The Dania Beach Hurricane was once the tallest wooden roller coaster in Florida. Standing 100 feet tall and 3,200 feet long, it was hard to miss if you were driving on I-95 in southern Broward. These days, it's surrounded by a chainlink fence with an open gate. Unkempt trees hide the red-and-yellow sign that used to welcome hordes of kids and families.
The Hurricane, which ceased operation in 2011, was once the heart of Boomers, the amusement center that shuttered in January 2015. Overgrown shrubs, broken signage, and graffiti litter the site. The complex looks like a scene straight out of Jurassic Park, but David Bulit — the 27-year-old author of Lost Miami: Stories and Secrets Behind Magic City Ruins and mastermind behind the blogs Abandoned Florida and Autopsy of Architecture — is delighted to lead a twisted tour of the place.
The first stop is the 18-hole minigolf course. A pyramid near the entrance of the green marks one of the holes. Bulit sets his tripod and Nikon D7000 directly in front of it and begins shooting. He snaps the sun-faded sphinx, algae-covered ponds, and "Sorry, this course is closed" sign still standing. But Bulit isn't here for putt-putt.
This visit is all about the Hurricane. So he packs up his camera gear and makes his way up the ramp that leads to the main attraction. He opens the entrance gate and finds the cars still intact and covered with tarps. He pulls out his camera and moves onto the creaky wooden track as he continues shooting. "I went laser-tagging at [Boomers] a few years ago," he recalls while photographing. "All I remember was there was this fat kid and he was cheating," he laughs. "I had told the employees: 'Look, this guy's cheating.' Apparently that fat guy, he was there 24 hours."
Born and raised in Hialeah, Bulit is an author and photographer who has always been fascinated by Miami's abandoned past. "I started urban exploring before photography," he explains. "I got into photography because of this fascination. My first exploration was an abandoned prison in Big Cypress. I went shooting with a Nikon Coolpix. So I picked up the art and starting learning from there."
In 2010, Bulit launched the blog Abandoned Florida as a way to share his work. "To be honest, I've always toyed with wanting to write a book," he says. "Then, one day, I got an email from my publisher, the History Press, and they asked if I wanted to write a book, and I said yeah."
That blog was the seed that would grow into Lost Miami, a book that features a collection of the Magic City's abandoned landmarks divided into five parts: "The Tamiami Trail," "Secrets of the Magic City," "Weird Miami," "Vice and Greed," and "Preservation." Published this past August, it gives a photographic and historical recollection of Miami's forgotten gems, including the Monroe Station on the Tamiami Trail and the Coral Castle house in the Redland (not to be confused with the Coral Castle Museum in Homestead).
"They're places I've shot over the years," he explains. "The photos in the book were taken between 2010 and 2015, but it's sad because a lot of those places have already been demolished."
One bulldozed just this past August was the Nike missile site on Krome Avenue near the Tamiami Trail. It was built in 1965, several years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when U.S. spy planes discovered Soviet nuclear missiles on the island. It was removed by a bulldozer and cranes as "the book was already being printed," Bulit laments. "A lot of places here in Miami get demolished real quick because people are quick to purchase places and just get rid of them. Others suffer something called 'demolition by neglect,' where people buy property that is designated for historic purposes, meaning you can't demolish it or renovate it — you can only restore it."
People often avoid restoring historic buildings, he says, because it can be costly and tedious. "They don't want to do that," he points out. "So what they do is just let it sit there for years and years until it becomes a public nuisance, to the point where the building becomes so neglected that it becomes a danger to the community, and then they knock it down."
Such is the fate of most of the places Bulit has photographed. Boomers, for instance, may soon be replaced by the Landings at Dania Beach, a $250-million-plus retail destination featuring restaurants, residences, and at least one hotel. Owners planned to demolish the old amusement park in May 2015, but so far those plans have stalled.
"I'm pretty sure a lot of people remember coming here," Bulit says of the now-defunct amusement center. "Just seeing it falling apart, it's pretty — I wouldn't say sad, because it was going to happen eventually — but it's nostalgic."
Bulit hopes Lost Miami is more than an appeal to pathos. He would like it to be perceived as a call for the restoration of these places. "I want to promote preservation and restoration of all these buildings because there's a lot of detail and love and work put into them," he says. "The Coconut Grove Playhouse is mentioned in my book. That's one of the properties that is being fought over. I know there are groups fighting for the Miami Marine Stadium. I hope [these places] actually get restored."
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But the only way to make that happen is to educate the masses. "I just want to bring awareness to these places," Bulit summarizes. "I wish more people would be more respectful and observant."
Even if every building Bulit photographs meets its demise, nothing will destroy his sense of fulfillment when he encounters relics of the past. "To me, personally, I like the satisfaction of finding these places, these ruins in the city," he says. "It's a time gone by. You don't see stuff like that nowadays. It's all cookie-cutter. But when you see stuff in the past, where the architecture was detailed and very meticulous, I just enjoy seeing that."
Lost Miami: Stories and Secrets Behind Magic City Ruins
Available via Amazon, Arcadia Publishing, Barnes & Noble, and abandonedfl.com/books.