Of the 532 buildings Frank Lloyd Wright designed in his lifetime, just over 400 still remain today. The David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix, Arizona, is one of only six Wright homes in the Valley, and one of those still standing- for now.
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his son, David, in 1950, it was sold in June 2012 to 8081 Meridian, a developer who submitted plans to tear down the home, and build two new houses on the newly subdivided lot.
Add your voice. Let 8081 Meridian and the City of Phoenix know why you feel this unique structure, inspired by the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, should be saved [UPDATE: it was]!
After my wife's ankle surgery last summer, I was forced to pursue my love of strenuous exploratory hiking without her. But there was a bright side to this, since she has never been as keen for climbing as I am. Last spring, I was able to spend just about every Sunday morning at the the top of one of the many small mountains near my house.
I brought along my camera to keep me company. But an hour after sunrise, Arizona skies are bright and hot and the shadows are deep and dark. Getting a correct exposure under such high-contrast conditions is a challenge. While it's usually best to let the smart machine in my hands make most the decisions, I still have to know how to help it along if I want to avoid white skies and crushed shadows. There's only so much I can fix in post-processing.
I have to say I made a lot of progress working under these conditions. But one of the many skills I've not yet mastered is how to shake off my early-morning exhilaration long enough to really capture the magic of a mountain-top vantage point. I took hundreds of photos, but only a small handful of shots really give a sense of the terrain's sparse beauty. I hope this selection manages to convey the quiet extremes of the desert landscape.
Alas, you can short-list a bad picture, but its not so easy to cull Paradise Valley's rampant population. Who knew that the top of Camelback Mountain is as crowded as a shopping mall at 9AM on a Sunday? On the other hand, though it's surrounded on all sides by expensive, well-patrolled private residences, the expansive summit of Mummy Mountain is nearly desolate. Hopefully, once the summer abates, I can continue my exploration before all the remaining open space is fenced off.
Many of my favorite pix from 2008 wound up on a calendar, which I gave out to friends and family last Christmas. There were no actual friends or family in any of the pictures -- just the usual collection of abandoned buildings, desert scenes and vacation photos -- but people were properly ethusiastic all the same. I spent all year trying to figure out how to make decent pictures, and in end I struggled to find a dozen images I actually felt strongly about. But I stopped short of despair when I compared them to my favorites from the year before. I'm happy to say that few of those would have made the cut this time around, so I must be making some kind of progress. I only hope I can say the same thing about this current group when next year rolls around.
These Ron Paul supporters showed up at a poorly managed Hillary campaign stop in Phoenix. We never got near the actual event -- it was drastically over capacity and no one appeared to be directing the crowd. But we did stand in line long enough for me to capture these two. Then we walked back to our cars, where it took over an hour to untangle ourselves from the parking lot jam.
Last year, my grandfather's memory was honored by the school that bears his name, the Bostrom Alternative Center. This photo was taken afterward, during a visit to the nearby family plot. While my father and his siblings alternated between somber contemplation of my grandparents' final resting place and enthusiastic discussion of arrangements to join them, I wandered the grounds, getting a better feel for shallow depth of field.
When my father-in-law visited us last year, my wife dragged him down to Bisbee and the surrounding area. I stayed behind, unable to free myself until later in the week. As my wife is quick to point out, it is she who holds the true creative talent in our relationship. It would be foolish, therefore, for me to omit her very nice composition from that trip.
Since my father-in-law likes to gamble and I like trips to the desert hinterlands, my wife decided that we'd kill two birds with one stone and visit Laughlin, Nevada. Along the route, we stopped at as many ghost towns and tourist traps as we could stand. This shot is from the underside of London Bridge in Lake Havasu City.
I always wanted to visit Crown King, but neither of our little cars are worthy of the rough dirt road up into the Bradshaw Mountains. Last summer,we rented something large enough to take us there. Turns out Crown King is less a ghost town than a thriving community of off-road enthusiasts, bikers and folks otherwise disabused of city living. Even nearby Bumble Bee is more of an abandoned tourist exhibit than a bona fide ghost town. This shell looks to be barely a couple decades old.
A trip in the fall to Victoria, British Columbia on Vancouver Island gave us a nice break before the onslaught of holiday season. It also gave me the opportunity to to shoot in something other than my desert environment for a change.
These two shots are both from the gardens of Hatley Castle, a beautiful early 20th Century estate built by coal and railway magnate James Dunsmuir, and later used by the military for officer training. It now serves as grounds of Royal Roads University.
While in Victoria, we stayed in a very nice b&b right on the water. It was during this trip that I came to understand that vacations are not for sleeping late.
At some point during our trip to Canada, detail started creeping into my highlights and my shadows began to not block up so much. As I started to not mess up my technique, my composition started to improve and I started seeing greater rewards from my efforts.
I can only imagine what someone with actual skill could do with such a location.
Eventually, we had to leave the island and prepare for re-absorption into our real lives. But I couldn't leave without a quick tour of Vancouver's historic Gastown district. I chose my wife's point-and-shoot for the early morning photo walk, but what I lost in control I more than made up for in feelings of personal security.
A short afternoon rainstorm, rush-hour freeway traffic and someone else behind the wheel all contributed to this shot. As my wife cursed the other drivers, I scrambled around in the back seat getting this picture of a very lucky Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Thanks to the recession, you can find smokin' deals on some pretty swell digs. No sooner had we settled into our Pricelined room at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in the Tucson foothills, I grabbed my gear and went hunting for some long exposures. The night was overcast, and the lights of the city reflected an eerie brick red back up into the clouds. Afterward, I told my wife, "don't ever let me leave the house again without my tripod."
I don't get out to my brother's property in Pearce nearly as often as I'd like. Last fall, we decided to visit him for Thanksgiving. As luck would have it, the day was gorgeous. The sky was full of fat clouds which combined with the open terrain to charge the scene with magical hues of gold, blue and gray. The vegan feast wasn't half bad either.
We took our final trip of the year around Christmastime, to visit family in Georgetown, Texas, north of Austin. Georgetown is home to Southwestern University. Founded in 1840, Southwestern is the oldest university in Texas. And as such, its surrounding neighborhoods are a treat for the eye, full of classic old homes.
The light was right for this one.
Salado College was built in 1860 in Salado, Texas, just north of Georgetown. One last ruin to round out the year.
I was all stoked last fall to write this epic post about personal responsibility, goals and leadership, all tied into Mission STS-125, the final repair of the Hubble telescope. I'm sure I would have worked in the presidential election too. But then the Shuttle launch got pushed back, the election passed, and the wreckage of the economy became so much more entertaining. So I shelved my notes. The launch finally happened last week. We were there all right, and I even got some halfway decent pictures. (In that sense, the delay was a good thing -- I got in a lot of shooting practice between September and May). But whatever enthusiasm I had for tying in the event with larger themes has dissipated. For one thing, blogging has been taken largely off the table. I decided it was more important to try to exercise more, sleep better and resist the urge to schedule every single minute of my week, for crying out loud. Those are honorable goals. Even doing nothing is better than stressing over self-imposed, meaningless deadlines.
For those of you who might be curious, the thrust of my argument was something along these lines:
Over the years, we've forgotten the true lesson of the Apollo missions. Nowadays, people would rather believe that the moon walks were faked. Or we miss the point altogether, second-guessing NASA's share of our resources. But the true beauty of our space program lies not so much with its specifics, but with the idea that when given a clearly stated goal, and the passion to reach that goal, humans can whip up the will and the discipline to do just about anything.
It starts with leadership: "We choose to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade." Simple, clear, concise. No room for misinterpretation. No points for wriggling out on a technicality. "Get it done -- find a way." If the public of the 1960s were awed by the technical mastery and gratified by our winning "the space race," they were also inspired by the sight of a team making it happen, right before their very eyes.
Yep, that sounds like me, all right. But these days, I'm not feeling all that particularly sold on the "great man" theory. Reality is too complicated and time is too precious to waste it waiting around for the few strong willed people who come along to show us the way. We just end up following them anyway. Then they flame out, and we're back to chasing our own tails again. Better reserve our energy for muddling through, and leave the "solutions" aside.
On the other hand, the launch was freaking awesome. And they did manage to fix the Hubble. And my pictures didn't turn out half bad either:
I actually worked at the Luhrs Building on Central and Jefferson several years ago. During the lowest point of my last bout with unemployment, I spent a couple of weeks at ten dollars an hour cleaning out the office of a guy who worked behind the main building in the Annex. In addition to my hourly rate, I also got a ladder and a carpenter's level in a swell case, as well as a handful of empty jewel cases. I also got a tour of a piece of Phoenix history that up until then, I'd never really explored.
Erected the 1920s, the Luhrs Office Buidling and Tower were Phoenix's very first skyscrapers. The two-story 1914 Luhrs Central Building that separates them served as Phoenix's first post office. The top four floors of the office building originally housed something called "The Arizona Club," a hale institution that continues to this day under different haunts. But by the time I came to work there, both buildings and their annex offered nothing but seedy office space. But the charm that remained was undeniable. From the funky parking lot ramp-ways and the brass mail schutes to the marble walls in the lobby and the barber shop by the elevators, the place threw off some serious ambiance. I was badly smitten.
Since everything else downtown is being demolished, gutted or re-purposed, I knew it was only a matter of time for the Luhrs collection. Recently, I was summoned to the area for jury duty. I spent a relaxing afternoon away from work, dozing, listening to music, and stumbling from courtroom to courtroom before I was finally released. That evening, as I walked from the courthouse back to my car, I noticed that the windows on the Luhrs Office Building were all boarded up.
The renovation of the two main historic buildings is being carried out by new owners with the approval of the Office of Historic Preservation. However, it sacrifices the connecting arcade, the southern annex and the Luhrs Central Building, as well as the fifties-era parking structure in the back. According to one city official, plans include "a full-service, AAA, well-branded hotel; some historic office buildings; a contemporary high-rise building in the center; and then another building over where the parking garage is."
Given the direction the economy's moving -- with condo developers backing out of projects up and down the central corridor to the tune of over a thousand units at last count -- who knows, we may have the boards in place of the historic window glass for many months to come. But I like the boarded-up aesthetic, so I grabbed my camera and my walking around lens and went on a commando mission. Unfortunately, my low light stealth shots from inside the gutted structure didn't come out so good, but I got decent coverage of the outside:
I know a lot of readers out there, especially those of you starting a new school year, have already said your farewells to Summer 2008. But here in the desert, folks are just getting started. Alas, it won't truly be safe to turn off the air conditioner until around the time we start to make the stuffing and put the Tofurky in the oven.
I've been shut indoors now for over a month, venturing outside only to forage for food and to keep my plants alive. But my wife and I did manage to get in a couple quick walks earlier this season. As you can see from the photo documentation I brought back, even the sky itself seems to be ablaze. As far north as Meteor Crater, about an hour east of Flagstaff, where we took refuge one weekend, the terrain is achingly bright. (By the way, this is not desert, it's forest country denuded of trees by the force of meteor impact.)
The so-called "monsoon" season commences in July. The heat sucks enough moisture from the ground to creates a thunder cloud theater every afternoon. Sometimes, the clouds are even strong enough to jump Phoenix's concrete island and actually rain in town. The storms come up quick and brief, but if they're heavy enough they can cool things down for a day or two.
During one such cool-down, we grabbed our cameras and lit out to the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project. This piece of dry river bottom reclaimed by the city on the south edge of town is not only wild and beautiful, but it also reminds me of the kind of open spaces Phoenix used to have a lot more of. Now that such areas are afforded the same protection as an endangered species, the city can hopefully keep it safe from taggers and teenage partiers.
The low point in the summer came last week when our air conditioner gave up the ghost. After pounding away non-stop for months, the motor finally shook loose from its brackets. Hundreds of units go down in any given day here, so we had to wait almost a week before it was fixed. Such is the backlog for repairs in a city where over a million people rely on these piuny machines to shield them from the extreme elements. In the meantime, we spent a couple days at a resort about five miles away. It was easily Priceline-able, so cheap and so huge that I'm certain we weren't the only guests exiled from their homes, waiting out the repairman.
I made the best of it, however, rising early enough to scout out the surrounding hills and check out the great view of the city. I got good and soaked, but managed to keep the sweat away from the camera. As much as I enjoy the shots, I think I prefer to shoot when white hot highlights and fierce lens flare are mere technical anomalies and not unavoidable features of the landscape.
Even the most amateur photographer cannot resist Historic Route 66.
Did I say "even?" I'm sorry, I meant "especially." There's a whole cottage industry around vending pix of America's Highway. It's practically a cliche, like going to Niagra Falls for your honeymoon, or going to New York City to see "Cats." If you visit any of the cool rotting towns along Historic Route 66, you bring your camera, then you can tell the world you're a Great Artist. If you don't know anyone with a large format photo printer, you can post your pix to Panoramio and stash 'em up on Google Earth.
Despite it's remoteness, HR66 can get kind of touristy in spots. Oatman is a great example. It's definitely got that "get your picture take with a real cowboy" kind of vibe to it, with daily wild west shows in the streets and the old main drag restored to a tarted-up faux "authenticity" for the folks visiting from just a stone's throw across the river over in Laughlin. But once you pass beyond Kingman, things take a distinctly more desolate turn. Get off the main drag of Interstate Route 40 and head north into the reservation land below the southwestern rim of the Grand Canyon (home of the controversial "skywalk" attraction). Except for the lovingly curated homages to Burma Shave, you'll find nothing but long stretches of wide open space in between a few rustic wood and stone structures collapsing in isolation.
Of course, you'd expect Winslow to make a grab for tourist dollars. Only fifty miles east of Flagstaff and right on the doorstep of earth's first verified impact crater, Winslow also holds the dubious distinction of being immortalized in classic rock. Home to the Standin' On The Corner Park (and host of the annual Standin' On The Corner Festival), Winslow boasts of "a life size bronze statue and a two story mural depicting the story behind the famous song." And that's not all -- while in town, be sure to visit the Winslow Remembrance Garden ("Who can forget 9/11?"), which contains "actual wreckage from the World Trade Center."
It's odd that Winslow felt it necessary to import ruined buildings. They have so many picturesque homegrown examples. But these will no doubt fall by the wayside as outside investors price the local entrepreneurs right off the scene. But never fear: our Bostworld cameras were on the scene to take you around the corner and down the street of Winslow, Arizona (and vicinity), where buildings still fall apart they way they used to back in the old days: one crack, peel and splinter at a time.
What kind of developer are you? When you encounter that dilapidated old wooden hovel on an otherwise empty lot, do you think "MacDonalds!!" or do the wheels inside your head begin to spin with all the ways you could retrofit it into a popular night spot, replete with hot fusion cuisine and perhaps a deejay on the weekends, serving up the latest in "chill out" mood music along with the finest local microbrews? Does that burned out shooting gallery of an abandoned hotel or apartment make your heart flutter with dreams of a glorious student housing/gallery combo, ready to take advantage of the soon to be completed downtown annex of the local university? All using only the latest in "green" building techniques?
That's probably what's on your mind if you're developing here in Phoenix. Rennovation is the key to the current building cycle. What with all the doings downtown, all that beat up space south of the freeway is pretty much up for grabs these days. Or it was; you might actually be too late to get in on the ground floor. Happily, there still appears to be plenty of banked vacant lots just waiting for the right deal to come along to pry them loose from their owners. They say that development is running so rampant that Phoenix is experiencing a city-wide crane shortage.
Here at Bostworld, we've seen too many of these building cycles of come and go. It's hard for us to get too excited about them. They say it's all about attracting entertainment dollars to the downtown area. But it seems most of the money spent downtown is by enthusiast developers, who come in, knock a bunch of stuff down, put up a bunch of crappier stuff, and move on until they find another city to pick on. All this stuff about "putting feet on sidewalks" is just part of the shell game. Even the so-called "renovations" appeal to me less than what was there before. So whenever I get the chance, I like to head downtown with my camera to capture what's left, before it's all gone.
I'm not the only person on the web obsessed with Phoenix's vanishing urban terrain. Some of my favorite sites on the web include John Arthur's Sierra Estralla site, and it's magnificent history of Van Buren Avenue, Mitch Glaser's loving tribute to Smitty's Big Town, the 4-H's Club's photo archive, and the site that stands above all others in my mind, Ron Heberlee's Vintage Phoenix Photos site. Ron's pages devoted to the old Art Deco Fox Theater take my breath away. Ron's poignant description of that building's demise pretty much says it all:
The Fox theater was probably the most important building in Phoenix left in 1975 so naturally the city wanted to tear it down, for a city shoe box shaped bus terminal that lasted only a few years. There was an auction for the contents of the Fox Theater, The whole thing only brought $8,500! A chandelier that cost $8000 during the Depression brought $250 in 1975.
A couple weekends ago, time and the weather permitted my wife and I the opportunity to hit the road. Naturally, I wanted to take pictures, so I lobbied for a drive to my old fave haunt, the Miami/Globe area.
Miami's charm is undeniable. Huddled around decrepit mining operations, crumbling homes rub shoulders with shuttered processing plants and massive barren tailing mounds. The best stuff is out of public view, hidden behind locked gates and barbed wire fences on land owned by the mines, which continue to function. But the neighborhoods offer up plenty of wealth on their own. My wife hates it when I hunt for subjects in the residential streets. She feels that homes should be off limits, and says it's only a matter of time before I earn a confrontation with an irate resident. But these places are clearly empty, and not long for this world. Besides, I can always say I work for a real estate company.
Miami's main street lies empty, aside from the antique stores slowly reclaiming the area, just up the road, Globe looks to be experiencing a comparative boom. No doubt, folks are flocking in, hoping to take advantage of the so-called small town experience. Though not as "picturesque" as Miami, Globe has a drawing power all its own. I've always loved the old Elks Building, the so-called "tallest three-story building in the world." Though it's not the most challenging subject in the world, it was a good excuse to put the cheap kit lens that came with my camera through its paces.
One thing is certain: though this lens gets a pretty wide angle, its fish-eye and chromatic distortion make it far from usable. I had to pound the crap outta these pics to make 'em look halfway good. But I'm hoping if I use it enough, I'll get so fed up that I'll lose any hesitation about spending a lot more money on a better one. But I should at least shell out a couple of bucks for a polorizing filter, since these pics also suffer greatly from being taken in the midday Arizona sun -- all blown highlights, washed out color and lost detail in the shadows. But don't let me discourage you:
A month into 2008, I've finally settled on my so-called "new years resolution" -- to take better pictures. Time to set aside the automatic modes of my point-and-shoot. Instead of composing quirky sentences to delight the Bostworld visitor, I find myself trying to memorize the various formulas of f-stop, focal length, ISO and depth of field. I'll need to brush up on my math as well. (What's the reciprocal of x times 1.6?) The whole thing reminds me of balancing the chemicals in my swimming pool. If the black algae spots in my plaster are any indication, 2008 should be a banner year.
Anyway, I've finally finished my yearly task of archiving last year's photos, and already my nascent education is affecting what I consider worth keeping. Suddenly, a whole new catalog of errors jumps out at me: blown out skies, camera shake, clueless use of flash, noise, chromatic aberration, and of course, mediocre composition.
But they say that a healthy part of any education is putting your work out there for better or worse, so here's the short list from 2007. It's no surprise that my favorites of the bunch are actually the ones taken by my wife. But this year, I hope to surpass her in at least the math department, which she hates.
Why would anyone want to take a vacation right in the middle of the holiday season? A confluence of factors -- coinciding free time availability, expiring vacation days, overwork and its attendant unstoppable urge to flee -- caused my wife and I to travel cross country to visit the Florida Keys three weeks before Christmas this year. Encamped at an ocean-facing getaway that could also provide animal-free meals, we spent a lovely handful of days sightseeing, indulging in water sport, watching satellite television, getting eaten alive by invisible sand fleas, and generally trying to get some rest before the onslaught of year's-end celebration.
Before heading south, however, we spent some time catching up with an old friend currently installed in Miami Beach. Having grown up in the area, she was the perfect target for my impertinent questions about the area's unique architecture. It turns out she's as opposed to "urban renewal" as I am. Much to my wife's chagrin, our friend took us on a long tour of the area, offering detailed dissertation on the fates of buildings both extant as well as those long gone.
Unfortunately, so alien was the south beach style to my untrained eye, that I had trouble distinguishing between the faux classics and those actual ancients merely suffering tacky renovation. They all looked interesting to me, especially the crumbling and nondescript numbers in the poorer neighborhoods awaiting their inevitable demolition. My lack of discrimination is no doubt revealed in the photos below. But hey: I was only there for a day.
I tend to steer clear of downtown Phoenix these days. It seems every time I venture down there, I discover another of my old favorites consigned to the scrap heap or worse, a target for "renovation." The cheerfully run-down squalorous downtown Phoenix of my childhood is all but gone, a victim of the kind of people who have always complained that there's not enough to "do" in Phoenix. Our downtown has never reflected the cultural aspirations of these folks who envision a shiny urban entertainment mecca full of fun for the whole family and free from spontaneous structural failure and those annoying homeless people. But now that they're finally getting their way, I hardly recognize the place any more.
My wife and I don't have much reason to go downtown very often, aside from the odd sporting event or circus protest. But she dragged me to a particularly galling theatrical performance one evening recently, and afterward we were restless from sitting on our hands for two hours. The night was warm and pleasant, and somehow, my wife got the notion that we might find something open up the street. So she forewent her usual fear of the empty after-hours desolation of the area and suggested we walk a little. As luck would have it, the Irish bar in the Hotel San Carlos was still open. While we drank beer and ate french fries, a group of college football fans watched the home team finish up a game across town.
As we headed back towards our car, we saw the old Professional Building at Central and Monroe, sitting empty as it has for the past two decades. But something made me stop and cross the street. As my wife's paranoia began to reawaken, I peered conspicuously through the cracks in the boarded up windows. Sure enough, the ground floor showed signs of being recently gutted. As I looked left and right for some sort of posted zoning documentation, my wife began to make noises like it was time to go. When I began to move around the corner and towards the back alley, she grabbed my arm and hurried me towards the parking garage.
Fearing the worst, I returned home and hit the net. Sure enough, renovation was indeed slated to occur. Our once proud bedrock of former financial stability will soon be a holding space for upscale lodgers besotted with gourmet chocolate and high-end champagne. What's more, I also discovered the old Hanny's Building was undergoing a similar fate. I admit, I greeted this news with mixed emotions -- I didn't even know the Hanny's Building was still standing (I told you: I don't go downtown much any more).
Don't get me wrong. I'm delighted that these wonderful old giants will not be sacrificed to make way for downtown's "invigoration." I hate to see what to me represents an important part of my city's past scraped away just because a theater or fast food chain is desperate to maintain the unrealistic runaway growth they've conned their stockholders into expecting. But I'd rather these beautiful buildings stand abandoned forever than be thrown under the wheels of a doomed business plan. But that seems to be the way things inevitably go.
Anyway, the next chance I got, I grabbed my trusty point-and-shoot and went downtown. I need to start doing that a lot more.