Thursday, December 4, 2008

Adventures in Avondale, in search of The Ghostbusters.

An abandoned nursing home and an abandoned tunnel - one of which was rumored to be a filming location for "Ghostbusters."

As I stood there on Nov. 22, 2008, I thought back to Nov. 22, 1994. No, this date means nothing significant to me, nor do I even remember what happened in my life on that day. However, as I looked at the calendar in my hands, I realized that if you were an elderly individual residing in an Avondale retirement community on Nov. 22, 1994, then that day may have been very important to you. At 11:00 A.M there was "coloring group" followed by "discussion group" at 1:00 PM later day that. I'm not sure what the residents did the rest of the day until 6:00 PM when the calendar indicates it was time for "Open Cassette." I'm not sure exactly what "Open Cassette" is, or was rather. When it comes to this place there isn't much to be sure of anyways. All the historical information that could be found through some internet browsing was that complex last operated in 1999 and had received a 'D' grade. What place am I talking about? Where did the calendar come from? Well, about two weeks ago I woke up at 8 AM by myself without the help of my alarm. I fumbled around for my Blackberry realizing I may have overslept. "8 AM, good, plenty of time to sleep more until we meet." I set the alarm for 10 and went back to sleep. Woke up 3 hours later at 11. Some times my phones alarm doesn't go off and some times you have to push the meeting time to 12:30, which is when I finally met up with my friends Sherman and Zach. We piled into a car talking about what to explore, looking up at the gray sky which was in contrast to the sunny skies and moderately warm temperatures 700 WLW had predicted. The day was not starting out well.

We cruised north into the neighborhood of Avondale when we came across the day's first adventure: The Hillside Retirement Home, a now abandoned retirement complex in the hills of Avondale overlooking Cincinnati. Hillside was a combination of Parkside Nursing Home, a two story, 1960's era building and Oakside Nursing Home, a former residence converted into a nursing home. Together they formed the Hillside complex, featuring 67 beds for their residents. They last had an operating license for 1999 and had received a 'D' rating by the Hamilton County Board of Health. Now, nine years later, the buildings sit vacant with overgrown lawns, broken windows and graffiti. Trashed by copper thieves and vandals. The first building we checked out was the Parkside complex:

Ripped to all hell by copper thieves and scrap dealers, there was hardly any remnant of the former elderly tenants aside from some shower equipment in one of the hydrotherapeutic rooms and some paintings in the lobby. The sky was still dark, it was cold, and we were in a very empty building filled with mold. Some times that situation is ok, but there was hardly anything to photograph in this building and hardly anything giving a clue to it's history.

- A pamphlet found on a window sill in the first building.
We walked out about ten minutes later to see the next building, a former residency converted into a nursing home.

- The view of the surrounding neighborhood was nearly obscured by the overgrown weeds.
The parking lot had become a dumping ground for anyone who needed to dispose of some trash, old furniture or yard waste. Boarded up with broken windows here and there, falling shingles and crumbling stairs, this building didn't look to promising or safe.

- The Hillside Nursing Home.

- View from the front porch of the former residence.

Despite it's decrepit, "haunted house" appearance, this former residence turned nursing home was a great example of architecture and much larger in size than it appeared. Despite also having been ravaged by vandals and scrap thieves like it's neighbor, this house seemed to have a more "cozy" feel that in my opinion would have been nicer for the residents who got to live her instead of next door.

We climbed the stairs to the second floor where we found stairs to a third floor, where there were even more stairs into a vaulted attic:

- Stairs leading from the second floor into the third floor on the left, and from the third floor into the attic on the right.
The attic was littered with trash and all kinds of personal belongings. Tennis shoes, bowling trophies, hats, magazines, books and even a full rack of nice dress clothes. Trunks, racks and crates full of clothes filled the attic rooms which made me wonder: What happened to the residents when this place closed? Where did they go and who decided this stuff was staying? Why was it all just left behind?

Walking into the main attic room we found a window. All the glass had been broken out, but just as we walked into the room the sun came out pouring in warm, afternoon light and outside of the window...a breathtaking view of the city's Northern neighborhoods, University Hospital, the Cincinnati Zoo and surrounding neighborhood.

- Self portrait by the attic window.

- The view from the window overlooks the neighboring complex, the surrounding neighborhood, and northern urban areas.

After snapping photographs of the attic we made our way back downstairs, where I came across the calendar mentioned at the beginning of this writing. More clues to the residents, but little would be known about them. Later research would yield very little about this place. Despite the complex's state of decay, the view from the top was well worth the adventure. The sun came out. We got lunch and went out looking for more exploring adventures.

One thing I love about Cincinnati is the stairs. Yes, stairs. All over the city there are stairs, connecting the various neighborhoods and streets within the neighborhoods built on hills. Some times they're obvious, some times they're hidden. The city actually keeps an inventory on how many stairs are on public sidewalks. A lot of them are blocked off with warning signs about how they're "closed," due to their bad condition. A lot of them are falling apart. In Fairmount we came across some stairs, following them down a steep hill.

- Crumbling stairs in Fairmuont.

At the bottom, the now vacant Central Fairmount Elementary School.

- The now vacant Central Fairmount Elementary School.
Cincinnati Public Schools is currently going through with a multi-billion dollar renovation and construction of new facilities. Whats to become of schools like Central Fairmount is at this time unclear. One thing's for sure, despite how modern and needed new facilities are, the architecture will never be as unique.

Found a new park I was previously unaware of:

- Overlooking Cincinnati.

Can't remember the name at the moment, but the view is quite nice.

With the sun going down we settled on one last thing to explore; the abandoned Cincinnati, Lebanon and Northern Railroad (CL&N RR) tunnel. There was a rumor going around for awhile that this is where they filmed the "train scene" from the film "Ghostbusters 2." I doubt that, but only way to know for sure was to find it for ourselves. The tunnel used to cover a rail line that ran between Cincinnati and Dayton and was used until the late 80's.It was kept up as a possibility to service a light rail line bordering Interstate 71, but light rail has never been built in this city so the tunnels sit empty awaiting a possible future. We debated where the location of the tunnel was and as daylight was fading fast agreed on how to get there.

The location of the tunnel was tricky. It bordered a busy highway, was located beneath an underpass and the sun was beginning to set. Time was not on our side. As we walked alongside the highway towards what we thought was the tunnel entrance I felt one of the worst feelings in the world. You know that feeling when you take a step forward and you feel your foot rise up, but it's a little cold down there because your sock and foot are slipping out of your shoe? No? Well, basically there was a lot of mud, and our lack of boots slowed things down as our tennis shoes kept getting stuck in it. We slowly approached the overpass that the tunnel was supposedly underneath, but to make matters worse, it was guarded by packs of thorn bushes which cling to your skin and your hat.

- This picture demonstrates the dense brush concealing the tunnel entrance and it's proximity to I-71.

Navigating our way through thorns, mud and the cold we could hear the sounds of nearby Saturday evening traffic as folks rushed northwards to Rookwood Commons and Kenwood Towne Centre to create traffic jams and be rude to mall employees as they shopped for holiday gifts, all unaware of the three random people right off of the highway looking for a tunnel that most probably don't even know exists.

- The tops of passing trucks barely seen on I-71 to the right of this billboard.

Well, after awhile of fighting our way through the mud and brush we found the tunnel. Let me rephrase that, we found a tunnel, but not the one we were looking for. Seems there are actually two tunnels; a short tunnel maybe 30 ft. long and the very long "Ghostbusters" tunnel we had been looking for. We found the little one and it was so densely flooded that we couldn't even enter it, not that we wanted to.

- The "short" segment of the flooded, abandoned CL and N RR "Ghostbusters" tunnel.
Laughing out all of our effort to get pretty much no where, we paused for a group picture, Sherman claims it's a tradition and that we have to do it every place we explore. We didn't mean for this to be an 'emo' shot, but it was incredibly hard to stand or even move on this muddy hill and this is what we have to remember our adventure:

With it now pitch black we decided instead of going back the way we came along the muddy highway path, we would climb up the hill onto the top of the tunnel and up onto the highway overpass. Sounds simple, however, on the way up we encountered more thorns and mud, trying to navigate through in the dark was nearly impossible. The climbing provided a great view of the highway and we decided on one more chance to take photographs:

So at 6:50 PM as people rushed up and down Interstate 71 going to and from their busy lives and such, we just relaxed, taking photographs reflecting on the day. No one probably had any idea we were there or that they were being featured in a night exposure photograph by some guy creeping off of the side of the highway, but despite the loud noises of traffic and the mad rush of people, there was a view to be enjoyed, photographs to be taken, and an adventure to be reflected upon.

"Today was a great day."

After packing up and finally climbing through the thorns, the three of us popped up over the concrete barrier onto the overpass sidewalk. We must have looked really strange to some passing motorists, three guys with backpacks and flashlights appearing over a concrete wall. We navigated side streets back to Clifton to avoid traffic heading to the U.C. game and parted ways noting that one day we still had to find the "Ghostbusters" tunnel and that there was still plenty more waiting to be explored out there. Lets just say, there is a lot more to come...

Thanks for reading!

To read part 2 please click here.


  1. Fantastic post. Your annotations are wonderful and the exploring you guys do is really cool.

  2. I see this house off in the distance everyday from my kitchen window. It is quite a sight in the Winter. I'm a little speechless at the moment having just read an article about Laurel Court and how well it is being taken care of. This house in Avondale, built on a more human scale, perched on it's own small hill top with super-human views, was no doubt very beautiful itself in it's early days. I also felt it was much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. Maybe it is the scale/proportions of the place that make it appear smaller than it really is. I was fortunate to be able to go through the house just after they stopped using it for patients. It was in very good shape then and not too terribly disfigured. I am shocked to see the condition of the rooms you photographed. It looks like water pipes broke inside. Foreclosed on or not it is beyond me how a place is allowed to become like this.
    Even discovering the attic was quite memorable with all the exposed framing timbers. A really great space and the views!. The house is built like a fortress. It needs to be re-discovered and brought back to life.
    What you wrote was very enjoyable to read. You captured its current state along with the fun of exploring. Thank you for it. But now every time I look out the window I'll be worrying about it. I thought since the windows got boarded up it was OK. One thing I was wondering... how did you get in?

  3. I just found you. Very nice post!

  4. To Randy and Feoshia: Thanks for the compliments and thanks for reading!

    To the Anonymous poster in the second post: Thanks for reading. A lot of times vacant buildings get raided by metal thieves, typically people looking to steal copper and then sell it for scrap. Both this building and the one next to it showed lots of signs of damage from copper thieves who probably came in and took whatever they could. Many of the doors and windows are wide open for someone to just walk right in.

  5. QCD, Thanks for answering... that's what I was afraid of, the doors wide open.

    There is another place near-by you might be interested in "discovering". It was fascinating for me to discover years ago, standing there having the past unfold right before me. Though the carriage house has since been torn down, I would imagine the other things are still there. If you can see through the layers of growth and time you'll get a glimpse into a once "beautiful life".

  6. To Anonymous: I would definitely be interested in exploring it. If you don't mind, could you hit me up with an email at: giving me a clue as to where it's located/what it is? I'd greatly appreciate it!

  7. I think this website is amazing, keep up the great posts. As someone who grew up in cincinnati and has since moved away, I find it fascinating to see all these great "finds". :)