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 barbeque 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"