Alleys & Ruins no. 83, Stadium (2006, Miami, FL, 3:30am)
Alleys & Ruins no. 83, Stadium (2006, Miami, FL, 3:30am)
The Miami Marine Stadium was hit by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 - a Category 5 storm, with winds of 145 mph. The extensive damage forced the stadium to close down and because of legal squabbling, it was never repaired. In 2018 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and cannot be demolished, but efforts to restore the building, as of 2014, have stalled.
Bay Biscayne is in front of the stadium, and spectators would watch boat races, but the stadium was also a venue for big concerts on a floating stage. Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Eagles and even Elvis performed there. People would show up in their bathing suits and go swimming during the concert. By all accounts, this was the greatest venue ever for shows!
In 2006, I’m in Miami where I meet Emmett, a young graffiti artist. He sees my work and tells me he has a place I have to see. That night he takes me to the remnants of Miami’s Marine Stadium.
We have to sneak in by the side, through a break in the fence. It’s extremely dark, so I pull out my flashlight. I shine it on the walls outside as we’re entering the stadium and I see graffiti covering every square inch. We enter, and I’m starting to be blown away. The building is familiar. Like most modern stadiums, it is made of cement. The pillars and walkways and ramps… it is made to last, to withstand the pounding of hundreds of thousands of people over decades. It’s a solid, modern-looking structure. But there is a big difference here. This enormous stadium has been abandoned for 14 years, after being damaged by Hurricane Andrew. It has been left to rot. And though there was an attempt to barricade it, it’s clear from seeing the inside that this feeble attempt was futile. Graffiti artists and countless others have run amuck.
We walk up a long ramp leading to the 2nd floor food vendors, bathrooms and offices of this once bustling place (the ramp continues on to the many more floors above us). It is really breathtaking and utterly surreal. I truly feel I’ve glimpsed the apocalypse. From the 2nd floor walkway, you can see high above and down the length of the corridor – this modern wreck of a place is enormous.
I walk into a kitchen area where steel cabinets are dangling off the walls - walls that have been smashed through. I keep moving deeper into the labyrinth, through graffiti coated locker rooms and offices. I’m surrounded by pitch-blackness, but my flashlight’s spot is guiding the way. As I move from room to room, more graffiti and unknown grimy streaks cover the walls, while the floor is caked with garbage and with the stench of urine and mold and decay. I walk from one destroyed room to another, including a bloodcurdling bathroom that is a sheer horror. People have gone berserk here. I look around and realize I’ve lost Emmett. I quickly exit the bathroom and feel chills and excitement. This is a creepy yet utterly fascinating place. I move out to the main landing again and feel the fresh air. From this second floor perch you can see the palm trees outside and you can feel the warm night breeze. I feel a little refreshed... Now its time to see the main attraction: the stadium seating. I turn around and choke - four young guys are walking toward me. “What are you doin here?” one asks suspiciously. I’m thinking I’m trapped, but I’m friggin grateful that I had earlier stashed my camera bag and tripod. And where the hell is Emmett! I know I'd better be as cool as possible – there’s no way they can know I’m afraid and vulnerable.
“I’m checking this place out with my friends,” I say casually.
“We ain’t seen anyone else. Who you with?”
“I’m with my friends – they’re walkin around. This place is fuckin awesome.”
“Yea,” the guy mutters, and they turn and move on down the hall.
I breathe a sigh and head for the seating. I enter and finally get to look around at what has happened to this stadium. My jaw drops. I think to myself: “This is epic. This is the roman coliseum; this is a modern American ruin.”
The place is enormous, and the graffiti continues to be everywhere. It is breathtaking and sad. It is such a waste. At least the Romans used their coliseum for almost 500 years. This is the age of disposable products taken to absurd lengths. I see Emmett sitting way down near the water. I go down and tell him about the four guys, then thank him for taking me to this incredible place.
He’s concerned about the guys, but tells me as far as he knows, gangs don’t hang out in here. He recommends I do the shot. So I head off and find my gear. The dudes are nowhere in sight. I set up the camera but the light is far too dim to get a reading on my light meter. This always happens in very low light situations. Normally I’d walk toward the light source, which might be a block away, until sufficient light would give me a reading. Here however, this is an impossibility. The only light hitting the stadium are the downtown Miami condos and office towers two miles away, across Biscayne Bay. I have to guess, and it is somewhat of a wild guess. I decide on 90-minutes at f/5.6. I release the shutter and take a seat, keeping a vigilant eye out. 30-minutes later, flashlights appear. It’s the four dudes, carrying flashlights as they walk. They’ve ruined my shot! And I still don’t know who the hell they are. Emmett appears behind me, and he calls out “Hey Joey! It’s Emmett. Whatup bro!”
The friends meet and shake hands. He’s one of his tagging partners. They’ve spent many hours together contributing to the layers of paint in the stadium. Joey looks at me and says, “man, you with Emmett?? Shit, we thought maybe you was crazy walkin round here alone.” This is a happy ending to one story, but my shot is still ruined. I explain to Emmett that I have to redo the shot. He can’t stick around another hour, plus it turns out its gotten very late. I likely don’t have an hour of night left before dawn.
This is a heartbreak. I may never get another chance here. We leave, but I’ve decided to return tomorrow.
The next day Emmett isn’t available, but he’ll try to find someone. In the evening, it’s clear I’ll be going alone – a thought I don’t relish. Once again I’m faced with a shot that’s too amazing to pass up, never mind the danger.
I decide to go very late when I think it might be safer. At 3am I’m sneaking back in through the cut fence. I take slow steps, listening very, very carefully. I climb to the second floor, quiet as a mouse. I hear odd noises and my heart races. I crouch, then freeze and wait. The noises start up again. I listen carefully then realize small animals are scurrying around. I continue on through the opening to the stadium seats. I still can’t believe it. “Epic” comes to mind again. I set up at the same spot. It’s not easy to frame the picture because it’s just so damn dark. In fact, it’s too dark to make out colors, only forms. I finally clamp down the tripod and release the shutter. The next 90 minutes is spent listening, and watching. It is uneventful, but every 2 minutes I look at my watch, thinking and hoping that 15 minutes have passed by. Through the stress, I keep thinking how great it is that I came back. The exposure is finally completed and I head off, a little quicker this time, giving the halls of this once great stadium a final look, and a farewell.
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