Azorean Palace in the Clouds


Atop a dormant volcano in the Azores, the remnants of the abandoned Monte Palace Hotel slowly disappear behind vegetation.  In the late 1980s this hotel was the culmination of more than ten years of planning.  It offered its guests top-shelf accommodations surrounded by million dollar views, but the business collapsed before its second operational birthday.

Natives know why the hotel struggled: the location is too remote, weather too unpredictable, tourism campaign too ineffectual, and there’s nothing else to do up there.  It was probably all of the above, plus a healthy serving of developers exhausting financing and succumbing to enormous debt.

The hotel was designed to be purposefully unspectacular, its designers intending to blend the structure into the landscape while not detracting from the magnificent views offered by São Miguel’s Vista do Rei.  Now it has been abandoned for years, and many feel the building detracts.

Bugatti EB110: Rise & Fall of a Supercar

Bugatti Automobili SpA abandoned factory

For the last twenty years this modern car factory in northern Italy has been abandoned, quietly fulfilling a lonely existence behind overgrowth in a gated compound.  From 1991 until 1995 it was the most avant-garde factory in the world, home to Bugatti Automobili SpA and the place where 240 people built some of the world’s fastest cars.

Bugatti Automobili was an Italian revival of the classic French nameplate, which for five years produced history’s forgotten supercar, the Bugatti EB110.  When the company ran into financial problems in 1995, it filed for bankruptcy and was forced to abandon its state-of-the-art facilities.  Almost miraculously, the complex has avoided redevelopment and serious vandalism for more than two decades.

Today the unloved Bugatti EB110 and its abandoned factory are little more than footnotes in history, however the well-preserved buildings serve as a time capsule for the legacy of a dream and the forgotten triumph in engineering it produced. 

Adriatic Modernism: Grand Hotel of Lopud


On the shores of small island just off the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, a (mostly) vacant modern hotel lives outs its days surrounded by the quiet anonymity provided by beautiful Lopud, Croatia.  Buried in the Mediterranean garden of an island, the remains of this giant white concrete ship have peered from behind the island’s lush vegetative growth for the last eighty years.

The ‘ship’ is the Grand Hotel, a modernist masterpiece designed by one of Yugoslavia’s greatest architects.  It was built in the 1930s and kick-started the fishing island’s tourism industry.  The Grand Hotel survived World War II and nationalization, but in the years since the Croatian War and re-privatization the hotel has failed to find its footing.  After a 2001 bankruptcy it has passed through several companies’ hands, each trying to do what the one before could not.

Today the Grand Hotel still appears as an unfinished remodel, but it has a new owner, a new hope, and a new set of residents. 

Holy Land USA


Waterbury is the fifth-largest city in Connecticut and is often called the “Brass City,” an homage to its centuries-old roots as a producer of the alloy. It is the birthplace of the founder of the Knights of Columbus, the original Mickey Mouse watch, and Timex. The city is also home to Holy Land USA, a defunct interactive Bible scene set across eighteen acres in the center of town. For the last sixty years its lighted “Peace Cross” on top of the mountain has stood as a beacon for Waterbury and I-84 motorists.

Construction of the attraction began in 1957, the work of a devout Catholic lawyer with help from an army of volunteers. During the 1960s and 70s the 200-piece Holy Land USA was a popular attraction, drawing 40,000 visitors per year at its peak. When its founder and chief caretaker became frail in the 1980s, so did the park. It was closed in 1984 and left in the hands of under-equipped nuns, who for the next thirty years watched over the site as its features became overgrown and vandals hastened its demise. 

BTI: An Alaskan Town in a Tower


In the 1950s the United States government built a bunker of a residential skyscraper in the Alaskan wilderness. The purpose of the bomb-proof mid-century Hodge Building was to support a remote logistics station in Whittier, Alaska. It was part of a completely self-sufficient complex designed to allow its residents to stay indoors for months at a time during the harsh coastal Alaskan winters.

The military eventually withdrew from Whittier before the Cold War facilities were fully utilized, leaving the mostly vacant buildings to the town. When the second largest earthquake in recorded history leveled much of southern Alaska in 1964, the 14-story Cold War relic was one of few structures to survive. Most in Whittier eventually found their way to the building, which was renamed Begich Towers (or BTI) after a missing Congressman. Today all but a handful of the town’s residents live inside.

Inn of Insolvency: The Skinburness Hotel

Skinburness Hotel

Welcome to northwestern England’s Skinburness Leisure Hotel, known for generations in Cumbria as a Skinburness landmark. During its 130 years of operation, the classic Victorian inn assembled an impressive track record of bankrupting its owners.

Known as the Skinburness Marine Hotel when it opened in the 1880s, it enjoyed a brief, opulent period until its first owner went bankrupt after several years. The hotel changed hands and later spent nearly sixty years in government service as part of a liquor control program. Later it re-entered the private sector and proceeded to bankrupt its next two owners. For ten years it enjoyed a brief Renaissance under an experienced hand, but after it sold the hotel bankrupted its next owner.

Since the Skinburness Hotel closed for good in 2006, two attempts to redevelop the property have failed. Now vacated for the last ten years, the old inn has deteriorated significantly. Today it remains for sale, awaiting an impending future of being demolished.

Blue Ridge Blight on Afton Mountain


In the 1950s and 60s the motor court rest stop at Rockfish Gap on Afton Mountain was a motoring mecca, offering Virginia motorists a scenic respite in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The first of this roadside collection of buildings was erected in 1948, and for more than twenty years Afton Mountain offered dining, gasoline, and lodging to weary travelers along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Business started to decline in the 1970s when Interstate 64 was constructed to the North, bypassing the small outcrop of buildings. For the next two decades the businesses were allowed to deteriorate before they started shutting down in the late 1990s. Less than a decade later, all but one business on Afton Mountain was closed. Some of the buildings have been set on fire and several have already been demolished, but all have been vandalized. The remaining dilapidated structures are unsafe with a combination of asbestos, broken windows, and collapsing roofs.

Swannanoa: Deconstructing an American Palace


With its Carrara marble, terraced English gardens, and Tiffany stained glass, Swannanoa is one of the few Virginia estates that can rival the Gilded Age mansions of Newport, Rhode Island. It was a love song built by a successful railroad baron as a gift for his wife. The Italianate palace was later leased to a convent and then a university for fifty years, before eventually returning to the family who has owned it for three generations.

Recent years have not been kind to Swannanoa. The owners’ resources have been spread thin after millions were spent on upkeep. But it wasn’t enough, and the once-proud estate continues to deteriorate. Today the mansion serves out its life hosting paranormal sleepovers and weekend weddings. Fortunately tours are available, which offers explorers a rare opportunity to legally visit a decaying piece of history before it is lost.