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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was also evident that the building had become a place for squatters to stay after the tenants had left. Prescription pill bottles and empty 40 oz. beers littered the floors in some rooms.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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, reminding myself to always wear boots when exploring. That could've hurt!
To see more photographs from Robinson Flats and larger images of the ones pictured above check out the Queen City Discovery Photo Gallery :: Robinson Flats (opens in new window).
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Previous update: April 30, 2009 :: Share Your Own Queen City Discovery!