Shooting the elderly
There’s just something about old things, isn’t there? Old things possess an energy: lives lived around, with, and—in the case of Erik Schorr, urban explorer of aged interests—in them. Most days, Schorr’s rediscovering long-forgotten local spaces and documenting them with his trusty Canon EOS 40D (check out his photo archives at www.arpa.org/abandoned). This earned him a 2008 mention in SN&R as Best Urban Explorer. He discussed the draw of detritus recently over sushi at Megami.
What are some of the more interesting things you’ve found in a house? Or the oldest?
A claw-foot tub in an old house in Davis … maybe not quite 100 years old, but all the fixtures were at least from the 1920s. I find things you won’t ever see again. Nobody makes things like that anymore. Light fixtures, fireplaces, dark wood trim—the architecture in general. It amazes me that all of these houses have been basically left—built 80, 50, 60 years ago—in better condition than houses from 20 years ago.
Why do you imagine these places are abandoned?
Well, that place [in Davis] I brought you had a definite reason. A guy killed his whole family there [see “House of horror” by David A. Kulczyk; SN&R News; February 21, 2008]. That place has a definite stigma. I think some places become too costly to live in. The most recent one I found is 6 to 8 miles away from anything. It could be that it was too impractical to live there. I’m sure it was more practical 80 years ago.
Have you ever been caught?
Yes. But not necessarily “bad” caught. The first place I got caught was on top of the Sheraton Grand, because it’s one of the tallest places in the city and very accessible. I ignored the signs that said I shouldn’t be up there.
And they just said, “Hey, leave”?
Yeah. Made copies of my driver’s license, just in case something happened. But just recently, an employee of the property owner found me. And once I explained that I wasn’t damaging anything, just taking pictures and looking around, he was OK with it. I don’t like to take anything.
But you like to see if anyone else is coming by …
I left, like, $1 once. That’s the best thing. … If you suspect that transients or whoever go in there, they’re going to take money. Or place something behind a door, see if it’s moved when I get back, stuff like that. I’m only interested because if the property is being looked over by an owner, I won’t go back.
How long have you been doing this?
On and off for 10 years. More [often] recently, though, just because I’ve been a little more bold, and it’s a lot easier to move around and find stuff now.
Where’s your favorite area locally to search for new conquests?
Not Davis proper, but places south of there. The old farmhouses and stuff. I like them better because they are farther away—you can spend more time, and they’ve been tampered with less, so they’re in better condition.
Tell me about some of your recent finds.
As in the last year? Lots of old houses. You’ve been to at least one of them. Houses I was positive nobody would live in in the near future.
What sorts of things to do you find?
Photos, letters, books. Things that are dated.
What about commercial buildings?
The Firestone building [at 16th and L streets] was one of my favorites. It was easy to get up on the roof and look around, hang out.
So what’s the fascination or the purpose behind your trips to these places? To preserve them before they’re gone?
Well, yeah, to preserve their personal history. To let other people know that it wasn’t always just some empty building that nobody cares about anymore. Like, what did you think about the Firestone building before I told you we could get in there?
I didn’t really.
Exactly. They aren’t just empty places; they still provide something to someone.
Aren’t some of these places dangerous?
Yes, in fact. They’re literally falling apart sometimes. That house with the claw-foot tub, the tub was caving in through the floors. You don’t want to throw a party or have drinks with friends in there. [There are] animals, too.
Like what kind?
Raccoons, skunks, rats, wild turkeys, birds. … The other night, in a pitch-black building when I turned off my flashlight, I got hit one time in my shoulder and one time in my head by flying pigeons. … There must have been 30 or 40 living in that place.
Yeah. And exploring some of these places, you better not be afraid of stepping in shit. Nobody’s there to clean it up.