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.

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Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com
Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com

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The Tallest Cemetery Monument in New Orleans Was Built Out of Spite

baldeaglebluff, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
baldeaglebluff, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Spite has motivated many construction projects, from a 40-foot-tall fence in California to an 8-foot-wide home in Massachusetts. But when it comes to pettiness, few structures can beat Moriarty Monument in New Orleans's Metairie Cemetery. Reaching 80 feet high, the memorial to Mary Moriarty was an excuse for her widower to show off his wealth to everyone who rejected him.

New Orleans is famous for its cemeteries, which feature above-ground mausoleums. The soil in the region is too wet and swampy to dig traditional 6-foot graves, so instead, bodies are interred at the same level as the living. The most impressive of these graveyards may be Metairie Cemetery on Metairie Road and Pontchartrain Boulevard. Built in 1872, it lays claim to the most above-ground monuments and mausoleums in the city, the tallest of which is the Moriarty Monument.

The granite tomb was commissioned by Daniel A. Moriarty, an Irish immigrant who moved to New Orleans with little money in the mid-1800s. It was there he met his wife, Mary Farrell, and together they started a successful business and invested their new income into real estate. The couple was able to build a significant fortune this way, but Moriarty struggled to shake off his reputation as a poor foreigner. The city's upper class refused to accept him into their ranks—something Moriarty never got over. After his wife died in 1887, he came up with an idea that would honor her memory and hopefully tick off the pretentious aristocrats at the same time.

By 1905, he had constructed her the grandest memorial he could afford. In addition to the towering steeple, which is a topped with a cross, the site is adorned with four statues at the base. These figures represent faith, hope, charity, and memory, while the monument itself is meant to be a not-so-virtuous middle finger to all those who insulted its builder.

Gerard Schoen, community outreach director for Metairie Cemetery, told WGNO ABC, “The reason Daniel wanted his property to be the tallest was so his wife could look down and snub every 'blue blood' in the cemetery for all eternity." More than a century later, it still holds that distinction.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]