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Exploring the penthouse suite…

October 9, 2021, 10:00 AM

Since last October, whenever Elyse and I have traveled down to Augusta County, we’ve stayed at Hotel 24 South in downtown Staunton.  If you’ve followed this site over the years, you might recognize the place.  Under its original name, the Stonewall Jackson Hotel (the name was changed to Hotel 24 South in September 2020), I photographed the neon sign that used to be on the roof of the building back in 2007, and my sister had her wedding reception there back in 2010.  The building dates back to 1924, and was renovated and expanded to its current form in 2005, restoring its original use as a hotel after having served as an elder care facility for a time.

However, during the 2005 renovation, one section of the building was skipped over: the penthouse suite.  As I understand it, the penthouse suite was never available for rental to guests, but rather, was intended as the owner’s private residence.  I was made aware of the penthouse’s existence by some friends of mine, and we located the door to access the space on our December trip (the primary focus of that trip was paying last respects to Staunton Mall).  At that time, however, the entrance was locked, but we did learn that the penthouse space was excluded from the renovation due to lack of elevator access.  On our next visit, in March, they were doing maintenance work on one of the hotel’s elevators (a mechanical room for the elevators is also up there), and as such, the door was open.  So Elyse and I took a quick tour of the space before we went out for the day.

My impression of the space, based on the vintage architectural and decorative elements present there, is that it has not been used for anything resembling its intended purpose for a very long time, though it is not abandoned.  Rather, it appears that the current hotel management uses the space for storage.  The space does have modern ventilation, as evidenced by a modern air duct running through the hallway to the living room, and it did not smell old or musty.

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Categories: Staunton

A fence appears around Staunton Mall…

July 17, 2021, 8:44 AM

While Elyse and I were on that trip to Staunton that I discussed earlier, we stopped by Staunton Mall to check in on the progress there.  It would appear that the redevelopment plans for Staunton Mall are for real, because asbestos abatement appears to be happening in a few places, and a perimeter has been established around the building in preparation for demolition.  Recall that I declared Staunton Mall to be a dead mall back in 2009, but it took until 2020 for the mall to finally close.  That fence around the entire mall building, save for Belk, is a major step towards demolition and redevelopment.

Fencing in front of the former Wills/Books-A-Million store.
Fencing in front of the former Wills/Books-A-Million store.

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My first time eating at a real restaurant in a very long time…

July 9, 2021, 3:50 PM

Recently, on a trip to Staunton, I had my first meal in a full-service restaurant since my weight loss surgery in December 2019.  We were visiting family, as my sister and her husband were in from Chicago.  So our party consisted of Elyse and me, my sister and her husband Chris, our parents, and Chris’s parents.  Nice group all around.  We ate at Zynodoa, which is a higher tier restaurant than I typically go to, but it was a good experience overall.

I would say that the timing of things tended to work against restaurants in general.  I had my surgery on December 6, 2019, and so things were still healing for most of December.  I was figuring out through trial and error about what foods would be tolerated by my body, and also determining portion sizes.  When Elyse and I would go out, we typically would stop in at a grocery store with a food bar if we needed to eat, like Harris Teeter, Wegmans, or Whole Foods.  I was typically able to get out of there for about five bucks (I would jokingly refer to myself as a cheap date).  Doing that allowed me to try out a variety of different foods, and only get the amounts that I needed (remember, my tummy is tiny now).

Then the pandemic restrictions came along, which took eating in restaurants out of the picture entirely.  I’ve never been one to do take-out from restaurants.  If I’m eating food from a sit-down restaurant, I’m more than likely going to be eating it at the restaurant.  If I’m getting it to go, I’m going somewhere else, like a grocery store or something else cheaper than a full restaurant.  Thus if I couldn’t eat on the premises because of various rules in place, a full restaurant was of no use to me.  And if I’m getting food to take home, I might as well just eat the food that I already have at home.  All of that said, the pandemic rules came about while I was still forming new habits after having my surgery, and that meant that full-service restaurants were more or less out of the picture, i.e. they didn’t exist as far as I was concerned.

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Paying my last respects to Staunton Mall…

December 14, 2020, 9:00 AM

On a recent trip to Augusta County, Elyse and I stopped over at Staunton Mall to pay our last respects to the place.  For those not familiar, Staunton Mall recently changed owners, and in late November, the new owners gave all of the remaining tenants a 30-day notice to vacate, except for Belk.  The last day of operation for Staunton Mall will be December 24.  So we stopped in and documented the place fairly extensively.  Before I get started, please note that this Journal entry will be a very high-level look at the mall.  I took over 1,200 photos of the interior and exterior of the mall, including at least one photo of every single storefront, and I’m going to give the place a more complete treatment as a photo set for Life and Times.  But this ought to hold everyone for now, because the more complete treatment is going to take a while to put together.

The thing about photographing retail settings is that stores typically don’t like it when you photograph in their facilities.  The usual reason cited is to protect trade secrets, which is usually bunk, because, as I understand it, a company has to put actual effort into keeping trade secrets a secret.  If it is in plain view of the public, then it is not a trade secret.  But that doesn’t stop stores from chasing off photographers.  After all, it is private property, and they can choose to exclude whatever activities that they want.  For my purposes, it just means that I have to be a bit more stealthy when I photograph, and shoot with my phone rather than with the big camera.  The way that I typically operate when I do this is to go from lower risk to higher risk as far as getting caught goes.  After all, once a place gets wise to me, the photo shoot is over, because they’ll never leave me alone again as long as I remain there.  In this case, since I had the drone, I considered the aerial photography to be the least risky as far as getting caught goes, since I could accomplish that mostly from off of the property.  Then after I finished flying around the mall, I photographed the exterior from the car with my real camera.  Then I went inside the mall and did my documentation of the interior with my phone.  I suspected that I wouldn’t have any issues with security personnel based on reports from others that there were no security people to begin with, and I was pleased that this ended up remaining the case.  I’ve seen so many cases where stores and/or entire shopping centers are closing, and employees still get on people about photography.  I can’t help in those cases but to think, why do you still care?  After all, the people in question are losing their jobs soon, and so they’re continuing to defend their employer because… why?  No matter what you do, at the end of the day, you’re still losing your job.  So why are you still loyal to and defending a company that clearly has no loyalty to you?  It doesn’t make sense to me.

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Flying over the Shenandoah Valley with a drone…

October 25, 2020, 10:45 PM

Elyse and I recently made a trip down to Augusta County to see my parents, and we both photographed a bunch of stuff with my drone while we were down there.  So all in all, we had a pretty productive time.  I have gotten pretty proficient in flying my drone around things, and I’ve gotten some nice photos.  The goal of the drone photography this time was to duplicate a lot of what I did in my earlier entry about the area in Microsoft Flight Simulator, but in real life.  All in all, I had a good time, and I liked the results, as I flew around Staunton, Waynesboro, Afton Mountain, and Stuarts Draft.

In Staunton, I first got aerials of the old DeJarnette Center, which is an abandoned children’s mental hospital that closed around 1996 in favor of a newer, more modern facility nearby.  If this place sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve photographed it before.  So here it is:

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

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Flying over the Shenandoah Valley…

August 27, 2020, 11:25 PM

Recently, Elyse got a copy of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator game, which, among other things, features real landscapes based on map data.  However, it’s not without its issues, since, if it doesn’t have good data for buildings and such, it attempts to fill in the gaps by rendering a building, taking a guess as to what kind of building it’s supposed to be.  When there is good building data, the buildings look correct, as is the case in much of Howard County, Maryland.  Down in Augusta County, that’s not the case, and most of the buildings are rendered by the game, doing its darndest to make a good guess.  To accomplish this evening’s field trip, Elyse dropped us at Eagle’s Nest Airport, which is a privately-owned airport just outside Waynesboro.  I didn’t have to fly the plane.  Rather, we left the plane on the runway, and just flew around with the camera.  I didn’t want to have to fly an airplane, after all.  I just wanted to have a little eye in the sky.  So from Eagle’s Nest, I quickly got my bearings, and made a beeline to Stuarts Draft.

First thing that I took a look at was my old middle school, Stuarts Draft Middle School:

Stuarts Draft Middle School in the flight simulator

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Just when you thought that the mountain couldn’t look any worse than it already did…

April 16, 2017, 5:37 PM

On Tuesday, April 11, I got together with Elyse and Melissa, and we headed down to Virginia for the day.  The plan was to get together with my parents, plus visit Afton Mountain and downtown Staunton.

We left the house at 9:30, and took US 29 down to Charlottesville.  First stop was Moe’s Original Bar B Que, where we had lunch with my father.  Fun time, and my father seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to finding good barbecue.  Every barbecue place that Dad has taken me to has been wonderful, and this was no exception.

From here, we took US 250 across to Afton Mountain.  There, we went to the second overlook, i.e. the Rockfish Valley Parking Overlook, to get some views.  I tend to avoid Afton Overlook, the first overlook, after being propositioned for sex there one night back in 2005.  The second overlook, which is a mile and some change further down the road, tends to attract fewer undesirables.  I suppose it’s because it’s further away from civilization than the first one, which is a minute’s drive from the freeway.  In any case, the view is awesome:

View from Rockfish Valley Parking Overlook

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Google Camera is my new favorite toy…

September 6, 2014, 12:38 PM

I recently went on a trip down to Stuarts Draft to see my parents and sister, as well as my sister’s friend Vickey, and I came armed with a new app for my Android device: Google Camera.  If you’ve never used it before, Google Camera is a camera app that will function as a regular camera plus do a few other things.  Besides shooting regular still photos and videos, it will also do a lens blur effect, it helps in shooting panoramic photos, and it also shoots “photo spheres”, also called “spherical panoramas”.  That last one is what I took for a spin on this trip.  Those are the ones that I can post on Panoramio, and I believe that they go in as Street View (but don’t quote me on that just yet, because they haven’t fully propagated to Google Maps/Earth as of this writing).

Shooting them is surprisingly easy.  Here’s a screenshot of the app in action, taking a photo sphere at my place:

Google Camera app in action

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Staunton Mall sold for $4.5 million?

March 15, 2014, 10:16 AM

So according to The News VirginianThe News Leader, and WHSV, Staunton Mall has been sold to a Delaware LLC for $4.5 million.  Little is known about the new buyer or their intent, however, according to The News Leader, “The sale includes permits for development and land rights and assignment of leases, rents, deposits, profits and other agreements.”  This makes me wonder if someone is finally planning to redevelop Staunton Mall into something better and/or more modern.  At this point, we can only speculate. That said, Staunton Mall does look pretty dismal right now, shown in this file photo from January:

Staunton Mall, from center court facing south towards JCPenney, January 2014

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Categories: Staunton, Staunton Mall

A train ride with far more excitement than you might expect…

September 19, 2012, 9:21 PM

This is also why, when I’m traveling on a public mode of transportation, the idea is to leave early so that I can be at the boarding location in plenty of time, just in case anything goes wrong in the process.  Today was one of those days where something went wrong.  I described it as a “clusterf—“, and I think that was putting it nicely.

First of all, though, to set things up: I’m in Stuarts Draft right now, and I went there on Amtrak’s westbound Cardinal.  To get there, my plan was to take the 51 from my house to Glenmont, and then take the Red Line to Union Station. Initially, things went well.  I caught the same 51 that I usually get to go to work, and caught my Red Line train.

And then things went downhill from there.

The Red Line was having a power problem on Track 2 at Brentwood Yard.  Thus they had to single track through the yard, during morning rush hour.  Whenever you hear “single tracking” and “rush hour” in the same sentence, by the way, that’s never a good sign.  So at Glenmont, we sat for several minutes before we started the run – much longer than usual.  Then we proceeded to Wheaton and held again.  No hold at Forest Glen.  Then we held for about ten minutes each at Silver Spring and Takoma.

And then things got worse.  There was a second power problem on the Red Line at Van Ness-UDC, with single tracking over there, too.  Lovely.  By this point, Metro was telling people in the e-alerts to consider taking the Green Line.  That’s when you know it’s bad.  With two areas of single tracking, I bailed at Fort Totten and took the Green Line.

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Day tripping it to Stuarts Draft…

May 29, 2012, 8:46 PM

I certainly had fun on Monday!  I went with Isis and Cubby to Stuarts Draft and surrounding areas.  First I picked them up, and then we headed down to Augusta County, Virginia.

Our first stop was the old DeJarnette Center in Staunton.  For those not familiar, DeJarnette Center was constructed in 1932 as a privately funded mental institution named for Dr. Joseph DeJarnette.  The facility became a state-operated children’s mental institution in 1975, and was abandoned in 1996 when the DeJarnette Center moved to a new facility across Route 250 from the original.  The facility was renamed the “Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents” in 2001 due to Joseph DeJarnette’s strong support of eugenics.  The facility was boarded up in 2009.

On our visit, we stopped the car nearby, and then took a walk around the outside of the building.  We didn’t go inside for a few reasons.  First, due to the board-up, there was no light inside.  Second, asbestos.  And lastly, snakes.  I’m told that the building is infested with snakes on all levels of the building.  And snakes creep me out.  Speaking of snakes, while walking around the grounds, we found a snake, laying on the ground partly in our path as we walked behind the building.  It was a long black snake.  It wasn’t interested in us, but still, snakes creep me out, especially so when Cubby indicated that it could either be a black king snake (not poisonous), or a cottonmouth (very poisonous).  In any case, I didn’t really want to find out for sure which one it was.

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My trip to Stuarts Draft… via Amtrak!

September 27, 2011, 10:41 PM

So this is actually a Video Journal entry. And here it is:

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“Oh, it’s terrible! The King has been transformed! Please find the Magic Wand so we can change him back.”

November 27, 2010, 4:31 PM

First of all, I admit – the title doesn’t mean much in relation to this entry, except that it perhaps reflects that I’ve been playing too much Super Mario Bros. 3 on my Super Nintendo lately. Regardless, this Journal entry has been a long time in coming, since this is about a trip I took to Stuarts Draft two weeks ago. All I have to say is, hey, I’ve been busy. But it’s also somewhat fitting that I post this entry this weekend, since this was “Thanksgiving” with the parents a couple of weeks ahead of the holiday. Traffic is a real pain, you see, and this obviates the need to mess with it. Have you ever driven US 29 in Virginia on Thanksgiving weekend? It’s no walk in the park.

On Friday the 12th, after driving perhaps a shade too fast the whole way down, I arrived at Stuarts Draft Middle School. After all, Mom was there, and I hadn’t seen her new classroom yet. Mom was recently switched from sixth to eighth grade, and so she moved rooms as a result, from Room 24 to Room 1. And here it is:

Mom's new classroom, Room 1

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Make a happy face out of cooking oil, and then light ‘er up!

November 13, 2010, 9:02 PM

Tonight’s dinner experience was certainly a bit more exciting than most when eating out. I went with my parents to Massaki, a Japanese steakhouse and sushi bar in Staunton. That was a cool experience.

See, Massaki is one of those places where they cook the food right in front of you, and put extra emphasis on showmanship. And the food was good, for that matter. But yeah, they put the whole cooking thing on display. First the server takes your drink order, and then after they bring you the drinks, they take your order. The soup comes out, the salad comes out, and then while you’re eating the salad, the chef comes out.

The chef came out with a little cart containing all the raw ingredients for the table. I had the swordfish and mahi mahi, others had a chicken dish, and someone else had steak. First thing the chef did was get started. After doing a little thing with his spatula, he made a happy face on the grill out of cooking oil, and then lit that sucker on fire. Big flame-up right there (and you can feel the heat from the individual flame-ups several tables away). Then he put the rice down, and got to work chopping up the vegetables. Then he did the side dishes. Dad and I had chicken livers, and Mom had sauteed mushrooms. The chef made a big to-do of the cooking, that’s for sure. It was quite fun to watch, as he placed this sauce on this, and this on that, and moved stuff around and flipped stuff.

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Okay, I’m calling it – Staunton Mall is toast.

May 2, 2009, 1:36 PM

Okay, I’m calling it. Staunton Mall is a dying mall, if not already basically a dead mall. I was in there on Friday with Katie, and I believe there are now more empty locations than there are full ones. Steve and Barry’s, in an anchor spot, is gone. Books-A-Million is gone, in another large spot. KB Toys is gone, as part of the chain’s complete closure earlier this year. The former Piece Goods location has never been filled for any appreciable length of time since Piece Goods left. The old CVS/Pharmacy location is still empty after more than two years since CVS moved to a freestanding location nearby.

Additionally, Peebles, while open, is in deplorable shape, with visibly worn tiles, stained and worn carpet, and stained ceiling tiles. That location needs to be renovated badly, but I doubt that Stage Stores (which owns Peebles) will invest in it, considering that all they did when it changed to Peebles from Stone and Thomas was change the nameplate, change some interior signage, and wall in a gift-wrapping counter. Meanwhile, the Belk store in Staunton Mall has never been remodeled since I’ve been there, aside from changes related to when the store changed its nameplate from Leggett to Belk in 1997 or so. It, however, looks to be in better shape than Peebles, but partly because the lighting is somewhat darker in there, and thus it hides the aging. Still, it certainly says a lot about what a company thinks about certain locations when they don’t bother to ever remodel or update them, while remodeling and updating other locations, sometimes multiple times.

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