Stages of Decay
July 2, 2009 4:43 AM   Subscribe

Julia Solis, who brought us Dark Passage (previously), is still exploring derelict sites, both subterranean and in urban decay. Her most recent project is Abandoned Theaters, a look at grand old movie palaces, school auditoriums, and theaters that have become, shall we say, retired. Julia still keeps a photoblog that she calls Dark Passage Travelogue, and partnering with Suzy Poling, she chronicles the decrepitude of hospitals long abandoned in Fantastic Degradation.
posted by netbros (10 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
This is pretty awesome. It would've been nice to get a list of theater names and locations, but I know that some urban exploration people shy away from giving away exactly where they've been.

I recognize at least one theater in the bunch, though: The fifth one in, with half a proscenium arch and a concrete floor, is the Michigan Theater in Detroit. The theater was closed and turned into a parking garage in the 70s. The upper parking level, where the picture was taken, is at balcony height.
posted by Spatch at 5:29 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I so want to do this, but all I can hear is my mom's voice in my head saying "you'll get tetanus"! And/or arrested.
posted by JoanArkham at 5:50 AM on July 2, 2009

And/or eaten by CHUDs.
posted by aramaic at 6:43 AM on July 2, 2009

These are incredible. I too wish I could know the stories behind them. The Michigan Theater story alone is bizarre / awesome.

So many of them look like they were incredible ornate, wealthy places - they must have had some interesting downfalls. One in particular did NOT look wealthy - in fact, it looked like a narrow theater built in a locker room, with tiled walls, and the stage looked like some weird shower area at the end of the hall. Not sure how to link to particular images, but does anyone know the story behind that one?
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 6:45 AM on July 2, 2009

Rather, many of them do not look all that wealthy but the unwealthiest, most makeshift of all seemed to be that locker room one.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 6:48 AM on July 2, 2009

Back in high school and college, I used to explore abandoned buildings with friends. It started with a dilapidated house next to a cemetary, where we'd get stoned away from the watchful eyes of adults, but became a thing to do for its own sake. Probably the coolest place we explored was Atlanta's old debtor's prison, which we lost access to when it was rehabilitated into transitional apartments for low income families, a poetically fitting repurposing in my view. It was a fascinating place to explore. We also explored Doctors Hospital, where I had my heel reattached as a kid and Billy Crystal was born, in the years after it closed and before it became a site for an annual haunted house. Now it's been demolished and replaced with a middle school (PDF). In college, sometimes we'd explore the inactive tunnels formerly used for the sewer system under Athens, GA. You can find all kinds of fascinating things and lots of really great photographic opportunities if you go where others generally don't.
posted by notashroom at 6:52 AM on July 2, 2009

I jerk my head up and my eyes shoot open. Its still dark, and I've been woken by the sound of dripping, which continues. Its far off, but its loud in the empty auditorium, and the dark only seems to amplify it. Drip, drip, drip.

Its not rain, there's a hole in the ceiling of the auditorium that moonlight is coming through, and there was no dripping sound when I fell asleep a while back - how long was that, anyway?

4:12 AM. So almost 3 hours of sleep - better than nothing.

I get up and kick the bottom of Jessie's boot but she's already awake.

"I hear it too," she hisses, and as my eyes get accustomed to the shadows of the corner we've taken over, I realize she's talking over the butt of her M-4, which she's scanning the theater with. "This is why I don't like crashing in large buildings," she reminds me.

"This is why I do," I mutter as I flip down my safety and turn my flashlight on. "Sounds like its coming from the stage. Wake Kelly and let's you and me do a sweep," I whisper.

Kelly rolls around, we tell him to stay with the others, to wake them and be ready to move out quick.

"You want right or left," I ask Jessie.

"Its coming from the left side of the stage. I'll take the right." I can hear her smiling.

"Remember to scan the aisles."

"This isn't the first time we've done this you know."

"People used to do this for fun - they'd explore buildings like this and put pictures on the internet."

"Maybe its just some urban explorer." Now I can hear her smirking.

"Yeah, well, ask questions later, right? Let's move out."

Jessie gives me a few seconds to move along the back row of the auditorium. Its big, probably seats close to 2,000 people, and there's a hallway of sorts along the back the doors are all chained from the outside, so we had busted open the ones in the corner when we came in last night to find a place to rest. Maybe this was a college or something, I find myself thinking. It didn't fit that a performance hall would be this far north in Manhattan (upper 60's on the East Side - we had been making our way across and down the island since yesterday morning when we crossed the GWB). Most of those big halls were down in central midtown below the park - Carnegie and Broadway and all those. Anyway I had never been here back before the virus was released in '13. Hell the last time I had been in NYC was the winter of...

Something moves back-stage. I stop just short of the far corner of the room and train on the stage, where Jessie's light is already searching. Nothing moves.

I make my way around the corner of the back row, and we start slowly crouch-walking down the opposite side-walls of the auditorium, sweeping each aisle with our muzzle-lights before we step to the next one. Halfway down I wave my hand over my light twice to signal Jessie to stop and I check the stage area again - still no movement. I stop to scan the balcony now that we can see up into it, but anything could be hiding on the floor between the rows of seats up there. We keep moving towards the stage.

Once we're there Jessie and I hop up onto our respective corners, still a hundred feet apart, and stop. I flash back to Kelly and he flashes twice back at me. I turn back to the square opening - roughly 50 feet, and Jessie and I rush to the middle of it, where we meet back to back, scanning into the empty backstage but finding nothing.

"Shit," Jessie spits. I can feel her breathing fast and tight.

"Wait for it."

We frantically bounce our lights around the wide, shallow room but its empty. The dripping is close now and I find a widening puddle on the dusty floorboards near the back wall of the backstage. A busted pipe 15 feet above it.

"Open pipe up there, one of em could have been crawling on it. Check the ceiling as we go."

I step into the shadow of the backstage and Jessie steps with me.

"TWO ON MY SIDE!" Jessie screams, but she's already firing.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:56 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Thanks for this. I love Julia Solis' stuff. Some of it's a little unnecessarily extra-spooky, but it's still cool. It cracks me up generally that people tend to equate "old" with "haunted" or "scary." To me it's just interesting.

I have an itch to do some more focused urban-exploring. I've always been one of those people who will stick my nose in where it doesn't belong. Just recently we had to visit an artist's studio in an old mill, and while waiting for him we found a spiral staircase leading to a ladderway leading to the bell tower. It was pretty nifty up there.

I grew up around a bunch of weird old half-abandoned stuff, and that's probably why I'm attracted to it. My very first job was working as a box office ticket seller for a dilapidated old movie theatre, a Vaudeville house that had been operating for about 80 years. When there wasn't a show coming up, these were very long quiet days when I was all alone in the building. The office was in the lobby, and then behind that was the mezzanine leading to a vast, 1200-seat theatre. Everything was old - the curtains, the murals on the walls. The seats were a faded, stiff crushed brown velvet, with many rips and tears. Behind the stage you could walk into the wings, with their intriguing rigging and sandbags, and then into the backstage areas consisting of sort of a tower with a tenement of small dressing rooms. A lot of famous people had been in and out of there, but it looked like a slum. Sometimes on my lunch break I would go into the theatre and sit on the stage and look out at the chairs, occasionally speaking or singing a little to hear how well the acoustics worked (great). It was awesome. I'm glad I had time to be alone in an old theatre.

Happily, this theatre made it - it was successfully restored and now is a local gem with a great schedule. While still a teenager, I got to help with early stages of the restoration. We did a 'demo day' where we tore out the old seats and pulled up the carpet. We found a lot of 50-year-old M&Ms, a bunch of ticket stubs, some old pennies and dimes. IT was a blast. i've never seen dust like that in my life, though; a mask was a necessity. Step by step it was restored to a grandeur it never actually had when new. Old theatres are great community assets and they should be preserved wherever they are. It's quite a challenge, because they're expensive buildings to maintain and it's quite a challenge to program for them in a remunerative way. You need a really strong management team, nonprofit or for-profit, to make an old theatre work. But it can be done, and I think that in the future we're going to want spaces were 1000 townspeople can gather more and more often. Glad these haven't met with a wrecking ball yet.
posted by Miko at 8:38 AM on July 2, 2009 [4 favorites]

Oh, man, good grief is this such an unholy-awful piece of interaction design!

MEMO TO THE SPUTNIK DESIGN TEAM: Stop trying to make it look cool and make it actually easy to get information out of it.

And yet people probably love it.

People so often love things that are demonstrably hard to use.
posted by lodurr at 1:42 PM on July 2, 2009

oh, wow, that was totally posted to the wrong thread. I am so sorry.
posted by lodurr at 5:55 AM on July 3, 2009

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