Lessons learned infiltrating an abandoned rubber factory

By » Tue, September 4 2012
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I love the smell of industrial solvents in the morning. (img by Eric Jusino)

Before I knew urban exploration was a thing and before my friends and I toured an underground nuclear missile silo, a photographer friend of mine (we’ll call him Steve) and I “broke” into an abandoned rubber factory to take pictures.

If you’ve been in Denver, you’ve probably seen Gates Rubber Factory, a Gotham-looking building complex right off Broadway:

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When the sun goes down, Batman comes out and plays here. (img by Beth Jusino)

It’s a superfund site full of hideous chemicals known for slowly killing Denver residents (don’t drink the Platte), making and breaking the fortunes of real estate developers, and killing urban explorers.

At the time (a few months before the urbexp guy bit it and security went through the roof), it was stupidly easy to get into. Here are the lessons I learned getting in and checking the place out:

Plausible deniability can’t hurt

Could we just pretend that we didn’t know the place was off-limits? We checked for “no trespassing” signs. There were a few, but they weren’t ubiquitous. We could say that we hadn’t seen any. There were fences, but they weren’t contiguous. We could plead ignorance. NOTE: we didn’t have a chance to test this idea (no one approached us), so I’m not sure if it would have worked. But in other circumstances “Sorry! I didn’t know. I’ll leave right now” has worked for me.

Next, our cover story: “We’re scouting locations for a photo shoot.” After all, people have been photographing Gates since time out of mind. And since the perimeter wasn’t exactly solid…

Who’s gonna call the cops?

Steve, who’d been to the site for exterior photo shoots before, mentioned that RTD bus drivers would drop dimes on people they saw hanging around the site. No problem, we’d enter from a different angle, out of view from the elevated bus stop.

Otherwise, there were no local businesses with sight lines into the place, no security patrols, or anything. We were pretty sure that random passersby wouldn’t dime us, and we didn’t plan on being in plain sight very long anyway.

By being just a little careful in the first place, we could greatly decrease the chances of having to talk our way out of anything.

There’s breaking in and there’s breaking in

The buildings within the perimeter were just as insecure as the perimeter. My friend and I walked around the complex, trying doors and taking pictures. I found a door with a broken window and conventiently placed board (reach through broken window with board, turn door handle from the inside). Probably the best possible setup (short of no door locks at all, like the silo complex).

If we actually had to break things to get into the site, we’d probably have called it off and just photographed things outside.

Check your surfaces!

“Check your surfaces” is a rule from parkour. If you’re going to play on stuff, you should check it. Is it wobbly? Sturdy? Slippery? Will it break under your weight? And most importantly: what’s on the other side of that thing that would be awesome to jump over? More floor? A thousand-foot drop?

Steve and I explored Gates during daylight hours, went slowly, and checked everything while staying in sight of each other at all times. We tended to stay within 20 feet of each other, telling each other to wait while we snapped pictures or wanted to look at someting more closely. When I came around a corner and found a big rail-less hole in the floor, I stopped and told Steve about it, then made sure he actually saw the hazard before moving on.

It also meant making sure that doors wouldn’t lock behind us, that it was possible to get back from where we were, etc.

Sound over-careful and non-adventurous? Actually it led to us seeing some pretty cool stuff we would have breezed right by. Remember: exploration doesn’t necessarily mean covering ground as quickly as possible.

It means seeing things like these:

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