End of summer.
Jefferson Davis gravesite, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia — © Brian Rose
Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond is the final resting place of Jefferson Davis the president of the Confederacy. His statue is visited regularly, and Confederate flags are often placed around the monument. Elsewhere in the cemetery, John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States, is buried. Staunchly pro slavery he aligned himself with the Confederacy. And there are 18,000 Confederate soldiers buried in the rolling hills of this hauntingly beautiful place perched above the James River. I wrote about Hollywood a few years ago here and here.
I have mixed feelings about the removal of Confederate Civil War monuments for a number of reasons that have not received much attention in the wake of the the shocking events in Charlottesville, Virginia. And I’d like to explore the subject especially with regard to Richmond, a city I know well. Although I have lived much of my life in New York City, I was born and raised in Virginia, and went to the University of Virginia for two years. My family lived briefly in Richmond, but most of my childhood was spent nearby in Williamsburg, the restored Virginia capital.
First of all, let me be clear. I do not regard Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, or any of the other Confederate leaders worthy of veneration. Whether they were brave in battle or noble in defeat makes no difference. As W.E.B. DuBois wrote about Lee in 1928: His personal comeliness, his aristocratic birth and his military prowess all call for the verdict of greatness and genius. But one thing–one terrible fact–militates against this and that is the inescapable truth that Robert E. Lee led a bloody war to perpetuate slavery.
Many historians and commentators have pointed out that most of the Civil War statues were erected well after the war was over – after Reconstruction – when Jim Crow laws institutionalized segregation and the repression of African Americans. Mitch Landrieu, the mayor New Orleans, gave an eloquent speech just hours before the removal of the city’s Confederate statues pointing out the facts in a compelling manner:
These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.
The Henry Ward Beecher statue in downtown Brooklyn honors the leading abolitionist of his day — some called him the most famous man in America. His sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But even Beecher’s statue has a problematic element. A supplicant slave reaches up to the great man in gratitude.
While it is true that these monuments were intended to promote the myth of the Confederacy as a noble cause, they were also an expression of the Beaux Arts movement, which transformed American cities by creating broad boulevards, public parks, and grand classically inspired architecture. The Beaux Arts period, running from 1890 to 1920 corresponds almost exactly with the commissioning of Civil War monuments. In the North, most of the statues, of course, portrayed Union heroes like Ulysses S. Grant or William Tecumseh Sherman. In the South, it was Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. These statues were typically situated in prominent ceremonial places in major cities throughout the United States.
The best sculptors of the time were commissioned to produce these heroic monuments. The most prominent was Augustus St. Gaudens who created the Sherman statue at the corner of Central Park and Fifth Avenue. An angel leads the beatifically rendered Sherman on his path of destruction and victory. St. Gaudens’ masterwork is the Shaw memorial on the edge of Boston Common, completed in 1897, which depicts, in meticulous detail, Colonel Robert Shaw leading a black regiment down Beacon Street on their way to battle.
In the South, the civic goals corresponded with those in the North — to elevate public space with works of grandeur and nobility. Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy best exemplifies the city beautiful movement. A grand boulevard was envisioned west of downtown with designated sites for monuments at major cross streets. The first to be erected was an equestrian sculpture of Robert E. Lee created by the French artist Antonin Mercié, fabricated in France, and shipped to the United Sates, much like the Statue of Liberty.
Henry Shrady was the creator of the Robert E. Lee equestrian sculpture in Charlottesville. The city’s decision to remove the statue led to protest marches by hundreds of neo-Nazis carrying weapons, torches, and Confederate flags. Three deaths resulted. Shrady was also the sculptor of George Washington at Valley Forge, a powerful presence at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, New York.
The J.E.B. Stuart monument in Richmond was created by Frederick Moynihan, who produced sculptures in the North and South depicting both Union and Confederate heroes. He and other artists of Monument Avenue were American, but all studied with the leading sculptors of the time in Europe. In Charlottesville, Virginia, the now infamous Lee Statue was sculpted by Henry Shrady who also is responsible for the Grant monument directly in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. I have no idea if it mattered to Shrady which side of the “War Between the States” he was memorializing.
There were many, however, who understood what Lee represented to the dominant white society of the South. When the Lee monument was proposed in the 1890s, black members of the Richmond city council opposed it. One of them, John Mitchel, the editor of the Richmond Planet wrote: “The capital of the late Confederacy has been decorated with emblems of the ‘Lost Cause,” and the Lee statue represented a “legacy of treason and blood.”
The Grant monument on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn was designed by William Ordway Partridge who also was commissioned to create a sculpture of Pocahontas in Jamestown, Virginia. Few New Yorkers know the Grant monument, but the Pocahontas sculpture is popular, and the image of this Native American icon is a fascinating study in itself of American mythology and history.
That’s where we are today. Richmond, a greatly rejuvenated city of over 200,000 people, about evenly divided black and white, is grappling with the future of its monuments. Ten years ago the city sought to balance the story of Monument Avenue by erecting a statue of Richmond native and former tennis great Arthur Ashe. The statue is awkwardly executed, too small in scale for its site, and comes off as an add-on rather than an integral part of the avenue’s overall ensemble. Are there contemporary artists who can do life-like sculptures worthy of St. Gaudens? Should we even try?
The people of Richmond will decide for themselves what to do, but I see two possible scenarios. One is to keep the monuments, and introduce a serious and comprehensive program to provide historical context, which will require an honest appraisal of Robert E. Lee, one that sets straight the fictitious myth of the noble warrior. The other is to relocate the statues – a major task presenting its own set of quandaries – and the commissioning of new works to replace the old – installations that respect the urbanistic and historic nature of the boulevard, but address contemporary issues and new aesthetic visions.
I agree that maintaining the status quo is no longer tenable. The Confederate battle flag should certainly not be flying from public buildings, and it’s time to acknowledge that the Lost Cause of the South belongs in the dustbin of history. But if it’s possible in the heat of the moment to slow down, let’s consider the options available for our monuments, Civil War and otherwise. In many cases, these are significant works of art that reflect the rebuilding of American cities, North and South, at the beginning of the 20th Century. The wholesale removal of monuments is an erasure of history rather than an attempt to understand it and learn from it.
Long Beach, New York — © Brian Rose
Behind the backstop.
Most of the pictures of Atlantic City and Trump’s abandoned casinos I’ve posted so far were made with a digital camera. But I am actually shooting 4×5 film with the digital camera primarily for backup and preview purposes. It’s hard to appreciate at 72 pixels per inch, but these are scanned at very high resolution and worked up meticulously in Photoshop. Trump’s buildings have never looked so good — in a manner of speaking.
It is not merely the materialism of the 1980’s that Donald Trump embodies, it is the impatience, the insistence on having everything right now, all of it, the willingness to settle for appearance over substance. This is why it is hard not to sense, for all Mr. Trump has been identified with New York, that he is more at home in Atlantic City, where surface glitter is really all there is.
— Paul Goldberger, New York Times
My Atlantic City mini-website here.
We are barely two months into the Trump presidency and it’s been some scary ride. I have gotten a good start on my Atlantic City project, which highlights Trump’s bankrupt casinos as a jumping off point. I don’t know where things go from here — with my project, or with Trump’s reality TV show writ large. As the esteemed blogger Digby says, “He’s running the country like he ran the Taj Mahal.”
Most of my landscape projects have incorporated social/political issues, but this is by the most targeted, and the most connected to current events. So, in the interest of getting the work out into the world as soon as possible, I’ve taken the photographs I’ve run on my blog over the past few months and put them together in a mini-website. Please take a look — recommend to others. Resist!
By the time I get back to Atlantic City, these images of Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza will almost certainly be gone. Workmen were busy removing any signs of Trump’s involvement in Atlantic City when I was there less than two weeks ago. But the evidence will not be easily erased.
In 2015, the Trump Taj Mahal was fined $10 million for money laundering.
“Trump Taj Mahal received many warnings about its deficiencies,” said FinCEN Director Jennifer Shaky Calvery. “Like all casinos in this country, Trump Taj Mahal has a duty to help protect our financial system from being exploited by criminals, terrorists, and other bad actors. Far from meeting these expectation, poor compliance practices, over many years, left the casino and our financial system unacceptably exposed.”
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network
United States Department of the Treasury
Press release — March 6, 2015
(Trump) Taj Mahal, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose
On January 24th this year, a northeaster swept up the coast eating away at the dunes erected along Atlantic City’s boardwalk. In front of the (Trump) Taj Mahal the waves nearly broke through the dune barrier leaving behind a sharp cliff of sand.
Maps provided by (Atlantic City Director of Planning) Elizabeth Terenik show why Atlantic City presents such a unique case study for what sea level rise can do to a city. The majority of Atlantic City’s casinos, four of which shuttered in 2014, along with the boardwalk, rest along the highest point of elevation, while the residential portion has a much lower elevation, putting the homes in harm’s way. Names like “Trump” and “Bally’s” dominate the skyline of a community that sees little of the industry’s profits. — National Geographic
Borgata and Harrah’s casinos, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose
Atlantic City has seen five of its 12 casinos close since 2014 (two were Trump casinos) amid ever-increasing competition from gambling halls in neighboring states. That has caused the city’s tax base to crumble. It also led the city’s remaining casinos to file hefty tax appeals, claiming their property assessments were too high thanks to the downturn. In turn, that blew large holes into the city’s budget over the last few years, helping bring the city to the brink of bankruptcy.
So, in a nutshell, the Borgata, the most successful of all the casinos, bankrupted Atlantic City. It should be obvious at this point that the casinos were never really about the revitalization of the city. Atlantic City’s unemployment rate remains extremely high, and city services have declined. The casinos were, and are, about the transfer of billions of dollars into the pockets of people like Donald Trump, aided by politicians like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. And there is ample evidence that much of Trump’s money came from nefarious Russian sources to whom he remains indebted and obligated in unknown and potentially dangerous ways.
Donald Trump came to Atlantic City promising glamor and untold riches. He left it in ruins — though there is still plenty of gold all over the city — like in the Gold Mine directly behind the empty and now de-Trumped Taj Mahal.
Initially, most of the casinos were built on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Since most gamblers were not interested in the raucous entertainments of the boardwalk, nor were they likely to be found sunning themselves on the beach, several casinos were built on the other side of Absecon Island in a marshy area well away from the crime-ridden streets of the city. Trump Castle was the first to locate in that area.
Like a rat abandoning a sinking ship, Trump pulled out his interests in Atlantic City little by little. In 2011, the Trump Marina (formerly Trump Castle) was sold for about a tenth of what it was originally worth, and now operates steadily under new management as the Golden Nugget.
Now he was looking for work as a livery driver. Brown also used to work in the casinos, at the Showboat, bussing tables, and at Trump’s Castle, stripping and waxing floors. “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor,” he said. “It was the eighties, I was a teen-ager, but I remember it: they put us all in the back.”
— The New Yorker
The Trump Taj Mahal appears from the boardwalk as a complex multi-leveled building festooned with towers, domes, and a grand staircase leading up to the sky. The reality, however, as seen along Pennsylvania Avenue — the Monopoly Pennsylvania Avenue that is, not Washington, D.C. — is a massive windowless box containing cavernous casino, restaurant, and entertainment spaces. Everything is internalized. Only the high rise hotel rooms offer views of the ocean and the New Jersey pine barrens to the west.
As I walked along the wall of the Taj casino I came across the abandoned Human Resources Offices of Trump Entertainment Resorts. No jobs available here any more. Lots of smiling faces of fictional employees and a dead pigeon.
And then, to my astonishment, a group of women came walking along Pennsylvania Avenue carrying “Make America Great Again” signs. Even here, at the epicenter of Trump’s business dissolution, at the nexus of Russian dirty money and the fleecing of gullible gamblers, there are, apparently, true believers.
Back in Atlantic City on a bright, somewhat cold, February day. Earlier in the week, I read that the Trump name was being removed from the Trump Taj Mahal.I decided that I better go back and get some more photographs of the Taj before it was completely de-Trumpified. All traces of the name had already vanished from the Boardwalk. On the back side of the tower, however, workmen high on a crane were busy detaching the red letters from the facade. It was not something I could do much with using the view camera, so I moved on.
I walked out on the beach for an overview, stopping behind a restaurant, closed for the season, with some of its furniture shrink-wrapped in plastic, the bulbous shapes oddly echoing the onion domes of the Trump Taj Mahal. The casino, as i’d noted before, looks less like the Taj Mahal of India than it does a Russian Orthodox church. Despite all the Trump/Russian connections, that was probably not the original intention. But it’s one more thing that makes you go hmm.
American airports have become frightening places. On Tuesday, a man was held and questioned for an hour attempting to enter the United States. He had visited Iran three years before. His passport indicated that he was no less than the former prime minister of Norway.
When I photographed the Iron Curtain back in the 80s, I had to cross the border from east to west many times. It was always a harrowing experience. The East German guards were curt and officious. Your passport was taken and examined out of sight. You never knew whether you would be allowed to pass through the checkpoint or not. Several times I was taken aside and questioned about my camera and my reason for entering the country. I was never detained for more than 15 minutes.
This was the German Democratic Republic, a brutal autocratic government under the sway of the Soviet Union.
House near Revel, currently empty casino — © Brian Rose
1963: Pauline Hill becomes executive director of the Atlantic City Housing Authority and Urban Redevelopment Agency. Under her leadership, about 80 acres of South Inlet land were razed to make way for casinos and high-rises. The project displaced more than 1,500 residents, and development never came. The still-empty tract is known as Pauline’s Prairie.
It was poor before casinos, poor when it had them, and it’s even poorer now that five of them have been shut down. Most of the people you see in the South Inlet are people of color. Most of the businesses are run by ethnic minorities. The Alpha & Omega grocery is owned by Greeks and staffed by Oaxaqueños. Around the corner, the marquee of the Baba Jones Food Market announces you can buy baby food with your EBT card. There’s also Mike Hauke’s pizzeria Tony Boloney’s, which sells tikka masala slices to intrepid hipsters, construction workers and the few remaining neighbors. In 2015 in a New Yorker article, Hauke described his patrons as a mix of “shitbags, crackheads, hustlers, and pimps.” These were happier times. Today even the shitbags seem few and far between.
— Route 40
Atlantic Avenue — © Brian Rose
Historic black church (Price Memorial AME Zion Church) on Atlantic Avenue with abandoned fire station.
During the early years, Blacks were integrated throughout the city. However, as their numbers increased they were forced out of White neighborhoods and into a ghetto known as the “Northside,” an area that was literally the other side of the railroad tracks that ran through that section of town.
The Northside became a city within a city. As Blacks encountered racial prejudice, they reached inward to construct a social and institutional life of their own. While White racism had created the physical ghetto, it was civic-minded upper- and middle-class Blacks who led their community to create an institutional ghetto in order to provide services that the White community had denied Blacks. The first major institution established by Blacks in Atlantic City was the church.
— Nelson Johnson (from his book The Northside)
In the 1980s and ’90s, the casinos with which Trump was associated comprised between a third and a quarter of AC’s gaming industry. The Playboy Hotel and Casino, which was founded in ’81, became the Atlantis in ’84, and went bankrupt in ’85, was acquired by Trump in ’89 and renamed The Trump Regency; he renamed it again as Trump’s World’s Fair in ’96, and it was closed in ’99 and demolished in 2000. Trump Castle, built in cooperation with Hilton in ’85, was rebranded as Trump Marina in ’97, sold at a loss to Landry’s Inc. in 2011, and is now operated by Landry’s as the Golden Nugget. Trump Plaza, built in cooperation with Harrah’s in ’84, went bankrupt and shuttered in 2014 and now just rots.