Q&A: @AbandonedFL on exploring forgotten places

David Bulit is a photographer and urban explorer from Hialeah who has gained a big social media following for his exploration of abandoned spots across the state. He started in 2009, and last year he turned that into a book, “Lost Miami: Stories and Secrets Behind Magic City Ruins.” We caught up with the man behind the haunting, gorgeous photos on @AbandonedFL.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. 

What got you interested in abandoned places?

The interest came about from a documentary I saw about urban exploring, mostly in the north — places like Milwaukee and Cleveland.

There was a section where they featured the Aerojet-Dade rocket facility down in the Everglades. Aerojet, the rocket manufacturer, they worked for the government building airplanes and rockets. During the Space Race in the 1960s they built a facility down in the Everglades where they were going to launch rockets to go to the moon. [But] they were in competition with other companies and NASA didn’t give them a contract. They abandoned the facility and left Florida completely.

One of the chambers they used for the test firing is still down there today. When I saw that, I just grew interested that somebody would leave basically a part of history, a part of the space race, of the cold war abandoned out in the swamp.

What’s the first place you visited?

I found a big prison out in Big Cypress [National Preserve]. That was my first exploration, basically.

I don’t know what I was doing. I dressed up in all camouflage, with big boots. I just figured it’s out in Big Cypress, I ought to have camoflauge.

It was a minimum security prison, a roadside prison. It was nicknamed the Alcatraz of the Swamp, I believe, or Alcatraz of the Everglades. It was hardly escapable. If you ran either way you would have to run miles into the swamp. They recently turned it into a military training facility.

When I got there it was overgrown like crazy, there were snakes everywhere, lots of vultures. Kids had used it for some time to play paintball. For the most part it was gutted.

How do you find the places you explore?

At this point I’ve visited hundreds. To find them nowadays, either we drive around and find places or we search online, mostly in news articles, blogs, websites. Sometimes we get tips from other explorers or friends or people just driving around who know my work.

I like seeing the old, old places, like with wooden construction and that type of stuff. Florida, once it got into the 60s and 70s, all you see is concrete and drywall. Before that there was a lot more craftsmanship and love put into places. Now it’s a lot more cookie cutter.

What are some of the most interesting places you’ve visited?

It’s pretty hard to determine. We explored a theater a while back which they transformed into a proper working theater, one of those fancy ones where you get your own chair you can lay back in, you have service coming to you. Back then when we explored it, it was completely abandoned. The power was still on so we could turn on the lights and the projector.

I’ve seen places where you can tell for example that they had brought the property and then put a lot of money into gutting it, ripping out the floor and the wall, and then ran out of money and left it. That surprises me. They have all the money to gut the building but they don’t plan ahead. I am fascinated with kamado grills as well and I know your struggle all too well when it comes to purchasing a new kamado. You will find dozens of different ceramic grills on the market, which makes the final choice all the more difficult. Choosing a new kamado gets complicated by the fact that the difference in their prices is very big. Best kamado grill smokers cost from $100 to as much as few thousand dollars. So how to buy one that is 100% worth the price and will live up to your expectations? First and foremost, you have to understand what excatly you need and how much you are planning to spend on a new kamado.

There was one in north Florida, a small house I checked out with an ex-girlfriend. It was what you could consider a hoarder’s house. To get in you would have to really push in a door because of all the trash pushed against it. We had to crawl on all this garbage throughout the entire house: wooden toys, old TVs from the 40s, old World War II memorabilia, stuff like that, you know?

The story with her was that her husband was a WWII fighter pilot, and he had passed away. She died at the age of 101, four days before her 102nd birthday. All the Christmas decorations were up in the house, including the Christmas tree. In the dining room there was a big splatter of blood on the dining room table. We believe when paramedics came they had to make a path to her because all the garbage was pushed out of the way to make a path to the door.

Why abandoned buildings, and not, say museums?

Despite abandoned buildings being what people think are dead, I think there’s more life in abandoned buildings than actual museums. Museums just feel lifeless to me. They’re just so sterile.

It’s so interesting seeing things from another time, a time long gone, before I was even born — to see how people lived back then, basically to find out why these places are abandoned.