American Urbex: Southern Slide

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American Urbex: Southern Slide

American Urbex is getting back into the saddle and heading south.

Thanks to the support of American Urbex contributors this site has been able to document wonderful urbex locations with rich histories. With the help of IndieGoGo, American Urbex was able raise enough to fund trips during the past two summers. The first took us to Gary, Indiana and the second to Cleveland, Ohio.

This summer American Urbex would like to break out of the upper midwest. Cities like Atlanta, New Orleans, Montgomery, Memphis, St. Louis and the small rural communities along the way have urbex locations with histories just waiting to be told. Your contribution to American Urbex will help document those under appreciated and neglected places.

Contributor funding goes directly to offset the cost of gas, lodging, and food. Whatever remains is poured back into donor fulfillment and administrative costs for online services. Want proof? Here is how American Urbex spent its funds in 2011.

No amount is insignificant. Everything is appreciated. Head on over to the American Urbex: Southern Slide page on IndieGoGo to make your donation.

Donate Now to American Urbex: Southern Slide

You can show your support in other ways, too.:

Purchase an American Urbex Print on Etsy.
Subscribe to the American Urbex Podcast on iTunes or YouTube.
Follow @AmericanUrbex on Twitter.
Like American Urbex on Facebook.
Join the American Urbex Group on Flickr.
Email americanurbex /at /gmail /dot /com with your questions.

Thank you,
Ken Fager
American Urbex

UPDATES:

01/18/2012 – Thank you to Matt N. and an anonymous donor who have contributed to the American Urbex: Southern Slide fundraising effort. You guys won’t be disappointed if the $500 goal is attained.

01/26/2012 – Thanks are in order for David Smith, Kyle Taylor, and another anonymous donor for their support. The goal is in sight!

02/01/2012 – Special thanks to John Sagehorn and Ariel Powers-Schaub for their direct contributions.

03/01/2012 – It took three years but we finally were able to make the set fundraising goal on IndieGoGo! Many thanks to Greg Valiga for putting American Urbex over the top. Belated thanks are also due for Rick Drew and another anonymous donor. The effort isn’t over though. There is still plenty of time to make this the most urbexenist (sorry) summer ever.

03/25/2012 – Thanks are in order for my extended family for the Quaker Oats container with a mysterious sum of cash. I had no idea any of you actually followed any of what I do.

05/06/2012 – THANK YOU!

The grand total for the fundraising effort is $735.61! This is the first time in three attempts that the goal on IndieGoGo has been met. $505 came through that channel. Another $230.61 came from direct contributions. Funders can expect something nice in their mailboxes later this year.

So what happens now? The money will be used to fund a trip sometime this summer around July or August. The exact itinerary is still up in the air, but hopefully that will lead to more spur of the moment explorations. The important thing is that whatever is found along the way will be shared with others.

Thank you again. I can’t wait to create something dirty/beautiful.

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American Urbex E.13 – The Tyson Mansion

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A mansion in a small rural Ohio community has a history of being occupied being occupied by less than reputable characters. One of those characters being former heavywith champion Mike Tyson.

Subscribe to the American Urbex Podcast on iTunes.

American Urbex article on the Tyson Mansion.

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American Urbex E.12 – Richman Brothers

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The Richman Brothers took great pride in both the quality of their product and the workplace in which it was manufactured. 

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American Urbex article on the Richman Brothers.

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Your Feedback is Appreciated

Vent

American Urbex started as a proof-of-concept graduate school program demonstrating how free online resources could be used to create rich education content. It is a project that has taken on a life of its own beyond the classroom. As American Urbex grows it has gained attention outside of the urbex community. Fortunately most of it has been positive. That’s something I’d like to continue moving forward into the future.

If you have any feedback for American Urbex please leave a comment. I will address it as best I can.

Thanks for your continued support,
Ken

PS: There are more podcasts coming.

 

 

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Sears, Roebuck & Co. Complex

Photo (source): Sears, Roebuck & Co. complex as it appeared in 1906.

Contemporary American consumers can purchase almost anything they need via the internet around the clock. Online retailers like Amazon rely on a readily accessible inventory catalog, honest customer reviews, and shipping distribution hubs to satiate a consumer’s every desire. While the internet component may be exclusive to the modern marketplace, the concept of selling to consumers directly is one that dates all the way back to the late 1800’s. One company in particular cornered the mail-order and retail markets so heavily that it’s catalog became known as the “Consumer’s Bible.” Sears may still be around these days, but if you are a regular American Urbex reader, you can probably guess how it is all going to end.

Richard Warren Sears, 23, worked as a station agent for  Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway in North Redwood, Minnesota in 1886. One day a shipment of gold pocket watches from a Chicago wholesaler was refused by businessman Edward Stegerson. With the recent implementation of time zones and ever-expanding reach of railway lines throughout the United States, Sears recognized the growing importance to keep accurate time. Sears contacted the Chicago wholesaler and agreed to purchase the watches for $12 a piece, which he then sold for $14. The enterprising young man had little trouble marketing the gold watches to railway personnel, farmers, and passengers. Within six months Sears garnered $5,000 in profit. Sears then moved his burgeoning start-up to Minneapolis and founded the R.W. Sears Watch Company.

American Jobs

Photo: A desk on the top floor draped in a soiled American flag.

The young entrepreneur had an apparent knack for writing plain-spoken advertising copy and his mail-order watch business bloomed. On March 1, 1887 Sears set up shop on Dearborn Street in Chicago. One month later Sears placed an advertisement for a watchmaker in the Chicago Daily News. Shortly thereafter he received a reply from Alvah Curtis Roebuck, whom he hired to fix returned product. Sears continued to market his jewelry wares directly to customers through nationwide mail-order. After just two years of operation Sears sold the successful business for $72,000 and headed to Iowa.

Merely a week passed before Sears became restless and contacted Roebuck to form the company that eventually bore both their names. The Sears, Roebuck & Co. applied the same down-to-earth marketing tactics they used with jewelry to a wide range of consumer goods. Sears catalogs were designed to supplant rural general stores by including plain-speak descriptions of goods accompanied by pictures with list prices. This disintermediation cut  rural general store’s common practice of price gouging out the equation. Mail-order items would be sent directly from Sears to the consumer via the ever-expanding network of national railroads and US Post Office.

Although competitor Montgomery Ward had beaten Sears to the mail-order catalog punch by twenty years, it was Sears that innovated many of the marketing strategies that catapulted his company to the title of “World’s Largest Store.” Catalogs were purposefully printed in smaller forms than magazines, due to the fact that most people stack reading material from largest to smallest. This placed the Sears catalog front and center on most coffee tables in homes. The inclusion of product photos and models, especially young attractive females, further enticed consumers to place orders. As waves of immigrants arrived in America in the early 1900’s the company began including order forms in English, German, and Swedish. Sears catalogs even informed barely literate consumers that no judgement would be made for poor penmanship, grammar, or spelling errors.

Pneumatic Tube System

Photo: Pneumatic tubes facilitated inter-office communications.

To accomodate the expanding operation the company purchased 41.6 acres of land on Chicago’s west side in 1904. Seven thousand men laid down 23 million bricks and 15 million feet of lumber to complete the multi-building Sears, Roebuck and Co. Complex. One of the most iconic features was the 14-story Sears Merchandise Building Tower, which was attached to now demolished 3.3 million square foot Merchandise Building. Other complex buildings included the Administration Building, Advertising Building, Printing Building, Powerhouse and more structures were added as the years progressed.

The sheer magnitude of the 5 million square foot complex mandated several innovations to keep regular operations running efficiently for the 22,000 employees who worked there in its heyday. The company built its own internal power plant to provide electricity to all complex buildings. An intricate network of pneumatic tubes greatly increased inter-office communications between staff. To insure safety the entire complex was fitted with emergency sprinklers and a volunteer fire department. A male and female segregated cafeteria system kept workers fed throughout the day. Employees could even do their banking with the on-site Sears Bank. The company even provided entertainment for the Chicago area by housing the WLS (“World’s Largest Store”) AM radio station in the Merchandise Tower.

Sears

Photo (Nitram242): View of the complex from the elevated parking structure.

Consumers purchasing habits shifted dramatically as the automobile became more accessible to the average person in the 1920’s. Sears’ core mail-order market had previously been the majority of Americans that lived in rural areas, far removed from urban stores. Automobiles enabled rural consumers to drive into cities to inspect goods at retail shops before purchase. Urban consumers by this point had already been accustomed to the convenience of in-store shopping. At the same time rural citizens left farming communities in droves to take up jobs in industrial centers of cities nationwide. Sears eventually acquiesced to opening a retail shop within the Merchandise Building in 1925. Its immediate success spurred Sears to open retail shops nationwide. By the close of the 1920’s the company opened a new store on average every other business day.

Despite occupying the largest business complex in the United States, The World’s Largest Store continued to grow and had thousands of employees scattered throughout the city at various locations. To alleviate this problem the company announced on July 27, 1970 that it would construct a skyscraper 100 feet taller than the World Trade Center. Upon completion the Sears Tower (now known as Willis Tower) became the tallest building in the world and had over 3.8 million square feet of office space. When Sears moved in 1973 to the tower the company expected profits to rise just as high. Stiff competition from Montgomery Ward’s, Wal-Mart, Kmart, and other more nimble retailers undercut Sears’ lofty projected growth. For much of the 1970’s and 80’s the building remained unoccupied by tentants. The original Sears, Roebuck & Co. Complex maintained skeletal operations until April 30, 1987 until it was finally shuttered after 82 years in operation. By 1989 the writing was on the wall as the company continued to flounder and Sears announced that it would move to its current headquarters in nearby Hoffmann Estates. Sears finally vacated the eponymous tower in 1995.

Sears | Silvertone

Photo: A Sears branded Silvertone radio collects dirt.

In the internet era the once mighty retailer has lost much of its lustre. The $11 billion acquisition for from one-time competitor K-Mart in 2004 has done little to improve its foothold in the retail market. Cost-cutting measures by the Sears Holding Corporation have prevented reinvestment into retail buildings, and has diminished the overall shopping experience. As of November, 2011 the company has limped along through 19 straight quarterly losses. Despite its weakening position, the company is currently being courted by Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, and Wisconsin to relocate its headquarters with offers of tax incentives. Some pundits even expect the Sears brand to disappear entirely in 2012.

Up until the 1993 millions of American children thumbed through the Sears Wishbook during the winter holidays. The lists they created were, of course, impractically long for Santa (a.k.a. middle-class parents) to fulfill. The ecstatic kids pictured in the catalog were surrounded by mountains of toys. It painted the illusion that, if you have these things, you will be happy. It was a clever marketing tactic to indoctrinate future consumers to buy Sears product. Richard Sears knew that in the 1880’s and it still worked a century later. His innovation of using plain-spoken language, enticing photography, high-quality guarantees, fast shipping and customer service raised the bar for American retailers.

As with any great business innovation, other companies have adopted Sears’ tactics and further refined them. Today the Wish Book has been replaced by Amazon’s Wish List. Sears catalog was once a guaranteed source for high quality consumer goods at the best price, but the company ceased mail-order operations in 1993. Now Amazon connects consumers with any retailer with the best possible price for everything. The printed catalog was once a competitive advantage, but morphed over time into an inflexible liability as the company headed into the internet era. Unable to adapt to change the World’s Largest Store stagnated and lost their title. In 2011 the Sears brand failed to even rank among the top 100 consumer loyalty leaders. Sustained financial distress and a marked loss of brand prestige means that the corporate future of Sears hangs in the balance.

Video (source): A brief history recap of Sears.

Unlike a majority of buildings that American Urbex explores the former Sears, Roebuck & Co. Complex has a bright future ahead of it. The Foundation for Homan Square is currently renovating The Sears Merchandise Building Tower to become a cultural centerpiece for neighborhood redevelopment. The Holy Family Lutheran School currently occupies the former Administration Building. The Henry Ford Academy has recently converted the powerhouse into a high school and is now open for the 2011-12 school year.

Of the original complex buildings the Catalog Plant remains dormant. Across the street is the original Allstate Insurance building, which also falls under the Sears umbrella of companies. After a long period of environmental exposure, the windows have been freshly boarded and the walkway connecting the Allstate building and Advertising Plant secured. Plans from 2005 to convert the Allstate building into condos have yet to materialize. After more than two decades of vacancy there are few reminders of the once dominant American company that occupied this space.

Resources:

24/7 Wall St. – List of brands that will disappear in 2012.

ABC News – Has short video of on tower redevelopment.

Ancestry.com – A compiled list of Sears catalogs. Requires registration.

Brand Keys – The top 100 consumer loyalty leaders for 2011.

Chicago Mag – 2005 article on plans to convert the Allstate building into condos.

Chicago Tribune – 1987 article on the official closing of the complex.

Chuckman’s Collection – Postcard of the 1906 plant.

CNBC – Report on Sears declining profitability.

Chicago Tribune – 1993 article on redevelopment at Sears Tower.

Consumer Affairs – Kmart purchases Sears for $11 billion.

Emporis – Sears Merchandise Tower statistics.

Flickr – Doostydusty’s SRC photo set.

Flickr – Nitram242’s Sears Chicago photo set.

Foundation for Homan Square – Currently renovating the tower.

Google Books – 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalog.

Google Books – Short biographical entry on Richard Warren Sears.

Google Books – Insights into Sears marketing techniques for farmers and immigrants.

Hammond HS – A brief history of Sears & Roebuck in Hammond, IN.

History.com – History of Richard W. Sears and the company he founded.

History of Corporate – Sears Holding Corporation

Homan Square History – Photos of the original Sears Merchandise Tower.

Lori Liggett – A brief history of Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Los Angeles Times – 1993 article on Sears’ inability to adapt to competition.

NHL – National Historic Landmark entry for the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Complex.

NPR – Sears is considering relocating to another state.

Sears Archive – The official corporate history.

Sears Holdings Corporation – About the company.

SearsTower.org – Selected newspaper articles on the tower’s history.

SFGate – Sears has suffered 19 straight quarterly losses.

Waymarking – Sears, Roebuck & Co. Complex history.

Webwire – The Sears Merchandise Tower celebrates its 100th birthday.

Wikipedia – Entry for Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Wikipedia – Alvah Curtis Roebuck

Wikipedia – Richard Warren Sears

Wikipedia – Sears Wishbook

Wikipedia – WLS AM Radio

Willis Tower – Formerly known as Sears Tower.

YouTube – A brief history of Sears.

From the Flickr Group

American Urbex has a group on Flickr. Please join and share your beautiful urban exploration photos with the group!

Facebook? Oh, we have that too. We’ve also got one of those Twitter feeds to occupy your neural nodes.

A case for concrete and steel stairs

A case for concrete and steel stairs by eholubow. The angle and visible unsteadiness of the stairway is disorienting in a good way.

yellow chair

yellow chair by Jonathan Much. I like how the chair is not facing the photographer.

Dept 192

Dept 192 by Doostydusty. I wonder what Department 192 produced.

C-Arm Xray Machine

C-Arm Xray Machine by nitram242. The sterility of this environment is compromised by the subtle broken window.

MJ Hospital

MJ Hospital by nvaughn. The balance created using a square crop is fantastic.

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Ravenswood Hospital

Photo (source): Ravenswood Hospital as it appeared in 1945.

The American healthcare system is for profit. American citizens’ health, safety, and well-being are managed by large companies looking to stay in the black. The other democracies and various forms of government in industrialized nations have recognized the danger that this poses to general public. While private medical care still thrives in these countries, there is at least a public healthcare plan to insure that all citizens have a safety net. The United States is the only country where citizens decide between health and crushing debt, even if they have insurance. These medical bills often go unpaid as patients hover around bankruptcy or simply do not have the means to pay them. Despite the inability of patients to pay, healthcare providers are required by federal law to treat patients. To stay financially competitive healthcare providers seek to mitigate their risk and cut costs wherever possible.

For one Chicago youth those risk-averse penny-pinching measures hastened his untimely death.

Ravenswood

Photo: The Adler Pavilion portion of Ravenswood Hospital.

While playing basketball on North Wolcott Avenue, Christopher Sercye, age 15, was shot twice in the abdomen by gang members on Saturday May 16, 1998 around 6pm. His panic-stricken friends dragged Christopher about 100 yards to the ramp outside the emergency room of the nearby privately-owned Ravenswood Hospital before collapsing. Some reports say the injured teen was within 30 feet of the door, while others say he was 50 feet. In any case the teen was well within view of hospital staff. The first of five separate phone calls to emergency services came in at 6:15pm.

One friend ran inside the hospital and got two police officers to rush to Christopher’s aid. The officers and witnesses begged hospital staff to assist, but they demurred citing hospital policy that forbid them to exit the building. The officers on scene were also bound by protocol to not move injured people and wait for paramedics. At 6:23pm  a request for an ambulance went out over police radio. Ignoring protocol one of the officers finally commandeered a wheelchair and rushed Christopher into the emergency room with a barely detectable pulse.

EKG

Photo: EKG readings from a patient file left in the hospital.

An ambulance finally arrived on scene at 6:29pm, but left after seeing Christopher being wheeled into the hospital. Emergency Room staff began administering treatment immediately. Two minutes later Christopher suffered cardiac arrest. Doctors discovered that the bullets punctured Christopher’s aorta, mesenteric vein, and colon. Christopher was pronounced dead at 7:33pm.

Prime suspect Aureliano Fajardo was arrested the next day. Two other accomplices, Salvador Aguilar and Lionel Duran, were also arrested in connection with the murder. Fajardo and Aguilar were kept on $1 million bond, while Duran was kept on $500,000 while charged with first-degree murder.

Two days after the shooting Ravenswood president and CEO John E. Blair rescinded the policy preventing hospital staff from exiting the building. In response to Christopher’s death Blair stated, “Above all, I want to make sure that if a tragedy like this ever occurs again, we have a different result. Media reports of the tragedy of Christopher’s death garnered national outrage. President Clinton threatened to revoke the $59 million annual Medicare funding for the hospital, but was later overruled by the Health Care Financing Administration.

Those who remember 8th grader Christopher Sercye described him as a leader with sense of humor. His family filed a lawsuit against Ravenswood Hospital later that year. In 2003 the courts ruled in favor of the family and awarded them $12.5 million for the wrongful death. That same year the “250 Yard Rule” was amended to the EMTALA law. The rule states that healthcare providers are required to respond to any “presentation” warranting medical assistance within 250 yards of the main hospital campus building.

Go to the Light

Photo: A hospital bed takes up a majority of floorspace in this cramped patient room.

Ravenswood Hospital had long been a pillar of the north side Chicago community before being embroiled in controversy. The original hospital was built in 1907, but by the 1990s had expanded to meet community demands. The hospital had just under one thousand beds at its apex. It also included ambulatory care, a psychiatric unit, rehabilitation, oncology, coronary care, trauma ward, nursing school and student residence on site the 7.5 acre site.

The hospital fell on hard times during the 1990’s as HMOs, insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid began cutting costs wherever they could. Advocate Health Care purchased the flailing hospital in 1998 much to the chagrin of community members and hospital staff. Blair, the hospital president and CEO who had weathered the Christopher Sercye debacle, said “In the weeks to come we hope everyone will agree that this move has great potential for employees and will enhance our ability to serve the community.” Almost immediately Advocate began consolidating medical services with other are hospitals it owned. Despite the drastic cuts the hospital managed to operate at a $35 million loss in 2001 alone. Ravenswood’s closing could not have come at a worse time as a number of historic Chicago area hospitals, such as Edgewater, were closing their doors. When Advocate finally sold the hospital they salted the earth by including a non-compete clause forbidding new owners to operate a medical facilty.

X-Ray

Photo: An X-Ray machine on the top floor scorched by fire.

A majority of the hospital was closed off while other parts were rented to various tenants. Ravenswood may limp along until its ultimate demise, but its death makes way for new life. Private school Lycée Français de Chicago  plans on demolishing the entire complex in 2013 to make way for a new building. If the school is able to raise the necessary funds they will occupy their new home by 2015.

There are currently 50 million Americans who do not have health insurance coverage. Even those who are insured risk being dropped by insurance companies should they incur medical bills. As Americans we pay not only a financial cost, but also a social cost (PDF) when profit is placed over health and well-being.

Resources:

Ain’t No Way To Go – Article on Christopher Sercye’s tragic death.

Answers – Discusses the hospital closure in 2002.

Center Square Journal – Lycee Francais de Chicago will demolish the site in 2013.

Chicago Reader – Controversy over the Ravenswood Hospital closing.

Chicago Reader – Controversy over Advocate Health Care’s takeover of the hospital

Chicago Talks – Financial stress ultimately leads to the hospital closing.

Chicago Tribune – 1998 article on Medicare funding for the hospital.

Chicago Tribune – 1998 report of the crime and subsequent arrests.

Chicago Tribune – 1998 article mentions Christopher Sercye’s funeral.

Chicago Tribune – 2001 article about Fajardo committing murder behind bars.

Curbed Chicago – Architect mockup of what the Lycee Francais de Chicago building would look like.

emtala.org – Explains the EMTALA 250 Yard Rule.

Flickr – Nitram242’s Chicago Hospital Closure set.

Google Books – Jet article states that Christopher Sercye was shot in the heart.

Hospital Data – Statistics for the facility.

New York Times – Mentions Christopher Sercye being dragged “within 30 feet” of the hospital.

Power Rogers & Smith – Lists the 2003 $12.5 million settlement for Christopher Sercye’s wrongful death.

Scribd – Lycee Francais site survey from 2007.

Slate – Opinion piece about the policies that led to Christopher Sercye’s death.

Sun-Sentinel – 1998 article on Christopher Sercye’s death.

USA Today – Settlement announcement for Christopher Sercye’s death.

Wikipedia – Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act

YouTube – Video shot in the hallways.

YouTube – Hospital closing reaction video.

 

Haven Motel Demolition

Haven Main Office

Haven Front Office

The Haven Motel (formerly Lein Motel) was one of the early urbex locations that inspired American Urbex. After discovering the location I did a quick Google search and discovered that the diminutive motel once attracted international celebrity. I have occasionally kept tabs on the accelerated decay of the location since moving into the area.

It seems now that the property owners are no longer content with leaving the units to the will of nature. The overgrowth has been cleared and trees converted into mulch. The structures are now fully exposed to the elements. If they are not intentionally knocked down in the short-term, they will certainly fall much faster than when they were under tree cover.

Excerpt from local news source Ft. Atkinson Daily Union:

Lloyd and Myrtle Lein purchased the 28.6-acre farm in December 1929 after 11 years of farming in the Albion area. The Leins continued farming, and the first of the cabins were built in 1931, as well as the filling station that accompanied them.

In 1938 the motel had been expanded to 10 cabins. By the late 1930s, Myrtle Lein was serving lunches at the filling station, and by the mid-1940s there were 20 cabins on the property. Lloyd Lein did all of the construction himself, doing all of the masonry, electrical and plumbing works. Myrtle sewed all of the curtains and awnings for the cabins.

The Lein?Motel was a good stopping point between Chicago and Minneapolis, and cost $1 per night if you brought your own linens; $1.25 if the Leins supplied linens. The motel was one of the first located on Highway 12.

The property sported its own well, and two individual farm “electric plants” that provided electricity. When the power lines were extended from the Star School property one-quarter-mile north of the cabins, Lloyd Lein signed a contract agreeing to pay $3.50 per month for electricity.

In my Haven Motel Flickr set there are photos from past and the most recent visit.

 

American Urbex E.11 – Brach’s Candy Factory

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The bittersweet tale of one of America’s finest candy companies.

Subscribe to the American Urbex Podcast on iTunes.

American Urbex article on the Brach’s Candy Factory.

American Urbex Group on Flickr

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American Urbex on Twitter

 

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From the Flickr Group

American Urbex has a group on Flickr. Please join and share your beautiful urban exploration photos with the group!

Facebook? Oh, we have that too. We’ve also got one of those Twitter feeds to fill your stimulate your social networking cortex.

Untitled by Alex Vetri

The regal architecture left behind in Detroit is astounding. I really need to get around to going there sometime soon. The piano and hints of furnishings whisper of the former splendor of this room.

Out of Aisle

Out of Aisle by eholubow

Wow. After I saw this photo and visited the location, I have to say that Eric really has done a wonderful job teasing the color out of this setting.

Untitled by farenough

No more fun will be had at this amusement park.

Lace Company

Lace Company by Filth City

I’m a sucker for bowling. The simple geometric balance of this photo is a great addition to American Urbex group.

Lace Factory

Lace Factory by hoodwatch

Awesome shot guys! I’m glad to see your not exploring these places alone. I would really like to shoot at a bowling alley sometime.

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