Union Mission

June 2013: The Union Mission building, located on Tazewell Street in downtown Norfolk, is an empty relic of the city’s past. Well, almost empty…

Recently, walking around Norfolk taking pictures, I saw the early 20th century structure — the building was built from 1907 to 1909 by John D. Rockefeller for the Navy YMCA — and noticed that someone was walking behind the desk. I knocked, and an elderly gentleman let me in.

I asked if I could take pictures inside the decaying structure, which once was the site of many Norfolk social events with its marble floors and ornate chandeliers. Now listed as one of the most endangered historical buildings in Norfolk, it was purchased by the Union Mission in 1972 and served the city’s homeless for more than three decades. Crowded conditions — 30 to 70 men slept on the lobby floor at night — and pressure from the city forced the mission to relocate.

The man let me in, on two conditions. First, I had to walk around by myself, which was fine, and second, I could not use a flash, which also was OK.

I spent more than an hour in the building, walking around the decaying structure, which has not been occupied since 2009. I did not use a flash.

All was fine, until I saw the extension cord in the hallway on the fourth floor. The bathroom had shaving cream and a razor. Clothes were hanging in a laundry room. I walked down the hallway and heard a television set on.

At that point, my self-guided tour ended. I nodded to the man on the way out. He nodded back.

Here is the result...