Many publishers don’t want to take on a Then & Now project because these collections are known in the industry as “parking lot books.”
Photographers display old pictures of cool buildings from long ago, and then identify the same location today with a disappointing shot of a parking lot.
But what if we took the process backward? What if we started with familiar parking lots in prominent city locations, and then found photos to discover what once used to be there?
This article collects photos of downtown Mansfield from today compared with the same sites many years ago.
There are two sides to this question: the past, and the future.
These two dynamics pull at each other, and somewhere in the middle of this tug-of-war we are caught in the crossfire called today.
The one side could be easily summed up by the school of thought expressed by William Faulkner who wrote, “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”
In so many respects this very much captures the spirit of many Mansfielders toward our downtown. People like to remember the place as it was when they were young, when the sidewalks were busy and the center of everything.
Many folks can’t really see how it is today because their memories so strongly and continually re-imagine how it used to be.
On the Other Hand
It was Thomas Jefferson who said, more or less, “The Earth belongs to the living.”
By this way of thinking it is easier to imagine how the relics from historic Mansfield might be swept side in order to keep the city up-to-date.
This was certainly the attitude of city leaders in the 1950s and the 1970s when downtown was re-imagined through the wholesale demolition of landmarks that seemed to them as fussy reminders of an old-fashioned town that stood in the way of urban progress.
It seems likely that downtown can evolve and find a vital role in the city’s future without more parking lots.
These two Parking Lot Albums are a small vision of what once rose in the flat beds of downtown’s asphalt gardens, presented as seeds for the imagination with the hope that something living and meaningful might take root.