Some places and groups are so inherently infamous in popular culture that their legend outlives them. But not everyone earns this reputation that inspires curiosity and revulsion in equal measure after they go away.
Because while the Hells Angels are hardly the only motorcycle gang to engage in their specific career path, they're typically the first one anyone can name. As such, it's difficult not to be curious when circumstances allow for a peek into their lifestyles and their clubhouse, which is notorious for not allowing insiders.
Decades of infamy
In the decades since the Hells Angels first formed in California in 1948, they've accumulated thousands of members active in dozens of countries around the world.
But as the CBC reported, their largest presence outside of their original U.S. chapters exists throughout Canada, where they constitute the nation's largest motorcycle gang.
According to The St. Catherines Standard, the decimation of this chapter partially came as a result of the arrest of chapter president Gerald "Skinny" Ward and his closest lieutenants.
However, a similarly significant consequence of Project Tandem was the police's seizure of this red and white clubhouse in Welland, Ontario.
They're proud of being "1 %ers"
It's not unusual to see motorcycle gang members sporting patches like this that make reference to being a "1 %er."
According to the CBC, this refers to a claim during the 1960s by the American Motorcycle Association stating that 99% of motorcycle owners and members of relevant clubs are law-abiding citizens. For groups like the Hells Angels, being a part of the remaining percentage point is considered a badge of honor.
However, the CBC added that this apparent outlaw pride doesn't typically match the official statements of infamous groups like the Hells Angels or the Outlaw Motorcycle Club.
Both deny any organized criminal activity and maintain they are simply groups of motorcycle enthusiasts. Yet law enforcement organizations remain unconvinced, citing evidence of systematic violence and illicit business.
A big push to eliminate the gang
As The Niagara Falls Review reported, such suspicions led to a province-wide crackdown on Hells Angels organizations throughout Ontario known as Project Tandem in 2006.
And while this probe combined the efforts of police departments throughout the province, it seems it hit the chapter in the Niagara region bordering the United States particularly hard.
How the clubhouse emerged
The CBC reported that the building was once a machine shop before Ward, his brother Richard, Tim Panetta, and Randy Beres bought the property in 2001.
In addition to its red and white color scheme being commonly used as part of the Hells Angels brand, the fortifications that the owners added soon after also aroused police suspicions.
Making a fortress
According to court documents obtained by The Niagara Falls Review, the property's high fences were fortified by opaque sheeting, and the first-floor windows were replaced by cement blocks.
Other modifications included a steel door filled with cement and security cameras watching over the property. And once police seized the property, they wanted it gone.
It's not quite that easy
But while Det. Staff Sgt. Scott Wade from the Ontario Provincial Police told The St. Catherines Standard that the civil forfeiture legislation used to seize the building could also lead to its demolition; delays in receiving internal approvals slowed this process down.
In his words, "The civil remedies are an efficient tool for law enforcement to use, but they are complicated, and they take time."
The Hells Angels fight back
Also complicating matters was the Hells Angels' legal battle to reclaim the property. In arguments made to the Ontario Court of Appeal, their lawyers argued that the Superior Court court that ordered the forfeiture did so in error.
The Niagara Falls Review reported that the motorcycle club's counsel particularly argued there was insufficient evidence to suggest the clubhouse's mortgage was paid through illegal activity.
Only slowing down the inevitable
However, the appeals court noted that the prosecution (known as the Crown in Canada) only had to prove that the mortgage was partially paid down through ill-gotten money.
And since there was sufficient evidence to conclude the mortgage was mostly paid by monthly membership dues, the civil forfeiture was easier to uphold than it seemed.
Ward and his lieutenants' convictions for crimes that included narcotics trafficking then opened the door for the Crown to argue that those dues and, by extension, the clubhouse's mortgage at least partially came from illegal activities.
As such, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the forfeiture and ensured the Hells Angels would never get their clubhouse back.
Last chance to see it
With that being the court's decision, it was only a matter of time before the clubhouse would be demolished once and for all.
But since it had already sat abandoned for a decade before that decision was reached, one videographer had ample time to preserve its secret interior for the record before that time came.
And before this person even stepped inside, they could see that the building was as fortified as law enforcers described.
After catching sight of security cameras like these, they stepped through the heavy steel door locked by two deadbolts and unearthed what had been sitting inside for all that time.
A state of disrepair
As stated, the clubhouse had laid abandoned for years by the time this person explored it, and it definitely showed.
Some parts of it had resisted the ravages of time fairly well, but others — like these stairs — were quite clearly in a state of disrepair. But while the building was fairly nondescript from the outside, the gang's iconography popped up more the closer they got.
Some nice digs
Even with that in mind, it was hard to deny how surprisingly comfortable the environment seemed when this person went up into the clubhouse's common area.
It turned out to be a large and well-decorated space with multiple leather couches. The Hells Angels had clearly put some money into the place.
They had priorities
As is appropriate for an organization known as much for hard partying as hard living, they also had a fully stocked bar set up in the place.
And as this photo makes clear, that bar's mirror was one of many spots in the clubhouse to bear the Hells Angels' recognizable insignia.
A clear theme in decor
This common area also featured a lot of decorations on the walls, most notably this shield with a sword mounted behind it and two larger blades next to it.
Looking closely, it's also clear this decorative display has another pair of logos accenting it. They definitely seem proud of their iconography.
It's also interesting to note that this wasn't the only red-and-white sword and shield display found in the clubhouse.
Because while those aspects of the design are identical to the one spotted in the common area, the logos are the giveaway that this is a different decoration. While the ones in the common room were different and mounted on plaques, these metal ones matched.
As the person moved into other rooms, they saw the other interesting items the Hells Angels had kept on the premises.
Once again, yet another custom-made sign bearing a particularly detailed variant of the Hell's Angels insignia made its appearance. And from the looks of it, this one could light up.
A macabre surprise
While the clubhouse explorer didn't comment much on what surprised or intrigued them about the place, they were sure to confirm there was indeed a coffin lying in one of the back rooms.
From the looks of things, they either wisely decided not to open it or found nothing inside. Either way, it's hard not to wonder why it was there.
When Project Tandem seized the clubhouse, news reports also mentioned them ending up with a great deal of Hells Angels memorabilia.
And while the decorations we've seen are some obvious examples of what they were talking about, it's also clear that the raid happened before one of the members could take this jacket with him.
As they pressed on, the explorer also uncovered racks of branded T-shirts, most of which came in the Hells Angels' trademark colors.
Unlike the other clothing seen in this house, these shirts don't bear the Hells Angels logo, nor do they make any other explicit references to the club. So this "support Niagara" slogan comes across as a way for their unaffiliated friends to fly under the radar.
What everyone expected to see
And, of course, a trip to this garage revealed something that curious viewers undoubtedly expected to see even more than the Hells Angels insignia: Motorcycles.
After all, it's hard to think of a more ideal location for a motorcycle gang's clubhouse than a former machine shop. And much like the jackets, it doesn't seem like everyone got their bikes out in time before the raid occurred.
An interesting patio theme
When the explorer stepped outside, they found this patio setup that seemed to have a lot of money put into its "insomnia" branding.
The viewer is left to assume that the clubhouse had a smaller lounge that was apparently special enough to receive its own name and branding. It's worth noting the name doesn't appear anywhere else in the footage.
The clubhouse's last days
The explorer had little time to conduct their tour of the place before that became impossible. Because according to The St. Catherines Standard, law enforcers had the entire place torn down before their video was posted.
Although the clubhouse's fate was uncertain for over a decade, there was nothing standing in the way of demolishing the building once the Hells Angels lost their appeal and the required permissions were obtained.
Nobody can go inside now
In a video posted to the Ontario Provincial Police Youtube page, the department stated that the clubhouse was demolished to prevent its use for any further criminal activity.
They also mentioned that the destruction Welland building constituted the first-ever successfully litigated seizure of a Hells Angels clubhouse in Canadian history.
A devastating blow to the Niagara chapter
According to The St. Catherines Standard, both this destruction and the arrests achieved by Project Tandem all but crippled the Hells Angels in the Niagara region.
And while the wider organization tried to keep operations in the area active with members from other chapters, the Niagara chapter was eventually abandoned altogether.
It's never that easy
However, in the years since this demolition happened, it seems the Hells Angels in the area have started to regroup.
Although The St. Catherines Standard reported the Niagara chapter as keeping a lower profile than before, there are enough known members in the area to consider them as effectively resurfacing.
Details are sparse
Although Wade wouldn't tell the St. Catherines Standard how many people are believed to be active Hells Angels in the Niagara region, he noted the gang's internal rules require a chapter to have a minimum of six members.
In Wade's words, "I can tell you there are more than that."
Playing it subtler
Wade also mentioned that the resurfaced Hells Angels aren't using a traditional clubhouse this time around, likely to prevent a similar demolition from happening again.
Instead, he said they've been limiting themselves to visiting an affiliated gang's clubhouse, which does not display any Hell's Angels iconography or make their association public.