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Ghostly Ruins: America's Forgotten Architecture Paperback – September 28, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

(Skrdla) is investigating the architecture of 'forgetting,' in the present tense, confronting us with the 'ruins' our way of life seems bound to produce. . . . There's a wonderful photograph shot from an upper floor of the abandoned Hudson's building, before it was imploded--a view that none but 'ghosts' will ever look out upon again. The effect is meditative and fine; the book will appeal to anybody acquainted with the pleasures of the unseen. -- Metro Times, November 2006

An obituary to some of the grandest, oddest and unluckiest building ventures in the country. . . Ghostly Ruins prompts the question: Which of today's buildings, towns, department stores or factories will be the last one standing? -- Traditional Building, April 2007

Curl up in front of a roaring fire with Ghostly Ruins, eerie, black-and-white photographs of dozens of gorgeous old ruins. -- Detroit News, Nov. 4, 2006

The effect is meditative and fine; the book will appeal to anybody acquainted with the pleasures of the unseen. -- Metro Times, Nov. 28, 2006

These inventories of fallen monuments to our ambition as a nation are unsettling for what they say about our culture. -- T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Fall 2006

About the Author

Harry Skrdla is an engineer and a historic-preservation consultant based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has contributed to the preservation and restoration of a number of noteworthy structures, including the ornate 1920s movie palace the Fox Theatre in Detroit, one of the last of its kind in America.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; 1 edition (September 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568986157
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568986159
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #362,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Skrdla admits in the acknowledgements section on the last page of this book that it's a compilation, rather than a collection of all of his own photos of vacated, dilapedated, and otherwise ruined buildings or sites. Understandably, if for some sites he was limited to using only those photos made availible to him by the various photographers, then he had to do the best with what he had. However, in some cases, what was availible proved to be darned little. I developed a passive interest in the (now demolished) Danvers State Lunatic Asylum after seeing a film called "Session 9" that was shot on the site. Searching for books about Danvers brought me to this collection, and the preview photo of teetering, derelict cranes at the ship graveyard in Stanten Island, NY, more or less made the sale. Even though Amazon publishes dimensions for each of their books, I was rather surprised, upon opening the box that came in the mail, at just how small this book is (length and width, not thickness, although it's none too thick, neither.) I've gotten used to photo collections being the size of coffee-table books, and this is really just an overgrown paperback. I haven't got a ruler handy, but it's smaller than an 8.5"x11" sheet of printing paper, anyway. What's worse, several pages of this overgrown paperback have two postcard-sized photos sqeezed onto them, plus text. Some of the shots are downright miniscule, especially given the fact that many of the buildings being photographed were reputed for their sheer size in their heyday. I would have shelled out the money for a thicker or larger version of this book that didn't scale the pictures down to such meager dimensions, had I realized what I was getting. I gave this book only three stars, which means that I didn't give it the other two.Read more ›
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A very impressive photo documentary of buildings and places that have been left to uncertainty, the elements, or destroyed. The brief histories given for each place makes for some interesting reading. The photographs are magnificent, I wish I could step into them and see all the photographer saw at the time the places were photographed. It is sad to think some of these places will be left alone to fall apart or destroyed. This book really brings to mind how precious and unique these places are.
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Author Skrdla presents his unique vision of the world of abandoned buildings across the USA. Lavishly illustrated in compelling black and white images, the book opens your eyes to the beauty and sadness of the deserted cast-offs of our "throw-away" age.

The book is organized in a series of types of building, from residential to industrial. Skrdla has an ironic and tight writing style which clearly expresses his love for these often dramatic examples of man's ego and confidence. He also makes the reader take stock of the increasingly homogenized, sterile, and industrially functional buildings our society is willing to accept. He makes the stong point that we are losing the pride in civic architecture which is the foundation of lasting meaning and beauty.
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A fantastic and haunting look at some once grand and beautiful buildings. An excellent commentary with history, that creates a mood thick with the cobwebs of time. The best I have seen that deals with the wealth of archietectural gems we have lost over the years. After reading, one is so much more aware of the crumbling buildings that surround us all over the nation, and maybe will be moved to save future ruins from total destruction.
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GHOSTLY RUINS is a handsome volume of about 30 profiles of American "structures" (broadly defined) that once were grand in their individual ways - monuments of human pride and schemes - but now exist in various states of disintegration and decay, if they still exist at all. The subjects include train stations, bridges, factories, hotels, mental and penal institutions, mansions, and amusement parks. (My favorites are the Schoellkopf Power Station, Niagara Falls, N.Y.; Bannerman's Castle, Dutchess County, N.Y.; Brush Park, Detroit; and Chippewa Lake Park, Medina, Ohio.) The profiles consist of about one page of text and a handful of black-and-white photographs, including one or more from the subject's glory days as well as those of contemporary decrepitude.

The book is far from ideal, however. First, it is somewhat superficial. I would have preferred more in-depth coverage of each of the ruins, even if that meant omitting some of the subjects (and there are some obvious candidates, such as the Polynesian restaurant in Detroit, the town in Pennsylvania that had to be abandoned because the seams of coal beneath it caught on fire, and the ghost town in California). Second, and more problematic, is the rather mediocre text. It veers back and forth between trite sentimentalism and bitter cynicism, with scarcely a trace of the poetic that is called for. (The best the author can do is present Shelley's poem "Ozymandias" as a sort of epigraph.)

Even so, many of the photographs evoke, on their own, meditations on mortality and the ravages of time. W.G. Sebald certainly would have delighted in some of the photographs of architectural decay, although he probably would have shuddered at much of the accompanying text.
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