Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Alisha's Apartment

The day had been marred by failed attempts at exploring. On one of his rare days off work, Chris met up with me to go out, cameras in hand. Every place we were interested in exploring had some sort of obstacle to it, obstacles we were not willing to challenge. By the time we found something to explore, the sunshine crept behind the clouds and the rain came down as we retreated to a Northside Taco Bell/KFC. As we sat there discussing politics and eating tacos, I remembered a building that we had come across back in November.

I called this building the "cuban building," because for some reason it reminded me a lot of the buildings I had seen in a photo essay on Havana. I didn't know much about the history of the building, so I asked a few of the neighborhood residents. According to a woman sitting outside on her front stoop; it was once an apartment building and there were rumors that it had at one time been a hospital. A a man yelled down from the balcony above her, he claimed it had "over 100 rooms." I thanked them for taking the time to talk with me as Chris and I gathered up our camera gear and prepared to go exploring.

- The exterior of Robinson Flats.

With help from Kevin Lemaster of Building Cincinnati, I was able to learn that this East Price Hill landmark was constructed in 1925 as Robinson Flats, a luxury apartment complex. The doors on the corner of W. 8th St. and Elberon Ave. had once led to a drug store on the first floor that in it's later years became a church. Judging by documents found inside, I'd say the residents left and the building closed down sometime around 2003 or 2004. In 2007 a plan was put forward to convert the building into a retirement community, but nothing substantial has come from the idea since.

- The view from inside.

We made our way through a maze of basement rooms filled with utility pipes until we came to a stairwell. The steps changed from cement to 1970's era tile as we entered onto the first floor. Doors missing knobs forced us to keep climbing the stairs until we reached a room with beautiful glass windows leading to a balcony. We snapped photographs as we walked around the large apartment until finding what had been the kitchen. Here the room had another exit that leading to another set of stairs.

- The many stairwells within the building proved to be a challenge to navigate.

We would soon come to find that the entire complex had many different sized rooms and many different stairwells. This would become confusing later on when we tried to find our way out.

Climbing the stairs, we made our way to the top floor, deciding to work our way down as we explored, hopefully not missing anything.

- Price Hill as viewed from the top floor.

The first thing I always think of when exploring apartment buildings is the Nickelodeon television show "Hey Arnold," which was about Arnold living with his grandparents and other residents in a boarding house. I like to wonder how well the former residents of this place knew each other. Were they like the people on "Hey Arnold?" What were their personalities like, what did they do for a living and where did they go? Clues laying about the floors of the rooms gave an insight into the lives of the people who once called this home.

- A Nintendo 64 system left behind by a former resident.

It was also evident that the building had become a place for squatters to stay after the tenants had left. Prescription pill bottles, a few syringes, and empty 40 oz. beers littered the floors in some rooms.

- Prescription pill bottles and a few syringes littered the floor of this top floor room.

Judging from the wood paneling on the walls and other decorations, I'd assume that the building was renovated some time in the mid 70's. Plastic skylights adorned the roof, many of which were now broken, allowing rain to seep into the building.

- View of the courtyard from the top floor.

We came to another stairwell where I noticed a black line spray painted onto the wall. I knew what this black line meant as I had seen it before in many other abandoned buildings. It was a directional tool for scrap and copper thieves. Following the black line would mean you were being directed towards the building's exit. Nearly every bathroom in this building had been destroyed and ripped apart by someone who had come to clean out the copper and scrap metal.

Continuing through the mazes of hallways, rooms and stairwells we encountered even more personal artifacts left on the ground by the previous tenants who forgot to take them with them.

- Photographs left behind by former tenants.

Most of the rooms were empty aside from a few beds and furniture still left behind. Personal artifacts were left here and there, but it wasn't until we reached apartment 4 that we found most of the belongings.

- The door leading into "Alisha's Apartment."

Dubbed "Alisha's Apartment," Apartment 4 seemed to have been the nicest apartment in the complex at one time. As we entered the room it was apparent that the wooden floors had been warped and were crumbling apart. Cautiously we crossed the floor, making sure it would hold our weight. In a back corner of the apartment we found a room littered with children's books and toys.

- Childrens books and toys strewn about the floor.

The room reminded me of a doctors office waiting room, filled with dated children's books from the 70's and 80's that I always wondered if anyone really ever read.

- Some of the books found amongst the remains.

One book in particular though caught my interest. Laying on the floor was a purple book containing loose leaf paper. This book gave a very personal look at the people who once occupied this apartment. While there were writings detailing bills and bank statements, most of the writings and drawings in the book were signed as having been done by "Alisha."

- Alisha's diary.

On numerous pages the lyrics to the song "Angel" by Amanda Perez had been written out. According to Wikipedia, this song was very popular in 2003.

- Song lyrics written in the diary.

When I was a kid I always had a hard time letting go of any toy. Whether it was being donated or going to a younger relative, I didn't like seeing my toys go to someone else, even if it was something I never played with or touched anymore. After inspecting some of the other belongings in the room, it was apparent that a lot of it had belonged to Alisha. I wondered if she didn't mean to leave some of this stuff behind, especially the book she had written and colored in.

The time had come to leave. We packed up our camera gear and headed for the exit. Locked doors again forced us back up to the top floor. The building's layout is extremely confusing and twice we had to backtrack to find the correct stairwell that led into the basement.

We exited the building and got in the car. Wondering where the people who lived there are today, we made our way up W. 8th St. to one of the overlooks.

Overlooking the city from Price Hill, I pulled a nail out of my boot.

At least it wasn't a syringe.

Update | Sept. 26, 2017:
  • This building was eventually renovated in 2012 and reopened as "The Elberon," an affordable living retirement community run by local Episcopal Retirement Services. 


  1. Really interesting piece!! As a westsider who's passed this massive building and watched its decay for all 29 years of my life, I've always been curious about it. A relative of a close family friend used to live here a long, long time ago and I heard that there used to be garden in the middle courtyard??

  2. I, too, enjoyed this piece. Thanks for continuing thru all those obstacles to bring us these photos and something to think about!

  3. Wow. What a beautiful old building. I love wandering through the mazes of odd-sized rooms and narrow stairwells that are often a part of structures of that era, though I usually (always) get lost.
    Shame that it's not being maintained and put to better use.

  4. wow, awesome pics and post. i love your blog!

  5. Thanks for your exploring efforts. I pass this building every day and I've long been curious as to what it is/was.

  6. I really appreciate all of the research you did. Riding the #10 bus I rode past that building sometimes twice a day. With each pass my curiosity grew. Thanks for answering some of my questions.

  7. As you may have heard, rehab has started on this building. There was a kickoff event on 2/23/11. The project is being done by Price Hill Will and the Model Group. There's an Elberon Facebook page to track the progress. This entry was posted on that page which is how I found it. Thanks for putting this up!

  8. ^Matt, that's great news. Any chance those renovating it would like to let me shoot a few photos and document how this building is coming back to life?

  9. Og god, that building was so freakin´ creepy! How did you manage to go inside and tke pictures of it?? There was a time when I run into a place like that oneon thepictures. It was 10 year ago on a lovely trip I made in South America. I got an apartment for rent in buenos aires on the third week of my trip and started travelling around the city. I found a derelict building that was calling my name. I so wanted to get in. My boyfriend advised me against it so I didn´t but I still wonder what would have happened...

  10. Rita Hoelker I lived in the Elberon for 20 years in apt 9. Probably longer than anyone still alive. I moved in when I was in my early 20s and had the most beautiful apartment, one of the few that had been untouched. I had an archway with pillars to the living room, a beautiful fireplace, a footed bathtub and beautiful hardwood floors which I waxed and polished on my hands and knees. It was huge, yet not the largest in the building. I lived above what used to be a pharmacy. It broke my heart to have to move but the neighborhood and tenants were just getting too scary. Shortly after the entire building was closed. My sister kids me that I'm old enough now to move back. I actually still have dreams that I moved back. I took tons of pictures of my place. I miss it and would love to see it. I hope it does something to improve the neighborhood. I love Price Hill

  11. Oh, I forgot to mention that I picked out the colors when it was last painted years ago. It's funny that you mentioned it looking like something from Cuba, because that's just what I had in mind.

  12. The Preservation Association has some great photos on their Facebook page of the renovation of this building. It's gorgeous now! Here's a link:

  13. My grandma used to live across the street from there on West 8th and I had a friend who lived there. I went to her house a lot and remember it being nice. This was in the late 80's. I went in one other time in 2003 because my friends boyfriend livd there. It was nasty and I remember thinking, why hasn't this place been condemned? Then it was drug central and where all the dope boys stood to sell drugs. In 2004, the gated it up and all of them were locked up or relocated. Im glad they renovated it but it is still a terrible neighborhood and the last place I would send my loved one to live

  14. I worked with a girl that lived there in the mid 90's had no idea it was abandoned now, she always said it was an old hospital