Jake Williams’ Abandoned

Bright Sun Films’ Abandoned series explores—what else?—abandoned places from around the U.S. and Canada.

The Colony Beach And Tennis Resort Abandoned
The abandoned Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key in southwest Florida, 2017. Photo by Matt Sonswa, courtesy of Jake Williams. Used by permission of Bright Sun Films.

Since 2014, Jake Williams—who hails from Mississauga, Ontario—has been exploring abandoned places in the U.S. and Canada, posting his videos and research on the YouTube channels of Bright Sun Films and Bright Sun Films 2. Most of his videos feature abandoned places or properties, with past subjects including Southwest Detroit Hospital (Michigan), North Wilkesboro Speedway (North Carolina), and the Frederick Towne Mall (Maryland). Some of the places he explores aren’t exactly abandoned; for instance, he once filmed an episode in Pahokee, Florida, which he describes as “the worst town in Florida.”

Last week Failure had a quick chat with Williams, intrigued by the fact that many of the places we have covered or visited—Centralia, Pennsylvania and Empire, Nevada, not to mention Fordlandia, in the Brazilian Amazon—would be a good fit for Abandoned. Moreover, Williams’ work has inspired us; during a planned trip to southern Africa we hope to visit Kolmanskop, a ghost town in the Namib desert of southern Namibia, as well as The Grande Hotel, in Beira, Mozambique.

Tell me about Abandoned. What inspired you to pursue the idea?

I was searching around on YouTube for information and pictures and video about a site called River Country, an abandoned water park in Walt Disney World. When I realized there was nothing online that talked about the history of it I decided to take things into my own hands, to create something I wanted to watch. That transitioned into the videos I make today.

How do you decide which places to visit?

Usually it’s driven by whatever I find interesting. However, if there is a place that has a story behind it or a place that I deem interesting enough to create an informational piece, it’s something that I pursue.

Do you have a favorite episode of Abandoned?

My favorite is the episode on Treasure Cay, an abandoned cruise ship stop in the Bahamas. I got to interview the former CEO of Premier Cruise Lines, Bruce Nierenberg, which was a really cool experience for me personally.

What is the furthest you’ve traveled to visit an abandoned place or property?

I’ve done a lot of stuff in Florida, and that’s probably the furthest I’ve traveled.

What is the most surprising place you’ve visited?

A resort called The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort [on Longboat Key in southwest Florida], which was abandoned in 2010 [though a new resort is expected to open there in 2020 or 2021]. It’s unbelievable that the whole property was abandoned, and going through all the lofts and penthouses—George W. Bush stayed in the hotel there on the morning of 9/11—was a surreal experience.

Have you ever gone to a place, only to find out it not abandoned?

All the time. I often like to take a weekend to see what I can find, or I hear things from the audience and from photographers I know. A lot of the places are re-developed or demolished or closed up, so you definitely strike out a lot.