“I am going to be at this property tomorrow [morning] at 8:30 if you want to come take some crazy cool fotoz?! Let me know.”
Lying in bed with a fever and chills, I received this facebook message at 11:30 PM on Saturday night from a friend who’s a real estate broker. I needed to decide in less than 9 hours if I would meeting my friend at this property. I responded, asking for an address, but no other specifics. I was too sick for details.
My alarm sounded at 6 AM. My friend had sent me an exact property address, but did I have the stamina that day to shoot photos? I have a history with this friend who had summoned me. This friend never leads me astray. She wouldn’t contact me unless it was worth my time, so I made a decision. After popping three Advil, I put on my work boots, flannel shirt, ball cap and sunglasses and grabbed my camera and phone. I drove to the mystery property.
Delayed by a dead car battery, my broker friend messaged me, asking me to stay in my car until she arrived. She didn’t have a key to access to the property, and she needed the owner’s son to open the gates. I sat in my parked car and stared at the chain link fence. NO TRESPASSING, KEEP OUT, Beware of Dog signs hung from the fencing. What is this place? Someone’s home, business, what? Then I saw a sign, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow Building Material Museum.” Huh?
Within twenty minutes, my friend arrived. She asked me to park further up the driveway, so I pulled beyond the chain link fence and onto the property. The circular, gravel driveway stretched through lush desert landscape. The desert property did not stand untouched, instead every inch overflowed with scrap – metal, ceramic, stone, wires. Where am I? What is this? I said a quick hello to my friend who promised to tell me the property’s story after I had taken photos. I took off on foot with my camera, no idea of what truly laid ahead. Thoughts of sickness exited my mind and left room for only questions – what, when, where and why? I began my trek. In and out, up and down, over and under, between and through. As I traveled the what seemed to be “random” pathways, I started to notice that nothing on this property was random. Rather, each scrap, each trinket, each plant, each sign had a purpose and had been placed with care. This place wasn’t a pile of aimlessly discarded trash, rather it was a creative, historical project. With each step through the maze of buildings, cars, bicycles, appliances, tile, pottery, and plants, I began to see the property’s story unfold.
Later, I would learn the property’s second-generation owner, Gus, father of three, had passed away 2 weeks prior. The property had been a tuberculosis camp in the 1930s, acting as a refuge for disease sufferers who sought isolation. Gus’ father was the original owner, and after his father’s death, Gus had inherited his childhood home. Committed to continuing his father’s legacy, Gus began to stockpile his collections on the property. Gus became known as “a professional pack rat.” Over the years, as the city encroached his property, Gus offered public access to his property and its treasures and named his business, Somewhere Over the Rainbow Building Materials Museum.
Today, decisions are being made regarding the property’s future. The third generation is not interested in living on the property. Will the land be sold, along with its assets? Will the property be preserved as a 3.5 acre site of Arizona history? Will collectors, artists, historians, or desert enthusiasts want to visit? My broker friend has assembled a team of experts – cactus, mineral, metal, rock, legal, and realty, and she is committed to finding lucrative, sensible answers to these questions.
Meanwhile, I photograph what remains, the now.
Accepting my friend’s invitation turned out to be a good decision. Being introduced to Gus’ property has led me somewhere I’ve never been before, somewhere out of this world, Somewhere Over the Rainbow,
one photo at a time.