When I think of why I originally was drawn to photography many years ago, I remember using an instamatic camera to preserve, or to stop time, on family vacations. I was using Kodak cartridge 126 color film and occasionally flash cubes snapped in on the top of the camera when indoors to illuminate a scene. Prior to my instamatic camera, I used a Kodak Brownie box camera loaded with 620 black & white film to photograph buildings in my neighborhood that I thought were going to be torn down or replaced with new development. This was the only way I knew of accurately recording history before it disappeared. It was a way to stop time.
To this day, when I sense a neighborhood is on the brink of a change or a commercial business about to be demolished, I will photograph it, to preserve the history, because once it is gone, it fades from memory forever.
When we first moved to north Appleton in 1996, a surge of development was in the making. Homes and older businesses along main thoroughfares such as Wisconsin Ave., Northland Ave, and Richmond St. were being demolished, making way for Auto Zones, Dollar Stores, Walgreens, road reconfiguration and small strip business establishments. Sensing this impending transformation, I photographed the areas where development was about to begin.
One small stretch on Wisconsin Ave. just west of Richmond Street was slated to be raised in order to make way for a strip of businesses called Bell Heights Center. Large wooden homes stood it it’s way. They were not historic or otherwise noteworthy except for their size, age and the number of them standing in the way of this development.
The homes were set close to the road, (though when originally built in the 1920’s, Wisconsin Ave was narrower so these houses had a front yard). They were big, foursquare and craftsman style wooden residences with porches and garages. Many had fallen into disrepair.
The above view is before and after the Bell Heights business development looking east on Wisconsin Ave.
This is an alternative view, again looking east on Wisconsin Ave toward Richmond St. (The before image was taken in October of 2001)
I am not suggesting that the homes along this stretch of Wisconsin Ave were attractive (at one time, yes), or that anything was lost with the development of Bell Heights. My interest, as a photographer, was and is to record place and time when I see a change. It seems we are in the midst of a growth period again in this part of Appleton with new roundabouts, businesses and more traffic. Over the years I have photographed many “before” structures and open fields prior to the spaces being occupied with businesses large and small. The before images are what interests me. Those images remind me of the individuality of architecture, a portal to the past representing how we thought best to set up our habitat at that time, and they offer our last glimpse of neighborhoods before homogenization.