The photos are faded, but the scenes remain mostly clear: groups of smiling children, adults in line around a buffet table, a band hamming it up at a neighborhood party.
This is what life once looked like at Midtown Apartments, a 1960s-era housing project in Hagins-Fewell west of downtown Rock Hill.
A trip today through the mostly vacant community offers a grim picture. Windows are broken, others boarded up. Weeds grow around front doors. A Dumpster overflows with trash bags.
Unless you happened to walk into Midtown's coin-operated laundry room and see the old photos lining the walls, it would be hard to imagine things were ever different.
The 96-unit complex has gotten so bad that city officials decided Monday to level the project, three buildings at a time, over the next several months. The site could be left as green space until a possible redevelopment plan takes shape.
It was a sad but not surprising decision, some remaining tenants said Tuesday. The apartments, they said, are decayed beyond repair.
Only 19 people live in a few units, city officials said, and eight of the 12 buildings are vacant. Squatters have shown up in some vacant rooms to escape the cold weather, police said.
Few remember the place in its heyday like Minnie Gordon, a 66-year-old grandmother who has visited or lived here since the 1980s.
Gordon sat outside Tuesday watching her grandchildren play on the sidewalk.
"You wouldn't believe how this place used to look compared to now," she said. "It was a beautiful complex. I hate to see it go down."
Group sought to save it
A group associated with the York Baptist Association tried to renovate the apartments as a model for inner-city ministry.
Five years ago, the group teamed with a community development corporation based in Aiken on a plan to fix up the buildings and forge relationships with tenants.
"We bought the place with good intentions," said William Gallman, the landlord assigned by the Aiken-based corporation. "Things just never worked out."
Gallman is familiar with hard times, having played basketball for the University of South Carolina from 1995-99 under former coach Eddie Fogler.
Though the rehabilitation showed initial signs of promise, Gallman says, the tenant base suffered from constant churn and occasional problems with troublesome renters.
A one-bedroom apartment goes for $293 a month, Gallman said, while a three-bedroom unit is available for $380.
In its efforts to win state grant money available for rehab projects, the group ran into competition from newer, more modern apartments approved elsewhere in Hagins-Fewell, said Ray Koterba, the city's neighborhood services director.
Midtown once had a more vigilant landlord, said 22-year-old Cherita Vaughn, who lived here as a little girl. A man named George Herron watched over the place and maintained regular contact with tenants.
"He kept it up," she said. "If you needed something fixed, he fixed it. He didn't allow people coming in and out, making noise."
Herron put together neighborhood parties to promote Midtown as a drug-free community. Residents gathered for food, a basketball game and concert by June Barnette and the Gospel Highlighters.
Next door, Arcade-Victoria Park offered a public swimming pool, ballfields and a playground. The pool was removed many years ago.
"It was luxury to the people who had somewhere to stay," said Barnette, 62, a local musician and charter bus company owner. "They're saying it's a menace now. Back then, we used to go over there and sing, and we would have a crowd and a half."
Some of the photos from those times hang inside the laundry room, reminding visitors of a history that has otherwise disappeared.