As I photographed in small towns in eastern Washington a colleague has pressed me, “Show me what the town’s neighborhoods looks like.” What she meant was that a photograph of a building or two, or more likely a small series of building details does not satisfy her (or anyone’s) curiosity. I have struggled with the question as to how to give a feeling for neighborhoods, at least my feelings, for some time. I tried many things – an interesting house, a clean or cluttered yard, building details, long looks down streets and so forth. None were very satisfying, each approach would meet some needs but not many, perhaps akin to the difference between a snapshot and a portrait. Eventually I stumbled into the 4 Corners idea. I discovered that frequently, if I was diligent, I could find intersections that evoke the flavor of a neighborhood and often a hint or sense of its history. I do not always find the neatest, cleanest, most curious, biggest or smallest, but they are interesting.
Neighborhoods where nearly every house has a different designer (if any), every owner has a unique color scheme (if any), and a different attitude about landscaping and maintenance (if any), have life. These neighborhoods have individuality and character even if the plots upon which they are constructed confirm to the regimentation of the plat map. I hope to document character or the lack thereof and to give a feeling of changes or maturation over time.
4 Corners started in Ritzville.
5th and Adams was my first 4 Corners. This neighborhood is primarily residential and is liberally punctuated with churches and borders the school, but it is primarily residential.
Alder and Palouse is in an old part of town with an historic church and lies on the edge of the grain elevators and railroad tracks. Most homes were built in the early 20th century, sidewalks are an occasional after thought and landscaping is often minimal but usually uncluttered and maintained.
Ellensburg is where I spent my professional career as a biology professor at Central Washington University. I passed through the intersection of Chestnut and Third hundreds if not thousands of times but other than being more or less alert to traffic conditions and the fact that I had made it to the top of the hill when on my bicycle, I did not appreciate its interesting corners until I started this project. The ‘castle’, a proposed governor’s mansion, was built in the late 19th century with the hope of luring the state capitol to Ellensburg. It is across the street from ramshackle student housing apartments, that are across from modern suburbia, that are across from an early 20th century residence. These constitute a 4 Corner intersection that hints at the history, diversity and the character of the community.
I am now searching for 4 Corners in large cities such as Seattle, Tacoma and Portland where each district is ripe with possibilities, and small towns where there may be only one possibility. Look for more 4 Corners in future posts.