Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Urban explorers still drawn to abandoned Gates factory despite tragic accidents

The old Gates Rubber plant was supposed to be a new urbanism showplace -- but development has been stalled by the economy. Still, the abandoned buildings have been doing a booming business in urban exploring, and last night, another band of adventurers made it into the old factory at 900 South Broadway.

They were taking photos on the roof when a teenage girl fell through, down to the cement floor 45 feet below. She survived. Others have not been as lucky.

In September 2007, 23-year-old Metro State student John Polzin and two other urban adventurers decided to explore the abandoned building; Polzin wound up falling through a hole in the floor and was so badly injured he died a month later.

This trio was hardly the first crew to explore the abandoned factory. A half-dozen years ago, Urban Explorers, a reality show on the Discovery Channel, featured Gates in a lengthy segment, with the on-camera hosts crawling through steam tunnels beneath the buildings, explaining the purposes of long-dormant machinery, scaling the famous water tower on the roof. But they were there with the permission of the property's owners, who are supposed to keep the place locked up tight.

Urban explorers and neighbors alike have debated how effective that security has been. Gates is a legendary draw, as evidenced by this Abandoned Places post. But while the author got into the place, he also got busted by the cops and taken to jail. "If you live around Denver, he notes, "this is one of the only exploration points I highly advise steering clear of."

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Lawsuit over urban explorer death at abandoned Gates Rubber factory going to trial."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun

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