My Love For Abandoned Places

Someone was asking me the other day about why it was that I love abandoned places and decaying objects so much. Because I do have an intense love for both of these things and the myriad forms they can take, from sprawling former industrial sites to single houses which have been left to rot.

It’s an oddly conflicted sort of love. At the same time that I love abandoned landscapes, I also fret because they represent a poor use of space. And it makes me sad to see spaces coopted for development while abandoned spaces still exist. By rights, I think that land which people have been abandoned should be repurposed for new uses, as opposed to taking land which has trees and plants or is in use as farming land or open space and making it into a development. Yet, I resist the development of abandoned spaces, because I love them so much. These two impulses war in my heart constantly.

I’m not quite sure I can put my finger on why I adore places which have been left behind. I  think that part of it may come from an interest in people who were here before me. I don’t feel comfortable gawking at sacred sites, but I do like to see what daily lives were like and what was important to prior civilizations, whether I am on a decommissioned naval base or looking at an archaeological site. These places intrigue me because they feel like pieces of a puzzle which I am also a part of; I, too, shall abandon spaces which will be examined by people who come after me.

I also grew up in a quasi-industrial space, so I have an affinity for such places by nature because they remind me of home. This is the place I dream of when I dream that I am home, it is the place that I still reflexively sometimes want to go to when I go “home” and when I want to sort something out. Raw, unfinished, rotting, partially abandoned things, these are familiar and comforting to me, like a warm quilt might be to someone who grew up in a cozy and conventional house which had all its walls.

There is a strange sort of beauty in these places and in their decay, in the grass which thrusts up through former parking lots, in abandoned pieces of paper scattered in rooms which people left and maybe didn’t realise that they were seeing for the last time. There is an intriguing mystery in objects which I can’t identify, in things which once had a purpose and a function and are now left behind. I am fascinated by objects which were once perhaps precious and used but now are left behind like garbage.

And I love seeing how these spaces are shaped and changed and shifted. The graffiti which bedecks many spaces left to their own devices grips me. Overlapping narratives and stories unfold on walls, benches, furniture. The harder a space is to access, the more rich and amazing and beautiful the graffiti is, because if you’re going to go that far, you might as well go all the way.

I don’t like places which are clean and sterile, polished and neatly finished. I like places which are messy and chaotic and raw, I like places which are spilling their innards out for inspection, I like places which have been forgotten. I like things which are rotting and rusting and melting away.

A huge gear which has broken into several pieces partially buried in sand. The gear is solidly coated in rust.A gear lies abandoned on the North side of Pudding Creek Beach. It’s been left here so long that it has rusted and feels almost like it is made out of stone. Proof that the Dharma Initiative was in Fort Bragg?

A large beige tank behind a chainlink fence, reading 'empty abandoned in place'

One of the many drums and canisters abandoned in place on Treasure Island.

Papers and pamphlets, including an ATT phone bill, from 1993 in an abandoned house on Treasure Island.

Documents left behind when Treasure Island was decommissioned, on an area of the base which hasn’t been opened up for housing due to contamination.

A fireplace surrounded by a house stripped to its framing.The house which surrounds this fireplace was crushed in a storm when a tree fell on it. The forest grows up around and through the house, and in a few decades, it will be as though it was never here.

Graffiti on the side of an abandoned railroad car, including an image of a stump and the word 'pray' beside it.Graffiti on the side of a Reading Railroad car on the Skunk Train’s back lot.

A closeup of the undercarriage of an abandoned railway car, showing rusting springs and levers.Details of the undercarriage of the same car.

An abandoned bowling alley and movie theater on Treasure Island; the old East span of the Bay Bridge can be seen in the background.

What was once entertainment is now empty space.

Isn’t there something strangely compelling about it all?