Afterdays Media focuses on archaeological views of our contemporary culture. Artifacts, art, or cultural phenomena that picture us in the past tense.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Post Industrial St. Louis, circa 1990

Chris Naffziger at St. Louis Patina will be featuring a site that we explored and videotaped back in 1990. The powerhouse for the United Railways Streetcar Company, located near the intersection of 39th Street and Park Avenue in St. Louis, had been empty for a long time when we began visiting the ruins in the late 1980s. The place was near an old tobacco warehouse, a portion of which we were renting as a painting studio. At the time, we had no idea what the big, empty structure had been used for originally, but we were very impressed by the utterly massive and archaic-looking furnaces and electrical equipment that we saw there. See Chris’s post for the story on the building, and the site as it looks today.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d share some of the post-industrial relics that we dragged out the crumbling structure.

From a bank of at least a dozen such meters, attached to a series of 6-foot-tall slate panels. Notice how the values on the meter had been modified, to accommodate more current. 
In a room on the second floor were dozens of old wooden file boxes, containing company files dating to the 1940s. We didn’t have the heart to disturb this mildewed archive, hoping it would be rescued.
 It wasn’t. 

In one area, the floor was littered with thousands of these iron balls. I have no idea.    

At some point after the building was no longer used as a powerhouse, it must have been leased as a warehouse. What else can explain a cardboard box full of 35mm slides from some sort of behavioral laboratory experiment on monkeys. No kidding. The slides were processed in the 1960s.  

We also shot some video of one of the trips, which took us into a wonderfully weird, labyrinthine basement. Two clips can be seen on our YouTube channel.

My good friend Miles Rutlin (who can be seen in the video lugging a motorcycle battery that powered our lights in the basement) painted a series of pieces inspired by what he saw in the old powerhouse. Below is one of those works, Arrival. I will also post an excerpt of an article I wrote about Miles’ work (as well as another St. Louis painter, Matt Walters) for the short-lived St. Louis magazine Vision (Fall 1992). 

Arrival. Miles Rutlin 1990

1992 Vision Magazine article (click on the image to enlarge)
Article part 2

From abandonment and salvage, to art and media. St. Louis was a garden of such things in 1990....

Friday, July 20, 2012

Earth Sounds Update

An update about the Earth Sounds / Why Abandonment post.

You see, I make my living as a historical archaeologist. Most of the time, I am writing about something that happened in 1740 or 1820, not 1970. So, I can usually feel confident in saying something like “no one remembers”, as I did about the site of the Earth Sounds store. Happily, I stand corrected.  Our friend Marcia just wrote me a little note about her brief experience there, around 1970. Her account opens a personal window into the vanished place – something that is rare in my business. 

"I walked past Earth Wear. It was a block from my apartment right before Dave and I were married.  I have a faint memory it was an old house and not brick. Bought a winter hat there to wear back and forth to work downtown. It was a cold walk in winter and I had no car.  I do remember liking some neat, weird and colorful posters but I was kind of broke at the time, the cat and I sharing tuna fish. I would not have paid attention to records. I only stopped the one time because it was snowing and I needed a hat. I remember the hat because I wore it for years, black and grey wool stocking cap affair with a dead tree design on it.  Many people questioned my taste when I wore it but it tickled my fancy. Dave's dog finally chewed it up."    

Anyway, this is a great example of the resonance behind our empty places. The things that really happened there, remembered and forgotten, and also the things that we imagine happening there.

I just wish she still had the far-out hat…..

Thanks Marcia!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Lovely Plague

In an earlier post about postmodernism and zombie films, I mentioned the recent phenomena of reimagining poster art for various genre films of the past, including those in the “zombie cycle” of the 1980s. Most of these employ the aesthetics, fonts, and design elements of the time, often exaggerating or distilling them.

Painter and illustrator Anne-Marie Jones has created a few of her own interpretations, including a version of “Plague of the Zombies” from 1966. However, Anne-Marie doesn’t really attempt to mimic the aesthetics of the time, and instead creates her own, very lyrical imagery.

Have a look at her work:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why Abandonment? Part 2

In an earlier post, I pointed out that the focus on abandonment in the various Afterdays Media endeavors is not simply about emptiness, but how abandonment can be instructive. Here is another example...

An empty lot in the city is so utterly mute of the millions of stories and memories that hinged upon the buildings that once stood there. One sees only vacancy, and can barely imagine the former presence of structures, landscapes, or people. And in many places, what was recently removed was not the first to occupy the site. Often, there were generations of structures that were built, inhabited, and demolished on the same, small parcel of ground. Layers of places, and so many more layers of lives, activities, and stories. Historians try to tell us this all of the time.

Take for instance the 600 block of West Monroe Street in Springfield, Illinois. Along the north side of the street, a completely unremarkable block has been erased of its buildings, landscaping, lot lines, and even its addresses. Today it just looks bad, but probably not as bad as a row of abandoned or disintegrating structures that “blighted” the properties a decade or more ago, depressing the neighbors and their property values.

I stumbled across a little reminder of the invisible iceberg of such stories, melting away along most of our city streets. The reminder was in the form of an advertisement in a 1970 phonebook. A small business (probably a very small business ) that came and went over 40 years ago. Earth Sounds: rock albums and far-out clothing. Earth Wears.

This was probably a small shop tacked together in an aging brick storefront, or perhaps in a converted wood-frame residence. No one remembers. Imagine the décor, the products, or the sound of a little window air conditioner droning away in the summer heat of 1970. Jimi and Janis, and that Iron Butterfly record that someone’s sister had. Incense, macramé, black light posters, and maybe some paraphernalia behind the counter. Things For Your Head. Promising an alternative lifestyle, encouraging a return to nature, and helping you look cool  - all at the same time.

Imagine the conversations, and the plans of the twenty or thirty-somethings that ran the place. See the purchases made by their too-occasional customers, who came inside to reaffirm their membership in what was a rapidly fading counterculture. Things were changing.

       Earth Sounds was probably just a brief, homespun, Midwestern echo of the massive cultural party that was happening on the West Coast. Politics, cobbled-together belief systems, and always pop culture. An outpost and a dream. It is remarkable how thoroughly such things can be erased from our landscapes.

UPDATE!  Earth Sounds remembered. Click HERE

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stuck Ease

Back in 2010, Chris Naffziger’s excellent blog, St. Louis Patina, featured a post about an abandoned Stuckeys restaurant / candy store in central Illinois. That post received an interesting chain of Flickr photo-responses as well.

I just stumbled across Chris’s post, and was glad to see it, as I have always found these strange places the architectural equivalents of the 1970s zombie – and good photos of their remnants are hard to find.

The new Afterdays book release, Zombie 1979: Life at the Dawn of the Dead  features a similar dead Stuckeys (also from central Illinois) that was photographed in 1983. That weird corpse (which lost is trademark chlorine-blue paint to a coat of red years ago) is still standing, but not for long.

Empty, 1983
Still empty, 2011

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Slow Creep into Empty Places, 1990-2010.

Southwestern Freight Depot in 1989

Few folks noticed the massive St. Louis Southwestern Railway Freight Depot building back in 1989, when we shot this photo. The impressively vast structure, cast in concrete, is still one of the most distinctive buildings in St. Louis. The five-story depot was built in 1911 and is 750 feet long. It has been abandoned for decades.

During the 1980s, when we began visiting such places, “urban exploration” was still a pretty obscure endeavor. Most folks weren’t armed with video cameras, and in the case of the Southwestern Depot building, spray paint tagging hadn’t yet arrived to this part of St. Louis. Now it has, and the interiors of the building are a virtual gallery of graffiti art. But I must confess that I find the tagging on the exterior rather depressing. Empty places can be more than playgrounds. This building still has such dignity and grace, and I’m not ready to see it treated like an urban corpse.

The Depot in 2010

The Depot was placed on the National Register in 2004. Read the nomination form HERE.

The building is even impressive from above....


Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Abandoned Globe, St. Louis

The Globe building is situated only yards away from the elevated I-64 downtown.

In the spring of 2009, we spent several days documenting and making collections from the nearly abandoned Globe Drug Warehouse – a six-story building constructed for the Endicott-Johnson shoe company in 1915. The images and artifacts were processed, manipulated, and reassembled into an exhibit at the Duane Reed Gallery (St. Louis) in February of 2010.

The massive warehouse was a virtual preserve of patina and layering of past activity. Some corners were surprisingly intimate, and seemed like little time capsules from the 1960s and 70s.

Below are a few images from the warehouse, as well as link to a video-collage of the space. I will post more images, as well as some of the artwork from the show, in upcoming posts.

An office space largely untouched since the 1970s. 

Shoe company employee graffiti. 

Click on the second effort to watch the video....

Monday, July 2, 2012

Why Abandonment ? Part 1

There is a lot of coverage of abandoned places in the various Afterdays Media projects - the blog, the videos, the music, the new book, etc. The point to all of this is not about emptiness itself, but what vacancy and decay can say about our own culture and its environments. Little perspectives that generally cannot be had while such places are still alive.

Here are a few examples that basically speak for themselves. Irony, fragility, false promise, rapid extinction, inadvertent beauty, etc. More from the mildewing Afterdays Archive soon....

Sunday, July 1, 2012

New Book Release: Zombie 1979

Several years in the making, Afterdays Media is proud to announce the release of our first book publication.

Zombie 1979: Life at the Dawn of the Dead is a cultural history of the early years of the now oh-so-familiar pop-culture zombie phenomena. Back in the day, in the weird years at the end of the Cold War, zombies weren’t nearly so hip. They were an obscure, acquired taste – consumed at the local drive-in, on very expensive VHS tapes, or in hard-to-find fantasy movie magazines.

This full color, heavily-illustrated volume combines personal narrative, film history, and cultural commentary, and is strewn with vintage images of abandoned places and homemade corpses. This is where the walking dead-thing began, in all of its corn-syrup-bloodied and mildewed concession stand glory.

So, if you have even a passing interest in the American zombie, dead malls, old drive-ins, fake corpses, or the homemade Super 8mm apocalypse, have a look at this one. An archaeology of a strange time in American history. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other on-line retailers.