“What leads us to leave places behind and what are the consequences of doing so?”

Matthew Christopher, a 39-year-old internationally acclaimed photographer, has spent the last decade documenting the forgotten structures of America. His current book, “Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream” is a catalog of American history that encourages the reader to ask, “What leads us to leave places behind and what are the consequences of doing so?”

His beautifully illustrated book focuses on 25 places that have been left behind, 240 pages and 150 color photographs that are a feast for both eyes and soul.  Along with the images come the stories – some historical, some mysterious, some heart-breaking  — that transport readers back to the time when these structures were alive and serving important functions in American life.  Each has its history, tales waiting to be read and shared.

abandoned cathedral
Abandoned Cathedral

Influenced by the decline of state hospitals and their sometimes haunting history, Matthew’s first Abandoned America adventure was photographing the Philadelphia State Hospital.

“When out documenting these places, you’re quick to find your senses on full alert. If you hear a branch against a window or a pigeon fly across the room it can startle you.”

Abandoned hotel
Matt and Abandoned Hotel Room

“The intention of this book is to be a gift for the next generation. I wanted to show them my generation’s past and how to approach their future. The theme throughout is, above all, hope. Hope that no place is ever really lost, so long as its story is shared. I want people to see these forgotten factories and closed schools as fixer-uppers and historic landmarks with a lot of fight left in them. I want to encourage everyone to see the potential behind the patina before building something new.”

Locations include one of Niagara Falls’ swankiest hotels, the country’s largest private zoo, and the world’s fastest ocean liner – which is also larger than the Titanic and the largest ship ever built on US soil.   While some places are left to rest in piece, a few are in the process of being brought back to life, like the Variety Theatre in Cleveland.

abandoned variety theater
Variety Theatre

Thanksgiving Day, 1927, the Variety Theatre opened with a screening of “Hula” featuring Clara Bow. For decades, audiences there enjoyed movies, concerts and live performances, marveling at the beauty of the theater as they sat in beneath tapestries and chandeliers in a 350-seat balcony — the largest of its kind west of Ohio’s Cuyahoga River. The theater was later bought by Warner Bros., and then by a succession of owners until it was closed in 1990 after the ceiling began to fall during a Motörhead concert.  Years later, the surrounding community established the nonprofit Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre in an ongoing effort to rescue, restore and reopen the iconic theater.

abandoned variety theater
Variety Theatre

“The revitalization of the Variety Theatre is heartwarming and hopeful. As I walked up to the theater doors I saw soggy, homemade Valentine’s cards taped up outside by the Cleveland community. The resurrection of the theater may represent hope for economic revitilization for the surrounding neighborhood as well.”

There’s a romanticism about the 20,000 square foot Spanish Gothic-style theater with its marble, glass and brass fixtures. The massive structure covers an entire city block and is filled with the remains of museum-quality early 20th century décor.

Abandoned variety theater
Variety Theatre

It is such an important site and the community has been so committed to its restoration and preservation that they were named winners of Antique Archaeology’s national This Place Matters campaign, launched in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.   As part of the celebration, Mike will travel there later this spring to congratulate the theater’s team in person and help create more media and public interest in their efforts.

“These forgotten places have personalities of their own. Exploring them initiates an internal connection that pushes you to ask yourself what your contribution to the world will be. The story doesn’t have to be over for places like the Fallside Hotel, the Randall Park Mall, or Gary, Indiana. Show people how you’ll aid in the aftermath.”

abandoned america
Abandoned America

“All of these places I’ve photographed play a crucial part in American history in their own significant way. Listen to the stories of these locations; don’t let them be for nothing.”

Is there one of Matthew Christopher’s abandoned locations you’d like to explore or a revitalization project in your community? Tell us in the comments below. Don’t forget to follow along with Matthew’s many Abandoned America adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

CLICK HERE to order your signed copy of Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream



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15 thoughts on “Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream”

  1. Kathy Lund

    While I dearly love the show and never tire of the reruns, I wish I had a dollar every time Mike says “noo waay!” Kinda drives me up a wall. With that said, I live for the day I get to La Claire and visit Antique Archaeology. Kindly, Kathy Lund

  2. mike

    sunset theater in Lodi Ca was what it was called in the 60’s, 70’s, and, 80’s before then, it was called the Lodi Theater. beutiful inside , ugly outside or, at least it was beutiful inside. Haven’t been inside for 37 years

    1. Dennis Nunes

      The Sunset, havent herd that in a while, went to Lodi High, in 1960 that is where I saw on stage Chubby Checker & Fats Domino, all the old theaters are buetifull inside like the sunset or the Fox Califorina in Stockton that was preserved and now is called the Bob Hope whare you can see today what we lost yesterday.

  3. Jacob Zelmore

    Some of the most beautiful expressions of architecture is found in these old theaters. I am from the Pittsburgh area and it’s such a treat to have Heinz Hall and the Benedum Center in operation. Heinz Hall is absolutely gorgeous.

    We lost our last downtown department store in September 2015 with Macy’s shuttering it’s business and closing the original Kaufmann’s building. Almost everything was for sale. Merchandise and supplies from years of service. You would have totally dug it! At the same time, it was heartbreaking saying goodbye to a 130+ year old establishment. We all hope the building will be preserved and protected. The clock on the building is a Pittsburgh icon.

    So much history and steel around this area.

  4. Jerry Tilton

    These beautiful old buildings deserve to be preserved but their purpose has long since expired. In our town someone just restored an old building that included an “opry” theater on the second floor. Will Rogers appeared there along with other traveling acts in the 20’s. What do you use a small venue like this for today. The Walton family is restoring an old railroad hotel downtown. The building is beautiful and will be used as a charter school. But since it was built in the 20’s to accommodate railroad travelers there is just on street parking. I wonder where the kids will park.

  5. marcy bringen

    Wonderful story for a beautiful building. I hope you
    will picture the final product when it’s finished. Wish I could go with Mike in the Spring!

  6. John Graver

    Mike should put together a History show taking us to the abandonment of the US. He comes across some great places and especially if these places were for sale he may actually help keep some of the old buildings a live (the theater in Leadville).

  7. Jerry

    HI American pickers love your show long time watcher have you ever thought about coming to Canada to do your show in the future thanks

  8. Randal lovitt

    Love the show and history on the items you find but I have a little history lesson for you on the little blue bombs you find on your picks. They are called BDU-25 practice bombs and come with the threaded hole so they can be hung on weapons suspension equipment on fighter jets. I use to load them everyday when I was in the Air Force.

  9. ryan whitten

    I’ve watched this show for so long and I hope mike sees this but I would really love to meat you guys sometime and see some of your stuff

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