Four Olympic stadiums with unexpected afterlives
Signing on to host the Olympics is costly — in both infrastructure and money. The 2012 and 2014 Olympics cost upwards of $16 billion. That was merely to create the various buildings needed for the games. And in many cases, those buildings are often left empty afterward. This costs the host city that much more in continuous maintenance and upkeep. Or the buildings are simply being left to decay into the landscape.
Berlin is a perfect example. It hosted the Olympics in 1936. Afterwards, the Olympic Village was left to crumble in the surrounding wilderness. Recently, funding has been approved to turn the former athlete residences into new apartments. This could breathe new life into the 135-acre site.
The buildings that are reused usually continue to operate as first designed. That is, they continue to host sporting events. Only occasionally do host cities get more creative. Here are four locations that took a different approach. They repurposed their Olympics structures for decidedly less sporty uses.
Most people entering the now remodeled 1980 Olympic Village in Lake Placid are in a lot of trouble. The complex no longer welcomes athletes. Instead, it houses prisoners. It is the Federal Correctional Institution, Ray Brook. It’s not much of a surprise, though. This Olympic Village was built with a prison in mind. That's because the only way Lake Placid could get funding from the government for the Olympics was if they had a secondary purpose for any new buildings. Only the Federal Bureau of Prisons offered to be the second use for the Village complex. The facility originally housed about 1,800 athletes. Now, it houses about 1,000 prisoners.
The 1932 Olympics were held in Los Angeles. Its Grand Olympic Auditorium hosted weightlifting. It also hosted boxing and wrestling matches. The building was first constructed in 1924. After the Games, it continued to host boxing and wrestling matches. In addition, it was host to roller derbies and concerts. The building even served as the film set for parts of Rocky. The venue was well known around Hollywood. It hosted greats like Cassius Clay and Rage Against the Machine. It also hosted Andre the Giant and Little Richard. A documentary was made about it called “18th & Grand.” Today, the storied Los Angeles venue has gone a more wholesome route. It’s home to a Korean church, the Glory Church of Jesus Christ.
The National Aquatics Center was built for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. It is more commonly referred to as the Water Cube. It held synchronized swimming, diving and water polo. It also held other swimming events. Michael Phelps fans—this is where he earned his eight gold medals. It is also where 24 other world records were set. The building was renovated after the Olympics. Half of it is now Asia’s largest waterpark, called Happy Magic Water Cube. There are 13 waterslides and a lazy river. There is a wave pool and a spa. The second floor of the building has an auditorium with 17,000 seats. There’s a theater and several restaurants. There is also a museum of Olympic history. The Olympics will be back in Beijing in 2022. The Cube is slated for use in the curling tournaments.
In 1940, the Summer Olympics never happened. They were scheduled for Tokyo, but were canceled. This was due to the Second Sino-Japanese War. The games were then rescheduled and moved to Helsinki. They were canceled again due to the outbreak of World War II. The Tennispalatsi, or Tennis Palace had already been renovated for the Games. It was finished by the time the second plug was pulled. It was first constructed in 1937 and was never meant to last as a permanent structure. It first housed a car dealership. It was renovated in 1938 to add four tennis courts as the city began opening various sports venues around town. The courts were never used for Olympic tennis, but the venue did host basketball. This happened when the Games finally came to Helsinki in 1952.
In 1957, the city bought the building at auction. They let it deteriorate until 1993. Now, the Tennispalatsi holds the Helsinki City Art Museum. It also has a movie theater and several restaurants.