The area behind the Bayshore Mall, known as the Palco Marsh, is named after the Pacific Lumber Company who at one time operated a kiln drying lumber mill at this location. In recent years this abandoned post-industrial wasteland became property of the City of Eureka and came under increasing scrutiny as folks began to congregate, making it an informal homeless camp.

The Palco Marsh and its related ruins have been a wonderland for photography students from Humboldt State University and College of the Redwoods, graffiti artists, those interested in ruins from past industry, or just a fun place to go and be left alone during drug experiences. According to some sources, the site even served as a location for late night seances, devil worship, and as a backdrop for the filming of pornographic movies. It’s not hard to understand how the Palco Marsh and the area of ruins became know as the Devil’s Playground. On Thursday, May 26th, the last remaining structure fell to the wrecking ball and jack hammer.

My history with the Palco Marsh goes back to the late 1980’s where as a photography student I fell in love with the textures and form found within the mixed lighting of labyrinthian structures being overrun by nature and culture. Back then there was very little graffiti art, there were painted scribbles here and there, some of it alluding to the kind of devil worship one would associate with popular conspiracies pointed at rock-n-roll music from Led Zeppelin, Rush, and ACDC. The walls were sooty and there was a genuine creepy feel about the place. I don’t enjoy creepy and I’m not drawn to devilish things but I will miss the Playground and its interplay of industrial ruin and the persistence of nature and cultural expression.

Over the years as work and family had my attention elsewhere I lost track of the Playground but somewhere around 2004, I returned to the Palco Marsh. This time I was hired by the Bayshore Mall to photograph the marshland for an info graphic/sign created to highlight marsh habitat and birdlife. Since then, more time passed and during the last decade, the Playground became a mecca for Graffiti artists both local and beyond. IROT, for example is a well regarded artist from Oakland. The playground will be missed by those who paint but they will still paint. Is it short sighted of the city to remove this from the possibilities that didn’t really hurt anyone or their property? Will the graffiti now show up on warehouse buildings?

Six months ago as news of the planned destruction of the Devil’s Playground sunk-in, I remembered my younger days of venturing into the ruins. Since then, I have been photographing whenever I could spare the time to wander. The resulting photos are part of a larger project and will be revealed at a later time. In the meantime, Wrecking Ball, is the last of what I could record of the ruin’s history. The next chapter will be one of transformation from outsider culture to public trails and park. Wouldn’t it be nice if their could be room for graffiti art too?

The movie can also be viewed at Vimeo: Wrecking Ball by Joseph Wilhelm.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *