Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Old Shipping Depot

Unlike many of the places I have visited and write about, how I found the Old Shipping Depot (New Jersey) and the stories of our initial exploration escapes me.

My memory and personal histories of the places and people I love are traits that I absolutely cherish, so for an origin story to be eroded by time and subsequent visits, you must understand that it is simply a matter of seeing the place so, so many times. Memories simply begin running together, blurring, and become one aggregated beautiful mess of a beloved place close to home. That is our Old Shipping Depot.

Keep in mind that this property was never actually a shipping warehouse or anything of the sort. I just recall forcing the name after one of our initial visits, having fell in love with the sliding steel doors towards the back of the building. It reminded me of the back of grocery stores and shopping malls, yet was covered in growth and tucked away from the road. Over the course of months and even years, our hypotheses would evolve and eventually surmise that our Depot used to be an old medical office complex, perhaps a doctors’ office complete with billing and other non-clinical work areas. But I am thinking too far ahead. 

Whenever we had first found the property, we must have been in exploration-withdrawal, for it was not exactly a particularly inviting sight to behold. It was in an area that was frequently patrolled by law enforcement and right next door to a populated religious organization. Not to mention that the driveway up to the building and treeline was only about twenty-five feet long. If we were going to commit to the exploration, we would be dead to rights were we caught. Fortunately, once you break the threshold of the building, you could immediately turn right and be obscured by tall hedges and a dilapidated truck trailer from the road. This was all the metaphysical proof we needed to feel welcomed. 

I want to say that the initial visit involved my two typical travel companions, but the first in-depth exploration was definitely with my younger brother. I remember telling him about this place that “me and the guys found” and we would go back during the day, after school. We took the older digital camera and I found it again with no problem. It was nestled right off of a busy road which leads to area shopping malls and further on, to Princeton. It was a service road for the most part and that is as much description, location-wise, that I can offer. Surely you understand. I wish no harm to whoever owns the property and let’s be honest: many visitors are not as respectful as we try to be. 

Regardless, I could tell my brother was excited when we got there. The property is set up in a U-shape, with a proportion of the building actually being a large L. The remaining section was a collapsed porch and trailer. The main door on the building was blown open and you are immediately subject to hanging wires and copper bits, everywhere. As you progress through the structure, you are hit with the sense of office life and the feeling of being a young person in a strange school. Much of the paneling and furniture is a dark color and the years of mold and rot do not help to lighten the place up. Many of the rooms are flooded from rainstorms and there were even a handful of bathrooms dotting the place. I felt like I was an in aquarium tank when I suddenly walked out into the office foyer. The glass was slightly frosted from age and the scene just reminded me that, “Oh, yes. People worked here at one point.” 

As you wind through the building, it rapidly loses its charming modern aesthetic and becomes more industrial and worn down. Perhaps a solid symbolic breaking point is the windowless and holeless locker-room type space between the two “eras” -- the room is completely black, with a horrendously rusted grating material between the ceiling and roof. There were a few open lockers, with many sealed shut.

Past the locker room, the roof is torn away and after following a narrow concrete corridor, you find yourself in a large, open space, reminiscent of a slaughterhouse. We have since found medical objects and glass vials confirming it’s innocent-enough nature, but that did not subtract the creepiness. Long portions of insulation and building material hang from the ceiling, giving a terribly macabre sense and thoughts of the word “tendrils” as you walk through. Destroyed machines and equipment litter the area, as well, some resembling kilns and microwaves. They all appeared to be from the late eighties to mid-nineties, so I assume it was cheaper just to trash them here than attempt to repair them. Who knows what sort of stuff we trudged through in there... 

The warehouse eventually ends in a wash-area, with chipped tiles and ceramic dust everywhere. Pushing our way through the bolted doors, we found one more little area, and the first cause of alarm. There was a little portion of the building separate from the rest of the complex, but just as sodden. There in the dark room attached to the building was your typical homeless paraphernalia: dirty blanket, signs of stirring and piles of scraps, and plastic jugs of water. Oh dear. We left the area and noted that the property line dies somewhere just before the thick woods. 

Crossing the little field, the only structure to check out was this collapsed porch area which resembled a small receiving area and a construction trailer.

Recently, one of my friends texted me, hoping to bring some friends of his from out of town to the location. I gave him a brief explanation of how to get there and a little while later, he responded with a disappointing message. There was now a large chain strung across the entrance. While incredibly easy to maneuver over on foot, it was impossible to get your car into the hiding spot, thus rendering yourself and your crew obvious and in the open. As I had previously mentioned, with the intense police presence in the area, it was now useless to try and visit, having to park outside. 

Time revealed that the property was actually subject to many troubling visitors, such as kids drinking and doing other illicit activities there. Sometimes selling certain illegal items and the like. We were fortunate enough to never encounter such a group, but the knowledge alone lets us know that our time at the Old Shipping Depot is probably now comfortably, however ruefully, in the past. I hope that the owners, if any actually exist, find success in the renovation of the property, were such plans ever to come about. Thank you for the bit of abandoned whimsy, literally in the middle of an overpopulated, overdeveloped city of a town, sitting in the shadow of yet another industrial colossus.

The Old Shipping Depot album

Edit: my friend has told me that I was the one who first told the group about the property. I must have off-handedly found it while scouring Google Maps or driving through the area. Like I said, it was not a pleasant site, but was oh-so inviting for its creepiness and poor decision making. 

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