On our recent Michigan Road trip, we whizzed right by the South Bend Motel. It was cold, we were tired, and some of the neon was out on this great old sign anyway. Not much new to photograph. So these photos are from earlier road trips. Above, 2009; below, 2007.
Fortunately, little has changed (except the non-functioning neon). This little motel has been plugging away here for as long as I can remember. I grew up less than a mile away.
This motel is on the Michigan Road (and Dixie Highway and Old US 31) on South Bend’s south side. It’s always stood alone in this heavily residential neighborhood. Here’s a daylight shot of its sign.
Online reviews of this place range from “cheap but decent” to “dirty rooms and rude staff.” So if you ever decide to stay, set your expectations accordingly.
I think I always wanted to do what I started only in my 40s: wander around with a camera and photograph whatever interests me.
It was 1985 and I was about to graduate high school. My life had been about strict routines, and I was excited that they would soon end and my life would be much more mine to create. I felt a desire to document the waning days of my soon-ending life, so I dug out a camera and loaded it with film.
I’ll bet I owned more than 100 cameras then. I’d already been collecting for upwards of ten years. But which camera I chose for this roll is lost in the mists of my memory. The negatives attest that it was a 35mm camera. I’m trying to remember what decent 35mm cameras I owned then. The only one I remember is my Argus A-Four.
I wanted very much to photograph the downtown of my hometown, South Bend. I rode the city bus downtown, just me and my camera. I made just one photograph, this one — and my self-consciousness overcame me and I got right back on the bus and went home. I feel compassion for my then-self now. I wish I could step back and give that fellow a shot of confidence that the things that interested him were perfectly okay, and to hell with what anybody else might think about it. And then I would have told him to keep shooting that day, as downtown South Bend would change dramatically over the next 30-plus years and it would be great to have a record of how it was. The pictured WSBT building is a great example. WSBT moved out some years ago and the building has been so extensively remodeled it’s hard to recognize it.
Most of the rest of this roll is of mundane subjects and a few photographs of my classmates at the Senior Picnic. But I did make a few more photographs that showed the world I lived in, and I treasure them. This is the high school I went to.
The building is no more, demolished after some years of neglect, replaced by a gleaming modern school a block away. I got to tour the building just before it was torn down and it had fallen into sorry, sad condition. I felt bad for the students who had to use it.
I climbed the oak tree in our back yard to make this photograph. We lived on a corner; this is the side street. That’s Dad’s work van, which we affectionately called The Iron Maiden. Read its story here.
My subject was this fire hydrant in our yard. It had recently replaced one that had been painted to look like a Minuteman. Most fire hydrants around the city had been so painted in 1975-76 in honor of the Bicentennial. Fortunately, I did not know yet to fill the frame with my subject, and so I got a pretty good photo looking down the street I grew up on. It was a good place to grow up. Have a look at some more recent photos from this street here.
I scanned these negatives a few years ago with my Wolverine Super F2D scanner (review here). The flatbed I own now would do a much better job, but these are good enough.
Double exposure of my brother, 1985 Argus A-Four Kodacolor VR 200 (probably) 1985
My brother ran for the high-school track team. The practice track was behind the school, along a side street. Mom and Dad used to drive over there and watch practice.
It was my senior year. I have negatives from a roll of film I shot that May as I was preparing to graduate. This photograph tells me I was using my Argus A-Four camera. That’s because it’s the only 35mm camera I owned then that allowed me to take a double exposure.
I didn’t mean to take this one. I took one shot of my brother leaning against the fence, and then a minute later took another — but forgot to wind in between. Also, I turned the camera both times for a landscape photo, but the second time upside down from the first time.
It made this double image of my brother, made perfectly symmetrical with a judicious crop.
Downtown South Bend on the river Minolta SR-T 101, 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor-PF Ferrania P30 Alpha 2018
On my visit to downtown South Bend I had a deep sense that this town has a lot going for it that they are not leveraging fully.
I don’t know how hard it is to run a medium-sized Midwestern city today. I know that in most of the Midwest, if you are not a major population center you are slowly losing residents to those larger cities. I’m sure South Bend is no different. I’m sure that makes is challenging as heck for city leaders to build on what’s good.
But my old hometown really does have lovely attractions. This view from the east bank of the St. Joseph River overlooks Seitz Park, which is at the southern tip of an island in the river. Beyond is the city’s low skyline, with some still-proud older buildings cutting a strong profile.
Unless you kayak to work, it’s unusual to get to look at a bridge from underneath. But the Twyckenham Drive bridge in South Bend includes spans over not only the St. Joseph River, but bordering Northside Boulevard as well.
Built in 1929, this four-span open-spandrel concrete-arch bridge is one of South Bend’s many lovely bridges. Since I last photographed it, it underwent a restoration to replace the deck, repair piers and beams, and replace an aluminum railing with a period-correct concrete railing.
I was in town with my Minolta SR-T 101, on which was mounted a 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor-PF lens and in which was loaded Ferrania P30 Alpha film. I walked under the arches on Northside Boulevard and tried to find some interesting perspectives.
As you can see, the Twyckenham Drive bridge’s arches are interesting underneath because of their design. A solid arch would not offer so much to see.
I think I need more practice here. There have got to be some truly lovely patterns in this design. I just didn’t fully find them. But I enjoyed trying.
Grand Trunk Western
Minolta SR-T 101, 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor-PF
Ferrania P30 Alpha
I figured out how to read largely on my own starting at age 3. As we’d ride around in the car I’d read aloud the big signs. Mom said that the first one I read was the BUS sign at the Greyhound station.
I remember reading this one, too. The Grand Trunk Western railroad passes through my hometown of South Bend not far from the neighborhood where I grew up. Two bridges over city streets have the GTW name painted on them. I still love to see them.