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Ghostly Ruins: America's Forgotten Architecture Paperback – December 1, 2006
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(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.
Top customer reviews
The second star was lost for questionable subject choice. Maybe I'm biased, since I live only twenty minutes away from it, but did Centralia really deserve to be in a book about abandoned buildings, especially a volume so pressed for space that it already had to shrink some photos down to wallet size? Centralia's history is interesting, and its evacuation and demolition has made it locally contentious and famous as a ghost town. But photogenic it ain't, and to me its inclusion seemed to be a swing-and-a-miss. It wasn't even pretty when it was extant, folks. The ghost town of Bodie is likewise an odd choice for this book, given that it's also a town rather than a building or site. But, unlike Centralia, at least Bodie has structures left to photograph, and at least Bodie has a surreal western boom-town ambiance. Also, I was expecting some better shots of Danvers, and that has me disappointed. We're given a teensy vintage shot of the center of the complex from the 1890s, a thumbnail of a floor plan, two shots of the exterior that do nothing to convey the sheer size that the hospital had (the shot of the derelict admin building is OK, but the establishing picture of one part of one wing looks like it could be any brick building built in the same style,) a picture of a refrigerator cooler door (?), a generic hallway with absolutely nothing interesting in it, and a picture of a cot. That's Danvers, a la Skrdla, or a la his contributor for those photos. If it was worth documenting, and from what I've seen of it in the aforementioned film that gives the grounds much better coverage, it definately was, then it was worth documenting completely. No shots of the cemetary? The tunnels? No exterior shots that indicate just how wonkin' huge that place was? What gives? And why are their so many rail bridges included, given that they all look pretty much alike?
Having done this much to complain about it, I do think that this book is worth a look, and by no means am I planning on tossing or re-selling my copy. Intreaguing Highlights of this collection, in my eyes, include Bannerman's Castle, the Ship Graveyard, the Colonial Ward Pumping Station engines, the United Artists Theatre in Detroit, the remaining columns of Windsor in Mississippi (only two photos, true, but in Windsor's case only two photos are needed to show everything that's left,) Brush Park, and Eastern State Penitentiary. Most of the rest of it ranges from interesting to just so-so; quite a few of these abandoned behemoths look pretty much alike by now -- a big empty ballroom is a big empty ballroom, and run-down hotel lobbies look pretty similar, too.
As is, it makes for an interesting afternoon of flipping through, awed by the grandeur and the decay of long disuse. If it had been larger, or at least hadn't had so many scaled-down pictures, and if it had used the paper wasted on Centralia to show twice as much of the grounds of Danvers, I'd gladly have given it five stars. It's a great idea, and I do thank Harry Skrdla for the intense labor of love that assembling this collection must have been. But anything this worth doing is worth doing right, and he missed a few rusting, half-sunken, long-abandoned boats along the way.
Very nice, a worthwhile endeavor, and worth purchasing if you're interested in the subject. But there'd be room for improvement.
His pictures are great.
However, the publisher fell down on the job--the book should have been larger where the pages would lay down flatter for better viewing and most importantly the publisher should definitely have used a larger font for the print. The small print is the main drawback with this otherwise handsome book--and is the reason it got 4 stars rather than 5.
If you can manage somehow with the small print, the book is well worth owning as it is well written and the pictures are excellent.
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.