1. Sterrick Building: Memphis
Once called the “Queen of Memphis” and described as “the most complex, the most fabulous building in Memphis,” the Sterick Building opened in 1930 as the tallest building in the South, and reigned as the tallest in Tennessee until 1957. It is now Memphis’s fifth-tallest building. This 350,883-sq.-ft. Gothic-style office tower is 365 ft. tall. Originally it featured a white stone spire topped with a green tile roof and the Regency Room restaurant on its top floor. Its first three floors are made from granite and limestone and once held a bank, pharmacy, barber shop and beauty parlor and stockbrokers' offices. Its lobby was said to “rival the beauty of a Moorish castle,” and boasted eight high-speed elevators that carried the building's more than 2,000 workers and guests each day. The building’s decline began in the 1960s, despite alterations. In 1978 the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but by the mid-1980s, it was vacant, and still stands empty.
2. Book Tower: Detroit
Book Tower is not only one of the Midwest's last great standing skyscrapers, it’s also literally "pretty-ugly." It was designed for the Book brothers, descendants of Francis Palms, one of Detroit’s wealthiest real estate scions, by architect Louis Kamper to be the city's tallest and grandest building. The tower (and the 13-story adjoining Book Building) was Kamper’s first major commercial design—an ornate experiment that failed. Opening in 1926, the 475-ft., 36-story Book Tower was Detroit’s tallest building for just two years; today it ranks seventh. Its ever-dirty, porous limestone facing is festooned with Corinthian columns, florets, scrolls, crests and a band of Italian Renaissance-style-style nude female figures around its middle. To top it off, since Kamper forgot to include a fire escape, a bizarrely winding one was added later. Kamper is remembered as a "cake decorator" and Book Tower has been criticized as “chaotic” and “frothy.” Book Tower has stood empty since 2010, when its owner, Vancouver–based AKNO Enterprises—which bought it in 2009 after its previous owners declared bankruptcy—racked up $87,000 in unpaid electricity bills and the building's power was turned off, sending all of its tenants fleeing. A Detroit City Council contract to turn it into a "green" mixed-use residence was never realized. But there still may be hope for Book Tower. In 2013, Curbed reported that ANKO filed papers with Detroit to establish an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation District and turn Book Tower into an adaptive reuse project, creating retail and commercial space from the basement to the third floor and apartments above.
3. Michigan Central Station: Detroit
Built in 1913, Michigan Central Station (MCS) was then the world’s tallest railroad station and among the grandest. But the $15 million Beaux Arts station was placed outside the city in anticipation of future development that never came and no thought to the growing automobile trend. Passengers reached MCS via streetcars. During World War I, the heyday of American rail travel, more than 200 trains left MCS each day. By World War II, things had picked up, with MCS seeing heavy military use, over 4,000 passengers using it daily and over 3,000 people working in its office tower. MCS’s visitors included Charlie Chaplin, Thomas Edison and Presidents Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. But in the 1950s, passenger traffic declined sharply and service was cut back. MCS’s owners tried to sell MCS in 1956 and 1963, to no avail. In 1967, MCS’s restaurant, arcade, main entrance and main waiting room were closed. Things began looking up when Amtrak took over the U.S. railroads in 1971. The main waiting room and entrance were reopened in 1975, the same year MCS was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and a $1.25 million renovation project began in 1978. But in 1984, MCS was sold for a transportation center project that never materialized and finally closed in January 1988. Restoration projects and plans have gone as far as the negotiation process, but none has come to fruition. In 2011, work began to remove glass and add new windows. MCS has appeared in several films, including Transformers, Naqoyqatsi, Four Brothers, The Island, Eminem’s 8 Mile and Detropia. In 2009, Detroit passed a resolution to demolish MCS, but preservation activists stopped the demolition. Now, thanks to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s $244 million in grants for high-speed rail upgrades, MCS may once again welcome travelers. As of last June, the owners had moved forward with $676,000 in rehab work. In the meantime, MCS remains a star in the world of ruins photography.
4. Buffalo Central Terminal: Buffalo, NY
The Art Deco masterpiece that is Buffalo Central Terminal (BCT) was built to handle over 200 trains and 10,000 passengers daily, as well as 1,500 station employees, and included shops, a restaurant, soda fountain and parking garage. Unfortunately, the Central Terminal opened a few months before the onset of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, the building was extremely busy during its first two decades of operation, peaking during World War II. Afterwards, passenger rail travel declined as cars and air travel picked up. In 1955, BCT was offered for sale, but there were no takers. Instead, a small station was created within BCT to service the remaining passengers. The final passenger train departed BCT in October 1979. In 1984, BCT was added to the National Registers of Historical Places. In 1986, BCT’s owner defaulted on his taxes and the city of Buffalo sold BCT at auction for $100,000. The station was used to store heavy equipment until 1997 when it was transferred to the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. and restoration has begun, courtesy of the Center for Restoration Arts & Sciences and a host of volunteers. Educational and ghost tours of the facility are popular.
5. Tlatelolco Pyramid (AKA Torre Insignia): Mexico City
When the 417-ft. Torre Insignia (AKA Torre Banobras and Nonoalco Tlatelolco Tower) was completed in 1962, it became the second tallest building in Mexico. The former headquarters of Banobras Bank, this triangular prism-shaped tower is the tallest building in the Tlatelolco district. Its carillon, a gift from Belgium that features 47 bells, is the tallest in the world and stands on the city’s highest point. After Mexico City’s excessive growth, the only way to build was up, so the city required all housing and office to have heights of more than 20 floors. However, it is located in an earthquake zone. Although Torre Insignia theoretically can withstand an earthquake of 8.5 on the Richter Scale, and has survived five earthquakes that measured 6.3 to 8.0 (in 2007, 2003, 1999, 1995 and 1985) with no structural damage, it was abandoned after the 1985 earthquake, and has stood empty since then. In 2007, the 25-story, 236,806-sq.-ft. building was sold to Cushman & Wakefield. The tower’s pyramid shape, made of reinforced concrete, glass and aluminum, is emblematic of Mexico City. Already remodeled twice, it is currently under renovation once again.
6. Partenon de Zihuatanejo: Zihuatanejo, Mexico
The Partenon Ixtapa Zihuatanejo, better known as “Corruption Palace,” was built by the legendarily egomaniacal Arturo "El Negro" Durazo Moreno, Mexico City’s most racketeering chief of police from 1976 to 1982, as a monument to himself. He earned less than $1,000 a month, but managed to build two palatial homes, a collection of vintage automobiles and properties in Canada and the United States through making every Mexico City cop pay him bribes. Durazo’s boyhood friend, President Lopez Portillo, made him a fivestar Army Division General even though Durazo never served in the military. When his personal convoy was on the move, roads were blocked to speed his commute. The “Parthenon” was Durazo’s summer house, and it’s rumored that it contains hidden doors and secret tunnels down to the beach below. The building’s Greco-Roman architecture is now overgrown with trees and vines, and the building has been looted, but its opulence and creepiness are still apparent. Just inside the gate, which is said to have been stolen, is a huge cage where Durazo kept guard dogs. Next to that is a tiger cage, and across the yard is a crocodile pit—both empty of course. Along the driveway, overlooking what were once carefully landscaped grounds, are Romanesque statues. Inside, huge murals remain intact. Durazo was fond of Italian marble, and the palace remains replete with furnishings and architectural details made from the material, including recessed sculptures, porches, balconies, patios, massive columns, a bar, a library and Durazo’s dining room table. Durazo met his end when 12 Columbians, suspected of being bank robbers, were found tortured and drowned in the river, and a new president was voted in to clean up Mexico's corruption, sending Durazo fleeing. Mexican and U.S. authorities tracked him down in Costa Rica in 1984 and brought him to trial in Mexico. But due to his age, and possibly his continuing influence, Durazo got out on bail after serving six years of a 16-year sentence. He died in 2000. The building is still empty, but has been donated to the Universidad Autonóma de Guerrero.
7. Sathorn Unique: Bangkok
Back in the 1990s, during Thailand’s economic boom, Bangkok’s Sathorn Unique, a luxury apartment tower, was set to become the city’s fanciest residential address and the crown jewel of its skyline. But in 1997, construction was felled by the Asian financial crisis. Today, locals are convinced that the unfinished 49-story building is haunted, and entering the skyscraper—the most legendary of Bangkok’s many "ghost towers"—is forbidden. Nonetheless, journalists have gotten inside the building. Ironically, it is sited at a place deemed prosperous, overlooking the Chao Praya River and at the crossroads between Bangkok’s old and new commercial districts. Its four-story archways and Romanesque columns are overgrown with trees and vines. When construction halted, the building’s apartments already had wooden floor boards installed, along with wardrobes and working electricity and plumbing. Today, at ground floor, two escalators stand, leading to nowhere. The main lobby contains a small Buddhist shrine erected to protect the locals. Even if there are no ghosts, the building is very dangerous, with plenty of large, dark spaces and unsealed shafts to fall through—not to mention a pack of wild dogs.
8. Ryugyong Hotel: North Korea
In 1987, construction began on the Ryugyong Hotel, a spear tip-shaped monument to North Korea's “eternal leader,” Kim Il-sung. The strange building was designed to be the world’s tallest hotel, with 105 stories and a height of 1,082.68 ft. Instead, the Ryugyoung’s 3,000 to 7,600 rooms (depending on which source) have stood empty for almost 30 years. Nobody knows what's planned for its interior design. The closest the hotel has gotten to glory is a longstanding citation from the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s tallest unoccupied structure. Although the Ryugyong is heavily guarded by North Korea’s military and shrouded in Stalinesque secrecy, it’s believed to have been built in anticipation of a joint Olympic Games between the two Koreas, but was abandoned when the Games went to South Korea. The hotel was originally set to open in 1989, but its opening was delayed twice—first, because of construction and material issues, and again in 1992 because of funding problems. The project halted completely in 1993. In 2008, Egyptian telecommunications firm Orascom spent $180 million to complete the building’s glass façade—an investment that’s believed to be part of a $400 million mobile phone license that the company won from the North Korean government. In 2009, Orascom announced that the hotel would be completed as a mixed-use business/retail/residential/hotel facility. The Geneva-based Kempinski Hotels chain and China’s Beijing Tourism Group held talks in 2012 about jointly opening and running the Ryugyong in 2013, but reportedly, no agreement was ever reached. Now the Ryugyong’s setback is due to tensions between North Korea and the rest of the world. Last year, the Geneva-based Kempinski Hotels chain announced via an email to CNN that “Market entry is not currently possible." In the meantime, in 2009, the Ryugyong was surpassed in height by the Rose Tower in Dubai. Today the empty hotel—dubbed the “hotel of doom” by the media—stands as the world's 49th tallest building (tied with the China World Trade Center Tower III) and has the fifth highest number of floors.
9. Centro Financier Confinanzas: Caracas, Venezuela
If you’re a fan of Homeland, you’ve seen the exterior of this building. Called “Tower of David,” it’s where the wounded Nicholas Brody is brought by Carrie’s allies to recover at the start of Season 3. (Interior scenes were shot in Mexico City.) The creepy Dr. Graham, who treats Brody by giving him heroin, accurately recounts the building’s history: “They call it the Tower of David. Not for King David, heaven forbid. For David Brillembourg, the particularly egomaniacal banker who commissioned it. Unfortunately, before it was completed, David died—and then the whole economy died. Construction stopped. The squatters all moved in. And voila.” The tower began its life in 1990 as the Centro Financier Confinanzas—it was to be a luxury apartment building with a swimming pool and a helipad on the roof. (The helipad was actually built.) But in 1993, Brillembourg died of cancer at age 56; when the Venezuelan financial crisis began in 1994, the government took the incomplete tower over. In 2007, approximately 800 homeless families, led by a former gang member-turned-pastor, occupied the building. Since then, between 2,500 and 4,000 people have been reported to live there. Residents have mainly occupied the first 28 floors, and communally jerry-rigged both an electric power grid and plumbing to bring water to the building. The tower has no guardrails or elevators, but motorcycles can ride people up 10 flights through a parking garage. A 2012 Foreign Policy story portrayed the tower as dangerous, lawless, riddled with drugs and prostitution. In response, Vocativ's Ramón Iriarte made a short documentary that shows the tower's crime levels in line with the rest of Caracas, and its residents leading fairly normal lives, pooling resources to run the building. On July 22, the Venezuelan government launched "Operation Zamora" to evacuate the tower and relocate its residents into new homes in Cúa, south of Caracas, as part of the city's Great Housing Mission project. Chinese banks are reportedly interested in buying the tower and renovating it for its original use, but on July 23, President Nicolás Maduro announced that the government had not yet decided what to do with the building, but was considering at least three possible options: "Some are proposing its demolition. Others are proposing turning it into an economic, commercial or financial center. Some are proposing building homes there," he said. "We're going to open a debate."
10. Gukanjima Hashima Island, Japan
Located in the China Sea, nine miles off the Japanese coast,Gukanjima Hashima (translation: "battleship island") is but one of 505 uninhabited islands overseen by the city of Nagasaki. What sets Gukanjima (AKA "Ghost Island") apart is that it was used from 1887 to 1974 as an undersea coal mining facility operated by Mitsubishi since 1890. The 16-acre island once housed 5,259 workers and as such, is home to Japan's first large concrete apartment buildings, which were erected in 1916 and remain undisturbed, along with the mines, offices and seawall. Nicknamed Ghost Island, the very spooky Hashima has been featured in the James Bond film Skyfall, along with the History Channel's Life After People and 3net's Forgotten Planet. In 2012, Sony filmed the island via a multi-copter-mounted Action Cam and posted it on YouTube. Google included a Street View of Gukanjima in 2013.