What Happened Here

Baseball’s Leftover Footprints
March 23, 2013, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Closed, Landscapes | Tags: , , , , ,
New England SportsPlex, 2010

The calendar says it is spring, and with it the start of another baseball season is just around the corner.

Baseball can be played anywhere there’s room, but formal baseball fields require a pretty distinctive kind of place to be carved out—one that stays recognizable well after baseball stops being played.

In the spirit of the season, let’s take a look today at some evidence that has hung around long after baseball went away.



Sleep Train Arena is the aptly-named home of the basketball’s hapless Sacramento Kings.  Next to it is the foundation of a baseball stadium begun in the late 1980s.

Sacramento ballpark site, 2012

The stadium was part of a larger scheme by the Kings’ owner to eventually bring the NFL’s wandering Raiders to Sacramento.  That plan fell apart amid scandal, and construction stopped in 1991.  A minor league ballpark was later built in another part of town

The remaining foundation, wrapped around one corner of a sunken field, is clearly a stillborn baseball ground in the above Bing photo from 2012.  It’s not apparent what goes on there now, but if you look closely, there’s even a little hump almost where the pitcher’s mound ought to be.

Unfinished Sacramento ballpark with Sleep Train Arena

The foundation today sits untouched just north of the arena, and is one of the few places trees grow in this 2013 Google Maps view.

The service tunnel from stadium to arena is now used as a clown dressing room.



In 1994, a new private softball park opened along I-84 in Vernon, CT, with four diamonds arranged in a circle.  For years as I passed the sign advertising the New England SportsPlex, advertising its availability for leagues, parties, and outings.

New England SportsPlex, 2003New England SportsPlex, 2002 or before
Top: Google Earth photo, 2003.
Bottom: Photo from a softball website from 2002.

In the photos above it’s still looking relatively operational.  Sometime in 2002 or 2003, it closed.

First, the sign remained but the grass got tall, then the weeds got taller than the grass, and soon a thick mass of shrubs began to consume the whole facility.

New England SportsPlex, 2010
New England SportsPlex, overgrown in 2010 (Google Earth)

At least once a month for years I have passed by as the fields, then the fences, have disappeared.  The dugout roofs finally stood only slightly above the vegetation, like Mayan ruins poking out from the jungle.  But the overgrowth still followed the shapes of the fields many feet beneath beneath.  The shrubs moved quickly in the bare infield, foul lines, and warning track before filling the outfield.  Though it was deep down under the brush, the shape of baseball remained clear.

New England SportsPlex, 201x (bing)

In 2011, the growth was cleared as shown in the Bing photo above, and “for sale” signs went up.  But weeds don’t relent, and without maintenance, the complex is well on its way to being swallowed up all over again.



The Montreal Expos were enfranchised in 1969, and until their otherworldly Olympic Stadium (itself now vacated) was available in 1977, they played at a small municipal stadium in the city’s Jarry Park, northwest of downtown.

Jarry Park, Major League Baseball configuration
Jarry Park Stadium in its Major League Baseball configuration (image origin unknown)

Jarry is a medium-sized city park, and today has a lot of space devoted to athletics (pool, tennis courts, jogging paths, and more).  Wide open fields host big and small soccer games.

A curved grandstand behind home plate was the only structure standing in the baseball area before the Expos came.  Three added bleacher units increased Jarry Park Stadium’s capacity more than ninefold for the team’s arrival, hosting them until their new facility was available after the 1976 summer games. Still, pictures there’s the informality and scale of a minor league park.

In 1980, after baseball left, the enlarged stadium still remained, but its field was filled with an array of tennis courts and new bleachers.  This picture of unknown progeny pops up around the web and is the only full view I know of the awkward, ad hoc marriage between baseball diamond and tennis courts:

Jarry Park Tennis Stadium

The enduring ballpark shape lasted only until 1996, however, when all of the additions since 1969 were removed, and du Maurier (now Uniprix) Tennis Stadium was built in their place.

Uniprix Stadium, 2012

The diamond is no longer visible in the 2012 Bing view, but the entire pre-Expos structure — the curved center with its elevated press box — still remains at the south end, the focal point in the new design.



One of the saddest ends of a baseball park was that of Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, which hung on as the city itself decayed and evaporated around it, only to have a desperate Detroit turn on the stadium and replace it. The experience there was entirely unlike that of modern parks, with fans surrounding the whole diamond and upper decks crammed as close as possible to the on-field action.

Tiger Stadium closed in 1999.  People tried for years to preserve the oldest remaining Major League stadium, a beloved source of pride in a city running out of them.  Those efforts failed, and the park was demolished over 2008 and 2009.

Tiger Stadium

In this inaccurately-dated photo from Bing Maps (it says 2012, by which the stadium was long gone) the still-standing Tiger Stadium looks ready to host a game tomorrow, a bright spot in a neighborhood that poverty, neglect, and fire has turned into a sea of vacant lots.

Tiger Stadium site, 2010

By this 2010 Google Earth view, the hallowed corner of Michigan and Trumbull has joined the emptiness. Nothing remains of the massive structure, but somehow, the diamond still endures right where it hosted ballgames since Bennett Field opened there in 1896. A lone flagpole watches over it past right field.

It shines like divinity shielded it from destruction, but it’s a very earthly force keeping it that way: since 2010, a group of stubborn Detroiters calling themselves the Navin Field Grounds Crew (after the stadium’s original 1912 name) takes it upon themselves to break into the fenced-off field weekly, illegally picking up the trash, cutting the grass, and painting the foul lines.  The city objects to the maintenance, one spokesman declaring “It cannot be a space for playing baseball. That space is not meant for that,” despite 117 years of evidence to the contrary.  But with no municipal resources available to stop them, the Grounds Crew rolls on.

Dave Mesrey cuts the grass at Michigan and Trumbull
(Sarah Aittama/Michigan Radio)

I suppose the lesson is, baseball leaves its imprint long after the playing stops, but if it doesn’t, just wait for spring, and someone will be sure to happily bring it back.

Happy Baseball Season!

Buildings That Used To Be Something Else: KFC
December 24, 2012, 1:01 am
Filed under: Buildings that used to be something else, Commercial Architecture

At least as far back as the early 20th Century, retailers have used uniquely-shaped buildings to advertise them on sight.  Some common design pattern is repeated at every location and becomes as much a part of the brand’s identity as its name.  Countless gas stations, supermarkets, and especially restaurants use architectural branding as their calling card.

When they go out of business, they leave buildings still instantly identifiable as the former homes of the brands they were intended to evoke.


kfcflexiKFC company materials, 1970s

Former Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant buildings are all over the place.  Their signature restaurants have been repainted and reoccupied in countless ways, but the shape gives away the original occupant.

KFC’s standard little building for many years featured a red-and-white-striped, four-sided pyramid roof with a cupola tower sitting atop.  It was unmistakable with the most fleeting driving-by glance.

In a way it was a close descendant of White Tower, often called the first big fast food chain, whose own cartoonish little 1920s burger stands were distinguished by a tower shot upward on the corner of every building.  Those, too, stand out even decades after all but one closed down.

Moody's Falafel PalaceFormer White Tower, Cambridge, MA, 2006

This most recognizable version of KFC dotted the national landscape until this level of roadside gaudiness fell out of fashion.

Some of the KFCs were torn down and rebuilt as newer versions.  But a lot of them simply closed, and as happens, unmistakably-KFC building shells remain left behind with new inhabitants, their true origin not lost on anybody.



Here are a few examples I’ve come across in my travels:

Former KFC, Saugus, MA

This former KFC sits on the heavily commercialized section of Route 1 in Saugus, Mass.  The area contains a lot of historic commercial architecture, but far more of it is new, replaced, or modernized beyond discerning its origin.  There is no mistaking this vacuum cleaner store’s heritage, though.

Former KFC, Salem, NH

This KFC-turned-Chinese-restaurant in Salem, NH, not only features the building design but the old standard sign structure.  The arrow, common to KFCs of the period, seems so eager that it overshoots the sign slightly, swinging wide before turning and rocketing your attention straight in toward that roof.

The Saugus location still features this original sign as well.

Former KFC, Palmer, MA

This location is now a Thai and Japanese restaurant in the downtown of Palmer, Massachusetts.  Unlike the previous examples, both on highway commercial strips, the roof element here feels especially massive and hard to ignore next to its smaller-town surroundings.


This building in Hamden, Connecticut, is different than the rest.  The proportions are off, somehow—the pyramid does not seem symmetrical in four directions, and the rear el sticks out too much to one side—and the finish materials seem neither weatherproof nor consistent with the other examples.  But I feel pretty strongly that this is a former KFC.  The dual-plane roof pyramid, the wide wraparound fascia, and the cupola are all there, and perhaps most significantly, a much more modern KFC is open and operating right across the street.


Keep an eye out here for more looks at buildings that used to be something else in the future.

Johnnie’s Foodmaster, Part I
November 19, 2012, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Closed, Supermarkets
Every Johnnie’s Foodmaster, November, 2012

Supermarkets live at the center of our lifestyles, budgets, and communities, where much of our interaction with both our neighbors and the economy takes place.

In Eastern Massachusetts, those interactions are changing for many with the closing of the ten-store Johnnie’s Foodmaster chain.

Check back here as I take a look at this local institution and share some scenes from its final days.

A Wetscape Awash: The Meadowlands
November 7, 2012, 12:22 am
Filed under: Landscapes, New Jersey

US Geological Survey photo, 2011

Last week’s heart-stopping Hurricane Sandy sent a surge of seawater over every tidal barrier and gate in New Jersey’s waterworld, the Meadowlands.

The New York metropolitan area expanded centuries ago to the point where dealing with a 35-square-mile tidal wetland at its edge was unavoidable. Settlers, farmers, industrialists and more have filled in and set up shop in this sea-level purgatory ever since.

The inspiring folks at the Center for Land Use Interpretation have been undertaking a massive documentation of the Meadowlands for some years now, and I was lucky enough to catch Matthew Coolidge’s presentation of the project in New York this past August.

I said that night that the Meadowlands has been one of the great museums, playgrounds, and schoolrooms in my life — hundreds of weird discoveries down dead-end streets in clear view of Manhattan yet miles from the nearest home.

Most of the Meadowlands lies just a hair above the waterline, and thus the Sandy storm surge has run rampant over many of its places, likely destroying, changing, and creating a lot of stories within.

Take a moment to browse through the stories in the deeply detailed snapshot of the pre-Sandy Meadowlands at CLUI’s online database:


Map it!

58 Tracks
October 22, 2012, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Landscapes | Tags: , , ,
Prison Point Bridge (now Gilmore Bridge), 1916.

Already a hundred years old when this map was made, the Prison Point Bridge between Charlestown, Massachusetts, and Cambridge’s Lechmere area originally crossed only tidal flats and the now-disppeared estuary called Miller’s River.

By 1916, after a century of industrialization, reclaimed land and the 58 tracks of a mammoth railroad yard had come to occupy the space beneath. The goods and people of Northern New England all funneled beneath on their way into into Boston, half a mile to the south.


Panoramic view north from Gilmore Bridge, 2012

By 2012 all but the northeastern-most dozen tracks are gone.  The renamed Gilmore Bridge crosses mostly fallow land today, stripped of most remaining tracks by the last decade.

The construction of the Northern Expressway (I-93) and Tobin Bridge (US 1) cut off parts of the yard while simultaneously rendering it obsolete.  Highway ramps have come to occupy the Charles River side of the bridge at right, with new parkland establishing a recent beachhead beyond.

Google Maps view, 2012

The news insisted most of this area would be the new “North Point” development by 2010, comparing it in scope to the Back Bay.  A relocated Green Line was to be crossing the site by now, along with a leg of the unbuilt Urban Ring transit loop.  Recent economic sag has allowed only a handful of buildings to rise and no mass transit construction, with the bulk of the yard area in overgrowth and dormancy.

One of the last yard light towers stands before the new buildings in the panorama view, its broken fixtures still swinging in the wind.

Map it!

Map from G.W. Bromley & Co. Atlas of the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts from actual surveys and official plans. Philadelphia: G.W. Bromley and Co., 1916.  Panoramic photo by P. Nersesian, 2012.




Mobil and McGrath Highway, East Somerville, Mass.
September 5, 2012, 3:15 pm
Filed under: Landscapes, Signs | Tags: , ,

For several years, the pumps have been quiet at the vacant Foss Park Gas on the eastern corner of McGrath Highway (Route 28) and Broadway in Somerville, Mass.  A dilapidated white billboard bearing nothing but rust and a few old campaign signs stands blankly at the edge of the former station’s fenced-off and excavated site, as it has since long before Foss Park Gas closed.


While browsing Nishan Bichajian’s excellent photos for Kevin Lynch’s Perceptual Form of the City study, I came across a photo of this same sign, dated sometime between 1954 and 1959 (likely earlier in that range, based on the cars).  Only after seeing this photo did I notice an outline of the current Mobil logo, long ago removed but still barely visible amid today’s rust.



In the older view, the sign has so much to sell us: gas, deals, service — even friendliness.  Around this time the parent Socony-Vacuum company began a complete strip-down and redesign of its identity, adopting its main product’s name and emerging in the mid-60s with the rounded brand we know today.  The modern version now announces only a vague idea called “Mobil,” non-committal enough to stand for self-serve or cigarettes or doughnuts, or less if need be.

In my memory it was the 1970s when gas stations were still actually thought of as “service stations,” where paternal oil companies wanted the chance to meet every need related to your car.  They marketed tires, oil, spark plugs, maps, credit cards, and even travel bureaus with actual… cheer.

Today all Mobil and its counterparts really represent is the chance for a quick do-it-yourself chore, and maybe some things to put in your mouth while you drive.



Also interesting in this photo is the landscape of McGrath Highway in the 50s, a congested corridor of automobile dealers (Broadway Chevrolet, with Burnett Ford behind) and bombastic gas station signs.  The distant Sunoco station sits on the far side of Mystic Avenue (Route 38), on land now underneath Interstate 93.

Bichajian doesn’t seem to have devoted much time to the area, but his one other photo here shows a closer view of properties further along McGrath, east of Blakeley Avenue on the site of today’s Stop & Shop:


In addition to an Esso station and Rayco, another auto business, there is East Star Cafe and Somerville Lumber.  All of these properties would eventually be consolidated into a larger Somerville Lumber campus that, like most home-improvement retailers, closed in the late 90s in the face of industry consolidation.  Stop & Shop replaced its vacant buildings in the early 2000s.

That is not yet Interstate 93 looming behind in both photos, but instead the Assembly Square plant of Ford Motor Company (the much-altered building occupied by today’s Assembly Square Mall).  Judging by the billowing smoke, the factory was still humming along (or burning down).  It went idle in 1958 as Ford struggled to sell the Edsels it produced, and served as a First National Stores supermarket warehouse for several decades after.


This stretch was a more crowded place in 1955, as seen running from bottom left to top right in this photo from that year on Historicaerials.com:

By 1969, most of the northern end of this area was being cleared for Interstate 93, which would replace Route 28 from here north as a long-distance route. This stretch of McGrath Highway has been expanded from two to three lanes and straightened, all at Foss Park’s expense:

By 2005, Interstate 93 and Stop & Shop had consumed most of the smaller parcels in the northern end, and very little streetside retail remained along McGrath:



One final interesting note on this area:  it seems that when Interstate 93 was built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the intersection of McGrath Highway, Mystic Avenue, and the Fellsway (Route 28’s continuation north into Medford and beyond) was realigned and spread out, with a significant chunk of Foss Park being cut off to create a smoother transition for through traffic on 28.



Though Route 28 traffic today continues seamlessly north onto the Fellsway (first photo above), the original route of McGrath Highway continues via the righthand exit, where Interstate 93 cuts it off. The rest is still there, if you know where to look — a forgotten single dead-end block of McGrath quietly remains off Middlesex Avenue across from Kmart (circled in the second photo, a 2012 view from Google Maps), complete with street sign but almost no traffic or abutters.

Additionally, the mid-50s seems to have been the end of the pond that existed since Foss Park’s creation in the 19th Century.  It appears in the 1955 photo above, but in a 1957 USGS topographical map of the area it is already gone. I haven’t found any good information on why it was filled in.


A footnote: Does anyone know anything about Nishan Bichajian? He is the unsung hero of the Perceptual Form of the City project, where Lynch gets all the credit. All I can find is that he lives or lived in Winchester, and is 94 if he’s alive.

Map it!

What happens here
August 10, 2012, 2:57 am
Filed under: Welcome

So what’s going to appear in this blog?  Here are a few examples, taken from some of my ongoing photographic compulsions.




Up until the early 2000s, I was a regular payphone user just like you.  And then we all got cell phones, became perpetually reachable, and made a whole ubiquitous technology obsolete.

Payphones were recently as common as traffic lights, but they’re vanishing, leaving their tombstones behind for the time being.

These are some relics of when made our phone calls standing up and standing still.



Saturn of Paramus, NJ 

There are a lot of businesses disappearing these days.  What we’re not buying anymore ultimately dictates a lot of what we don’t see anymore, and what we don’t see changes how we think about the world around us.

Sometimes the shifts are small, and sometimes, as above, they are the manifestations of bigger developments.  Saturn, on the left, fell victim to the economic shock waves of the 2008 worldwide auto-industry contraction.  Hollywood Video’s whole industry, on the other hand, simply became obsolete.



Long ago, businesses started using distinctive building shapes as part of their advertising.  As chains grew, brand buildings spread across the country infusing their brand into the public consciousness and landscape.


But as I’ve mentioned, businesses close.  And they get replaced much more often than buildings do.  The result is a world littered with the built equivalent of thrift-store clothes, reworn by others their makers never had in mind.


These are just a few examples, but you get the idea — I like to keep an eye on what’s happening, and what’s happened.  Keep checking back for more.


August 3, 2012, 3:39 am
Filed under: Welcome | Tags:

I have a compulsion to watch and record the slow changes around me.  These days, I am told, the best recording instrument we have is the blog, so until the next advance, blog it is.

Please read up, and tell us all what you know.   History needs us all, so let’s get to it — let’s catch time in the act.


More mutterings at the About page.


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