Seafoam Palace

After 12 years of photographing hundreds of rotting buildings, I've finally found myself on the other side of the table as an owner! I've been working with a team of amazing artists, fabricators, and innovators on restoring a historic building in Detroit that had been disused for over 20 years. Our plan is to bring the building back from the throes of ultimate decay to become a public museum of curiosity called Seafoam Palace.

Based on the curiosity cabinets of yore, the museum will be inviting guests to explore their sense of wonder through artifacts, art, history and adventure, with a hint of musty wood still lingering in the air. We've been busy shoring up the foundation, rebuilding collapsing structure, hooking up utilities, and removing graffiti from the limestone facade. The place isn't as far gone as most of the places on this website, but restoring a 13,000 square foot building turns into a huge job! So we've started a Kickstarter project to help fund repairing our main exhibition space.

As one of the rewards ($250 or more), I'm offering limited edition prints of one of the most beautiful scenes I was able to capture - the front entrance of an abandoned psychiatric hospital I found in Italy:

Tom Kirsch Photography Print

The prints are 11x17" (279 x 432mm), signed, and will be framed with old-growth timber that was actually used in the Seafoam Palace building construction (circa 1925). You'll also get a free admission for you and a guest when we open to the public. We're also offering other awesome rewards here.

Even if you can't donate, check out our video... you'll be transformed!

The Seafoam Palace - A Museum of Curiosity

in New Orleans, LA US

Originally known as the Samuel J. Peters Junior High School, this 81,931 square foot building was built in 1913, and designed by architects E.A. Christy and Charles Colbert. It was named after Samuel Jarvis Peters (1801-1855), who was responsible for founding the New Orleans Public School system with Horace Mann. Each year, the school would send a delegation with flowers to Peters' tomb on Founder's Day.

The name of the school changed a number of times over the years; first, to Commercial High School, and once again as the Israel Meyer Augustine Middle School, named after Israel M. Augustine, Jr. - the first African American elected as judge in Criminal District Court in Louisiana. It was heavily damaged in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck, and has been sitting vacant since.

In 2009, the school was stabilized using Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, as an assessment deemed the building was one of several "that are either contributing resources to historic districts that are listed in the [National Register of Historic Places], or are individually eligible for NRHP listing." A second assessment in 2012 appraised the structure at being worth $2.1 million. Estimated renovations costs are at $7-10 million, and the school is currently up for sale.

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in New Orleans, LA US

This iconic red brick brewery on Tulane Ave. in New Orleans was designed by architect Louis Lehle in German Romanesque style. Production of Dixie Beer began in 1907 under the leadership of Valentine Merz, who was once the president of the Jackson Brewing Co.

Dixie Beer thrived until Prohibition was enforced in the 1920s; the name of the company was briefly changed to the Dixie Beverage Company during this time. Once alcohol became legal to manufacture again, new competition in New Orleans made profits difficult to reach for many years, and eventually forced the owners to file for bankruptcy. The company was revived in 1989 with a line of specialty beers however, which included Dixie Jazz, Blackened Voodoo, and Crimson Voodoo, and Dixie became a viable, growing business once again.

Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans in 2005, wiping out almost everything on the first floors of the brewery, including the modern bottling line, 10,000 cases of beer, and anything that wasn't made of stainless steel. Scrappers also attacked the building, stealing the copper and other precious metals from the tanks and wiring, and destroying parts of the building in the process. The state expropriated the building in 2011 and had it transferred to the Veterans Administration as part of a massive LSU/VA hospital complex being constructed nearby. The VA has plans to transform the old building into an advanced bio-research facility called the Dixie Brewery Research Building, replacing parts of the crumbling brick facade with modern glass walls. Joe and Kendra Bruno, who owned the building, have been fighting to gain control back from the VA and re-open the brewery, and have managed to halt demolition just hours before it was about to begin. The fate of the property now lies in the results of pending court cases. Dixie Beer is still produced under contract by Minhas Craft Brewery in Wisconsin.

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in New Orleans, LA US

This park first opened in 2000 as Jazzland, which included four roller coasters (the largest being the Mega Zeph, a wooden coaster on steel supports), a log flume, carousel, and other common spinning rides. The operator, Alpha Smart Parks, was accustomed to running water parks and could not turn a profit with Jazzland. When the lease was put up for sale, Six Flags purchased it in 2002. They upgraded the park and named it Six Flags New Orleans, with more shaded areas, rides, and re-branding the park to the theme which included the dancing old man "Mr. Six." Two looping roller coasters were brought in, and a water park addition was being planned in 2005, but fell apart once Hurricane Katrina arrived.

The park rested on a low-laying parcel of land which was surrounded by a 6-foot earthen berm. When the hurricane swept through in August of 2005, brackish water from Lake Pontchartrain overflowed into the park, and the berm essentially created a huge bathtub once the park's drainage pumps failed. The salty water rose to a depth of 4 to 7 feet for over a month, corroding the rides and equipment to a state of major disrepair. Inspectors determined that 80% of the buildings were demolished, all the flat rides unsalvageable, and the the Mega Zeph's superstructure was damaged beyond repair. The only large ride that could be saved was the Batman: The Ride roller coaster, due to an elevated position and corrosion resistant supports.

Pending lawsuits to recover money from insurance claims keep the property in limbo, as Six Flags has a 75-year lease contract with the city of New Orleans, where it is legally obligated to rebuild. The city eventually fined Six Flags $3 million and ordered the park to vacate the lease, giving control of the property back to the city. Redevelopment plans have come and gone, and the site is used as a movie set in the meantime. It is featured in films such as Killer Joe, Stolen, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Jurassic World.

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in Newington, CT US

The Newington Home for Incurables was founded in 1898 for children afflicted with conditions such as polio, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida. The hospital's founding was spearheaded by Virginia Thrall Smith, who championed for the care of disabled children. Two sites in downtown Hartford proved unsuitable, as the public would be "exposed" to the children and their infirmities. Finally, an abandoned farm was offered at the base of Mount Cedar in Newington, and the 10-bed hospital was constructed under the leadership of the Connecticut Children's Aid Society.

The home offered little more than comfort and care to the children during the early days; staff would take children on outings, and resident instructors would teach lessons. The patients, called "inmates" back then, would work the farm with the staff to provide fresh vegetables, meat, eggs and milk for the institution. In 1913 the society had a small hospital for orthopedic surgery constructed, as well has a residence for both children and staff. This dormitory building featured a balcony which overlooked a vast lawn, where Franklin Delano Roosevelt would give a speech to a crowd assembled below in 1930. Acknowledging that the children were not in fact "incurable," the name of the institution was changed to the Newington Home for Crippled Children in 1917.

The hospital bloomed from 80 to 200 children between 1917 and 1933, and began to gain a reputation in rehabilitation and orthopedics. The hospital was a long-term care facility for many children, but its mission was moving towards comprehensive care. New buildings and services were added in the 1950s and 1970s. In 1986, Newington Children's Hospital moved to a new facility in Hartford, however the former grounds are still used by administrative functions of Hartford Hospital.

The old dormitory for both children and staff had sat unused for quite some time until it was demolished in 2008. For more information on the institution, check out the book They Called it 'The Home for Incurables': Newington Children's Hospital by Barbara Donahue (2004).

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