Paul Juser: Disco Inferno!

By the time you read this, Rich David will be the impending mayor of Binghamton. He and Teri Rennia both ran campaigns that stunk of corruption and ill-gotten favors. It’s not speculation to say we’d be better off if David lost. But we’d be in the same rotten boat slowly taking water. The next four years for Binghamton will be awful, but no less awful than if Teri Rennia were to be taking over the Party Mayor’s vibrating leather chair.

This summer, while Rich David was busy trying to convince us that NYSEG’s mangled trees were somehow the worst thing happening in Binghamton, the legendary Lincoln Hotel burned to the ground. The event was unofficially blamed on a trio of boys that were video-taped prior to the fire going down an alley beside the building, then exiting half an hour later. The eyesore had sat boarded up on Clinton Street for years with no move to restore or replace. If these boys are somehow responsible for the blaze that happened two hours later, they should be hunted down and awarded medals. Despite their conviction in the public eye, however, nothing suggests they were ever inside the building.

I didn’t call the Lincoln abandoned, because it was not. A statute-of-limitations-long-time-ago, photographing Broome County’s “abandoned” buildings was my hobby. Thankfully, Binghamton is riddled with subjects. I entered through a second-floor window on the back porch, where a rusty knife lay on the sill. Bedrooms were labeled with magic marker, “Fuckface,” “Shithead,” “S,” “Butch,” and others. The first open room was furnished only with a mattress, chair, and a bowl of cotton balls. The mattress was black and rotten to the springs. A pair of eyeglasses sat atop the cotton balls.

Butch had the largest room at the front, with a full bank of broken windows to bathe him in sunshine. A plastic toy of a nude woman reclined on a table beside the bed. Nipples and pubic hair had been drawn with a pen. A book of photos showed a portly, bearded man in happier times drinking beer and spending time with friends. This is when a door began slamming down the hall I’d come from. I was not alone, and I was not welcome. I exited the building quickly, Butch’s photos still in hand.

You can find videos online of Ed Hickey speaking of blight in front of the empty Masonic Temple on Main Street. The side door in the alley is now chained closed, but once hung open for anyone to come inside. After it was sealed, the smashed basement windows remained open. They are now filled with concrete. A few days after I first explored the decayed structure, another adventurer discovered the body of a murder victim in the basement. This had been the result of a fight between two homeless people. But as far as anyone can tell, neither were permanent residents. On my return trip, still a statute-of-limitations-long-time-ago, I found not only a Link piano, but a Burroughs typewriter in the lobby beside a toilet.

In the auditorium, the ceiling could be heard collapsing around us in splatters of wet concrete. Turns out the Masons weren’t very good masons. The upper floors remained in a state of unfinished construction after a plan to convert the building to student housing ran out of money in the 1980s. In some places the floor moved beneath my feet. Walls that were standing on my first visit had collapsed by the time of my second. I don’t want to imagine the condition of the building today. A few days after Hickey’s press conference, ownership transfer of the building was upheld for an absentee-landlord with admittedly no plans to utilize the property in any way.

Around the same statute-of-limitations-long-time-ago time, I plumbed the depths of the empty E.H. Titchener factory on Clinton Street. Despite a number of unlocked doors in the back, the factory did not appear to have any visitors except pigeons and rats for many years. In the basement I photographed blue barrels marked “Hazardous Chemicals” leaking green sludge in a wide pool. This was the section of building that burned in 2009, so the physical evidence likely no longer exists.

The last few years have seen many of Binghamton’s long-empty structures ablaze. The Lincoln, the Derby, the Midtown Mall, Ed’s Bargain Corner, E.H. Titchener, and Pa’s Woodshed. It seems cheaper to toss a torch through a window and blame neighborhood kids than to pay for demolition. When Rich David sees the monetary potential selling those plots for student housing, he may see arson entirely legalized. On the other end of the spectrum, our cheap entertainment is watching our local history go up in flames. I can tell you from personally walking inside these buildings (a statute-of-limitations-long-time-ago) there can be no saving many of them.

Binghamton is a city in transition. Our days as a manufacturing leader are done and over. Binghamton University provides the only thriving economy we have, and if Binghamton doesn’t utilize this advantage there won’t be a city left. Come on kids, finish your homework and help your city. Burn, baby, burn!

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