Like the play by American playwright Joseph Kesselring, written in 1939 the Scranton Lace Company adventure would turn out to be both beautiful, and deadly with a twist of dark comedy thrown in for good measure.
Our day starts with a tip from a fellow photographer on checking out the abandoned Scranton Lace Company building in Scranton, PA. This old derelict
occupies two city blocks and at the time housed several large lace looms, a theater, bowling alley, showroom, full galley kitchen, gymnasium, infirmary, and the companies famous clock tower. The Scranton Lace Company was a stand up business that seemed to take very good care of its employees.
About the company:
The company was established by the Scranton Board of Trade as the Scranton Lace Curtain Manufacturing Company in 1890 and was incorporated on June 15, 1897. The name Scranton Lace Company became standardized in 1916 when the Scranton Lace Curtain Manufacturing Company and one of its subsidiaries combined their operations. On May 13, 1958, the company changed its name to The Scranton Lace Corporation, but soon thereafter reverted back to using the name The Scranton Lace Company as its official title. From 1916 to 2002 the company remained the first and largest known producer of Nottingham Lace in the United States.
The company was the world leader in Nottingham lace and also produced tablecloths, napkins, valences, and shower curtains, among many other types of lace items. During the 1940s, the company teamed up with subsidiaries such as Victory Parachutes, Inc. and Sweeney Bros. to manufactureparachutes and camouflage netting. Though the company prospered well into the 1950s but risky investments involving Hal Roach Studios and the fledgling television industry placed the company in financial peril and eventually led to its closure in 2002. Despite the factory being one of area’s biggest employers, it closed in 2002 with the company’s vice president telling its employees, mid-shift, that the facility was closing “effective immediately”.
With our instructions in hand myself and two other explorers/photographers head off to Scranton, PA in search of a giant old factory. And once we arrive, we need to find a place to park our vehicle. This place is about the size of two city blocks so we circle a couple of times and decide to park on a side street.
The neighborhood seems friendly enough, mostly blue collar from what we can see. We grab our gear and proceed to hike to the other end of the factory where we are told we should enter. After a 5 minute hurried walk we make our way through some thick brush to a small loading dock located in between the two main buildings.
Sure enough, there’s the big doors and they look to be unlocked. The excitement mounts as we had heard and seen about this place all over the net and now we were finally here.
We climb up on the dock, open the doors and step inside, making sure to close them behind us and not draw too much attention. The vision before us was jaw-dropping. (cue the angel chorus)
Gigantic Jardine’s lace looms filled the room. These looms are regarded as the “Rolls-Royce of lace equipment.” It is said that many of these looms are still in operation today. This is where the Scranton Lace Company produced it’s Nottingham lace for years.
Everything here is frozen in time. You can even see where they last greased the gears and the grease still looks fresh.
While my friends are shooting at the other end of the giant room, I grab my back-up cam and 50mm prime to get some details of this amazing machinery.
Snapping away with my camera I make it to the end loom and look what I find…
Lace still in production at shut-down and still here today. Untouched and in pristine condition. Everywhere we look there are items that signify there was no warning when the shut-down was announced. A laundry cart full of lace pattern cards. These punch cards where used to set the patterns in the lace. Essentially, what we are looking at is the earliest form of computer.
And the frozen in time items are not all strictly work related either. This workers un-finished crossword puzzle left behind for instance.
We all finish up the loom room and decide to start exploring. Though we have seen a lot of photos online we had no idea where anything was in this place and it is huge! On top of that we brought no lights with us, yeah I know, it was our first urban explore though. We head down this long dark hallway toward what looks to be a light. About halfway down the hall we hear what sounds like people talking in the next room. We stop for a bit to decide to continue or turn around and leave. The talking is very muffled and we decide to inspect the room and see whats up. Suddenly, as we approach, all goes quiet. We look around the corner and see no one so we decide to push forward. We enter what seems to be a large warehouse area.
Still puzzled as to where the voices went, I walk over to an old 55 gallon drum when all of a sudden a whole flock of pigeons take off over my head and scare the crap out of me. Speaking of crap, I then realize that the floor is covered in it. Oh well, I am already standing in it, might as well take the shot.
I call that shot Windows 3.1 because of two reasons. There are obviously 3 large windows in the shot, and there is also a windows 3.1 for dummies book over on a shelf at the end of this room. Right behind me is a stack of vintage shipping crates and even though they are water damaged the logos still look good.
At the end of the room we find a stairway and proceed to to make our way up. I had to stop and take a picture of this stairway. I thought the company should get refund on that non-stick white paint.
The stairway turns out to be a deadend and we head back towards where we came in and find another staircase that takes up to what looks to be a large warehousing storage area. The first thing we notice on the upper floors is that the temperature up here is about 105°F. And what seems about 20 degrees warmer in this giant storage rack area.
This area was too warm to enter. We had about 3 bottles of water between us and I did all I could to stand in the doorway to take those two shots. I sure hope they had A/C for the workers here. Adjacent to the oven was a larger sorting area. Here is a panorama of the entire space.
Some of the employees handwritten posters still adorn the warehouse doors.
After we finished shooting the warehouse we took a short break to drink some water and cool down a bit. We had seen online awesome photos of a bowling alley, a showroom and all sorts of cool stuff but we were having a heck of time finding our way around. This place was huge! After wandering around one of the guys spotted this long hallway that kept slowly sloping upwards. Kind of like stairs but a long ramp. At the end of it all was the prize. We had found what we were looking for. First up was the showroom.
The stacks piled up on the showroom floor were more lace pattern punch-cards. These things were everywhere in the factory. We saw literally what seemed like a million of these patterns. Just off to the left the showroom in the shot is the Gymnasium. This place was in remarkably good condition with little to no tagging, vandalism or graffiti. Amazing for such a large open building like this. Note the 1937 calendar to the right.
Through the back door of the gymnasium is the kitchen. My shooting partners were already in the kitchen shooting when I walked in. The minute I entered the room a loud bang went off that sounded to me like a .38 cal handgun. All of us jumped out of our skin for a minute and then we all froze. We were right next to the windows looking down in between the two main buildings where we entered. In fact we were right across from the entrance. We heard rustling outside but could see nothing. We paused for about 5 minutes not being sure of what or who it was then continued shooting. I set up to capture this giant Vulcan oven in the kitchen.
Having the bejesus scared out of me made me want to sit down and watch a little pigeon television.
After having a little fun scaring the pigeons off the ledge I attempted to get a shot of the clock tower. Only after getting home did I discover that a pigeon got his revenge by flying through my shot. Normally I would have scrapped this but I thought it looked cool so I left it in.
Still floundering around looking for the bowling alley I stumbled across some of the old lace hanging about and a Pattern Department stool.
On of the guys gives a yell back that they have found the bowling alley. I head to where they are. On my way I find a small room with a bowling pin sitting precariously on a shelf. Woohoo I must be getting close.
Finally I make it to where all the fun is. The first item I spot is a really cool scoring stand with a date written on it.
The alley was fully functional. Everything was there, bowling balls, shoes, and score sheets. The lanes were a total mess but still usable. Here are some of the fun things we found.
Here is a shot of the lanes. And yes, we couldn’t resist, we did bowl a frame.
I don’t want to boast but I did roll a strike. My friends didn’t do so well. They blamed it on a bad pin set. (oops)
That about wrapped it up for the bowling alley and we headed back out. The adjacent warehouse was packed with thousands of those lace patterns. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the lace pattern librarian here.
Between the getting lost, the extreme heat, the loud bang, and bowling we were beat and decided to try and find our way back out. After about 30 minutes of snaking our way back, we ended up in the loom room. Remember, this is the direction that we heard the loud bang from. Well the two big loading dock doors we came through were wide open now. Someone was here while we were on the other side. We have run into explorers before but we traced our steps back and ran into no one. Pretty weird. We set up our cameras for some outside shots on the way back and file out through the big loading dock doors, closing them once again behind us. Here are some exterior shots from between the two buildings where we entered.
We head back through the jungle and out to the street where we stop for a moment to shoot the employees entrance to the factory. This is where the story gets……weird..er..er.
So that’s our trip to the Scranton Lace Companies Factory in Scranton, PA. Hope you like it! (ed. Note; Ehemmm!) Oh yeah, the weirderer part.. Well while we are standing there shooting the front of the building, this low-rider explorer with blacked out windows comes down the street. The vehicle slows and the drivers side window rolls down. In the front seat donning bandannas and dark sunglasses are these to very big dudes. We attempt to not make contact and one of my friends starts walking toward our car and says loudly, “Well we should get going guys.” We follow suit and walk past the explorer and head towards our car. The explorer speeds off and turns the corner to which we reply, “RUN!!!”. We get back to the car, throw everything in and pull away. The explorer turns the corner and tailgates us all the way out of Scranton to the highway. WOW that was just nuts! Who were those guys?? We decide to stop in Clarks Summit which is just outside Scranton for a cold one. As we pull up into the parking lot, one of my friends exclaims, “Dude, I left my glasses back there!” To which I reply, “Too bad!” He proceeds to tell me that they are expensive prescription glasses, blah, blah, blah, and we have to go back. Oh man, we are going to get shot! So back we go, only this time, I stay in the car and drive them up to the gates where he thinks the may be. Him and my friend jump out and proceed to comb the overgrowth. All the while I am keeping an eye out for the gang members in the explorer. After about 10 nerve shattering minutes did one of my friends yell that he found them. Both of them came running out and jumped in the car and we were out of there! PHEW! On the way home we talked about the days adventure and we came up with a possible scenario. We believe that the space between the two main buildings could have been a hot-spot for drug activity and maybe even up in the bowling area where we were. We these guys heard us in the building but couldn’t find us, we think they may have fired a gun inside as to scare us off. To this day we don’t know if that was the case and to tell the truth, we don’t want to know! We made it out of there unscathed and that was good enough for us.
The Scranton Lace Company was also the site of a new Television Series called “abandoned”. The series follows three men (Jay Chaikin, Dan, and Mark) who try to make money by scavenging abandoned places. Funny thing about this factoid is, yours truly and my friend Walter tried out for this show as photographers exploring abandoned places and the network decided to go with scrappers instead of us. Missed it, by that much! We still think the photographer idea is better than stealing from abandoned places. :-/ The story does end on a good note though. Last I heard, a developer has purchased the property and secured grants to convert the old factory into loft apartments and office space. Time will tell, but hopefully this grand old building will be saved.