Gamboa is a small community just a short drive north of Panama City. (My journey there was largely uneventful, except for the crossing of this terrifying bridge.) Once a boom-town of nearly 4,000 inhabitants, Gamboa was township of the Canal Zone that housed many U.S. workers near the Panama Canal. Its population peaked in the 1940's and 50's, but soon began shrinking after the 1979 dissolution of the Canal Zone and its government.
Now, Gamboa is a small, sleepy collection of homes and a few civic buildings nestled in the rainforest. It also houses The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Both the architecture and the landscape here are absolutely amazing, but many abandoned buildings remain. Plenty of homes have recently been refurbished, and more are slated to undergo a little sprucing.
On our way back to the city from a visit to the rainforest, we happened upon an abandoned theater in the middle of town. Once used for both live shows and movies, (there are remnants of both stage lighting and a projector booth), I could imagine the ghosts of laughter and applause as I walked down the aisles.
I caught a glimpse of the old cooling systems, still in place, and even ventured up to the projector room where we found notes left from one projectionist to another. Rumor has it that a church will be moving into the space soon, hopefully preserving the architectural integrity of the building. But for now, this theater is a place for beer-drinking teenagers and camera-happy bloggers to peek in, nose around and daydream about the past.
(Images: Smith Schwartz)