Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Photo Essay: The Dead Mall of the Carousel

I grew up with a generation that was obsessed with the mall. When my sister and I were little, our dad used to bring us on the occasional day trip to a mall in some other city – maybe Utica – for a little mall tourism. We didn't even have to buy anything. We could just walk around.

It was a great escape from the summer heat while my dad was at work, the perfect spot to meet my friends and not have to spend any money, and even a great date place. You could get dinner and a movie. You could get your ears pierced, your hair cut, and your nails done, and then get your portrait taken.

And, starting in the early 1990s, you could ride a carousel.

In Syracuse, when Carousel Center opened, it was a big deal. It was the first time that a mall had really embraced its identity as an amusement park – just as commercialistic, with just as much walking around. All it needed was a ride to complement your Orange Julius, popcorn, and ice cream.

Tourists starting coming down from Canada just to shop at Carousel. And seeing the revenue-generating potential, other malls, like Shoppingtown, followed suit and installed their own merry-go-rounds.

But it wasn't quite the same: Carousel Center was built around a 1909 carousel by the Philadelphia Toboggen Company, which had spent the greater part of the 20th century at amusement parks in Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, and in Upstate New York parks. I didn't know it was historic when I rode it on Maria's 16th birthday. I just knew I loved it.

Another Carousel Mall popped up around the same time, across the country: but it wasn't a new mall, just a rebranding of the Central City Mall in San Bernardino, California. Built in 1972, Central City Mall was part of a major revitalization plan for historic downtown San Bernardino, directly across from the Civic Center and incorporating the historic Harris Company building, which had been there since 1927.

The big revitalization of the early 70s didn't go quite as planned, and the mall languished from the late 70s to the late 80s...

...until another revitalization plan brought a brand new carousel – and a new name – to the shopping center.

Unfortunately, the new theme wasn't enough to attract enough patrons to keep the anchor stores there... Montgomery Ward, JC Penney, and all of the rest of them left and went elsewhere...

...just like the shoppers did.

Now, Carousel Mall in San Bernardino is technically a dead mall...

...but the casket lid hasn't been closed on this one.

The mall is still open for business.

The doors haven't been locked yet.

It's just that...well, nobody's really walking through those open doors.

It has the eeriness of a ghost town whose population has dwindled down to just a few residents...

...who stay inside, peering out of their kitchen windows from behind the curtains... whomever dares to visit.

The main tenant is the County of San Bernardino, including its school district.

Sometimes you hear the faint echo of childish prater wafting down the mallway...

...but no one rides that carousel anymore.

Unlike the one in Syracuse, which had been rescued and restored...

...this carousel was built new, at the cost of $300,000.

It's in great condition...

...and has a distinctly modern feel compared to most of the vintage ones out there...

...though its modernity has all the charm of being over 20 years old – not quite old enough to be historic, and not nearly new enough to be exciting.

The few non-governmental tenants that are left include a Chinese food restaurant, a pawn shop, a couple mom-and-pop shops, and a news radio station.

But all the mall directories are pretty much just blank...

...and even some of the stores that still display their goods in the window weren't actually open for business. It's as though they just left...and left everything behind.

The Central City Mall has somewhat of a double identity: the entry points on three sides of it are through large parking lots and multi-level structures...

...while one side abuts two vintage buildings in a more pedestrian-friendly setting.

But this mall never really got the walk-in traffic they hoped for.

And now the Harris Building stands vacant.

Once the flagship for a popular chain of department stores in the Inland Empire... attracted shoppers with its Italian marble entryway...

...colorful tiles, and ornamental stonework and grillwork.

Patrons would walk through large copper doors not just to shop, but also to visit the tea room, cafe, and roof garden.

But no more: much of the building's 1920s features were replaced with more "modern" amenities in the early 1970s with the opening of the Central City Mall – which it found itself literally and physically connected to. The Harris Company survived multiple recessions, but even a merger couldn't help them as customers increasingly preferred to go (or stay) out in the suburbs for their shopping. Single screen movie theaters in urban centers had the same problem. The historic building was vacant by the end of 1999, and the company was out of business ten years later.

The funny thing is, Carousel Center in Syracuse managed to thrive. A couple of years ago, it was rebranded "Destiny USA," and now is bigger, more popular, and more like a theme park than ever – replete with IMAX, arcades, a comedy club, a mirror maze, go-karts, a golf simulator, laser tag, and something called an "inversion tunnel" (which I really want to check out). Maybe it's because it was already in the suburbs. Maybe the harsh climate makes Upstate New Yorkers appreciate an enclosed mall more than Californians do.

Though it doesn't have the word "carousel" in its name anymore, the Syracuse shopping center of my youth still has the same carousel that spins 'round, up on the second floor by the food court. It's hard to imagine that one ever becoming a dead mall.

But then again, it never occurred to me that we would ever lose Fayetteville Mall, or Fairmount Fair, or Camillus Mall...

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: (Mostly) Abandoned Hawthorne Plaza Mall & Parking, Exterior
Photo Essay: Another Ghost of My Childhood
Photo Essay: The Faces of The Santa Monica Pier Carousel

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Daddy's Girl

Grammy, Grampy, Uncle John, Uncle Dick, Aunt Ginger, and my dad in 1950

I love my father, despite the unspeakable horrors he allowed to happen to me and my sister as kids.

I love my father, and I think he loved me, once.

He was loving early in my life, but also could be incredibly scary. He'd yank me out of bed to confront me about some crime my mother had accused me of after he got home from his second job. He'd snatch me out of a church pew and drag me back into the vestibule to wag his finger at me and tell me to calm down during mass, because I'd been fidgeting – or, more likely, bouncing my leg up and down, a nervous tic I still have today. He never considered that something might be causing that anxiety in me at such a young age. He just knew I needed to be disciplined.

Church became so distressing that I started fainting there, so much so that my parents had me tested for epilepsy. After two different EEGs and several visits to a neurologist, Dr. Marasigan determined that the fainting (and convulsions) were just a stress reaction.

Despite the fact that my father would tell my mother and sister, "Sandi's not bad – she's just misunderstood," he would still subject me to some pretty severe punishments. I can't imagine what I could've done that was so horrible as to earn a raw wooden board with my name carved in it, used for spanking and stored in the ceiling beams of the basement. It stared down at me from up there as a threat, perhaps an intended deterrent. But I never really understood what I'd done wrong anyway, so there was no way I could change my behavior to avoid the splintery paddle on my bare bum.

It was also in the basement that my father said to me, many years later, "Don't make me choose between you and your mother. Because I have to choose your mother." After all, he'd already chosen my mother once; he hadn't chosen me, exactly. My mother's pregnancy with me had come as a surprise, only six months after she'd given birth to my older sister. But it never felt like I had been a pleasant surprise; it always felt like I had been a mistake.

And my father, the good Catholic that he was, used to say that he would take as many children as God would give him – that is, until God gave him me. After that, he was done. He'd had enough.

I'm not sure what kind of kid my dad wanted, or thought he would be given, but I guess it wasn't me.

Regardless, he tried to be a good father. To him, that meant being a good provider. He worked two jobs my entire life, stopping at home in between for a quick half hour dinner. His only day off was Sunday. He worked late Friday nights. He mowed the lawn and shoveled the sidewalk and kept the car running and did my mother's chores, which often involved getting a bucket full of soapy water. He was so indentured by my mother that he tried to joke his way through it, often saying "Yes massa" in a totally racist blackface slave impersonation.

My father's Catholicism is probably what kept him with my mother. After all, he'd chosen to share the sacrament of marriage with my mother, and he took that seriously. No matter how crazy she acted, or sick she became – no matter how much she lashed out at him or at God, and then came crawling all over him, begging for his affection – he wasn't going to break the covenant.

But for some reason, he had no covenant with the child who shared his genetic material. There was no promise made to the spawn of his procreation. And he wouldn't – or couldn't – protect me from the woman he'd chosen to be my mother, who turned out to be erratic, volatile, violent, and incredibly mentally ill.

In August of 1994, right before my sophomore year in college, my father sat me down – again in the basement – and said, "I think you should find somewhere else to sleep...for Thanksgiving, Christmas, summers..." It didn't come as a surprise, after he'd disowned me two summers in a row, saying things like "The daughter I once knew is dead." To be honest, it was a blessing. I'd been looking for a way out of that house for at least a decade. But symbolically, it was devastating.

My dad visited me in college a couple of times, but only while my sister was still there too, a year ahead of me. My senior year, after she'd graduated, my parents refused to come to Parents' Weekend, even though I was performing the lead role in a play. They almost didn't come to my college graduation. I didn't know until that morning whether they'd be there or not.

My father never visited me in New York City. I don't think it ever occurred to him to. I always kept a mental list of places where I'd like to take him, but I never had the chance.

And now, eight years after our last phone call on his birthday, today on Father's Day, I feel so terribly fatherless. I don't even know if he knows that I live in California now.

Over the years, I've tried attaching myself to my friends' fathers, but nobody's really been able to become my dad. And at nearly 40 years old, I still need a dad.

Both my father's brothers have passed, and I am now without uncles, too (not really knowing any of my mother's brothers, and not really wanting to have anything to do with her side of the family). I can only assume that my treasured godfather has passed, though I don't really know and don't know how I would find out. He was an innocent bystander in this whole thing with my parents, but unfortunately got caught in the crossfire. And I wonder who'll walk me down the aisle if I ever get married.

My father gave me away a long time ago.

I know that at this age, many of my friends (and now, my cousins) struggle on this day because they've lost their fathers, who were taken from this life too soon. I've lost my father too, but he's still out there, and he is – by choice – childless. He turned his back on both of his daughters. And he'll live out his remaining years all alone with the woman who always wanted him all to herself.

Related Posts:
A Father's Day Dedication
Carrying on a Legacy

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Photo Essay: The Surprising Secret Life of the Zipper

It's taken me a while. They said it would. But I'm finally starting to find my fellow misfit toys.

I thought I was the only one who'd want to tour a zipper factory. I was surprised my boss approved the idea and let me put an event together.

I didn't do it for the money. I did it because I wanted to tour the zipper factory, and I was too embarrassed to ask for a tour by myself.

I figured I'd sell five tickets. But at least then, I'd be with five other people, rather than all by myself.

But you know what? Thirty people bought tickets, and another ten people added themselves to the waitlist. And some of those people were way more excited to step into U-CAN Zippers' facility than even I was.

And it turns out, zippers are one of those things in life that you take for granted, but have a fascinating secret life.

U-CAN has a dye laboratory where it concocts custom colors for the tape, teeth and sliders – because no colors of zippers are naturally occurring.

Even white zippers have to be whitened from their natural cotton color (which is more of an off-white). And besides, U-CAN does more than a dozen shades of white (and as many shades of black).

Almost all the zippers that U-CAN manufactures are for apparel, but some are also used for bags, and even furniture coverings and car seats.

As fashion dictates zippers can be either a colorful embellishment...

...or a utilitarian fastener.

The tape that holds the teeth comes on these giant bobbins...

...and the wires that make the teeth are ready to be unspooled, and fed into one of the factory's many machines.

It's loud in there, and while walking through, you may encounter a cloud of paint fumes, or tiny pieces of debris flying through the air as the zippers get formed, sliced, and spliced.

Some of the processes have become automated with more modern machinery, requiring less staff...

...but this is still a pretty handmade process...

...requiring at least the watchful eye of someone standing over the machine...

...ready to unclog the bottlenecks...

...and feed the sliders into the hopper.

The equipment is more reminiscent of a film projector than a sewing machine.

The process of the teeth being added and joining together with a slider is mesmerizing.

Some customers order batches of one length of cut pieces, but if they need various lengths, they might just order one epically long zipper and cut it down themselves.

There's a surprising amount of variety available in the zippers offered – not just in colors (though rainbowed, swirled and marbled are not yet available), but also in material (copper, plastic, nylon), finish (nickel-free nickel, antique) and size of the teeth. The biggest one they offer is a 15 gauge, but most of them tend to be more like a 5 gauge.

It's hard to imagine a zipper that big appearing on a piece of clothing. Then again, it would've been hard to imagine a zipper at all, if you'd only ever fastened your clothing with buttons, snaps, and laces.

The world constantly surprises.

Related Posts:
EVENT: The Last Zipper Factory in the West - with Obscura LA
Photo Essay: No Place Like Homeboy
Photo Essay: A Book By Its Cover