Saturday, July 30, 2011

Vancouver, 23rd-27th July

Saturday, 23rd July 2011
I left Toronto at 4pm and after a 5 hour flight, and a change of coast and time-zone, I arrived into Vancouver at a shade just after 6pm. I was greeted at the airport by my host for the duration of my Vancouver visit - Kirsty! After making our way from the airport to the Cook residence I was fed up on a lovely local champagne, rare steak, and red wine - a combination which certainly competes for best welcome so far.

Sunday, 24th July 2011
Still on East-coast time I woke early (far too early) scuppering my plan for a lazy day beginning with long lie-in. However, a long breakfast followed by some morning TV and lounging meant we didn't begin our day's activities until after lunch.

We spent most of the afternoon walking around Stanley Park. Deciding touring the park by tandem would end in tears, foot seemed to be the best option. We wandered for a good few hours, coming across some wonderful scenery and fantastic wildlife. As we sauntered around the shore of a lake we spotted some ducklings along with their mother, flanked by a terrapin, sunning themselves on a floating piece of driftwood.

Duckling, Duck and Terrapin

Despite the weather being much cooler than in Toronto, the sun had decided to shine for my first full day in Vancouver. Luckily my traveller-beaten skin was up to the job, but Kirsty's pale rind suffered. After a brisk walk along the sea wall we returned to the apartment and lazed around before going out for supper along with Mother and Brother Cook to a lovely harbour-front restaurant, Cardero's, quite literally a stone's throw from the flat. After a dousing of sangria, squid, some delightfully rare tuna, and a decent splosh of red wine, we staggered back to the apartment.

That night I was introduced to the other love in Kirsty's life - Canadian TV. American and Canadian television is something I've managed to entirely avoid so far along my travels - but the game was up now I was in Vancouver. A taster of 'Toddlers & Tiaras' followed by a double helping of 'Wives of New York' and I was certainly ready for bed.

Monday, 25th July 2011 
After attaining my goal of a long lie-in we took a long breakfast of pancakes doused in syrup and some strong coffee to prepare us for our fun-packed day. No sooner had we finished and dressed and it was time for luncheon. After lunch we met up with a good friend of mine and my brother's Claire Campbell, who, after the Ski-Season at Whistler, was working and living in Vancouver before flying off to New Zealand for some more of the same in a few weeks time.

Catch-up completed, the rest of the afternoon was spent lounging around our balcony, admiring the view, and sunning ourselves like the friendly terrapin we met the other day.

Coal Harbour

Lounge Lizard

Things all got a bit crazy when Kirsty began performing fingerbatics, and before things got out of hand we went inside to decide where we were going to eat that night.

We settled on our collective favourite: sushi. We returned from the restaurant (in which the staff insisted on shouting and singing to each other in Japanese, and the sashimi was served in a concoction of branches and twigs arranged in a birds-nest-come-fan type structure) to binge our stomachs on chocolate cake Andrina, Kirsty's mother, had got from a local farmers' market; our livers on some fine British Columbia cider; and our eyes on more programmes such as 'Wives of Beverley Hills' and 'Millionaire Bachelorette'.

Tuesday, 26th July 2011
The day started with a lie-in to rival the previous day's. After breakfast we set off for a trip to Granville Island and the Kitsilano area. We caught the sea-bus (driven by a worryingly young-looking chap) over the Granville Island and mulled around the numerous markets before re-fuelling on mussels, fish and chips, and a pint of beer. After a brief tour of Kitsilano we made our way back to Granville Island and caught the return sea bus back to downtown Vancouver.

The rest of the afternoon was spent between the balcony and the sofa and being introduced to the US version of The Office (which I hadn't seen, and in my view is far superior to the UK series) and Canada's equivalent to Judge Judy, Judge Alex - a favourite of Andrina's.

That evening we had a lovely meal cooked by Andrina in the apartment - a perfect way to spend my last night in Vancouver.

Wednesday, 27th July 2011
My flight being at 10am, a ridiculously early start was necessary (well, 'ridiculously early' by my Vancouver wake-up times) to get me on my flight to San Francisco. Kirsty and I caught the train to the airport and after checking in, sitting having a cup of tea, I thought I'd check my emails. 'Ah, an email from Gideon, my host for the next few days in San Francisco' I said to Kirsty. 'Oh, hang on, he's written "see you on the 27th of August" at the end of my email...I...err...he must have made a mistake'. However, after checking the original email I had sent to him some time ago, it turns out I'd arranged to arrive with him on the 27th of August, not the 27th of July. Entering mild panic-mode I called him straight away to try and resolve my monumental mistake and beg for somewhere to lie my head for the next few nights - unfortunately Gideon and his family were flying to Europe that day, so staying wasn't possible. As soon as I was off the phone I managed to book a hostel for the night in downtown San Francisco. Taking it from there, I said my goodbyes and made my way to my flight, and jetted off down the West Coast to San Francisco where an uncertain few days lay ahead.

My visit to Vancouver was brilliant - I loved every minute. The Pathfinders programme does become rather tiring, and even though I've loved every minute of staying with hosts and (as one would expect in polite society) watching my p's and q's and smiling and being energetic and enthusiastic is pretty much second-nature, it was a welcome break to stay somewhere where I literally didn't need to do anything - nor was there an expectation that I, indeed, would. It was just a shame my relaxing time in Vancouver had come to an abrupt end at the airport as I was desperately trying to find somewhere to stay for the duration of my trip to San Francisco three hours before arriving...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Zavikon Island, 22nd-23rd July

Friday, 22nd July 2011
Early Friday morning Don and I (along with a Gautamalen chap by the name of Arnaldo, who helps Don in maintaining the Island) set off for Zavikon Island. According to Julie, it was always Don's dream to own an Island, and in 1976 that dream came true when Don bought Zavikon Island in the St. Lawrence River. Zavikon, consisting of two archipelagos of around an acre and 1/2 an acre respectively, lies 2km off the river bank from Rockport, and sits on the very edge of the Canada/US boundary.

South Side, Zavikon Island

Zavikon Island's claim to fame, according to local folklore, is that the main island lies in Canada whilst the smaller one sits in US waters meaning the bridge connecting the pair is the smallest international bridge in the world.

The smallest international bridge in the world

The Island was just perfect - such a change from bustling Toronto, and the peace and tranquility there was something I hadn't experienced since my visit up to Manchester at the beginning of my travels. Far better, with the cool river breeze blowing with the St. Lawrence current, it was a great deal cooler on Zavikon than in the buzzing metropolis of Toronto.

East-facing view from the Veranda

After helping Don with a few chores that needed to be done before a conference he was hosting on Zavikon the following week, I set to relaxing and soaking in the beautiful views. Later in the afternoon Don took me on a boat tour of the neighbouring area, and after a rustic supper outside in the evening sun, we settled down with some beer to watch the sunset.

Sunset #1 


The next morning, and after a refreshing swim and bathe in the river Don took me over by boat to the mainland and on to Kingston where I got the bus to the airport in Toronto. It didn't feel like long until I was on my flight, headed to the West Coast, to Vancouver.

The short time I spent in Toronto was quite brilliant, and I was pleased to find that it wasn't quite the bland, faceless city I'd been told to expect, and my visit to Don and Julie's couldn't have been topped off in any better way than my visit to Zavikon Island.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Toronto, ON - 18th-21st July (with an interlude to Niagara Falls)

Monday, 18th July 2011
I got into Canada by bus from Detroit, arriving into Toronto around supper-time. I was met at the bus station by friend, and host for the duration of my visit to Toronto, Don Rickerd. Don, who took History at Balliol, before becoming a lawyer and litigator in Canada, was a contemporary of Tom Bingham's at Balliol, played basketball for the University with Ronald Dworkin (and remembers him boasting of scoring the highest ever LSAT over thanksgiving dinner at Holywell), and amongst other claims to fame attended Richard Nixon's inauguration ball where the champagne was served in plastic glasses with Nixon's face on them. That night we feasted on sushi and caught up since the last time we'd seen each other back just before Christmas at a Balliol dinner. The night was late, and, shattered from my day of travelling, I made my way to bed.

Tuesday, 19th July 2011
I'd decided that my brief trip to Canada (through Toronto and then on to Vancouver) would be a small break from the Pathfinders travelling and my project, especially since I wouldn't be staying with Pathfinders hosts. So, most of my time in Toronto was spent doing the 'touristy' stuff and generally sight-seeing and lazing around. After a long breakfast with Don and his wife, Julie, I got a lift into town with Don on his way to work (after retiring as an attorney Don took up a position as a Professor at Toronto University as a Director of its Asian Business and Management Program).

Most of the morning was spent at the Royal Ontario Museum, which houses one of the world's finest Chinese exhibitions and has an impressive dinosaur section.

'The Crystal' by Michael Lee-Chin - Bloor St. Entrance 


The morning spent, I met with Don for lunch at his college, Massey College, which was founded in 1963 by the very same Massey (Th. Hon. Vincent Massey) who funded the Massey Room at Balliol and was head of the Massey family in the Massey-Ferguson partnership (for all you farmers out there). The building, designed by an architect friend (Ron Thom) of Don and Julie's, is a fantastic blend of the medieval and the modern.

Massey College - Front Entrance

Massey College - SCR (below) and Hall (above)

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around downtown Toronto and paid a visit to the Art Gallery of Toronto which had a fantastic Henry Moore exhibition. 

Self-explanatory picture, anyone?

After the gallery I met Don and Julie for supper, and then sampled my first taster of the Toronto night-life, visiting a few jazz bars nearby Don and Julie's house.

Wednesday, 20th July 2011
After an early breakfast I set off on my day trip to Niagara Falls. The sun was out, with the temperature reaching 36 celsius at the height of the afternoon. After the long walk from Niagara to the Falls and a boat tour on the Maid of the Mist I settled down for some luncheon overlooking the falls. It was here that I found I got a degree:

A spectacular setting for receiving the news - it's a day I'm unlikely to forget soon.

Thursday, 21st July 2011
Don and Julie had warned me the Thursday was going to be a scorcher - and it certainly lived up to the hype: the temperature rocketed to 37/8 celsius with the humidex sitting at an average of 46 celsius for most of the afternoon. Attempting to avoid the heat as much as possible, I spent most of the morning downtown at the waterfront, shaded by the trees, reading and watching the sailboats, and (after another SCR lunch at Massey College with Don) most of the afternoon hopping from shop to shop getting a number of bits and bobs I'd been meaning to get for a while and hadn't really found the chance. 

Some sushi with Don and Julie preceded some further exploration of the Toronto bar-scene, after which I thought it prudent to get a good night sleep, for on Friday morning I was travelling with Don to their Island in the St. Lawrence River for a few days before leaving for Vancouver.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Office Block and Burnt Out Buildings, Detroit, MI - 17th July

Office Block
After the Packard Plant exploration I made my way to the Lee Plaza Hotel (another building I'd hoped to get into, but alas, it - like the Broderick Tower - was tightly secured to unwanted intruders). On my way I stumbled across a partly abandoned, partly burnt-out office block.

Front Facade: 'Rehab' 

Main Staircase

Despite being quite dilapidated, and in a very sorry state, there remained a fantastic amount of original furniture scattered around the rooms of the building. The main second-floor corridor was eerily lit by the window and door at the end leading to nothing. As I walked towards the middle a colony of flies buzzed around some decaying matter - I made my way back the way I came.

Light at the end of the tunnel - main corridor, second floor

A pew; and some ominous-looking plastic sheeting

Many of the rooms off the main corridor were dimly lit and full of broken furniture. It was amazing such a place so fully furnished (by abandoned Detroit's standards) had not fallen the victim of vandalism or become inhabited by the homeless.

Office #1

Office #2

Furniture-filled Junk-room 

Shelving and Debris

Burnt-Out Shop and House
On my way back to the Hostel I passed an area of town that had numerous burnt-out buildings in it. Apparently, fire is one of the biggest problems facing the emergency services in connection with abandoned buildings. It seems that either the homeless (to keep warm) or vandals (just for fun) have a habit of lighting fires in disused buildings with disastrous effects. 

This shop had received such treatment.



A much sadder tale was told by the burnt-out house just three houses down from the shop.

Little was left of the house that had stood intact on this spot only two weeks ago

Neighbour, Michael Johnson, who chatted to me from his porch, told me the sad story behind this ruin. Razed to the ground just three weeks ago in (what Michael said was) a gang attack, two children died in the blaze. I hesitated before photographing the site, but Michael piped up that I should: "get a good picture - this is Detroit; Detroit".

Victims of Detroit

Packard Plant, Detroit, MI - 17th July

Packard Plant
Being many days behind in my blogging, and having limited internet access in my current location, I'll try to keep this post brief. On Sunday morning, with a busy day of building-hunting ahead, I borrowed a bike from the hostel after my two-wheeled successes in Boston. After some breakfast, and an hour or so in the Detroit Institute of Arts I made my way out into the suburbs of Detroit to find a building at the top of my Detroit hit-list - the Packard Plant.

Completed in 1911, this Kahn-designed building spans over 3.5 million square-feet and 40 acres of ground and was used as the main manufacturing and assembly plant for Packard Motors - a luxury, American car company.

According to the Detroit News, it was the first industrial building in Detroit to be constructed out of concrete, and almost all of it remains standing to this day despite being abandoned - and almost wholly unsecured - for over 63 years. Apparently some of its outbuildings have been in more recent use, but as of present the entire site has returned to abandonment.

Outbuilding, Packard Plant

It was impossible to cover the entirety of the site, and only some of the second floor was accessible from the part I explored. 
Ground floor of the manufacturing plant #1



The Packard Plant attracts numerous scavengers in search of metals, brick and woodwork they can strip from the building or extract from the debris that plagues the site and sell. Numerous vehicles lie strewn around the Plant.

Abandonment within Abandonment

Pick-up truck: from the outside courtyard looking in

However, cars were perhaps the most normal discoveries I made when exploring the vast Packard tomb.

Boat out of water

Whilst much of the interior of the plant has been demolished or removed, some rooms and offices remain.

Office, ground floor, Packard Plant

Office electrical cupboard

The Packard Plant highlights, like Michigan Central Station, the massive problem facing Detroit. With so much space simply lying empty, the question becomes what to do with it? - a question that applies both to the future and the present. The hard reality is that there is simply no current commercial demand for a 3.5 million square-foot factory space, but being privately owned the building continues to sit empty and disused. 

Detroit State Government is pushing for demolition of the Packard Plant as part of its attempts to reduce the size of the city, making it easier to police and maintain. The Packard Plant is just one side of the multi-faceted coin of the Detroit-problem, but its current state and its future is indicative of that very predicament.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Detroit, MI - 16th July (David Broderick Tower; South-West General Hospital; Burnt-out House)

Saturday, 16th July 2011
David Broderick Tower
Early morning I walked Downtown to grab some breakfast and plan my itinerary for the day. I had planned to start my day by visiting the David Broderick tower - a building I'd been given clearance to enter by the owners so long as there were builders there who were currently undertaking restoration work. However, when I turned up, forgetting it was a Saturday, no one was at home, and after calling the owner-company I was told no one would be in occupation of the building until Monday - the day I left Detroit. Slightly disheartened by the presence of builders precluding entry to the Station and their absence preventing access to the David Broderick tower I was restricted to photographing the exterior.

The Parallelogram-shaped David Broderick Tower

South-West General Hospital
After the Broderick-defeat I made my way out of town to the South-West General Hospital, located just West of Michigan Grand Central.

South-West General Hospital: a welcoming entrance

South-West General: Mirror-fronted facade and Main entrance

Built in 1974 at a cost of around $21m, the south-West General was closed in 1991. It was re-opened as a Community Hospital soon afterwards, but was closed again in 2007. I'd been told that it was possible to get inside and that much of the hospital remained untouched since it was abandoned. However, as with much of my searching in Detroit, it turned out the entire ground floor was securely shut up, and there was no way of getting in other than by some spiderman-esque scaling of sheer walls. However, I did manage to get into the old Ambulance Bays around the back by some daring acts of acrobatics.

Paramedics' Office: the original office chair remained, upturned, on the floor; clipboards of notes and boxes of syringe tubing lay untouched on shelves

Stripped Bare: Ambulance Bay 

A part-flooded loading dock could be accessed from a side slip-way.

Loading-dock come dumping-ground #1


Chemical Store Door

The abandonment of the South-West General Hospital underlines one of the endemic problems facing Detroit: funding. Since the mass exodus of all but a few of the wealthy, and white population, core public services, such as health-care and public transport remain in a precarious funding situation.

The South-West General was originally founded as an African-American proprietary hospital to provide healthcare predominantly for those who did not have adequate access, or means of access, to it. The fiscal pressures that resulted from the departure of the high tax-paying elites saw a dramatic reduction of public services for the poor and those most in need of them. The abandoned shell of the South-West General stands as a monument to the (in places dire) state of public service provision in Detroit.

Burnt-Out House
After lunch and on my way back to my hostel I chanced across a little abandoned, burnt-out house that had recently become the canvas, or rather subject, of an unknown artist.


Stairway to Nowhere

The lounge oozed, errr, charm and character?    

A rather fun little find to my first day building-hunting in Detroit. After some supper Downtown and drinks in a lively jazz bar, Cliff Bells, I cabbed it back to the Hostel and turned in for the night.

Detroit, MI - 15th July

Friday, 15th July
I arrived into Detroit on Friday. Already, we didn't get on. I waited one hour for a bus from the airport to downtown Detroit which, once it arrived, proceeded to take an hour and a half to get from Wayne County to its final destination. Once I'd arrived downtown I thought I should find a Starbucks, or similar refreshment establishment to get out of the 90 degree + heat, cool myself down, and get some internet to find out where the hostel I was staying in was actually located. I wandered around for over 15 minutes, in searing heat, with my rucksack strapped to my back and couldn't find a Costa, Starbucks or any similar place. Giving up on refreshment, I thought it would be best to just hail a cab and make my way to the hostel that way - what could be more difficult than hailing a cab, I thought? Turns out, not much. I walked up and down Michigan Av. (one of the main arteries leading to downtown Detroit) for a solid 20 minutes, and not one (I repeat for emphasis) not one taxi drove past. A friendly passer-by gave me the number for one of Detroit's two taxicab companies. I called them, and waited a further 15 minutes in the blistering heat to be collected. I arrived at my surprisingly charming hostel, four hours after landing, sun-beaten and exhausted.

I headed out, late afternoon, to explore some of the local area around the hostel and make my way to a local grill I'd been recommended to have supper at. On my way there I passed the iconic Michigan Central Station. Builders worked inside undertaking asbestos abatement, and continued to do so during daylight hours during my stay, meaning I couldn't get inside. However, if this is all you read of my tales from Michigan, take the abandonment of this glorious building as the leitmotif of Detroit: wonderful buildings, gargantuan in proportion, lie to waste - unused, decaying, and forgotten - and stand as symbols of a once booming city now in a sorry state of dilapidation.

Michigan Cental Station: 500,000-sq-ft of abandonment

Recently bought by a billionaire, no one seems to know what Michigan Central Station's future is, but asbestos abatement and renovation of the ground-floor windows suggest this remarkable landmark may not be lost forever.

Close-up profile - Michigan Central was the tallest train station in the world when it was built in 1913

After a hearty supper of monkfish fritters followed by Jambalaya and a few beers at the swanky (by Detroit's standards) local grill I headed back to the hostel for an early night. When I had first arrived I was basically told: 'you want to be safe? Don't go out at nights. Always remember you're in Detroit'. Being said in all seriousness, I (albeit reluctantly) followed this advice for my three-day stay unless I had a cab to collect me.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Glenwood Power Station, Yonkers, NY - 13th July 2011

My first full day devoted to my project began on Wednesday, after breakfast, with a trip to the Renwick Smallpox Hospital which is found, in its state of ruination, on the southerly-tip of Roosevelt Island. My New York researcher had recommended the site as something that might have been of interest to me, and placing my faith in her hands I paid a visit to check it out. Unfortunately the Renwick facility was in a transient state of demolition. Over the last 4 months or so the building has been taken apart, brick by brick (which are then numbered and laid aside), in order to allow the foundations to be strengthened, the Hospital built, and it fully opened to the public. This meant, however, the site was a bit of a dud, and due to construction works a friendly police officer informed me I could not pass.

After firing the New York researcher I made my way over to Grand Central Station in pursuit of a building that was my number-one place to visit on my trip to New York. Roughly 15 miles north of Grand Central Station, just above Yonkers, sits - on the bank of the Hudson, next to the railway - the Glenwood Power Station.

 South facade of the second turbine room

Tale of two chimneys

Constructed in 1904 and completed by 1906, the Power Station was built to provide a power source for the electrification of the New York railways. In 1936 it was sold to a local electricity provider which used it to provide most of the electricity for the Yonkers area. Its activity as a power station wound down during the 1950s and, eventually, the building was closed and abandoned in the 1960s. It has lain empty ever since. In 2008 the Preservation League of New York designated the Glenwood Power Station as one of the 7 most endangered sites in the state of New York.

This was my first proper urban exploration - gaining access required the scaling of the Glenwood station platform fence and then the trespasser-proof fence surrounding the building. Luckily us Scots are made of stern stuff, and such obstacles were easily overcome. Words fail to do justice to things of great beauty, so I'll spare anything other than a cursory attempt: the photographs say it all, for me.

View through window: entrance to main turbine room

Walking through the dark entrance was quite daunting - I had no idea what to expect. However, everything became clear when I ascended the dimly-lit staircase and entered the first floor of the main turbine room.

Main atrium: main turbine room 

The main atrium, gargantuan in proportion, looked more like a Cathedral from the inside than a power station. The light inside was quite brilliant - a rich, ochre hue flooded through the roof-lights transforming the rusted iron structure into a dazzling spectacle.

Iron balcony-structures divided up the vertical space of the north side of the main turbine room

Beams of light and iron divided up the space in their respective ways 

East wall - the large hole is where one of the turbines would once have sat

Climbing up another floor, and an even more perilous set of stairs, missing numerous steps, gave an astonishing vantage point from which to view Glenwood Power Station in all its glory.

And this also provided a good view of the control rooms along the north side.

However, it was clear that Glenwood was far from abandoned - signs of life, past and present could be seen everywhere. From mere expressions of transient passing in the form of graffiti, to more permanent marks of habitation.

Signs of Life #1

Signs of life #2

Whilst most of the original machinery has been removed and replaced with monstrous piles of debris and junk, some remains to this day, untouched, since when it was last used in the 1960s. I've found such things as fuseboxes, electrical switches, dials and knobs have been a recurring theme in my photographs, things I always seem to want to photograph. Perhaps it's the sad irony of capturing something once so lively and, quite literally, full of energy, as now despondent, lifeless, and dead.

Coil Generator 

'Meth' - Dedicated to my NY researcher

The dials and knobs of the panels in the control room remain mostly intact.
Control Room 

A.C. Mega Watts

Feeder Voltmeter / Gen. Indicating Meters

I left the Glenwood Power Station with a mixed feeling of amazement and sorrow. The Glenwood Power Station lies on the banks of the Hudson, like a Castle reminiscent of a bygone era of great industrial development, manufacturing, and power. Now it stands, in a magnificent but sorry state, Cathedral-like, as a shrine to that long-ago era its abandonment exemplifies.