Wednesday, November 20, 2019

[35mm Ohio] Ariel-Foundation Park

With a Minolta XD-11 and Kodak Ultramax 400.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Pittsburgh Plate Glass Works No. 11 (PPG) was once “the largest plate-glass factory in the world.” The complex spanned a million square-feet just southwest of downtown Mt. Vernon. Located near a neighborhood, some residents (many of them descendants of glass-making Belgian immigrants) left when the plant closed in 1976. For nearly three decades, the structures sat partially abandoned—rotting, rusting, and languishing. Other relics of former economic prosperity were found in the disused sand and gravel sites along the adjacent Kokosing River. A community vision began to take hold with the goal of removing the industrial ruins and converting it all to park space. After years of developing a plan and acquiring land, local officials and generous donors began demolishing the massive, shuttered compound.

The architects of the park could’ve removed all of the blighted elements, started fresh, and erased every hint of what once was—but they’ve done so much more. A carpentry shop is now a rentable venue, brick walls assume a stoic confidence, former elevator shafts stand guard over beautifully landscaped terraces (inspired by the state’s native population), leftover glass salvaged from the site has been arranged to mimic a river, and a centerpiece towers above: the plant’s 286 foot smokestack retrofitted into an observation platform. These remnants exist as both a historical nod and curated display.

- Ruins and re-purposed glass.

The whole area is impressive in its own right—even more so when you arrive with a camera after hours on the road, just as the sun is spraying dramatic light and shadows across a breathtaking location. On a Friday evening in November, few other people were in the park as I loaded up some 35mm film. A pair of teenagers ambled about while two small kids rumbled by, kicking their scooters forward. I ran into the occasional person on the walking paths, but for the most part—I had a solitary run of the territory.

The industrial remains stand out like sculptures, emphasized by the disappearance of their former surroundings. The sun seems to accentuate every detail and the observation tower is accessed via a subway-style revolving gate that requires one to press a button for entry. A prison-like click let’s you know it’s ok to enter (and exit), but other than that noise (as well as a few geese and trucks with struggling mufflers) the site is as tranquil as it is dynamic. A spiral staircase gives way to a postcard-like vista of the surrounding neighborhood and city.

- Salvaged glass.

When I was regularly finding my way into, and photographing, abandoned places in years prior, I’d try and envision what they once were—how silent rooms had echoed with life, how other people may have experienced those locales as familiar, homely, or meaningful. Running my hand along the bricks of the former PPG plant, I was able to do that once more. What remains are important vestiges that tell a story within a space the local community is rightfully proud of.

I finished my roll of film just as the sun was setting, checked Ariel-Foundation Park off my list/map, and then went back out on the road.

- A Belden brick from Canton, Ohio. Belden is still in business today.

View the other entries in 35mm Ohio

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