Sunday, January 9, 2011

The "Glencoe Hole."

One of Cincinnati's abandoned icons - a complex of row houses and apartments in an entire neighborhood where the residents have left.

I got caught up in a huge game of "Egyptian Ratscrew" that kept me at Waffle House with good friends and "You've Lost that Loving Feeling" playing on the jukebox till 3 A.M. The next morning I was late meeting the rest of Cincinnati's 8th Precinct (C8P) at Joe's Diner on Sycamore where I was to solidify my regular diet of burgers, hash browns and toast that I had been enjoying for the past 24 hours. A short while later and we were standing at the base of a hill looking up at three rows of abandoned apartments - the "Glencoe Hole."

My first visit to the remains of the Glencoe-Auburn Place apartments was in February of 2007, nearly four years ago. I hadn't been back until one night when I took my buddy Dave to see it this past winter. Tucked into the hillside of Mt. Auburn, between Christ Hospital and Clifton, you round the corner and are immediately plummeted into four acres of abandonment. The eerily quiet site is almost reminiscent of the abandoned eastern-bloc ghost town of Pripyat.

How did it get this way though? How did such beautiful buildings become vacant in an otherwise active neighborhood? Believe it or not, this wasn't the first time this neighborhood was abandoned and the future of it remains uncertain, if not somewhat doubtful.

In this picture you can see the remains of barbecue grills amongst the overgrown buildings:

This is how that area of Glencoe was originally envisioned, note the man grilling on the left hand side:

Dr. Venkman has authored an excellent and concise history of the location (which provided the above image), but here's the abridged version:

It's not entirely certain when the complex, which originally featured 217 units and a hotel, was constructed. According to Venkman's research though, it was mostly likely constructed between 1884 and 1891. The row houses that make up the complex aren't actually "row houses" in the traditional sense. Instead of one apartment unit per building, they actually feature one apartment unit per floor of each building. Venkman theorized that this was to provide maximum density of the buildings, fitting in as many people as possible. Due to the abundant and affordable amount of housing, the "first suburb of Cincinnati" soon became flooded with low-income residents. By the early 1920's as Cincinnati was abandoning its subway project, Glencoe-Auburn Place was becoming an environment ripe with crime and drug use. The conditions kept deteriorating well into the 1960's until 1964 when the city's first suburb gave Cincinnati its first rent strike. A majority of the strikers were evicted and by the early 70's, the complex of apartments was vacant and the area had become known as the "Glencoe Hole."

The opportunity for redevelopment presented itself, thus the "Glencoe Redevelopment Project" was born. The site's Italianate exteriors were left mostly intact while the large amount of tenement units were modified into 99 more comfortable units. The plazas and courtyards were fitted with concrete structures and barriers reminiscent of the Brutalist Architecture on the rage during the 70's.

- Pictures of Glencoe contrasted between 2010 (left) and the site's revitalization in the 70's (right). Image source: CityKin

By 1988, Cincinnati published a guide celebrating its Bicentennial. In that guide, Glencoe was proudly featured and had been noted for receiving several local, state and national awards as a successful model of urban revitalization. However, by the 1990's things took a turn for the worse. Maintenance fell into disrepair, conditions worsened, crime returned and the Cincinnati Enquirer once referred to the area as a "snake's nest of drug dealers." Glencoe's status as the "hole" returned for a second time and by the late 90's/early 2000's the complex was completely vacant.

In 2003, local developer Pauline Van Der Haer was successful in securing the complex's place on the National Register of Historic Places and announced that she planned to renovate the complex into upscale condos that would even feature a swimming pool atop a parking structure. The project was to be called: "Inwood Village." Van der Haer's plans were changed when she was unable to secure a subsidy agreement from the city and announced plans to still renovate the units, but once again make them low-income. By the time I was standing in the abandoned shell of Glencoe in 2007, the showroom condos had been locked up tight, the rental office closed and the project stalled for the foreseeable future. In 2008, the remnants of Hurricane Ike rolled through the area and caused a fire, damaging one of the units. As of this writing, the Glencoe-Auburn Place Apartments still sit empty and the Inwood Village Redevelopment project is still stalled.

- Rusted hulks of lighting structures, features of the 1970 redevelopment.

The story doesn't end there though. Van Der Haer was recently heard from in June 2010 when she apparently attempted to sue the city for the project being stalled. During the great "No on 9" Streetcar ballot issue of the 2009 election; Chris Smitherman, leader of the local NAACP chapter became a vocal voice in opposing the construction and funding of the city's streetcar project. Before "The Provost of Cincinnati" went offline, he had theorized that he believed Smitherman opposed the streetcar project because funds that could potentially be subsidy's for the Inwood Village project had instead been appropriated for the streetcar. Apparently Smitherman's brother's company, Jostin Concrete, had a large stake in the redevelopment contract. Is there a 'Great Glencoe Conspiracy?' Maybe, but to me it just seems like Van Der Haer wanted way too much money from the city and didn't get it because not many believed the redevelopment plan was plausible and there seemed to be very few potential tenants who signed on.

- Stuffed animals left on the abandoned hillside steps that once linked the complex uphill with Inwood Park.

When I returned this past year with C8P, the complex had changed somewhat. Van Der Haer's condo sales offices had disappeared and the doors to all the buildings had been boarded up. Those boards were then painted over by a local group who tried to make them appear like doors.

- 2010 photo showing the Glencoe Hole boarded up and painted to feature aesthetic, brightly colored doors.

In anticipation of the Inwood Village redevelopment, the buildings had been ripped of all furniture, appliances, carpeting and electrical work. When the development stalled, they were left wide open for squatters and anyone with a camera who ventured inside to take a look at the beautiful woodwork that remained.

- A 2007 photo showing the 19th century woodwork still hidden in some of the complex's buildings.

Since the place has now been sealed up with wood that is painted to look like a brightly colored door, the homeless are forced to precariously climb up the collapsed fire escapes or in through numerous broken windows not far off the ground (which has been witnessed). For exploring photographers though - once one has found a way in, it's apparent that Glencoe certainly contains more beauty outside than it does inside.

- Mailboxes with names still attached.

- The corpse of a dead raccoon found on the lobby floor.

- An original Nintendo Game Boy was one of the few personal artifacts found left behind at Glencoe. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anyone?

If it hadn't been for Dr. Venkman remembering flashlights, we might have stepped right onto the corpse of that rotting raccoon (Thanks Doc) who we affectionately dubbed: "Mr. Mittens." Venkman, who has a thorough understanding of architecture and construction (and the degree to prove it) seriously doubted the integrity of the floors once we reached the uppermost level.

- A Glencoe hallway complete with rotting floor.

Nonetheless, I tested it anyway - nervously making my way across the molded linoleum where you could see straight through to the floor below you. Lucky for me, the floor beneath my feet held and I was able to get some shots looking out at the complex from the top floor.

The interior of Glencoe is in a severe state of dilapidation. We agreed that aside from the Game Boy and Dead Raccoon, there wasn't much else to see and we headed back outside.

- Not entirely sure what this structure was.

- Detail on one of the buildings.

Glencoe is certainly a collection of beautiful architectue and potential, somewhat reminiscent of the row houses seen in cities like San-Francisco, Chicago, Boston and New York. The place is hidden on a hill, down crumbling side streets in the shadow of a massive hospital and bustling university. With each passing year the physical conditions of the buildings seem to get worse, but Glencoe was saved once before. Will it be saved again or will it forever be known as the "Glencoe Hole?"

Update | January 3, 2018:
  • The entire block of housing was demolished. As of this update, nothing has replaced it yet. 


  1. Great post! Actually the Cincinnati Streetcar on Vine Street could be a big help in the redevelopment of Glencoe. Residents would be within a short walk to the streetcar to reach downtown and OTR. This could reduce the need for parking spaces. The location is ideal, next Christ Hospital and walking distance to UC.

    The 1970s 'improvements' are horrendous and such a disconnect from the style of the buildings. But concrete can be torn up!

    I sure hope that Glencoe sees yet another life in its third century!

  2. David, thanks for reading.

    I agree, the streetcar could really help out the Glencoe project. When I went back for the first time since 2007, my buddy and I were talking about how close the place is to UC. It seems like it would be an ideal location for student housing. With the streetcar nearby or some sort of shuttle bus service to campus, seems like it would be a good place to create affordable housing for some UC kids.

    The 1970's improvements are gross looking. Reminds me a lot of a Different Strokes episode. Although, now they're somewhat nostalgic.

  3. This really is tragic beyond belief. With a little ingenuity and a generous amount of investment it could become a highly desirable neighborhood - a charming addition to the city's urban core.

    I suspect, however, that any efforts to "gentrify" the area would meet with severe opposition.

  4. Ron, I couldn't agree more, with all the building stock there it could be a great neighborhood if it was filled up with residents.

  5. Student housing was one of the first things that popped into my rock skull.
    Why was that raccoon out in the middle of the floor like that, tho?

  6. Quim, the raccoon was like that because we moved it that way to perform a satanic ritual in an attempt to resurrect Gary Busey. Unfortunately, it turned out Gary Busey was alive so our efforts were useless.

    In all seriousness though, I have no idea why it was like that. Seems like if it had just died there it would've not been sitting that way. It was pretty much completely decomposed. That's weird though, now that you mention it.

  7. Isn't that where the filmed "The Wire"?
    It sure looks like it.

  8. 5chw4r7z, are you talking about the police tv show? I think that was filmed in Baltimore according to Wikipedia.

  9. The Wire is in Baltimore & it looks a lot like Cincinnati.
    Makes me wonder about CPD.

    1. Glencoe looks very much like the wire in Baltimore.

  10. I really appreciate your pictures. I have considered walking through that area, but it is too scary. On one occasion, I walked from Inwood Park to Inwood Place (which runs parallel to Glencoe Place), and then up to Auburn Avenue; but I found it too spooky to repeat such a route.

    You mentioned a conspiracy theory involving Chris Smitherman. About a year ago, I heard another theory on the Lincoln Ware radio show: that the hospital wanted to buy the land, and, I guess, level it for new construction.

  11. You say:

    "By 1988, Cincinnati published a guide celebrating its Bicentennial. In that guide, Glencoe was proudly featured..."

    If you have a scan or a link for that, I'd love to see it.

    My memory of the timing of events is rather different from yours.

    I don't know how long the 70s renovations lasted, but by 1980 they were a thing of the past. (They weren't much to begin with, as you say.) I regularly drove through there in 80-82 and it was already bad news.

    I actually wrote an essay about it in high school. I had to explain and describe the place and so I remember quite clearly what it was like.

    In the early to mid 80s I delivered pizzas there and the area was a snake pit for certain. I had several close calls there and very specifically remember a conversation I had with some CPD detectives about things I'd seen there. By the late 80s it had become a "no-go zone" for the pizza place, a red circled area on the map of the delivery area where we didn't go. It was just too dangerous.

    I've often thought that one of the problems is the sight lines. There are lots of hidden areas where casual observers or the police can't see what's going on.

  12. Thank you so much for this wonderful blog - my friend sent me the link after I was in complete shock after stumbling upon "Glencoe Hole" today... My boyfriend and I love to drive around the city and see different historic buildings "Urban Safaris" we call them... Needless to say I was in shock when we turned the corner of a street we had somehow never made our way to and there were all those buildings! It's really upsetting to me that they are just sitting there dilapidated... I would love to live there!

  13. ^Anon, Thanks for sharing. That's some pretty cool history to know. I knew the area had been bad, but had no idea it was that bad. That's crazy that even pizza places wouldn't deliver there. What kind of close calls did you have? I agree with you about the sight lines, even now I get very nervous going there especially if there's just random people hanging out in the parking lots.

    As for the bicentenial article, I paraphrased that part from the history I read on my buddy Venkman's site. He mentioned it and may have it referenced there. If he doesn't, you can probably email him and ask for it. His website and article is here:

    ^Erin, it really is a shame that they've never been re-developed, but given the place's history and the first failed renovation, who knows how it would go or if anyone would even be interested. Thanks for reading the article!

  14. (missed the name part last time, hence the anon)

    "What kind of close calls did you have?"

    The close calls don't really make very good stories I'm afraid. You have to kind of be there to get the full experience of a close call, unlike an actual assault which is easily described.

    On one occasion I surprised a guy who was trying to break into my car. He didn't attack me or anything, but he was very unpleasant and intimidating.

    Another time several guys came around while I was delivering the pizza and were blocking the driver's door of my car. I saw this as I came down the stairs and hopped in through the passenger door. They were really pissed off and started pounding on the car and trying the doors. One climbed on top but I just drove off and he jumped off after a few seconds.

    Having bottles and stuff thrown at the car was also common.

    The detectives were interested in some kind of assault, a knifing I think, it's been a while. I had seen the people they were asking about, but didn't see anything violent.

    There were always people shooting craps at certain places and selling drugs, so groups of young men huddled together didn't really draw my attention. They asked about vice stuff and gave me the contact info for the vice guys but that was trouble I didn't want to borrow.

    Personal experience and statistics are kind of weird things. During my time as a pizza driver I actually had more and worse stuff happen to me on campus and in the "University Heights" area. But I also ran many more deliveries up there. So, if something scary happened on campus, say one time in a thousand, it still happened pretty often. OTOH, if something scary happened in Glencoe one time in five, we only delivered there a couple of times a week. (numbers for illustration only) I'm sure this came into play when they decided not to deliver there anymore. The risk/reward ratio was bad.

    We also had other areas no driver liked to go to, but I can't remember any others being cut off like that.

    1. I bet you delivered for snappy tomato pizza in the 80s.

  15. John, thanks for the reply. I'm not sure what you meant about the close calls not making good stories, I really enjoyed reading those. That's crazy.

    We had some photos go on display downtown this past week and while I was down there, a lady asked me about Glencoe and I was kind of telling her the history of how it had always been the "hole," and declined. She asked why and I had to agree with what you said earlier, I think the sightlines were a real problem. It's a really easy area for stuff to be hidden.

  16. I lived in the Glenco Hotel in the early 50's and 60's and it was a good place to live for kids, someone was wondering what the yellow building was it was a grocery store the neighborhood had everything you needed 2 stores a dry cleaners, laundry mad even a bar at the bottom of the hill.

  17. I just had a dream that me and my girlfriend were giving tours of Glencoe (like I did for Bockfest). Except it was haunted!

  18. Omg... I'm totally with Erin! I would love to live there! You could easily turn each door into condo style housing. And given the awesome momentum coming up through OtR, I could seriously see this place taking off!

    Do you know if whatever her name was, still technically owns them?

  19. i have just recently discovered glencoe place and am shocked that such a beautiful community could be allowed to fall into such disrepair.with the right financing and management,this could be a wonderful place for middle income families to call has such promise and i for one would willingly leave this hell hole of west virginia and relocate there.

  20. Oh god the creepiest place I've ever seen in my whole life! thanks for the stunning pictures!

  21. the raccoon looks like it was tortured and tied up WTF.

  22. I stumbled upon this early this summer, and was astounded. Not just by the empty buildings, but by the lack of humanity. I would have thought there would be kids goofing around or something. Instead, nothing. Not even a group of mimes wearing baseball uniforms.

    And perhaps even creepier: the streets were clean. No trash, whatsoever. The whole place was tidy. As if it was Disney's Ghetto-Land.

    Thanks for doing the legwork on the backstory!

    1. Gassyknoll, the place was tidy because a large group of volunteers from Give Back Cincinnati cleaned the place up recently. I was part of the group, and I spent a full Saturday there cleaning up trash, overgrown weeds and painting. Very cool experience, yet very sad to see the state of the buildings. They look even worse in person than you can see in these photos.

  23. Went there today. Very easy to get to. You turn the corner and wow is it a completly different world. There was a group of skaters there, and about three or four cars who drove through, which sort of ruined the eerie abandoned feel. Also to the side of the hole, near the entrance is a side road which has a few occupied houses. This place if beautiful and has so much potential. Its your typical abandoned area, but what makes it stands out is it isnt isolated- not really. So close to bustling civilization... Thats honestly the most eerie part.

  24. I was there earlier this week and the building where you said the floor didn't seem stable had collapsed on the inside. The third floor is currently resting on the first floor.

  25. I lived there as a child perhaps around 1957. I can't remember the exact address but looking down the hill from Auburn Ave I lived on the left side about half way down. We used to climb the steps to Inwood Park and play there. Even though we lived in the city we had a place to play. It's so sad that they are going to be torn down.They could be so beautiful if redone. They are so a part of Cincinnati history.

  26. Unfortunately it is currently in the process of demolition. More than half of the buildings are demolished already despite being on the national register.

  27. Thank you for the blog and photographs. I found Glencoe about 10 years ago and started photographing it soon after that. I didn't know how unique it was but it felt like a special place. I was sorry to see it demolished on my last walk through, last week. I consider myself lucky to be a part of this little cult. Thanks again.

  28. I visited Cincinnati for a work trip last fall and, like many of the people on this thread, just happened to drive around the corner and find this place. I was amazed by this place. So quiet. So unloved. So empty. It was scary and I hesitated to even get out of my car to take pictures. Can't believe I waited almost a whole year to do any research... it's fascinating to read about it's beginnings and all the starts and stops throughout the years. Sad to read from the recent comments that it's being demolished. For someone from Denver, seeing "The Hole" was a very sad dose of reality about the rise and fall of regional urban centers. Without being rude, I'll just say that I hope us Westerners have learned from the mistakes of our urban predecessors.

  29. I lived at 49 Glencoe Place from 1946 to 1958, third floor, cold water flat. My cousin lived on fourth floor, my Aunt and family lived on first two floors. This was a family unit. We all went to Wm. H. Taft elementary school, then to Hughes H.S. The neighborhood was made up of all colors and backgrounds and languages. We all got along. Helped each other out in hard times and good. I could walk up the alley, between Glencoe and LeRoy Court with my eyes closed and tell by the smells who lived where by what was being cooked. The best memories! On Dorenda was Ackerman's apartments and local bar. Best fish sandwiches ever! Across the street, toward the Park was a parking lot, now over-grown with trees and brush. Going up Glencoe to Auburn Avenue between the hotel and our apts. was Ed and Lee's grocery store, next door was a dry cleaners. Mom would buy meat from Ed and Lee's (usually a chunk of bologna) and they would always give an extra slice(they cut the meat themselves). Mom would fry it up and we cousins (7 of us) would make lunch and go to Inwood Park in the summer and swim and have our lunch and make arts and crafts. In the hot evenings our families would take quilts and snacks up to the park and our parents would talk to other families and we kids would play until dark, then we all would go down those cement steps back to our flats. If one of our neighbors were out of work, our parents would prepare food and take to that family, and vice -versa. If we miss-behaved, the neighbors would tell our parents and we were dealt with. And the same went for the other families. We cared for one another and helped each other. When Mr. Elselzer raised our rent $1.00 we moved to 13 LeRoy Court. Mom said if she had to pay higher rent, she wanted a bigger flat. (we actually had 2 1/2 rooms at 49 Glencoe Place). On LeRoy Court we had 4 rooms with a bath. At 49 Glencoe Place we shared the toilet in the hall with the 4th floor. Mom worked at Christ Hospital, pressing the sheets and gowns. Behind the hospital was an orphanage. Below that, someone was raising sheep. Some of my best memories are from 49 Glencoe Place. I would not trade them for anything. I now live in California but my best memories are 49 Glencoe Place. I would not trade them for anything! It saddens me to see these pictures of our neighborhood, but when I look at my black and white pictures of the neighborhood, all the good memories come flooding back. The neighborhood may be abandoned now but it was Home to many people when I was young. The city may tear down those buildings but they can never erase our memories. I told my grandchildren if I had to live in 2 1/2 rooms again, I could, happily, if I had the same great neighbors.

  30. That is what I imagined it was like anonymous. In a different time and different place, the tiny streets could be very cozy. I could also see it taking strong willed like minded people to govern that complex. Everything was tucked in and not easily accessible from the main road. if a gang wanted to take it over all they would need would be someone at the main corner to warn their buddies the cops were spotted, so they could escape before they reached the inside. People used to defend right and wrong, and get involved. Now people just avoid that stuff and it festers like a bad weed that no one tends to.

    I yearn for a neighborhood like you had, but I have never found it. Maybe it is me who isn't open to it though.


    1. Hello Aninymous,
      I just read your Post. If you are looking for that 'Ole Neighborhood" feel, you'll have to leave Cincinnati. You'd have to try a place like, WILLIAMSBURG BROOKLYN or SILVERLAKE in LA. Or somewhere in AUSTIN TX. All the Hipsters are creating that, Ole feel good vibe. Not as warm as the 60's or 70's (due to mostly connectiong with one another, online or whatever tech device) but still has some appeal.

  31. I lived on the other side of the "Hole", on Mc Gregor Avenue from the early 60's to the end of the 80's.

    The gentrification in the early 70's was very nice compared to what it had been. And I knew many of the kids there in the Hole. I dated a few of the girls there. We all attended Taft Elementary in the area as youngsters. Then I later attended Merry Jr. H.S., Cutter Jr. H.S.. Then off to Moeller H.S. and finished at Purcell H.S..

    By the time I left to attend a University here in New York..., the Hole had degenerated to a Drug Den and the upward-mobility of the folks living there had also deteriorated. My reason for saying this..., much of what happened there and in most of Cincy, has to do with to POLITICALl situation and mood of the country at that time. Reagan became President and the tone and progress that many poor African-Americans had been making, just dried up. Affirmative-Action had become a Dirty Word as much as Willie Horton. Fisher Body had closed as well as many other companies that pulled the poorer classes (both Black and White) of Cincinnati and all of Ohio out of destitution.

    And as much as I LOVED growing up in Cincy..., the racial divide has always been a factor.
    Cincy is a GREAT city. But when it comes to RACE..., it has always been.., "US" and "THEM". Even in Moeller H.S., someone would call me a N!^^ER" on a fairly constant basis. Or a teacher would tease me about having grown-up in Mt. Auburn. But I took it in stride and made the most of my education!
    In fact, that has always been the problem in this country. I've done a tone of research, the RACE factor in this country is in the way of real progress. Development is usually only done for one side or the other. And as long as one is left to waste, they will burden the ones whom have progressed. Cincy being as conservative as it is, has only doubled down on there racial divide. It's a real shame. It has only stifled the progress that that great city could make.

    So, "The Hole" could be nice once again..., but CINCINNATI has to get beyond, "US" and "THEM". If you can't do it together..., it is bound to fail again and again.


    1. very interesting to hear from someone who lived there from the 60s to the 80s. i'm a purcell-marian grad from the early 80s. when did you graduate?

  32. Does anyone know if there are any remains left of glencoe after the demolish of the past year? Or is the whole area just practically gone.. Because if there were any parts left that still had some buildings & structures intact, I'd love to know where they are to be able to check this place out.

  33. Amazing. Those street lamps are truly one for the books. Judging by the comments, this place is long gone, so thanks for documenting this for us to enjoy.

  34. The last pictures taken of Glencoe, including the demolishing period, are at the link below. From what I understand, it was completely demolished just over a year ago,