by Chris Bodenner
A reader writes:
The boarded-up factory building and aging steel bridge say either Rust Belt or parts of New England to me, and those tapered tubular steel stop light posts have become very popular in the Northeast in the past few years. I haven’t been able to pinpoint the that bridge or building via Google maps so I just going to go with my gut and say Harrisburg, PA.
This view is one I’m pretty sure I have seen many times in the past three years. It is on the rapid line (i.e. the train/rail system) in Cleveland, Ohio. It could be either the blue or green line, as they both go on the same tracks in the same area. The gray skies and snow, are of course, an obvious indicator of the Cleveland winter. The bridge goes over the Cuyahoga river. I just moved to Chicago about a month ago for more opportunities, both economically and for fun, so this photo made me a little homesick.
My first try at this. It’s an industrial city in the northeastern US, and it looks like Bethlehem, PA, looking toward part of what’s left of the steel plant we used to call “Beth Steel.” I grew up in Allentown, in the next city over (to which Billy Joel incorrectly attributed some of Bethlehem’s “iron or coke, chromium steel.”) By the way, the town’s name is pronounced “BETH-lum,” in two syllables. That’s how you can pick the Pennsylvania natives from the devout out-of-towners.
Is it a different angle on the recent window view from Lawrence, Massachusetts?
I found a cool website within a couple of minutes (bridgehunter.com) and was certain this would lead to the answer in short order. But at my self-imposed 15 minute limit I had only started to figure out the difference between decked, through-, and camel-backed trusses – and was really no closer to a match among the 20,905 truss bridges they have posted. So it’s back to intuition. Things that suggest Portland, Oregon include the light coating of slushy snow (I think they got some recently, a rare occasion), nicer street lamps, and the possible light rail tracks on the foreground street. The air conditioners make me wonder, as does the age of the building. If it’s near the light rail, how about Burnside or Steel Bridge taken from the eastern side of the Willamette. I don’t think either are painted light blue, but my time’s up …
This looks like it might be from my part of the world (Southern Ontario, Canada). That building in the background looks like a hockey rink, the kind that were built in the post war period (but before the 1867 Centennial when federal government built aluminum sided rinks across the country to celebrate 100 years of Canada, for some reason). The dumpster appears to have a WM logo on it (very common in Southern Ontario), and finally the snow. It may be leading me astray, but when I see snow, I think home. I’m narrowing my guess to Windsor because of the bridge in the background – it looks an awful lot like Ambassador Bridge connecting Canada with Detroit.
The photo was taken in Detroit, Michigan, somewhere in the vicinity of the Detroit River. In the background is the blue-painted Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. In the foreground there’s a dumpster from a popular waste management company in the area, called simply Waste Management. You can see their green-W-yellow-M logo on the front.
Brooklyn? It’s got to be a reasonably large city with that kind of apartment building, elevated train track (I suspect it’s the F/G line, which I take to work from Washington Heights – a 90 minute commute!) and a factory. I think it’s Red Hook because of the elevated train and industrial presence commingling with apartment buildings. But that is an awfully large parking lot for New York, right?
Philadelphia? I have a strong feeling I’ve been in a Megabus from Boston to Philly riding over that blue bridge in the background there, and the warehouse seems to fit into that memory pretty well.
I’ll be damned, I think I actually got one. I only know of one blue bridge: the Ben Franklin from Philly to Camden. Google satellite showed nothing that fits the pic in Philly, where I used to live … so I went across the river and there it was. I think the photo was taken from the former Riverfront State Prison. Which may now house Victor’s Pub and/or a Susquehanna Bank branch. That’s what Google tells me. Anyway, that’s the Camden Board of Education building in the foreground.
I immediately recognized the drab landscape as the northeastern United States, and the snow on the ground suggested one of the Mid-Atlantic states that had modest snowfall this past week. Then, my gut told me that the bridge was the Ben Franklin Bridge. As a former resident of Philadelphia, I knew it looked familiar. For a moment I thought it might be the Philadelphia side, but the buildings didn’t seem quite right, and the angle and direction of ascent of the bridge seemed off. So it dawned on me to check the Camden, New Jersey side.
So I looked on Google Maps for a largish parking lot near the waterfront in Camden, just south of the bridge, and bingo. Google Street View provided the rest. The window in question is on the north side of the Victor Lofts (street address 1 Market Street), the former RCA Victor building. I’ve circled my guess.
I used to live nearby and always hoped they’d make that historic RCA Building into something cool. Condos will do.
During Medical School in Dallas, TX, I used to date someone in Philadelphia and would travel there quite a lot. Her mother lived in Cherry Hill, NJ and we would drive over there when I was in town. I instantly recognized the color of the bridge as being that of the Ben Franklin Bridge. I tried to locate the shot taken from somewhere in Philly but was stymied. While at work at the hospital on Sunday, I asked a colleague of mine whose wife is from Philadelphia to take a look at the picture. He thought the photo was maybe taken on the NJ side as when they are back there visiting they go over to NJ with the kids to the aquarium. Another colleague joined the hunt and we nailed the photo in Camden, taken at the Victor Lofts looking out at the Camden Board of Education Building across Cooper street. The best part of the hunt was introducing several more folks to your blog.
At first glance, I immediately suspected a gritty eastern city, probably Baltimore. I felt the big bridge in the background was my best clue to work on. So I proceeded to Google Earth to examine every bridge in Baltimore, looking for the green color of the bridge in the background of the VFYW photo. Finding none, I then went to Pittsburgh, which supposedly has more bridges than any other city in the United States. Unfortunately, every bridge in Pittsburgh is Steeler yellow. So Philadelphia was next. Instantly I found that the Benjamin Franklin Bridge connecting Philly to Camden, NJ had the right shade of green. My 13-year-old son then joined me and I had him examine the areas around either end of the bridge. He soon spotted the pale red building in the background and hollered out “I found it!”
As a native of a Mississippi River town (La Crosse, Wisconsin), I immediately thought of any of a number of river cities where the high bridge comes into downtown. I also thought the snow limited my search to the upper river. After a few fruitless searches I realized I had to head east, where I was more likely to find rowhouses. Ohio River? Nope. Cleveland? Nope again. Finally, I squinted at the large pixels to try to discern the license plates. That led me to try New Jersey, home of the yellowish plates and a search of New Jersey bridge images.
I very quickly honed in on the Ben Franklin bridge in Camden, where I found the rowhouses, the fenced parking lot, and the old factory building, just south of the bridge approach. This is clearly taken from the Victor loft apartments looking over Cooper Street. I don’t have the fancy computer tools or ability to draw the likely viewshed or angle of the shot. Here‘s the opposite view from the bridge.
Some background on Camden: the city had the most violent crimes per capita of any city in the US in 2009 and it announced in December it is laying off half its police officers. Was this a Dish reader’s photographic protest against decades of government mismanagement in Camden? There are (at least) five signs of local government at work in this picture:
1. The picture was taken on the day the notoriously corrupt Delaware River Port Authority OK’d a 25% fare increase in the toll for the pictured Ben Franklin bridge.
2. The trolley tracks in the foreground are for the River Line train, built for $1 billion, regarded as a boondoggle and completely empty on the Sunday afternoon we took the pictures.
3. The yellow trailer in the background marks the site of the former Riverfront prison, built in 1985 due to a short-term decision by the city to get millions in state aid by hosting the prison (and in the process destroying the marketability of the city’s waterfront). The prison was demolished in 2009.
4. The parking lot is full of employees leaving the Camden Board of Education (the building on the right of the picture) right at closing time – 5:00 p.m. on the dot – judging from the light when the picture was taken.
5. Finally, the picture was taken from the Victor lofts, a luxury apartment building built in 2001 after a $1 sale to a developer. The port authority spent $6 million in public money remediating the site before the sale in the hopes it would help revitalize Camden.
Was this picture intended to be a commentary on the woes of Camden … or was it just a picture of Camden? My guess is the latter. But it’s still fun to speculate.
In the upper left hand part of the picture you can just make out just a bit of of Campbell’s Field, home of the minor league baseball team Camden Riversharks. Also, the tracks on the street are for the River Line light rail. The Rutger-Camden stop and campus are just a couple blocks away. We used to live in Philly and my wife and I took our daughter several times to the aquarium just around the corner from this picture – a great place and worth the trip even though it’s a bit pricey.
This week’s winner selection was tough, since there were so many equally good and accurate guesses. So the prize goes to the one belonging to the reader with the most previous correct guessers thus far:
Per my routine, I asked for my girlfriend’s input as soon as I opened the post. I’m trying to convince her to compete with me in a mini-contest. So far no dice – good thing too, because she gave me a lot of help on this one. She’s from Hoboken, NJ, and her first reaction was, “That’s New Jersey.” The license plates were the giveaway.
I took it from there, and was able to ID the bridge through the HistoricBridges.org site as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge that heads straight into Philly. Interesting note about the building. It was the headquarters of the Victor Talking Machine Co. (hence the name of the loft development), the early pioneers of the medium of recorded sounds. This building saw the recording and production of some of the most beautiful music ever put to wax, including the sublime Caruso.
This was my fastest correct ID yet; I had it in less than 10 minutes. But I’m sure this email will be buried under a deluge of emails from cheesesteak-eating Dish devotees. Does it make a difference that this is my 4th correct ID in as many months?
Yes. One last detail from a reader:
For fellow dog lovers, Nipper, the old RCA/Victor mascot, adorns the stained glass on the tower on the opposite side of the building.
A final reader writes:
I’ll leave you with a poem from Daniel Nester called “abandoned rca buildings, camden, nj”:
The corner of Cooper and the Delaware River
is stuck in between my life and time
The boarded-up buildings with stained-glass Nippers
echoes Caruso early Sinatra
but this time the darkness simply looks back
this time my life is lost in fruit trees
I have walked each street in shards of denim
I have watched my face grow old tonight
and I stand on this mound and try to forget
and continue to flourish all passers-by
a man gets a match another directions
a leashless dog glimmers and breathes
I preside on this corner in sole ministration
stumbling on rocks to stickerbush patches
I have no hankering for occupied buildings
I signal to inmates up to the prison
I flail with a speech known only to wives
I rumble and pass the steel-latticed fences
and wait for a single decent idea
And one came across as one often does
The night the clock tower lit up a bit early
out of synch with the sun its superstrict schedule
And for the minute possessed my life in a shell
the numbers behind death being light
and after the light time being light
Simple as that the city hall tower
was death and time in tandem together
was death and time in darkness and light
thinking of Whitman dead by the river
thinking of Rutgers my pot-clouded lectures
the years I spent here sleeping and reading
confusion at 20 whole brackets of time
crying and fucking in chorus together
daytime malinger staying inside
and right before that daylight despair
that’s what I said daylight despair
Please try to follow just what I’m saying
I found my old corner utterly silent
one string of lights the invincible city
I lived here once a sad-faced apprentice
I walked and returned to silence my words