An Abandoned Laboratory

An Abandoned Laboratory

  • Office View of Court Yard by Richard Lewis

Bad Business Leads To Artistic Opportunities

Finding this abandoned laboratory was an odd discovery. It is a large complex that dates to the early 1960’s when the National Lead Company built it to formulate lead compounds for use in paint and other products.

Talk about bad timing. In the 1960’s latex based paints became widely available as an easier and safer alternative to toxic lead based paints. National Lead eventually changed their name to NL Industries and started producing other products that did not include lead. The company closed this lab facility in the 1980’s.

If this was a business blog, the story of National Lead’s survival as a business dating back to the 18th century would be an interesting case study. But, this is a photography blog and my interest as a photographer was the dilapidated structures that stood before me on a cloudy winter afternoon. On that afternoon the remains of a stylish 1960’s building with a repeating arched roof line peeked through a very overgrown landscape.

It’s a bit strange to see a relatively new building in such terrible shape. Since the company’s closure in the 1980’s, vandalism along with neglect and the weather have taken its toll on the place. Large plate glass windows have been smashed and most of the roof looks like it just dissolved, in turn exposing the interior to the elements.

The Exterior of National Lead


National Lead Lab just after opening (uncredited photograph)

This building was a nice example of mid-century modern concrete and glass architecture. One has to wonder what it was like to work here, particularly in the beginning when this building was brand new and its facilities were state of the art. The large glass windows must have provided a nice view and let in plenty of light. Now that the windows are gone, there is nothing stopping the weather, or intruders, from wreaking havoc on the building’s interior.


National Lead Facade by Richard Lewis 2016 (iPhone)

National Lead Main Entrance by Richard Lewis

National Lead Main Entrance by Richard Lewis 2016


National Lead Laboratory Hallway by Richard Lewis 2016

Office View of Court Yard by Richard Lewis

Office View of Courtyard by Richard Lewis 2016

The National Lead Office Area

Walking through the interior spaces I wondered about the people who worked here. Were confidences high when the products of this lab were in vogue? How did that confidence erode when the company’s fortunes started to change?

National Lead Reception Area by Richard Lewis

National Lead Reception Area by Richard Lewis 2016

Office Hallway by Richard Lewis

Office Hallway by Richard Lewis 2016

National Lead Lab Office by Richard Lewis

National Lead Lab Office by Richard Lewis 2016

Hallway With Desk, National Lead by Richard Lewis

Hallway With Desk, National Lead by Richard Lewis 2016


National Lead Office Area by Richard Lewis 2016

Cafeteria by Richard Lewis

Cafeteria by Richard Lewis 2016


No Heat by Richard Lewis 2016


Modern Building At National Lead Site by Richard Lewis 2016

The Labs at National Lead

The laboratories were in two wings off the front of the building. The roof over them was made with a material that has deteriorated to a point where there are large holes exposing the labs to the environment. What was once expensive lab equipment is now a bunch of rusted hulks.


National Lead Laboratory #2 by Richard Lewis 2016


National Lead Laboratory #3 by Richard Lewis 2016


National Lead Ruined Lab by Richard Lewis 2016


National Lead Overgrown Laboratory by Richard Lewis 2016

National Lead Laboratory Hallway by Richard Lewis

National Lead Laboratory Hallway by Richard Lewis 2016


National Lead Lab Office by Richard Lewis 2016

My trip through the the old National Lead laboratory was an unfortunate example of how a business that has been successful can fall apart when it doesn’t keep up with the changing world. This is a story that has repeated itself time and time again. This abandoned multi-million dollar lab facility is a fine physical remnant of bad business planning.

Click Here To see more photographs of the National Lead Laboratory on my website.


POSTSCRIPT 3/12/16: Recently my friend and fellow photographer, Mike Pillows posted his take on this place. Mike saw this place solely as art and has created a unique set of photographs that are very different than these. Click here to see his work at National Lead.

2018-01-29T06:32:35+00:00February 22nd, 2016|16 Comments


  1. Laura (PA Pict) February 23, 2016 at 12:22 am - Reply

    Terrific photographs, Richard. You’ve captured the textures, colour and light of the decaying scene perfectly.

    • Rich Lewis February 23, 2016 at 11:46 am - Reply

      Thanks Laura. This place was nothing but textures and colors. It made me wonder how colorful this place must have been when it was new.

  2. Anonymous February 23, 2016 at 4:05 am - Reply

    Another fascinating insight brought into our homes.

    • Rich Lewis February 23, 2016 at 11:58 am - Reply

      Thanks for the comment Rudi. I couldn’t help thinking how this project applies to the changing print industry, at least in this country.

  3. derrickjknight February 23, 2016 at 8:42 am - Reply

    You do marvellous work with abandoned buildings.

  4. Rich Lewis February 23, 2016 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Thanks Derrick. These abandoned buildings are kind of a recently acquired taste.

  5. eajackson February 23, 2016 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    Really great collection. You have definitely captured the mass and decay of the buildings. Why yes officer I was just leaving comes to mind.

    • Rich Lewis February 24, 2016 at 2:53 am - Reply

      Thanks for the comment Buck, and thanks for almost being my cellmate on this little journey.

  6. larryalyons February 23, 2016 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Terrific write-up with great collection of images capturing the decay.. Great post..

    • Rich Lewis February 24, 2016 at 2:55 am - Reply

      Thanks Larry. I appreciate you comment. Can’t wait to see what you come up with from that shoot.

  7. denisebushphoto February 25, 2016 at 12:34 am - Reply

    Interesting post Rich! I wonder how much lead has been left behind. I find the last set the most visually intriguing because of the red rust and green moss.

    • Rich Lewis February 26, 2016 at 8:51 pm - Reply

      I figured you would like the rusty parts. This place is loaded with it. Plus it is nicer than the asbestos dripping from the ceilings in other parts of the building.

  8. MJF Images March 2, 2016 at 5:57 am - Reply

    Fascinating case study and it looks like you wandered extensively enough to get some nice images!

    • Rich Lewis March 5, 2016 at 10:28 am - Reply

      Thanks Mike. I was lucky to get to this site twice and spend a fair amount of time there. It was an interesting, if not a little creepy, place to photograph.

  9. MikeP March 5, 2016 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    Well my camera brother… super big thanks up front for the opportunity. I had a blast just searching for patterns and the play of light and decay was the icing on the cake. Great back story on the lab as it kinda puts what I saw into the reality of the present day. Still amazed at how much rotted in that first building… that ceiling company must of went bust also 🙂

  10. Tianna Mick July 8, 2016 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Hello Richard! My friends and I love exploring abandoned places. This place looks AMAZING! You have an amazing eye for photography. Is it illegal to visit here if we wanted to go? How heavily gaurded is the area? And what is the address/how would I find the location? Thank you!

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