In a shoulders-back stance, this military barrack guards the blue sky and wheat fields, even while its uniform of white siding falls askew. The original balcony brim is AWOL and the sliding aluminum window is too tiny to see its fearsome future approaching. One day the structure will be demolished.
Built by men long dead, inhabited once by young airmen wearing perfectly creased pants, and cotton t-shirts with rolled sleeves, the barrack is now a storage unit for a jumble of Melmac dishes, 1970’s polyester suits, and albums filled with black and white photos. Pushing aside the boxed remnants, I imagine the former residents lounging on bunks, their fears of combat exhaled in cigarette smoke and joking. Old buildings like this one are inhabited. Not with ghosts, but with character sketches.
New buildings don’t have the same effect on me; no people wander their corridors in my imagination. Take these rooms.
The Pollyanna Hotel, one of a number of the iterations of a corner building in Walla Walla was recently opened for tours. It is slated to become a boutique establishment in the next year or so. A couple hundred people walked its rooms during the tour. On occasion, when I found myself alone for a few moments, the rooms were visited by imagined salesmen in felt fedoras or women in gray suits with white blouses looking down at the traffic below on Main St. No furniture or draperies were necessary to make my characters more realistic.
The inhabitants of McFeeley’s are different. I visited the bar once. My presence dropped the average age of the afternoon drinkers by thirty years. At the time, McFeeley’s was a building on the precipice of an era. The patrons, all men, hunched over glasses of booze held in their mottled workman’s hands. The light from the north-facing windows stopped short, as if protecting the drunks from unwanted glances. The bar was warm. Cozy with light glinting off bottles lit by bar signs and the occasional flare of a match. When the men were done, they paid upfront, dropping change on a handwritten bill before retiring next door to McFeeley’s Hotel. Today these characters are our homeless, locked-out of lodging all day to wander cold streets drinking from bottles in a paper bag.
Given the options for some of today's alchoholics, McFeeley’s hand-painted and fading sign located just under "The Biggest Little Tavern in Town" holds truer than when it was running:
“You have visited the rest, now visit the best.”
Some abandoned buildings are derelict too soon.
And some yet may recover like the former Pollyanna Hotel.