From the first time I drove by 322, the place deeply fascinated me. After a few years, I finally conjured up the courage to approach the three story red brick tenement that was said to be the most dangerous building around, filled with dope dealers, prostitutes and muggers. The residents told me as long as anyone could remember, it never looked good. The façade was always worn and tired and no matter how many times the brown and yellow interiors were painted, the dark and dingy hallways always looked and felt like a dungeon. The stairs were rotted and swayed even when you stepped lightly. No one had to tell the children not to run, as they had to carefully walk on the edges to keep from falling through. We all held onto the rickety banisters for support.
I spent fifteen years photographing the 322 residents and building. The rents were high and the heat and hot water were inconsistent. The building was home to twenty families and forty-five children until 8 p.m. the day after Christmas in 1996, when Maxine, who lived on the second floor, smelled smoke. The fire department responded immediately, smashing through the top floor windows, breaking out walls and ceilings to expose the smoldering wires. Water and smoke destroyed furnishings, clothes, hopes and dreams. It was termed suspicious by the fire department.