How long have you been exploring around Houston?
When I was about 16 or 17, I used to skateboard. And a lot of people who were into graffiti and street art and skateboarding, we search out the same type of places — the lost or forgotten places where nobody is paying attention. We seek that out for different reasons, but mostly, they want to go where nobody will bother them. A friend said, “Have you heard of urban exploring?” I said, “Not really,” and he said, “It’s kind of what you already do.” I looked it up and saw other people do it and that’s what got me into the photography part, there’s kind of a connection where people share places they’ve gone. I started with photography in about 2009, as a way to document places — I’ve been to a lot of places but didn’t have proof, and a lot of these places end up getting demolished and all you have is your memories.
Have there been times when it’s been scary or tricky to get inside?
Yeah, there have been. Most of the super-abandoned ones are usually pretty low key, no security. There have been some other ones that are questionable with access, I either dodge the security or sometimes I play it safe. It depends on the site, because some, even though it’s vacant, some entity has been watching it. People have a misconception that if you go into abandoned buildings, there going to be drug addicts or whatever inside. I go by myself usually, and the sketchiest thing is homeless people, and they don’t care that you’re there, they just want to know you’re not the cops. Sometimes I’ll tell people I’m supposed to be there and they aren’t. They’ll run off.
What draws you to exploring these places?
For me, it was the curiosity, the hunt and the find, that kind of thing. As I got older, there was an appreciation of the historical properties, the architecture. The mechanics of it all — the doorknobs, the electrical systems, anything that comes with an old building. Part of it is just seeing what people leave behind. Old notes, blueprints for renovations, ledgers. When they renovate, that stuff is scrapped; usually, nine out of 10 times, that stuff is thrown in the dumpster.
What’s your favorite hidden spot you’ve explored in Houston?
My favorite would have to be the Central Square building [downtown between Travis, Milam, Gray and Webster streets]. It has a lot of history, and it’s probably the largest place I’ve ever explored. I think it closed in the ‘90s; the first time I went in was ‘98 or ‘99, and there was still so much stuff in there… file cabinets full of stuff, there was old central square marketing brochures, it looked like from the ‘80s, that had pictures. Upstairs, there was an old club that turned into a radio station — the elevator dumped out on that floor and you went up a grand curved staircase with a chandelier. I visited that place multiple times over the years. I was completely shocked that, of all the buildings they’ve torn down, that they chose to renovate that one. It was disgusting, in bad shape.
See more of Secret Squirrel's photos at his Flickr page.