The Anderson Building – Derelict Icon of Red Bank’s West Side

The Last Bastion Of Old Red Bank

The Anderson Building has been vacant as long as I can remember and that’s a long time. I’m a native of the area and I honestly can’t remember a time when it was in use. It has reportedly been vacant for more than 30 years which would make it empty since at least 1987. Proposed redevelopment has been in the works for some time but the project is slated to begin any day.

Anderson Building 2015
The Anderson Building, Red Bank, NJ in January 2015.

My interest, however, is in the architecture and the less tangible aspects—those tenets of my photography project concept that begin in the subconscious, which I’ll discuss below. First, though, I’d like to share some of the more observable details that interest me.

Staring at the weathered red brick building you wonder what secrets its long-empty interior holds.

Abandonment, architectural significance and 19th Century vintage are three key aspects that draw me to photograph a building like this. In this instance I’m photographing it as part of the landscape but those considerations are important in order for me to make the picture. The Anderson Building has at least two of the three. It might not be a 19th century structure; I think it was probably built in the first two decades of the 20th Century but it it has a late Victorian look and feel so in my mind it qualifies. This styling appears most notably in the korbeling along the roof line and the arched windows in the small southeast section. It also has the polygonal form typical for many such buildings of its era. Add to that the fact that it has been a fixture in the landscape for many years and it makes a great subject.

 My Concept

Anderson Building 2017
The Anderson Building, Red Bank, NJ in October 2017.

Staring at the weathered red brick building you wonder what secrets its long-empty interior holds. My mind imagines the 1940s and 50s, rainy film noir scenes with pork pie-hatted men coming and going and Studebakers parked on the street. Add some cigar-chomping movers in overalls wearing those 1920s-style caps and you’ve got the picture. And then I think of how that time runs up to and connects with my era and my time in Red Bank. It was essentially the bridge between old and new, as the transformation of Red Bank began in the 1990s.

The Anderson Building is one of the last (if not the last) original untouched architectural landmarks of the Red Bank I grew up in during the 1970’s and 80’s. It’s also an icon of the West Side, which always had a distinct character of its own from the rest of town and the building contributes a lot to the old Red Bank feel. It’s a perfect addition to the Abandoned Industrial sub-series of my American Landscape project because it symbolizes for me the post-industrial era in our landscape. And it’s a shining example (again, for me) of the decline on a local urban scale not only of small family-owned commercial businesses of this type, but of industrial decline in the United States. Even though this wasn’t a manufacturing site, this and similar light-industrial types of businesses typically resided in such buildings in countless small towns across the nation. Most of those businesses and buildings are now gone and empty, respectively, and their small town landscapes have changed considerably in the last 3 decades to become shopping and dining destinations. Consequently, buildings like this are being redveloped into mixed-use buildings that retain their historic character—and this one will become one of them.

UPDATE: The redevelopment of the Anderson Building began not long after I wrote this post, probably in Spring 2018 and is likely now close to completion. Unfortunately, about 30% of the original building was demolished. I like to see 100% preservation and can’t really imagine why they would have needed to destroy that much of it. Fully restoring a historic building for use as office, living and retail space is a good use of historic resources and preserves them for future generations.

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Art, Self-Isolation, Abandonment And Decay, Part II – The Neshanic Station Railroad Bridge

Standing on the abandoned bridge affords one a unique way of viewing that space

A Little History

This week’s installment of Art, Self-Isolation, Abandonment And Decay focuses on the old abandoned railroad bridge that stretches over the South Branch of the Raritan River in Neshanic Station, New Jersey. I’ve been photographing this structure over a period of 8 years since I moved to the area. It’s of interest to me not only because it fits in to the spectrum of historic and abandoned subject matter that I photograph and write about, but it also ties in with my childhood memories of Flemington, New Jersey. And those imagined recollections[1] are the conceptual foundation of my “Reflections” series. So, you could say that this work is an outgrowth of that project and intimately connected to it.

South Branch Railroad bridge
The abandoned South Branch Railroad bridge in Neshanic Station, NJ, July 2017

My father used to take us to Flemington when we were kids and we would ride the historic railroad on the western segment of this line. It still runs to this day, in fact. The Eastern-most segment of the railroad used to cross over this very bridge. I never rode the train over the Neshanic bridge, as passenger trains had stopped running on the line before I was even born—the last one made the final trip in November of 1953. But this bridge is part of the same railroad, I found out through research, and that led me to a connection with my own history and my memories of Flemington, and with the photography work I was doing there for my master’s thesis.

(If you’re interested in learning more about this partially defunct rail line, Google the ‘Black River & Western Railroad’. They have weekend and special holiday trips so it’s definitely worth checking out and the history is interesting.)

The Physical, Metaphysical, and Time

The bridge in January 2013

The history is a point of fascination for me but my reasons for photographing this place (and for writing this post) are about the physical aspects and also the metaphysical and philosophical lenses through which I view it. This may sound like a lot of academic hot air—and I am an academician—but these things are what compel me to make the pictures…as they do for many other fine art photographers. Abandonment, decay and isolation are the factors I mentioned in my last post and they have inspired countless photographers in the Post Modern era, which we are still in today.
 

I feel a certain exuberance at being in a space that is so separated from the everyday flow…

There are many thoughts that run through my mind when I visit and photograph the bridge. Some are rooted in my childhood memories of Flemington, others are concerned with the span of time as it relates to the bridge itself. When I climb the embankment up to the old track bed (and it’s a steep climb near the abutment) the first feeling I’m struck with is that ‘this is an old place.’ I view much of my fine art photography work as a form of visual archaeology, and it also involves a lot of introspection and self-discovery, all of which apply here. It’s also a place that most people don’t or can’t go…I feel a certain exuberance at being in a space that is so separated from the everyday flow…to be well off the beaten path. The fact that the railroad was but is no longer part of the moving living world is a key point that makes me want to seek answers as an artist.

Time

The old railroad station depot in Neshanic Station, NJ, in July 2015.
…a train has not rumbled across the bridge in over 40 years…

One of the more intriguing aspects of this bridge for me is that a train has not rumbled over it in 4 decades—since I graduated high school in 1978. That’s a long time in human years. As you would expect, the bridge is well overgrown at each end especially in the summer months when all the greenery is filled in. At that time of year I can stand up on the old rail bed and feel the excitement of the summers of my youth. Contemplating the passage of Time gives me many thoughts, such as what it was like when there was a passenger train running through here. It was a different time, a slower time when most people didn’t have cars and traveling from one town to another was a much bigger consideration than it is now. Then one day there were no more trains. Freight trains continued in small numbers until they, too, ceased. And then the tracks were quiet forever…and eventually removed. It seems a shame to take them out; it would add so much to the romanticism and mystery of the railroad if they had been left in place. At least the bridge, depot and track bed still exist. And it’s one of the more fascinating aspects of my work, to follow former rights-of-way to see where a train once went. Some are so well erased by now that you need to employ a detective’s mindset and eye to find them.

Sometimes I allow my mind to run free and think ludicrous thoughts…like sitting at the old station depot and waiting for the train to come. It’s an apartment house now, well-kept but a little overgrown, which adds to the feeling of Time past, and you can imagine the train coming over the bridge, through the woods and pulling up to it with brakes squealing and steam venting. (Passenger trains on this line were pulled by steam locomotives.) I’ll think, maybe if I wait long enough one will come, like in a Twilight Zone episode.

When I climb up the embankment to make pictures I think about venturing out towards the middle as I have on the Readington bridge farther west on the line. I haven’t made it very far yet—it’s about a 30-foot drop to the river below. But you can imagine summers long ago, back in the 40’s and 50’s, when some kids might have climbed up onto the bridge and jumped off into the cool water below, daring each other to do it before a train comes. It makes me think of the movie Stand By Me in both time and mood.

A Tree In Time

The bridge in July 2017
Eventually the tree took over the tracks…

There is one aspect in particular that strongly illustrates the element of Time and its effects on the bridge and the trains that would have passed though there. A tree that took root at the bottom of the abutment on the west bank of the river has grown all the way up some 30 feet through the railroad ties, or what’s left of them, and well beyond. Above the track bed its trunk is thick and continues upward. You can see it in my photograph at the top of the post. I would guess this tree to be about 40 years old, so that means it sprouted as a tiny seedling at about the time the trains stopped running here. Then it became a sapling as it continued reaching up towards the bridge and tracks. Eventually its leafy top reached the underside of the bridge and began to poke its delicate branches through the rail bed. Unimpeded, it continued its way up. But no trains were coming by to trim it and keep it from growing larger and stronger. Eventually the tree took over the tracks.

Eventually—and this is what I like to think about—it got too thick for a train to pass. If the tree was just sticking through the rail bed with its new growth, trains coming by on a regular basis would easily have kept it at bay. But now, a thick trunk courses up and branches off through the former tracks. Even if trains didn’t come by too often and the tree continued to grow, a train could easily have trimmed it. But at some point the tree became too thick for a rain to pass and that seems to me a singularity in the time of the railroad and the bridge—the point when the passage of trains on the bridge was over forever. The removal of a section of track and overpass just east of the bridge where the railroad crossed River Road really made it final, but the tree seems a more natural progression of things. Sounds like a crazy person’s thoughts, perhaps? But it’s interesting to think about. For me, anyway…

What’s In The Future?

The Readington bridge is the same iron truss type farther own the line towards Flemington that is still in use. Trains only cross it a couple of times a week but it’s in good condition. I’ve photographed that bridge extensively, too, and I expect it will be around for a while longer. But the Neshanic bridge, which was built in 1917, may not be around as long. It’s pretty rusty and since it has been abandoned for around 40 years it hasn’t been maintained. It’s very picturesque now but at some point it will probably have to be dismantled for safety reasons. Perhaps a good blow could send it crashing into the river. Other parts of this railroad were quickly demolished and essentially erased when passenger service stopped running on it, particularly the station depots. Thankfully, the bridges are much bigger considerations and so this one remains. I think they add much to the aesthetic of our historic landscape. Eventually, though this one will come down and someone who comes after me might have less to go on in discovering this old railroad. And that’s another consideration of Time.

To see my fine art and commercial photography please visit my website at:

 
1. The photographs in my Reflections series visualize deep impressions of each place that are driven by memory. In a similar way, the photographs I make in this series are inspired by the same memories. In his seminal book, “The Poetics of Space,” Gaston Bachelard suggests that real images we see are engraved in memory by the imagination; the engravings replace the real images and deepen our remembering so that they become ‘imagined recollections.’ This is a concept that underlies much of my fine art work.

Art, Self-Isolation, Abandonment And Decay, Part I – The Route 206 Bypass

I’ve decided to write a series of posts on photographing abandoned and decaying subjects. Since much of my fine art photography focuses on forgotten objects and places in the landscape I wanted to share what draws me to make these pictures. This is not a “Weird NJ” thing but a serious subject of my fine art photography, with a deep connection to me as an individual and artist. The subject matter consists of things that have interested me for most of my life so they are topics of substance that also have a history, and researching that is another aspect of my work. For this first installment I’m looking at the Route 206 Bypass in Hillsborough, New Jersey.

unfinished route 206
The unfinished Route 206 Bypass in Hillsborough, May 2017

 
Unfinished highway projects have always held a fascination for me. Two that have long been of interest are Routes 18 and 33 in Monmouth County and I have plans to photograph and write about them soon. More recently, another state highway has appeared on my radar—the Route 206 Bypass in Hillsborough Township, my current place of residence. This project has been in the works for four decades and work was finally began in 2012. I became interested in exploring it when I was looking for new and accessible subject matter for my American Landscape project. The bypass has been sitting unfinished for 5 years and since it’s in close proximity to me I wanted to walk and photograph it.

(UPDATE: Work finally began in late 2018 to finish the north and south connections to the existing roadway, with completion scheduled for Spring 2020.)

“Magnificent Desolation”

Each individual artist has an intimate connection that draws them in…

It’s a wonderfully desolate place where I can experience the isolation I love working in when I make pictures…even when doing commercial photography I prefer to work alone. Since my photography projects are all based on a defined concept, I started thinking a lot about what draws me to these strange places and I came up with the answer: it’s the idea of decay and abandonment, two ideas that compel fine art photographers to seek out, explore, photograph and write about such things. Abandonment is obvious (although in this case it’s not really abandoned) and decay is the way the Earth reclaims anything paved over with our developments…like how grass and weeds are taking over this one.

But there’s more than that; each individual artist has an intimate connection that draws them in for their own reasons. For me it’s partly a love of architecture and certain engineering projects like this one. It’s also about an elated sense of isolation when I’m photographing out in the field; a frame of mind where I feel I’m in a place that no one else can go and where I can be fully present in my photographic process, as photographer Alec Soth talks about in this interview. I feel I’m living ‘on purpose’ and intimately connected with the subject when photographing in this way, being involved with and making the pictures of the things that fascinate and compel me. 

And there’s more to this conceptual foundation that I’ve now discovered…

206 bypass looking south
The north section of the bypass looking south at Amwell Road, July 2017

Clarity

Walking this freeway is a lot like when I’m out sailing on a river or the bay—you’re separated from the traffic and the mad rush of daily life. The sound of tires whirring over bridges becomes muffled to the point that it’s a distant thought…another world that I have escaped temporarily. You become a lone explorer where all is quiet, serene and devoid of any other human presence. There is essentially nothing as far as the eye can see and you feel a hugeness in that space. I feel acutely aware and alive, yet calm. This state of being is addressed in the Tao Te Ching, which I have been reading and studying recently. Most importantly, being in this ‘space’ adds to my ability to think clearly and creatively. As the same verse in the Tao says, when your mind is still the muddied waters will become clear.

Moving forward I will be returning regularly to the bypass to make more pictures and I’m especially excited for the Fall. It’s my favorite time of year and I’ll be out there on the unfinished roadway and also at the south end where they have yet to pave. Walking and photographing it with the trees in bright fall colors, the sun lower in the sky and the days getting shorter, with the serene isolation…that’s where I’ll want to be.

unpaved south section
The unpaved south section of the bypass at Hillsborough Road, July 2017.

Look for my next post on photographing decay and abandonment, and other posts I have forthcoming on a range of interesting subjects.

To see my fine art and commercial photography please visit my website at:

Bethlehem Steel – Close To A Family Legacy

There is an inexorable connection between Bethlehem Steel and Lehigh that fuels my work there…

 Return To A Distant Memory

For the last few years I’ve been working on a project called “The American Landscape,” an offshoot of my signature series, “Reflections on The American Small Town.” The purpose of the former is to give me a wider choice of small town architectural landscape subject matter to photograph within the conceptual construct of the Reflections series, without having to use reflection.

shop_buildings
Shop Buildings at the former Bethlehem Steel Plant in Bethlehem, PA

This project led me to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, among other places. My main reason for going was to visit Lehigh University and photograph it and the historic downtown where my father attended engineering school. He took me there only a few times between the ages of 9 and 12 and the place has always held a mystic fascination for me. Lehigh was a huge part of my Dad’s life. He would sometimes go there for a weekend to help with fund raising or other alumni-related activities…but he never took us except for two or three football games, and for his 25th class reunion in the summer of 1969.

A Family Legacy

Bethlehem Steel sign
The company logo over the former office building entrance on E. 3rd Street

Dad didn’t get there that much himself. But having spent a good amount of time working on my photography projects there, and in an attempt to reconnect with him through memory and the actual place where he spent some of his happiest days, I find it strange that he didn’t take us there more often. Many alumni families across the country are actively involved with the University through alumni engagement groups. I know because I have made some efforts to be more involved myself. I feel compelled to do this because my Dad loved it so much, and it occupied a significant niche in our family…I feel like it’s my family’s legacy.

The Steel Factory

So, what does this all have to do with Bethlehem Steel?

Bethlehem Steel has a certain connection to Lehigh…and my Dad.

About a year ago I started another project, The American Landscape, for the same purpose as the Small Town project—to be able photograph more of what I want while still creating pictures with cohesion and meaning. And that project includes photographing the ghostly remains of the Bethlehem Steel plant. Derelict and essentially abandoned for 20 years by the summer of 2015 when I first saw it (again), it is a powerful sight. This was once the flagship facility of the second-largest steel manufacturing company in the United States. Steel was made here for almost 150 years. Ordnance and huge guns that helped defend the country in two world wars were made here by a workforce of thousands. Its steel built the monumental architectural landmarks of our country. And now it is silent on the banks of the Lehigh River, although it’s an enjoyable silence.It was eerie and yet calming, serene, to stand looking at the silent blast furnaces and only hear the wind blowing…my kind of experience and one that gets my mind thinking.

Some of the abandoned buildings at the former Bethlehem Steel plant

And one of the main thoughts for me is that Bethlehem Steel has a certain connection to Lehigh and my Dad, a place that he loved and where he defined himself in his earlier life.

He lived in Bethlehem for four years and established his legacy at the University. And although it developed liberal arts programs decades ago, Lehigh was and is one of the most prestigious of engineering schools in the nation. My father studied chemical engineering, the very thing that made Bethlehem Steel work. So there is this inexorable connection between the two that fuels my work there. When I look at the steel mill buildings and blast furnace structures standing huge and decaying against the onslaught of Time (an important element in my fine art photography), I see my Dad.

Treatment Shop No. 3
Interior of Treatment Shop N o. 3 with the blast furnaces in the distance.

I remember him explaining similar operations in New Jesey to me when we would pass by the plants in the car. He went on to become an intellectual property attorney but he was always an engineer in everything he did. Meticulous and with blazing intellect he lived his life by those precepts. And that’s why the old steel mill (what remains of it) is a fascination for me and helps me to explore my memories—what are now imagined recollections—of my father and Lehigh.

To see my fine art and commercial photography please visit my website at: