Archive for the ‘Urban Decay’ Category

I was able to make a quick pass through Carrollton during a return trip to the St. Louis area. Just as I expected, what is left of Carrollton has been quietly decaying. The streets, whether blocked off or open to the public, are becoming rough, cracked, and succumbing to mother nature and father time.

Not much action is happening with Lambert International Airport and the City of St. Louis officials. Not long ago, city officials and developers like Paul McKee set their eyes on an attempt to persuade the state legislation to build the infrastructure on a $360 million Asian Cargo Hub. To hear them speak of it, it sounded like a glorious job creation machine with the potential for long-term growth. With the cargo hold, St. Louis would again become an important airline hub, and a major commodities transport center. We would once again be the 8th largest city in the nation, as we were during the beginning of barge and steamboat transport. We would again be in the top 5 busiest airports in the nation.

The problem was, it was our dreams alone. Our cities dreams were not in the minds of those we needed to make this happen. Asian shipping companies already have steady and lucrative contracts with cities such as Dallas, Chicago, and Denver. Overseas shipping continues to be the most cost-effective method to transport goods across the globe as fuel costs continue a steady upward climb. Only St. Louis is interested in making St. Louis the center of transportation once again.

We were excited when we learned that one flight would begin a contracted once-a-week, twice during the holiday season cargo schedule. This was the ‘proof’ that a cargo hub in St. Louis was in demand, and we had the capacity to provide the space, runway, and infrastructure. Two flights came in, and then the cancellations. We went through the holiday season without another cargo delivery, and in return no Missouri goods left for Asia as promised. The one contract our legislators and lobbyists provided with us as proof of the necessity of the project had embarrassingly fallen flat in a time that was supposedly in demand.

We have reached a time in which St. Louis needs to face who we are. We are a small city that continues to get smaller. We should preserve and protect those resources that we do have, not make large gambles on the bigger dreams. St. Louis may never again be the 8th largest city in the United States and its time we accept this fact. Therefore, we should embrace the quaintness of asking one another, “So what high school did you go to?” No, if a major cargo hub would materialize and our town would somehow exponentially grow again, it will not change our local identity. We will still eat toasted ravioli and hate the Cubs. Right now, we need to embrace another aspect of our identity, the skeptical side of being Missourians. We are the Show-Me-State because we believe results only when they are in front of our eyes. We cannot afford to let people tell us, “If we build it, they will come.” Lambert’s own Field of Dreams has resulted in 2,000 buildings destroyed for nothing beyond a massive $1 billion plus debt in which the great-grandchildren of the City of St. Louis will be paying for. The fact that the City of St. Louis owns acres of decaying streets in what should be prime land in the heart of St. Louis County stands as a reminder that we must be cautious, skeptical Missourians when our elected officials want to gamble with our land and economy.

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Lambert St. Louis International Airport could not attract enough airline business to become a hub airport even while they continued to build its massive new runway at the expense of taxpayers and a loss of entire communities. Now that they are sitting with a $1 billion concrete slab with a large for-rent sign, Lambert is desperate to attract any paying customer to land on their shiny new and gently used runway. After all, according to the St. Louis Business Journal, Lambert is still facing $1.4 billion in debt.  Attracting a Chinese air-cargo hub would, in theory, help them pay off their debts and make that runway appear to be a regional necessity.

The problem is, Chicago, Dallas and other mid-American cities have already done their homework on attracting Chinese air-cargo shipments. St. Louis leaders and Missouri legislators have not been forthcoming with that information, instead insisting that our region somehow holds a key to that particular market.

From an article on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website  today with a discussion with Greg Lindsay, who wrote the book on Aerotropolis and global markets:

The free-market Show Me Institute published a critical study, and an air cargo consultant said St. Louis would never be a cargo hub. Backers have tended to cast them as narrow thinkers who just don’t get the Aerotropolis concept.

That argument definitely doesn’t fit Lindsay — who coined the term in the first place. He wrote “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next” with John Kasarda, a professor at the University of North Carolina. Since the St. Louis folks co-opted his title, they ought to be interested in Lindsay’s opinion.

Lindsay hadn’t spoken publicly about the St. Louis effort until last week, when he criticized it on Twitter. He tweeted that “calling some cargo flights and warehouses an aerotropolis doesn’t make it one” and then, more bluntly, “I don’t think it will work.”

 The middle part of the country has plenty of cargo capacity elsewhere, and other cities are way ahead in the Aerotropolis game.
What does it take to build an Aerotropolis? “You have to create a market where the cost is lower or the access to market is better, and neither of those is really the case in St. Louis,” Lindsay said.
Local leaders are making their pitch on the cost side. Our airport has plenty of unused capacity, and the tax credits would make it cheap for freight forwarders and warehouse operators to set up shop. Why won’t that work?

“I think they could lure the Chinese, but the history of airlines and subsidies indicates that they can leave the moment the subsidies run out,” Lindsay said.

The message of “Aerotropolis,” the book, is that a few global cities now revolve around their airports, rather than the other way around. With rare exceptions, however, they were global cities before they became Aerotropolises. Chicago and Singapore have long been important trading hubs; St. Louis, not so much.

Read more: http://www.stltoday.com/business/columns/david-nicklaus/article_a377c6bd-a005-57a2-a63d-227599165b77.html#ixzz1SOF50mcv

Its possible that the Chinese could come. First, we would need to put forth large amounts of cash towards unbridled developing for shipment warehousing and infrastructure surrounding the runway. Yet, if we face the pattern that Lindsay suggests is typical with Chinese carriers, we would finance a multi-million dollar, tax-fueled gamble to lure an industry known to flee to another market at the slightest increase of local fees. Operating on a glimmer of hope for generating regional economic growth while saving face for the runway expansion is a risky investment for the region in the long term.
In St. Louis, we have seen a number of Wal-Mart stores leave one municipality for lucrative TIFs and incentives offered by legislators in a neighboring township down the street. In their wake, the originating municipality is left with a large, vacant box and a dying local economy as the smaller businesses move on to find other big anchor markets. Wal-mart and other box stores exist on TIFs and other local incentives. They pull out when local subsidies begin to run dry and leave local micro-economies in disaster. Perhaps the irony here resides in the cheap Chinese goods we’re looking to have land in St. Louis are the very goods that fill these roving big box stores. The reality is, our region cannot afford for this same scenario to play out on the grand global scale, leaving St. Louis a developed shell that nobody would come and lose smaller industries in its wake.
Maybe it is time we finally accept our position as a minor city and  live within our means.  Instead of gambling away the house for those narrow odds of winning the funds for a bigger house, we need to factor what we have and what industries we can realistically attract, and work with that. Lambert made a gamble when they built  the W-1W runway. They failed to attract the necessary business to support its use and they are now struggling to pay off the loans. Mid-America Airport just across the river in Illinois is a fully functioning airport that has been trying to attract regional cargo for decades, with almost zero payoff. If Mid-America, an airport with highway access and no need to compete with passenger flight schedules, cannot attract air cargo, what does it say about Lambert’s abilities? Why should we once again reward Lambert and the City of St. Louis astronomical funds to support yet another short-sighted goal? Lambert failed to prove to the region that ANY airline would be  committed to creating a hub while building W-1W, yet they continued to build that runway with the region’s monetary blessing. Lambert and the City of St. Louis is again failing to prove that they can attract the businesses they need for their air cargo goals by failing to present us with any Chinese carrier even slightly interested in our region for a long-term commitment. The experts are speaking out, but once again Lambert is ignoring the voice of reason.
I have said before that, if the project would create jobs and bring our region’s economy back into a real global game, then I would support Lambert to convert its peripheral land and create the shipping hub. However, the writing on the wall is clear that Lambert once again wants something unrealistic, and is willing to use public funds to get it.
If Lambert International and the City of St. Louis again gets its way, instead of vacant houses, the land of Carrollton may soon be filled with brand-new vacant warehouses sitting next to a vacant runway. (Yes, Lambert uses the runway. Just because they use it doesn’t mean they need to.)

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On June 24, I received this email from a young reader with a driving goal to become a photojournalist. Thank you Drew for sharing your interest in Carrollton and for utilizing your talent to create stunning images from the area we once loved.

As of an hour ago I knew nothing about Carrolton, mostly because I’m only 18 and was too young to remember any of this. I actually began to investigate the whole story of what went on there because me and my friend went there today. Upon entrance and on our drive there (my friend had already been there with some of his friends) we were calling it “ghost town.” He described a subdivision where everything was there, but the houses. The idea did not impress me, but when we arrived I was blown away. As a photographer all I could see was how beautiful it all was. I intend to go back, but with a new perspective on the area. I have seen pictures and read many of your posts now, and I think I can remember feeling the eerie pain and sorrow that must have ensued the area. While we were there we spent much of the time feeling as if we weren’t safe there. I think that’s even more worrisome to think about when I read your posts about how comfortable people were with the area. How I wish that life was still that trustworthy and safe. Anyways, me and my friend are now genuinely interested in the story of Carrolton, and intend to go back another day. I took a photo while we were there, and I thought I should include it in this message. Without this website I don’t think that me and him would really know what happened there. We just assumed it was a neighborhood that never got built.

Here is a link to Drew’s image, Desolation.

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From Julie Pellow:
Hello! I am contacting you in response to pictures of my home I found on
4197 Pont. I stumbled on your site only today and wanted to thank you for
this documentation of assault on our beloved community. I loved what you
said about our house. My parents, Butch and Jodi Harris, really did have
pride of ownership. We were obviously devastated to leave (and one of the
last). If you are looking for any specific info or pictures in it's prime,
 I will be thrilled to help. The house was on the corner of Pont Dr. and
Patty Ln. The other house referenced in the same post (4229 Pont) was the
home of my dad's best friend's family, Duke and Kathy Albers. They met in
 college and ended up 2 doors down from each other!

In reference to the night my house was on fire... the house across the
street on Patty Lane was still occupied by the Bulger family. They were
the very last family. There was another fire up Patty and Lorna Bulger was
home with her 2 small boys while her husband was traveling for work. She
called my dad, terrified that the vandals would break in. She lived in
fear for months!

Thanks again for your work!
From Linda Karin: Her home on Phelps circa 1974
Linda Karin, circa 1974

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Aerotropolis is apparently the new tongue-in-cheek term coined for the Chinese cargo hub proposed at Lambert International Airport. Immediately, this name evokes the 1927 dystopian film, Metropolis. Filmed in a German Expressionist style with angular, dramatic shots of the futuristic city of Metropolis, workers toil and sometimes die at the hands of a deity-like, Heart Machine. In the film, the workers exist in stark contrast to the city planners, who live a decadent life of beauty and luxury atop the Tower of Babel, cut off from the gritty, desperate life below. The contrast between the city planners and the workers are juxtaposed in array of stunning visual effects, particularly noteworthy of its time. The protagonist, the son of a wealthy city planner spends a delirious day working at the clock to keep the Heart Machine going thus becomes a mediator between the planners and the workers to find unity in existence.

Just as I have found many personal metaphors from Carrollton, metaphors can be interchanged between the Aerotropolis moniker to the Metropolis film. From the monied city planners whose visions expand beyond their boundaries at the physical hands of workers, the workers who have little to say against their plight, the desperate hopes for a mediator between the two classes of people, the Tower of Babel as a form to exchange language between the communities, the city of Metropolis, to finally, the vision of a dark, broken city desperate for reform, there are many parallels that can be drawn between the two. The most immediate metaphor resides with the film’s self-appointed mediator, who works against the clock to keep the machine going and gains a crucial understanding of what the people must do to survive in Metropolis.

As the legislation wound down last week, the Missouri tax incentives for establishing the Chinese air-cargo hub at Lambert International Airport became that smoking clock a delusional wealthy man-turned worker fought to keep alive. The city planners have failed before when they expanded Lambert and opened its newest runway in 2006, against the plight of the homeowners and businesses within 2,000 structures. The planners are suddenly seeing the pressing need for work in the St. Louis area and desperately trying to mediate a way to make that runway useful at the same time.

Whether or not the St. Louis City leaders will become the next Freder in our city’s own Metropolis story remains to be seen. If they can do it without the tax incentives to bring work to the region, then they can have the hero title of Mediator. Until then, they remain the same failed City Planners they were when they introduced the runway project to begin with.

Two articles from the Post-Dispatch:

Governor Nixon wanted to call a special session to address the issue.

Incentives for cargo hub plan at impasse

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Last night severe weather including tornadoes went through North St. Louis County, destroying homes and causing widespread damage. Thankfully, only minor injuries occurred as result from a storm of this magnitude.

Lambert International Airport suffered millions of dollars worth of damage, primarily at Concourse C. The roof was torn out, windows shattered, cars outside the passenger pick-up/drop-off were tossed around, and a jet was moved from its original position. A parking shuttle was left dangling precariously over the edge of the parking garage. Last night, power knocked out communications at the airport, grounding flights and diverting those coming into the city. They expect some operations to be restored later this evening and to be full operational by tomorrow. Terminal 2 (formerly East Terminal) remains fully operational and some flights have been diverted there.

Local St. Louis media has extensive coverage from the storm and of Lambert’s damage. Here is the link to the Post-Dispatch’s website.

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A plan has been unleashed that will cost $480 million to entice the Asian market to set up shop around Lambert International Airport.  This expansive plan includes developing the former Carrollton subdivision, the McKee development to the east, and other locations including Fenton and St. Charles for air shipment purposes.

From the STL Today article, Neglected sites seen as trade catalyst(3/17/11)

Richard C.D. Fleming, president of the RCGA, was away on business but sent a letter calling the air cargo hub “The Big Idea” that could transform the region.

Fleming said he was encouraged by the recent decision by the freight affiliate of China Eastern to send several cargo flights to Lambert each week, but that’s not enough. Missouri must take “our state and region back to our roots,” using geographic advantage and multiple modes of transportation to fulfill its potential as a center of commerce.

Schmitt said the air cargo business was “ripe for the taking” because of congestion in Chicago, where it is now concentrated.

We have to recognize the fact that half a billion dollars plus tax credits to lure an international industry that has not yet begun any meaningful  participation in the St. Louis region is a large gamble. If this plan truly has the potential to become a viable, long-term hub, then perhaps this will be lucrative for the region in terms of job creation and economic stability.  However, without any real key industry players from overseas promising to use St. Louis as their primary port, we may be again left with a large development with little use. I believe the region has already experienced the pain and repercussions from a project which millions were lost on a gamble for a major transportation hub. Yes I am referring to Lambert’s newest runway, the reason this blog exists. It will be interesting to see if this plan will work and the runway will prove to be useful after all.  Personally, I would like to see less Asian products and more local manufacturers hiring skilled workers and building lasting products here at home.  Realistically, I see that local production is becoming a marginalized institution as our nation thirsts for cheap products. If this is truly the way of life in our country from now on, then perhaps a cargo hub would be good for the region.  Right?

On a more worrisome note, it has been acknowledged that Chicago is already handling a large volume of air cargo.  Sea ports have long taken in a large volume of shipped goods, and the containerization of the U.S. trucking and rail systems to streamline shipping of international products have also made trans-continental transportation easier. Air shipment of goods does further diversify transportation methods, but is still much more costly than ground and sea travel. I am speculating here, but it seems that the infrastructure for bringing in Asian goods has already been established and by now is possibly too saturated to necessitate any additional development.

Mr. Fleming’s words are encouraging, but somewhat inaccurate.  St. Louis’ unique geography, the confluence of two major rivers, were historically important to shape the city’s beginnings as a riverboat and barge hub. Yet, river transportation is limited to the regions which they flow through and became quickly outdated with advances in rail, car, and later, air transportation methods.  Barging is still important and utilized, but due to its obvious geographical limitations, cannot become a major, widespread transportation industry.  Therefore, any idea of a geographical advantage can only be cited if Mr. Fleming is referring to the large, empty spaces that exist in the region due to dead industries and short-sighted plans (the w-1w runway project).  To that, we have to question why those industries faded in the first place.

Perhaps the very people that Mr. Fleming is hoping to entice have the answers to those questions.

More on the issue of the Chinese air cargo hub in Bridgeton can be found here in the full article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s STL Today website.

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I just received a kind word from Bridgeton City Administrator Thomas Haun that Bridgeton Mayor Conrad Bowers is willing to meet with me to discuss Carrollton’s history.  In my excitement, I have already begun preparing questions though the interview will not likely take place until March.    I am interested in hearing more about his tenure as the city leader during the Lambert Expansion Project.

If you did not already know, Bridgeton is in the finishing stages of relocating City Hall (Government Center as many are now called) down Natural Bridge into their newly constructed building.   The new building has a new, modern design, but I will miss the mid-century style reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright building that was formerly City Hall.   The new building now stands atop where Hot Shots Bar and Grill and (I believe) an old Phillips 66 used to be.  It’s almost too metaphorically eerie that Lambert’s last buyout was ground zero for the initial airport expansion resistance.

Bridgeton’s official website concludes its informational section with the city motto:  Bridgeton is Forever.   The  motto was developed when I was a kid during the first indications that Lambert International Airport was considering expanding into Bridgeton city limits.    The current City Hall has a landing strip in its backyard.  City leaders are the last to pack their things and move on in a different place, as so many of Bridgeton’s residents were forced to do for seemingly endless years.    An outsider would believe that the town’s motto has simply become empty words spoken too long ago.  I am not inclined to believe that the soul of Bridgeton Forever has left.  Even with a major percentage of the township sold to the City of St. Louis and Lambert Airfield, you have to give the city credit for being on the side of the residents along the way, fighting the expansion project along the way, to be the very last ones to relocate.  I do think there is good reason Mr. Bowers has remained in charge for decades.   How many other civic leaders could possibly remain in office during the entire length of time half of their city had been declared eminent domain and gobbled up to an outsider?   I can’t think of any other elected official that could outlast such a perfect storm of bad scenarios and still remain the captain.  To say they, and all of city hall failed, would be wrong.  They may have lost the battle, but by fighting valiantly, they didn’t fail as leaders.  The part of Bridgeton that remains have loyal, long-time residents, commercial and industrial businesses and economic-minded goals for future growth.   It is fair to say that the battered captain and crew finally deserve a grand new ship, a new Government Center that will hopefully sail in calmer yet prosperous seas.   Bridgeton is indeed Forever as long as people continue to believe in Bridgeton.

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Gayle O’Neill recently wrote a very interesting memoir on Carrollton’s early days.   She lived in Carrollton during the construction phase and her family was connected in Carrollton events!   I had never known that St. Lawrence Catholic School started out as a one-room schoolhouse on Grandin before the main campus was completed!   I also had never realized that members of the Carrollton community held theater performances for some time.   That is community involvement!    Many readers here share have shared similar experiences growing up in this subdivision, yet everyone has their own unique perspectives and livelihoods.  I love reading them all and  I hope you will enjoy Gayle’s echoes of a Carrollton childhood as much as I have!

From Gayle:
I am enjoying your commentary on Carrollton. Like many others posting, my parents were original owners purchasing what was known as the Windsor model, four bedroom style home in 1959. The two maples that were given to my parents by the owner of a nursery because our family station wagon sported a “Kennedy for President” bumper sticker still stand tall in what was our back yard on 4152 Chartley. They served as home and second for many a wiffle ball game in that yard. My mom, Marian Grindler, was very active in all that was Carrollton, including starring in many productions of the Carrolton Players, editor of the Carrollton Cracker Barrel and then later the Bridgeton Bookworm and playing a huge part of Bridgeton politics. As kids we attended the one room school house on Grandin that was the original St. Lawrence while we awaited the Dupage site to be completed. We attended mass in the basement of various parishioners before the church was built. Few families had fenced in back yards when we first moved in and evenings were spent playing games of hide and seek or tag that would extend over the length of the block. Walking to the pool meant cutting through back yards the four blocks to the Carrollton Club. My brothers, Gene and Gerry were life guards and their fraternity would sponsor the splash parties in the summer that the neighborhood teens would attend. Opposite or house was Primgahr Lane, which originally had only two houses and dead ended at a hill and field that stretched to the back side of Phruett’s Farm and Gist Rd where BMAC Fields are now. My dad and some of the neighbors posted a basketball backboard at the edge of the dead end street for all the neighborhood kids to use until Carrollton West was developed. We would also spend summer days playing in the woods and the creek that ran through there at the dead end of Celburne. Our one requirement was to be home when the streetlights came on. We knew who lived in almost
every house and almost every house had kids we knew as playmates. It was quite the idyllic childhood.

The Carollton Players were a group of residents that would put on plays about two or three times a year.  Many of the performances were at the Carrollton School but I also remember a few at the Carrollton Club.  My mom would usually have a starring role but she was also director forsome and I can remember a few that she also wrote and directed, speifically one that had a part for two Indians that were played by my teenaged brothers.. (Remember them in loin cloths….pretty funny)  Usually they were comedies but I remember they did Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town” once and my dad played the town drunk in that one. I can search for play bills.  Names I remember that also played parts…Glenn Strong (lived on Tuscan) Donna LaSalle, George Shakiris (Sp?)  I will ask my older brother if he remembers any more.  They did “The Man in the Dog Suit” and an old time melodrama called “The Drunkard” and I remember one that my mom’s character was Lady Pompidour…I will have to research that one.  They would run for any where from a weekend to three weekends and where very well attended and quite fun.

St.Mary’s in Bridgeton was, at first, the only Catholic parish.  As Carrollton grew, the archdiocese agreed to build a new parish in the neighborhood.  Father Horenkamp was the first pastor.  At first we had a gutted house on Grandin that held first, second, and third grade.  Anyone older than that still attended St, Mary’s.  I went to the Grandin school but my brother, a sixth grader still went to St. Mary’s  I attended second and part of third on Grandin and then the school building was completed and we transferred to the Dupage site. The home on Grandin did have two bathrooms and that was used for all of us.  We would have recess in the back yard.   Masses were held in the basement of willing parishioners.  I remember going to mass in the basement of the Rod White family home, which was on the upper corner of Lonsdale and Celburne.  (They had a daughter my age named Arleta)  When the home on Grandin was purchased it was a school on Mondays through Fridays and then the bench/tables were converted from tables to benches and mass was held there.

(I asked Gayle which house was the school-house. She had done some research and replied:)

St.Mary’s in Bridgeton was, at first, the only Catholic parish.  As Carrollton grew, the archdiocese agreed to build a new parish in the neighborhood.  Father Horenkamp was the first pastor.  At first we had a gutted house on Grandin that held first, second, and third grade.  Anyone older than that still attended St, Mary’s.  I went to the Grandin school but my brother, a sixth grader still went to St. Mary’s  I attended second and part of third on Grandin and then the school building was completed and we transferred to the Dupage site. The home on Grandin did have two bathrooms and that was used for all of us.  We would have recess in the back yard.   Masses were held in the basement of willing parishioners.  I remember going to mass in the basement of the Rod White family home, which was on the upper corner of Lonsdale and Celburne.  (They had a daughter my age named Arleta)  When the home on Grandin was purchased it was a school on Mondays through Fridays and then the bench/tables were converted from tables to benches and mass was held there.  St. Lawrence house was six from the corner.

(Thank you so much Gayle! Your story is another unique piece of the heritage and history of this space! Thank you for sharing your history with us!)

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First, I present, The Crows and Pawns of Expansion, created in 2008.   Those who remember the Carrollton Club may immediately see a familiar image jump from the background.   I found the sign in 2007 after it was cracked in half and laying on the sidewalk.  Seeing that it was beyond repair, I decided to give it new life through art.  The work is oil and acrylic on the found sign.

Second, I present a piece I created for the Holga Polka exhibition at the Regional Arts Commission in January 2009.  The piece titled, In the Light, is oil on canvas painted from an accidential image found on a roll of Holga film.  Holga cameras are plastic toy cameras which often distort the image and if not rolled correctly within the case will sometimes overlap images on the film.  In the image for this painting, two separate images of a house on Chartley are imposed in the middle.   A fun experiment for a painter.  If you are interested in learning more about the Holga camera, I recommend my friend Mark Fisher’s webpage.  See my list of links.

If you are interested in seeing more of my paintings which have layers of planes infused into the primary imagry, feel free to look around my flickr page.

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