Photo book of faded glory doesn't always make its case

Cox NewspapersAugust 22, 2013 

Julia Solis' Stages of Decay (Prestel, $34.95) is a strange book, consisting as it does of nothing but pictures of various theaters in their decrepitude.

To be sure, there are touches of the grandeur that was Greece, the glory that was Rome in the concept, and in some of the pictures. Some of the abandoned hulks are large, and their beauty is palpable beneath the decay.

The Loew's King in Brooklyn, N.Y., still has most of its gorgeous ceiling, and the fire curtain of the Palace Theater in Gary, Ind., is a beautiful piece of theatrical painting that shows a scene from Renaissance Spain.

Theaters in smaller towns — such as the Columbia in Paducah — still have most of their decorative plaster and remnants of their colorful paint, even if the walls are crumbling.

The best of these pictures recall Eliot Elisofon's famous photograph of Gloria Swanson striking her best Norma Desmond pose amidst the rubble of the Roxy as it was being torn down. But Solis' concept gradually overrules her sense of what's worthy. I can't get either excited or nostalgic about abandoned high school auditoriums covered with graffiti, or an auditorium in a mental hospital in Marriottsville, Md. These are not painted ladies of style and a residue of grandeur; they're just old.

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