Parking Lot Art

Muri and I moved to California from Rhode Island in 1971 after our best friends moved to San Diego.  We told our parents it would just be a few years but I think in our heart of hearts, we knew we were staying.  But we missed our families and went back almost every year.   Sometimes, we would stay at my parents house in East Haven, CT and others, we’d stay at Norm and Sandy’s in Hamden.  Norm is Muri’s brother, and although he and Sandy were family, they were also friends of the best sort, so as the years passed we stayed there most of the time.   Now, a few miles from Norm and Sandy’s house was an old shopping center, the Hamden Plaza.   In 1978, we were staying in Hamden and when we drove by the center, we saw this:

That’s right … a dozen or so automobiles buried at various depths in the shopping center lot then carefully covered over with concrete.   My father worked at a Machine Shop a few block away.  I don’t remember him telling us about it, but if he did, I’m sure it would sound something like this:  Some idiot buried a bunch of junk cars at Hamden Plaza then tarred them over.  They’re calling it art.  What idiot let them build that eyesore.

It turns out that the first idiot was artist-architect, James Wines, and the eyesore was titled Ghost Parking Lot.  The second idiot was an art lover who also happened to own the Hamden Plaza.  There was a lot of opposition to the project during construction, including threats of vandalism, but once it was built, it became a local landmark.  Unfortunately, Ghost Parking lot didn’t age well … concrete began to crack and the junk cars underneath began to show.  Someone asphalted over the whole thing which only made it worse.  When Wines’ lease ran out in 2003, the owners of the shopping center had Ghost Parking Lot demolished.

And … sorry, Dad …  James Wines was no idiot.  He is founder of the Sculpture in the Environment (SITE), a design studio dedicated to integrating art and architecture.  He has received numerous architectural awards and is best known for radical architectural designs like the BEST Products Building in Richmond, VA, the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park in New York, and Avenue Number Five in Seville, Spain (click for larger images).

You can see many more of his designs at the SITE website, here.  So, tell me … when Mr. Wines came up with Ghost Parking Lot, was he having a bad day?  And of course, is it art?

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