[Check out “Google Earth: Time Travel” and more from Abby Austin on her blog, found here.]
Walking up to Burk Mansion, the size overwhelmed me. It is an imposing building, close to the street, three stories high and solid, with a high fence surrounding it. It isn’t friendly or welcoming. I felt overwhelmed by its size, not able to get a full visualization of the building. I wanted to get some distance so I walked across the street to see it from further way. This still wasn’t enough. I zoomed further out by using Google Earth. Here, I realized that not only can I see the multiple angles of the building at a distance, I can see these angles at intermittent intervals over the course of ten years.
Google Earth keeps an online archive of all of their street surveys. For Burk Mansion there are photos of the front since 2007, and a side view from 2009. Not only does this tool let us play with scale and time, pieced together these snapshots over the last decade paint an eerie picture of the half baked efforts at preservation and cosmetic changes to an otherwise abandoned building.
In 2007, the property is lush, overrun. Two small trees stand on either side of the front walkway, mirrored by two large trees on the sidewalk, a skinny, tall tree hugs the side of the building. The backyard is crowded with bushes. By 2012, the tall tree is gone. By 2014, the landscape has been hacked away, left completely barren. Every bush, tree and flower is gone except the two still shading the front door. By 2015, the remaining trees are gone. The barren landscape is replaced with a new, manicured and modest landscape of bushes and small trees.
Sometime between 2009 and 2011, all of the building windows are boarded up. The building looks grim and blank. By 2015, the building gets a facelift. The windows at the front are now all open and clean.
Solely viewing the building from the front, these changes appear to happen by ghostly encounters. But viewed from the side, we see glimpses of actual interaction.
Most every snapshot shows people walking by the property. A kid riding a bike, two girls strolling by, a mom and her baby waiting for the bus. In three of the years, we see workers interacting with the building. In 2009, workers weed whack the backyard. In 2011, it appears that those workmen in 2009 visited several times. Most of the greenery is now gone. Two aerial work platforms are in the back and the windows are boarded up. Perhaps they just finished the job. In September 2014, the property is active with people, but looks completely barren. A Temple work truck is parked outside and three people are surveying the newly cleaned up property, most likely planning the landscaping we still see today.
Even though these glimpses are few and far between, they help us to imagine what it might have been like to live in this community and see the transformations of the space over time.