kit houses from 1908 to 1940.

Sold under the name Lustron, Strandlund's homes came in eight models with walls that could hold magnets, be cleaned with soap and water, and never needed to be painted. The kits arrived with at least 3,300 parts and took about two weeks to assemble, according to this article from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Just as Tuuperware at this time in American history was thrilling homeowners with the ability to store food for longer periods of time, Lustron homes excited people with their affordability and durability. And for two whole years, the dream of owning an easily maintained, cutting-edge home was real. From 1948 to 1950, the Lustron Corporation sold homes in dozens of states, but went into bankruptcy and never realized its goal of selling 45,000 homes.

More than 1,000 Lustron homes still stand across the United States. According to an article on the National Association of Realtors web site, hundreds have been destroyed by tornados, floods and the base instincts of developers who don't appreciate the all-metal homes for their simplicity, kitsch value and magnetic qualities. OK, that last part was all me, not the Realtors.

Back in May 2013, Pete Zarria posted on the blog about a Lustron home in German Valley, Illinois (see "Space-Age Bachelor Pad").

There are several such homes in Massachusetts, including one each in Brookline and Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood.

This is the matching garage for the West Roxbury house, seen at the top of this post. Lustron claimed that its houses weren't prone to rust, decay or fire, which seems hard to believe. As you can see in these photos, this house has water stains (or perhaps something else). The house is in rough shape on the outside. I imagine it might be torn down in the near future.

The Brookline house, above, is in better shape than its compatriot in West Roxbury. It sits in a quiet neighborhood where, on the day I stopped by to shoot photos, renovation work was being done on several houses. I imagine that whenever this house hits the market, the pressure will be pretty heavy on the owners to sell to someone who will preserve the odd metal structure. But the money from developers who want to bulldoze the stubby, tan, formerly "hep" house and put up something larger and more in line with Brookline's moneyed aesthetic will be hard to resist.

Here's a cool video from the Ohio Historical Society providing the history of the post-World War II homes, and showing the inside of a Lustron house occupied by two aging hipsters:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Who Was Emma Cummings?

From Dave Brigham:

Tucked into a small planting group next to an incredibly busy and occasionally dangerous rotary -- there was an accident there just before I arrived to shoot this photo -- is this tasteful monument. When I'd spotted the stone a few days prior, I assumed it marked the former locale of a historic home or battle scene (did the Revolutionary War spill blood in Brookline, Mass.?).

Directly, the marker tells anyone who happens to walk by -- unfortunately that's a small number on this bustling roadway -- that Emma G. Cummings was a member of Brookline's tree planting committee from 1902 to 1939. Indirectly, the stone announces to the world that Ms. Cummings was so well-regarded that her fellow horticultural enthusiasts decided to hew their admiration for her into the living rock, as Spinal Tap would say.

So who was Emma Cummings?

Well, she was a world traveler, public speaker and technology enthusiast, for starters.

"March 30, Miss Emma Cummings, one of our members, gave a very interesting talk on the Hawaiian Islands, which she had recently visited. A novel experiment at the Devotion Bouse (sic -- should be "Devotion House") was made with the stereopticon, which was a great success. A number of beautiful pictures were shown and a most interesting talk was given by Miss Cummings. The room was filled and it was a most entertaining evening. " -- PROCEEDINGS OF THE BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY AT THE ANNUAL MEETING, JANUARY 30, 1923 BROOKLINE, MASS.

Emma Cummings was also an author.

In 1901, she published The Trees of Our Neighborhood, a lecture she delivered before the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Her talk focused on, as you probably guessed, the trees of Brookline. "As I have long been interested in the study of trees," Ms. Cummings starts her lecture/book, "I determined a few years ago to make a more intimate acquaintance with them, especially with the trees growing in this vicinity."

Sounds like my kind of lady. Want to know about something in the natural world around you? Take a walk and find out.

She tells a funny story about wandering through the woods with a friend and coming across a police officer keeping lookie-loos (my word, but I suspect Ms. Cummings may have enjoyed that epithet) from ogling folks at the horse races at the Brookline Country Club. They convince the officer they simply want to catalog trees in the area, and so he escorts them through the grounds. Rather than being impressed with the society types arriving for the "May Meetings," Ms. Cummings is more interested in reporting that "we saw a Cut-Leaved Beech, the first that we had noticed in Brookline."

She also mentions traveling in Spain in the course of her dissertation on the many trees in Brookline that are native to the eastern United States (Maples, Oaks, Black Walnuts), as well as others that originate in other regions of the country (Magnolias, Locusts, Red Mulberries), and brought over from Europe (willows), Japan, China and Persia (now Iran).

Ms. Cummings also co-authored a book called Baby bird finder with Harriet E. Richards.

She was evidently quite the researcher. In The Trees of Our Neighborhood, she waxes poetic about "the Kentucky Coffee tree, the American Crabapple (Pyrus coronaria), interesting for its beautiful fragrant flowers, and the fact that it comes into blossom ten or twelve days after all the other apples have shed their petals, yet it is less frequently planted than the Japanese varieties, the Ash-leaved maple, Osage-orange, which is used in the West and South quite extensively for hedges, and some of the Oaks."

The lady knew her stuff.

But what else do we know about Emma Cummings?

Not much, unfortunately, beyond a confusing reference to photography and a private girls' school in Brookline. According to the 2001 Annual Report of the Town Officers of Brookline, Emma Cummings was the founder and first headmistress of the Brimmer School. Founded in 1887, the school merged with the May School in 1939, and has since been known as Brimmer & May. The town report also cited our horticulturist and author as the photographer and one-time owner of 250 lantern slides.

Given that lantern slides were another cool photo technology like the stereopticon, I'm guessing that Emma Cummings did indeed once own them and may even have produced them. The report states that the slides came from the Brimmer & May School. Here's the problem, though: Wikipedia, in its entry about the private school, states that while a woman named Cummings was at one time the Brimmer headmistress, her name was Mabel Homer Cummings. So either Emma had multiple personalities, or she was related to Mabel in some way, and a mix-up occurred in the writing of the report.

Regardless, Emma Cummings was a woman of curiosity and tenacity (she walked the entirety of Brookline documenting trees, after all); prodigious talents for researching and retaining information, as well as writing about it; and obviously someone with the means to travel to different countries and spend a lot of time on walkabout.

Above all, perhaps, Emma Cummings was a poet, although I have no idea if she wrote poetry. She had a mind for beauty, a thirst for knowledge, a curiosity for the natural world in her midst. I will finish this post with the words she uses to begin the final paragraph of The Trees of Our Neighborhood:

"Who that has seen in the Spring the scarlet flowers and fruit of the red maple, the delicate drooping clusters of the sugar maple, the snowy whiteness of the fruit trees, set off by the delicacy and richness of the tints of young leaves of the birches, beeches, oaks, and others—who, I ask, that has seen them, can willingly spend these days in a city?"