Monday, January 4, 2010

Holy Day of Obligation and Exploration

- The abandoned First German Reformed Church in the West End.

Venkman and I had just finished up an interview in the abandoned Hopple St. Subway tunnels for a Cincinnati Enquirer article. The sky was bright blue and the sun was shining on a cold, yet beautiful afternoon. "I kind of feel obligated to shoot photos today." I said to Venkman. The weather was too nice and with the holiday break from our respective schools, we had plenty of time on our hands. We agreed to set out in hopes of finding something new. Ironically, on the eve of a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation, we came across an abandoned church.

The boarded up, bright Red doors were a sign that this church might have once been an Episcopal church. It has been the tradition of many Episcopal churches to paint their doors red as a symbol of the blood of Christ and to allow people to readily identify an Episcopal gathering. This sanctuary had been founded as the First German Reformed Church in 1850 and as demographics shifted and the strong German traditions of the neighborhood faded, the congregation folded in 1970. The church re-opened under a new congregation, but would close again by 1975.

Venkman and I entered the building cautiously. The church had been used for storage and various purposes since it's closure in 1975, but it had deteriorated immensely. We watched our step, using 2x4's as bridges to traverse the rotting floor into what we thought was the main sanctuary. What we saw, immediately disappointed me:

What at first I thought had been the main sanctuary of the church was in fact the basement. The strange architecture of building lead me to think we were standing on the ground floor and that this must have been the main hall, when in fact it was a basement. Many relics in the basement dated back to the 1970's; vinyl albums of church songs, choir books, toys and an old school tape reel recorder. In here the floor was much sturdier as we kicked up dust, navigating through the maze of storage and entered into the main sanctuary:

The pews were gone and the stained glass windows broken, but as the afternoon light poured in, the church still looked beautiful. We ascended a decaying wooden staircase to the balcony/choir loft.

- The balcony.

- Broken stained glass window.

- View from the balcony.

Having been raised Catholic and having attended Catholic school through high school, I didn't have a strong sense of recognition with this church like I did when we explored Our Lady of Perpetual Help or St. Agnes in Detroit, both closed Catholic churches. With those places, they had been constructed with similar features that reflected the ideals of the Catholic church at the time. While the First German Reformed Church seemed foreign to me, I could appreciate it's detailed and beautiful architecture. Churches these days are a dime a dozen and seem to resemble generic Wal-Mart's or are shoved into strip malls, they just don't make em like they used to.

An alter still remained along with a plaque recognizing Mr. and Mrs. Ferd T. Nebel who donated the since removed organ chimes in memory of their daughter.

- Altar.

- Organ Chimes dedication plaque. It reads: "Organ Chimes. Presented by: Mr. and Mrs. Ferd T Nebel. In Loving Memory of their Daughter Dorothea Nebel Gillespie." Was "Ferd" a typo?

Venkman and I took to the pulpits...

- Gordon Bombay and Dr. Venkman. order to get the kind of view the pastor/reverend/speaker of this church once had:

As we began exiting the sanctuary, I tripped on something; a pair of bright red, sparkling roller skates:

The front "lobby" of the church was trashed with junk and moldy carpet. Streamers of various colors had been hung all around and Venkman noted that it looked like some kind of "Medieval Fair."

The streamers and fake shields that had been painted on the walls made it look like as if some folks had used this as a place to pretend they were the Knights of the Round Table or something. Maybe they even used roller skates when they were role playing? Regardless, the decaying, quiet, empty and trashed state of the church was a stark contrast what it must once have been. While I have my own views on faith, I can certainly understand the personal connection and sense of belonging this church or any place of worship must have represented to it's congregation at one point, a congregation that has been gone for some time.

Update | Oct. 9, 2017:
  • Every now and then rumors start floating about this building coming back to life, but nothing has yet to materialize. I believe there was a serious attempt to turn it into a music venue. 
  • A music video for local band, Foxy Shazam, was filmed here in 2011. 

Update | Jan. 4, 2017:
  • The church is apparently being renovated/converted into a unique attraction: an indoor rock climbing gym known as Cincinnati Rocks.


  1. nice post. thanks.

  2. Back in 1981, I visited the church as part as a research project on pipe organs of Cincinnati. Since the church could not afford high energy bills, their services were held in the basement. I went upstairs to find the pews, chimes, and a Wicks Pipe Organ entact. I noticed in these pictures that the console is still there as well as a large reed pipe propted up on the alter. I guess some one was looking for metal materials in the pipe chambers. Thank you for posting those pictures.

    Best regards,
    Larry - Webmaster

  3. Larry, thanks for sharing and shedding some light on what the church used to be like. Any idea what ever happened to the organ?

  4. Great photos. I spoke with one of the neighbors when I was photographing this place one time and they said that sometime in 2004 they held some event there or another and that it was the last time they remembered the building being open for anything. I can only assume that that is where those streamers are from. Also, up until about June of 2009 that rose window was intact along with a few of the side windows. At some point they were knocked out, either by vandals or by wind.

    Thanks again for the great post!

    Nick Massa

  5. Fantastic photos. Keep up the great work.

  6. Foxy Shazam shot their video here (I was an extra in the video), the keyboardist now owns the building

  7. This is over by bank st right ?