Alleys of the Past Lead to the Future

Broken Past
Broken Past, original photography by Joe Ercoli.

Like my affinity for rat rods and vintage iron, I’m drawn to old buildings, decaying industrial equipment, and other urban elements in various array of disrepair because of the way that they pull me back into the past. Many times, looking at these things helps add to the vicarious experience of the old stories that my grandfather used to tell. Although I will, thankfully, never know what it’s like to be stuck on a ship in Pearl Harbor where the water is turning to fire all around you and bombs are falling from the sky, removing myself from the bright and shiny new world that surrounds us every day is a way that I can help myself to feel connected to my past.

My buddy, Adam, lives in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point area of San Francisco and while it has a reputation for not being the best area, he lives in the rejuvenated two blocks that make up the good area. But, he knows that I won’t come see him at night because you have to drive through the bad area to get to the good area. Besides being known as a “bad area,” Hunter’s Point is jammed packed full of both naval and industrial history of San Francisco. One afternoon I headed up there to hang out with Adam and see his new place. Knowing that I’m into photography, Adam took me out his balcony and started pointing out landmarks to me. We could see power stations, docks in disrepair and old buildings from the Hunter’s Point shipyard like the all-glass periscope repair building.

I was eager to see more and Adam was happy to play tour guide, so we jumped in my car and headed off to explore the industrial area near the docks. I spotted this sign on the wall (pictured left) and I thought to grab a pic of it for my buddy Paul. It was at the end of a narrow alley that opened up a little bigger into a parking area and at first I wasn’t sure if we should go down there. A lot of stuff seems like that in this area with narrow alleys and seemingly abandoned buildings. I figured if there were no signs saying not to, I would just go ahead. After grabbing the shot and turning around, I drove back down the alley and noticed a wall of broken glass to my left. Fully blocking road, which didn’t seem like a big deal until a truck came afterward, I jumped out of the car and captured a few images of this dilapidated roadside shack pictured at the top.

Especially in the Bay Area where there has been a lot of urban development in the last 40-50 or so years, you seem to forget about these huge parts of San Francisco’s strong military and industrial past. Leaving behind the shiny plastic and glass of technology and newer construction in our own neighborhoods for architectural decay and industrial relics tucked into the discarded corner doesn’t just take me back to the times of old, but helps me to understand where I’m going. How can you really know where you’re headed if you don’t know where you’ve been?

One Response to “Alleys of the Past Lead to the Future”

  1. Adam says:

    Great Story Joe. I'm happy to take you exploring anytime!

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