Naval Gazing

December 21, 2011 |  by  |  Last Light  |  , , ,

Editor’s Note: Buildings start to deteriorate quickly after being abandoned. Within a decade or two, paint starts to peel off in sheets, ivy tears at brick and termites munch wood. Water, the great infiltrator, leaves collapsed ceilings and rotten floorboards in its wake.

The recent vintage of the Navy Yard’s Mustin area housing photographed here (built from the 1950s to 1980s) brings this truth home. Most of the military personnel and their families left in 1996, with a few people remaining in their homes until 2000. Of course, time and nature received some help–not even an army of carpenter ants could bore holes in concrete block like those left by the demolition and SWAT teams that used the buildings for training.

There is something unsettling about these scenes of desertion and decay. They cannot be consigned to the safety of the distant past, like a crumbling, 19th century factory or row house in a dilapidated urban neighborhood.  Nor can they be easily romanticized, for much the same reason. The formica counter tops and brass chandeliers, the street sign that warns of children playing, the backyard swingset glimpsed through sliding glass doors belong to an era that is still very much with us. These scenes suggest the safety, prosperity and banality of post-war suburban life, and to see them going to seed is a reminder of the transitory nature of things. 

The Mustin housing is slated for demolition on December 27th, but apparently could be postponed if a bald eagle returns to its nest on the property. What would be Pennsylvania’s largest marine terminal–the state funded South Port–is planned for the site.  

 

Laura S. Kicey is a photographer and artist based in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Kicey is a 1999 graduate of Kutztown University, where she studied graphic design and photography. Since 2004, her work has been shown in numerous galleries and museums across the U.S., and has been licensed by such clients as Urban Outfitters, Terrain at Styers, AMC Network, Lensbaby, Philly Weekly, and Pantone. Her photographs and digital composites can be found in several private collections and have been prominently featured in print 
publications internationally. Check out her website HERE and her Twitter feed HERE.



4 Comments


  1. Laura Kicey’s ‘Too Close For Comfort’ images are to be commended.
    Unsettling, indeed! Terrific investigative photography.
    The pink ‘pepto bismol’ kitchen? quite unnerving.

    • Thanks Rob! The pink and bright blue rooms were part of what I was told was a cafeteria but when I went in, things like low-hanging coat hooks and chalkboards with a child’s handwriting on them suggested it might have been more of a community center/day care/nursery school type building, built maybe in the 60s-70s.

  2. A good deal of the damage was done by scrappers. I visited this site the first time probably five year ago and actually ran into scrappers who has stole a water heater and left water pouring into a building. I did not expect scrappers in such a controlled site.

    But a note on semantics. It would not be naval “Barracks”, but rather “base housing”. Barracks would be the military buildings full of only troops like in full metal jacket. These buildings were essentially neighborhoods for soldiers and their families stationed at the PNSY.

  3. enjoyed working on the movie Jesus’ Son, which shot there in 1998. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0186253/
    at :32″ of the trailer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C7KjAd5PT4&feature=player_embedded a tough movie to work on, but a movie I really like, lots of cool phila. locations. cheers

Recent Posts
A Look Inside Gilded Age Parkside

A Look Inside Gilded Age Parkside

April 18, 2014  |  Morning Blend

A tour of a nearly intact Victorian mansion in West Philly, two civics explore the possibility of creating improvement districts, Stotesbury Gateway to be remade, and cleaning up Clark Park > more

Widdy Dialect: The

Widdy Dialect: The “Hoagie” Of Darts

April 17, 2014  |  Makin' It

Under the rumbling El and amidst the hustle and bustle at Kensington and Somerset, a distinctly Philadelphian brand of darts is made the same way it has been for over 100 years—by hand. Brad Maule throws a round with Widdy Darts > more

New PWD Project To Teach Children Ecology & Technology

New PWD Project To Teach Children Ecology & Technology

April 17, 2014  |  Morning Blend

GreenSTEM systems to be installed in four schools, the inequality of urban pollution, jazz month in Philly, parklets being installed in West Philly, and terrible timing in closing Kensington store > more

A Last Look at Second Baptist Church

A Last Look at Second Baptist Church

April 16, 2014  |  Last Light

The demolition of a former house of worship in Northern Liberties has provided a glimpse into the building's history > more

PATCO Announces $7.5 System Upgrade

PATCO Announces $7.5 System Upgrade

April 16, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Clearer information and working escalators for PATCO, delays in UC student housing development, the William Penn Foundation’s new approach to safe watershed awareness, and what the Lower Northwest invented for the world > more

A Golden Glow For <em>The Inquirer's</em> Saffron

A Golden Glow For The Inquirer’s Saffron

April 15, 2014  |  News

Yesterday, the Pulitzer Prize board announced its 2014 winners. After 15 years with a watchful eye on Philadelphia's built environment, the Inquirer's Inga Saffron won journalism's highest award for criticism > more