Independent Structures

The Industrial Center of the United States once stretched from Chicago to New York City. Built by the likes of Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Schwab, Gould and Ford in ruthless and grand fashion, their efforts catapulted a country left in ruin from civil war into a global super power. Affluence blossomed in cities like Gary, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Albany with the advent of steel, rail, oil and associated industry.  Manufacturing in the United States continued to outpace the rest of the world for almost 100 years, eliciting phrases like “American Exceptionalism” to explain this period of unprecedented growth and prosperity.

When manufacturing slipped away from these cities a new phrase was coined to describe the darkened factories and streets that were once so promising: The Rust Belt. As the automobile industry declined, acres of downtown Detroit reverted to prarie. As steel production shifted to Asia, workers abandoned Braddock, Pennsylvania, and Gary, Indiana. Citizens of Troy, New York know of the final resting place of Uncle Sam in the local cemetery and the shuttered houses that border it.

Financial optimism gave birth to suburbs and large houses on tree-lined blocks with room for two cars per family. Architectural expressions of American independence were expressed individually in Victorian mansions and freestanding dwellings replete with ornate flourishes, large footprints. For decades these neighborhoods stood as the advertisements for the American Dream, spawning waves of emigration, and generations of middle-class growth. Pedimented entries, columned porches, and a mansard roof replete with glowing windows were secure symbols of the American family.

Today in Detroit, one can purchase a house for less than the price of a used car. Victorian mansions in Brush Park have boards in place of windows. Houses in Braddock can be found for $10,000, but there isn’t a grocery store for ten miles. Entire blocks of Troy, freestanding brownstones cited on hills overlooking the Hudson River, are shuttered, policed by drug dealers and gangs. A layer of soot has settled over the architectural remains of Gary, and its dwindling residential stock.

The Golden Age of this country now a fading myth, I see its remains writ in the architectural expressions of the day. Today enterprising citizens are moving back to these depressed communities, buying up the remains for a song, planting organic gardens, applying fresh coats of paint, righting the foundations of cities nearly forgotten. While our economy continues to proceed fitfully, staggering under the malfeasance of banksters and Chinese expansion, I find some justice that a new community of independently minded pioneers may soon reclaim these structures.

6 Responses to “Independent Structures”
  1. Shannon Hemmerle says:

    Amazing photos. Beautiful to view yet painful to understand why the communities have fallen to their present stance. I am hopeful your words are correct in that people with ambition,drive and dreams are reclaiming these historical masterpieces and breathing life into them again. Beautiful work mi hermano grande, te amo!

  2. Sebastian says:

    What a stunning portfolio. I wish you posted more often, even sometimes without the edifying descriptions; the photos are strong enough to carry themselves.

  3. Yaovalak Sjoberg says:

    Great photographs! A fantastic portfolio of beautiful and great architectures.

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