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The writing on the wall

June 27, 2014

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to a piece in the Guardian about the Last days of Kodak town: the decline and fall of the city photography built. I lived in Rochester, New York during my Wonder Bread Years.

My family (me, two brothers, two sisters and mom and dad) moved from Ontario, Canada to Rochester in the fall of 1963. I remember we all watched JFK’s funeral in the Maple Leaf Hotel near the border, on the Canadian side, just before crossing into New York State.

JFK's family leaves Capitol after his funeral, 1963 (Abbie Rowe White House Photographs, Public Domain)

JFK’s family leaves Capitol after funeral, 1963 (Abbie Rowe White House Photos, Public Domain)

I followed the link in the article to The death of Kodak town – in pictures, (about a book of photographs by Alex Webb Rebecca Norris Webb, which looks worth chasing up) and I wondered — what does the neighbourhood where I lived as a child look like now? I searched for our old house at 409 Harvest Drive, on Google Maps (click on the images below and you can explore the neighbourhood, too).

409 Harvest Drive, Rochester, NY (Google Maps)

409 Harvest Drive, Rochester, NY (Google Maps)

409 Harvest Drive Rochester, NY (Google Maps Street View)

409 Harvest Drive Rochester, NY (Google Maps Street View)

409 Harvest Drive Rochester, NY (Google Maps Street View 2007  and  2012)

409 Harvest Drive Rochester, NY (Google Maps Street View 2007 and 2012 in inset)

Well, like the rest of the city of Rochester, 409 Harvest Drive has seen better days. Google Maps Street view shows that the family that was living at 409 Harvest Drive in July 2012 (the latest Google Street View Photo) has been there since at least September 2007 (the earliest Street View Image). They were still driving the same pick-up truck, so they’re not helping Detroit much. Or Flint, Michigan. The front lawn and garden are in sad shape, and the big tree is gone. I ‘walked’ up Harvest Drive to Ridgemont Plaza, which looks old and tired. The whole area looks a bit neglected.

My memories of living on that street, in that house, include painting the picture window with poster paints every Christmas, finding a turtle on the road and biking back to the house to get a box to put it in (it was gone when I returned, of course), and digging a tunnel out from the front door during the blizzard of 1966.

Kodak Plant, Rochester, New YORK

Kodak Plant, Rochester, New York (Google image search)

I also remember photos of us all in front of that house, no doubt taken with Kodak film. I think those photos are around somewhere, continuing to fade. I remember visiting the sprawling and impressive Kodak plant, which is about 15 minutes drive from where I lived, on a school trip. It was like looking behind the curtain of a massive, magnificent magic show, and I was mesmerised. Between  exhibitions of historic photographs, scientific explanations and product demonstrations, the tour guide led us through an endless maze of dark corridors punctuated with red safe lights. Those lights are well and truly out now. In 2012 the Eastman Kodak Company, the great photography pioneer, filed for bankruptcy. Like so many other companies and industries, they failed to read the writing on the wall.

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