Past Olympic Venues: What Are They Now?

Getty Images
Getty Images

China built over a dozen new venues for the Beijing Olympics, including the "Bird's Nest" Beijing National Stadium and the "Water Cube" Beijing National Aquatics Center. While many of these arenas and stadiums are stunning and maximize athletes' chances at record-breaking performances, how useful are they after the Games end? After all, it's not so often that one needs a 17,000-seat swimming arena. (At least not unless Michael Phelps is responsible for a serious uptick in competitive swimming in Beijing.) So what will become of the Olympic venues? Tough to say; many fade into obscurity or become general-use arenas. However, we do know the fates of these past sites of Olympic glory:

Centennial Olympic Stadium
The 85,000-seat centerpiece of the 1996 Games in Atlanta was the site of some truly incredible moments, including Michael Johnson's blistering runs in the 200 and 400 meters. It's still around, although in a form that would be unfamiliar to hardcore Olympic fans. Downtown Atlanta had relatively little use for a gigantic track and field stadium, but the hometown Atlanta Braves were in need of some new digs. In a clever bit of teamwork, Braves owner Ted Turn footed the bill for a large part of the stadium's construction on the condition that Atlanta's Olympic committee reconstruct it into a baseball stadium after the Games. The Braves moved into their "new" 49,000-seat stadium, Turner Field, for the 1997 season. Ironically, the venue was not appropriate for baseball during the Games, so the Braves hosted the competition on their old home diamond at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

The Berlin Olympic Village
Hitler didn't skimp on any part of the prep for the 1936 Games, and the Olympic Village was no exception. The facility was luxurious for its time and included over a hundred small apartment building with saunas, pools, and an attendant for each house that spoke the visiting athletes' native languages. The village also housed the (no joke) dirt court where players competed for the first Olympic medal in basketball. The village found use as a military training facility following the Games, but Soviet forces destroyed many of the buildings during their postwar occupation of the area. Those buildings that remained received a Soviet touch that included giant murals of the Red Army's victorious march to Berlin in World War II. One special building escaped this fate, though. Jesse Owens' home for his incredible games has seen a restoration and is now open for tourists who want to see where greatness slept.

Olympic Hall Zetra
When Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Games, Olympic Hall Zetra housed the hockey and speed skating events. Unfortunately, when the Bosnian War broke out, its copper roof provided an abundant source of material for munitions, meaning it was stripped off. Serb forces destroyed the venue in 1992, and it seemed like one of the symbols of the Olympic spirit was dead in Sarajevo. Not for long, though. The foundation of the building was still structurally sound despite massive external damage, so in 1997 efforts began to rebuild Olympic Hall Zetra right down to a new copper roof. The building, complete with its shiny roof, reopened in 1999 after a $17 million overhaul.

Olympic Stadium
The showpiece of Montreal's 1976 Games sounded like a great idea. The design was an architecturally striking plan that called for a 58,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof. A 583-foot tower next to the stadium, on top of the Olympic swimming facilities, was to control the roof. (The idea was that the flexible fabric roof would kind of fold into the tower like an umbrella.) A track cycling velodrome would also sit near the structure. It was a grand plan, and it certainly would have been the one of the most interesting venues in Olympic history.

Instead, it became arguably the biggest white elephant in Olympic history. Building the tower was tougher than anyone had foreseen, and it didn't get finished in time for the 1976 Games. Or even the 1980 Games, for that matter. Or the 1984 Games, either. The retractable roof finally took its place in 1987, and the retractable function became operational in 1988, over 11 years late. Even then, the design wasn't perfect; heavy winds would maim the roof. Moreover, the fabric required $700,000 a year in annual upkeep before eventually being replaced with a permanent roof in 1998. On top of that, pieces of the stadium had a nasty habit of falling off, including a 55-ton concrete hunk that broke off in 1991. This debacle wasn't cheap, either: despite early estimates that the whole stadium could be built for a few hundred million dollars, its estimated total price was over $1 billion.

Worse still, the stadium suffered possibly the worst indignity of all: it had to host the miserable Montreal Expos' home games from 1977 until the team skipped town following the 2004 season. Since then, the stadium has been used somewhat sparingly, although UFC plans to hold fights there next year. The velodrome located near the stadium, meanwhile, has been converted into the Montral Biodome, an attraction that lets visitors walk around in different ecosystems.

The Dome
The Sydney Showground opened in 1998 as a set of venues for the 2000 Games in Sydney. The Dome is a 10,000-seat arena with a 42-meter timber dome that housed the team handball finals as well as some early basketball matches. This one wouldn't be all that noteworthy, except it's now home to Gladiators, Australia's equivalent of American Gladiators, a fact which brings up the valid question of why the Joust and/or the Assault haven't been granted medal status by the IOC. Cross your fingers for 2016, people.

Rudi-Sedlmayer-Halle
George Flinkenbusch designed this 6300-seat arena to house the basketball competition of the 1972 Games in Munich. While the American delegation that included future NBA player, coach, and announcer Doug Collins couldn't wrest the gold medal from the Soviets under the hall's roof, Americans may remember the venue as the host of another bigger, deadlier, more fictitious competition: the one that James Caan's team won in the 1975 movie Rollerball. In addition to serving as a shooting location for the sci-fi flick, the venues also hosted the 1983 Eurovision Song Contest.

The Nippon Budokan
The Budokan opened in 1964 as a venue for martial arts at the Tokyo Olympics, and its 14,201 seats certainly acted admirably in that capacity. It became famous with Westerners, though, when it started hosting rock concerts. The legendary venue has played host to such noteworthy shows as the Beatles' Japanese debut in the summer of 1966, the taping of Bob Dylan's live record Bob Dylan at Budokan, Cheap Trick's live classic At Budokan, and scores of other gigs by some of the biggest names in rock history. The Budokan currently hosts concerts, martial arts competitions, and puroresu, which is Japanese professional wrestling.

Take a Rare Peek Inside the Spire of New York City’s Chrysler Building

Caballe/iStock via Getty Images
Caballe/iStock via Getty Images

Although the Chrysler Building is far from being New York City’s tallest building, its Art Deco resplendence definitely makes it one of the most recognizable landmarks in the skyline. What you might not have known, however, is that the 1046-foot skyscraper not only used to be Manhattan’s tallest building, it was also briefly the world’s tallest, too.

On May 27, 1930, the Chrysler Building broke the Eiffel Tower’s record by 60 feet, thanks to a 185-foot spire that William Van Alen secretly constructed and erected in order to dupe the competition (the skyscraper at 40 Wall Street) into thinking it would easily clinch the top spot. It only took 11 months for the Empire State Building (which is 1250 feet tall, not including the 204-foot antennae) to come along and steal the title, but the Chrysler Building is arguably still every bit as iconic to tourists, New Yorkers, and architects today.

The interior of the spire, on the other hand, sort of looks like a large-scale papier-mâché project. As CityLab reports, urban explorer and Hidden Cities author Moses Gates took former Opie and Anthony radio host Gregg “Opie” Hughes right up into the spire, dozens of feet beyond the 71st floor (where elevator access stops).

Instead of a sleek, streamlined metal structure that matches the building’s famed exterior, it’s a cramped maze of ladders, reinforced concrete beams, and crawl spaces. But the breathtaking view of the city below, as you can see in the video, will probably live up to your expectations.

[h/t CityLab]

15 Amazing Facts About the Washington Monument

iStock/Sean Pavone
iStock/Sean Pavone

It's the tallest building in Washington, D.C. and it honors the first U.S. president, George Washington. Here are a few more Washington Monument facts to celebrate the anniversary of its completion on December 6, 1884.

1. Building a monument to George Washington was not a unanimously supported idea.

Today, trumpeting George Washington as a hero and a symbol of national pride isn’t going to start any arguments. In the 19th century, however, Washington’s approval rating was far from 100 percent. The very idea of constructing a monument to honor the former president felt like an affront to the Democratic-Republicans—the opposing party to the Washington-aligned Federalists—who both favored Thomas Jefferson over Washington and decried such tributes as unseemly and suspiciously royalist.

2. It took almost 40 years to complete the Washington Monument's construction.

After decades of deliberation about where to build a monument to George Washington, what form it should take, and whether the whole thing was a good idea in the first place, the foundation for a great stone obelisk was laid at the center of Washington, D.C.’s National Mall on July 4, 1848. Although the design looks fairly simple, the structure would prove to be a difficult project for architect Robert Mills and the Washington National Monument Society. Due to ideological conflicts, lapses in funding, and disruptions during the Civil War, construction of the Washington Monument would not be completed until February 21, 1885. The site opened to the public three years later. 

3. A coup within the Washington National Monument Society delayed construction.

In 1855, an anti-Catholic activist group nicknamed the Know-Nothings seized control of the 23-year-old Washington National Monument Society. Once in power, the Know-Nothings rejected and destroyed memorial stones donated by Pope Piux IX. The Know-Nothing affiliation cost the project financial support from the public and from Congress. In 1858, after adding only two layers of masonry to the monument, the Know-Nothings abdicated control of the society. 

4. Early ideas for the Washington Monument included statues, Greek columns, and tombs. 

Before the society settled on building an obelisk, several other ideas were suggested as the visual representation of George Washington’s grandeur. Among them were an equestrian statue of the first president (which was part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original plan for Washington, D.C.), a separate statue situated atop a classical Greek column, and a tomb constructed within the Capitol building. The last idea fell apart when Washington’s family was unwilling to move his body from its resting place in Mount Vernon.

5. Later design plans included an elaborate colonnade ...

Even after Mills’ obelisk model had been accepted, a few flashier design elements received consideration as possible additions to the final project. Mills had originally intended to surround the tower with a circular colonnade, featuring not only a statue of George Washington seated gallantly atop a chariot, but also 30 individual statues of renowned Revolutionary War heroes. 

6. ... and an Egyptian sun.

Mills placed a winged sun—an Egyptian symbol representing divinity—above the doorframe of the Washington Monument’s principal entrance. The sun was removed in 1885. 

7. The monument originally had a flat top.

It has become recognizable for its pointed apex, but the Washington Monument was originally designed to bear a flat top. The monument's design was capped with a pyramid-shaped addition in 1879.

8. The engineer who completed the Washington Monument asked the government to supply his workers with hot coffee.

Several years after the 1855 death of Mills, Col. Thomas Lincoln Casey Sr., chief of engineers of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, assumed responsibility for completing the Washington Monument. Among his most memorable orders was an official request to the U.S. Treasury Department to supply his workers—specifically those assigned to the construction of the monument’s apex—with “hot coffee in moderate quantities.” The treasury complied. 

9. Dozens of miscellaneous items are buried beneath the monument.

On the first day of construction, a zinc case containing a number of objects and documents was placed in the Washington Monument’s foundation. Alongside copies of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are a map of the city of Washington, publications of Census data, a book of poems, a collection of American coins, a list of Supreme Court justices, a Bible, daguerreotypes of George Washington and his mother Mary, Alfred Vail’s written description of the magnetic telegraph, a copy of Appleton’s Railroad and Steamboat Companion, and an issue of the arts and leisure magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, among many other items.

10. Some of the Washington Monument's memorial stones bear strange inscriptions.

The vast majority of the 194 memorial stones lining the Washington Monument are not likely to inspire confusion. Common inscriptions celebrate George Washington, the country, and the states they represent. However, a few of the monument’s stones bear engravings of a more curious variety. A stone donated by a Welsh-American community from New York reads (in Welsh), “My language, my land, my nation of Wales—Wales for ever.” Another stone from the Templars of Honor and Temperance articulates the organization’s rigid support of Prohibition: “We will not make, buy, sell, or use as a beverage any spirituous or malt liquors, wine, cider, or any other alcoholic liquor, and will discountenance their manufacture, traffic, and use, and this pledge we will maintain unto the end of life.” 

11. The apex was displayed at Tiffany's before it was added to the structure.

The men who created the Washington Monument, though reverent in their intentions, were hardly above a good publicity stunt. William Frishmuth, an architect and aluminum magnate connected to the project, arranged for the pointed aluminum top of the monument to enjoy an ornate two-day display at New York City’s luxury jewelry store Tiffany’s. The apex was placed on the floor of the storefront so that shoppers could claim to have walked “over the top of the Washington Monument.” 

12. Opening ceremonies attracted several big-name guests.

Among the 20,000 Americans present for the beginning of construction in 1848 were then-President James K. Polk, three future presidents (James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson), former first lady Dolley Madison, Alexander Hamilton's widow Elizabeth Hamilton (John Quincy Adams' widow was too sick to attend), and a bald eagle.

13. The Washington Monument was the tallest structure in the world for about six months.

Upon its official opening on October 9, 1888, the Washington Monument—standing an impressive 555 feet high—boasted the superlative of tallest manmade structure on Earth. The honor was short-lived, however, as the following March saw the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower, which topped out at 986 feet. 

14. It is still the tallest of its kind.

As of 2019, the Washington Monument still reigns supreme as both the world’s tallest all-stone structure and the tallest obelisk. (The stone San Jacinto Monument in Texas is taller, but it sits on a concrete plinth.)

15. A few decades after construction, the monument caught "tuberculosis."

Wear and tear had begun to get the best of the Washington Monument by the early 20th century, prompting an exodus of the cement and rubble filler through the structure’s external cracks. The sweating sensation prompted John S. Mosby Jr., author of a 1911 article in Popular Mechanics, to nickname the phenomenon “geological tuberculosis.”

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