Abandoned in Cleveland: Exploring the Past with Glenn Petranek

We’re excited in Cleveland. The atmosphere is full of anticipation for great things happening in our city. Urban renewal has brought modern health and service industries to our economy, the arts districts are booming, and people around the United States are noticing. As this new, “better” version of Cleveland emerges, it’s easy to forget the rich heritage that’s left behind in the ashes. The stunning 19th century architecture, the skeleton of the old steel industry, forgotten schools with rusty, old lockers, abandoned factories ornamented with graffiti and decay — they all remind us Cleveland natives of where we’ve come from.

I used to sit with my dad in the home dark room and my job was to turn the enlarger on and off… I could watch pictures in the developer way back then, of course that seemed like magic at the time.” — Glenn Petrannek
“A lot of my favorite stuff is going into buildings of the past. There’s so much bright new stuff going on, but in the shadows you have these buildings that are crumbling in abandonment. Slowly, through urban redevelopment, we’ve started fixing these places up, but they offer a fascinating glimpse into the past — industry and architecture.”

Glenn Petranek is a successful Cleveland photographer and CSU alumni. Now 58 years old, he’s been in this buisness since the age of 2. Glenn has been taking pictures of our city since highschool, but more recently, he’s been taking his camera on an exploration of Cleveland’s remaining past. This is an emerging trend in photography in cities across the United States. A modern art form commonly called “urban exploring,” captures the untold stories of forgotten areas of a city. In Cleveland, there are several hidden oases of old buildings, schools, and churches full of scenes many of us never get to see. In these photos, Glenn’s work will take you on a brief tour of these hidden places. He unveils a land of decayed books and paintings, where graffiti is art, not vandalism, and where rubber ducks run wild.

“Graffiti in some of these abandoned buildings is really art, but if you’re spraying it along the rapid right-away by the airport for example — where that’s the first image people get of your city — it could be construed as vandalism. There is some really cool graffiti in some parts of town though. There’s a place called Train Avenue thats almost a quarter mile long and the whole thing is like a canvas. In the abandoned buildings though, that’s where you expect to see this stuff, it belongs there.”
“Taking pictures of churches and cathedrals like St. Michaels, St Stanislaus, St. John… these are reminiscent of cathedrals you can find in Europe. They were built by craftsmen that came here in the 1800’s, and those are just spectacular. Just as interesting are these abandoned ones where the congregations have moved out and are just rotting on their own. It’s kind of a sad image, but also fascinating to think of what they’ve been to what they are now.”
“We aren’t exactly quick to give away locations, one because you don’t want people stealing the pictures, but also because you don’t want anyone trashing it out even more. I may find some neat things in these buildings, but I never take anything. I feel it’s part of what’s remaining, and it’s meant for others.”

For hundreds more pictures like these, check out Glenn’s website at www.glennpics.com. If you click on “image galleries,” you will find entire digital albums of urban exploring, scenic Cleveland views, and even some vintage photography from Glenn’s archives. If you’d like to meet the photographer in person, be sure to look for one of Glenn Petranek’s booths this spring and summer at arts festivals around Cleveland. He’ll be starting his season May 16th at the Hessler Street Fair.

Written by: Benjamin Heacox

Originally published at thevindi.com.