Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When Crosley was King

Before Crosley was the name of a stadium, Powell Crosley Jr.'s empire gave birth to the first commercially affordable radio, the "Nation's Station" 700 WLW, the first car radio and "soap operas." Crosley purchased The Reds in 1934, gave Major League Baseball its first night game, designed his own airplane, developed a car that got 50 mpg and used his 500,000 Watt WLW transmitter to broadcast Allied radio propaganda to occupied Europe in World War II as the "Voice of America." During the war, the Crosley corp. helped design proximity fuses, an invention that was hailed by Winston Churchill and General Patton. Crosley's industrial entrepreneurship all came out of his headquarters in Cincinnati's Camp Washington neighborhood, a facility that is now in a deteriorating, pesudo-abandoned state.

After the war, Crosley sold his company to the Aviation Corporation (AVCO) in 1946, but still remained on the Board of Directors. The innovations continued. WLWT, a Crosley television station, became the first NBC affiliate, Crosley corp. introduced the first disc brakes, designed television sets, had the first color t.v. broadcast and continued their line of home appliances.

- The Crosley Building in full swing. Compare the windows and columns to those seen in the current photograph.

By 1956 AVCO phased out the Crosley name, but kept the buidling, even using it to design their ablative plating for the Apollo moon lander. By the late 70's though, AVCO sold the facility and left Cincinnati. Coincidentally, around the same time that the World Hockey Association (and its Cincinnati Stingers team) were folding. The league's championship trophy was sponsored by AVCO and dubbed as "The Avco World Trophy."

- Summer 2007 photo of The Crosley Building.

The building changed owners multiple times after that. Smaller radio stations took up temporary residence, a key chain manufacturer moved in and office furniture was sold there. Today the building awaits a future. The current owners have slowly been cleaning it out.The city applied for stimulus funds to help renovate the building in 2009, but as of this writing no definite funding has been secured. Kids spray paint the walls, the neighborhood residents complain and the building just sits next to the highway.

While the history of Crosley's innovations that came from within the buildings walls are often forgotten, the people who worked there are not. People like Bill Smith.

 - A Crosley pamphlet showcasing the building in its glory days that formerly belonged to Bill Smith, a long time Crosley/AVCO employee.

A site reader named Beth Battle contacted me over on the facebook page after she had seen the building featured here on QC/D before. Beth's grandfather, Bill Smith, worked in the building for 40 years. Bill contributed not only to appliance and radio manufacturing, wartime projects and components of the moon landing, but to the return of Apollo 13 as well - he was even flown out for the landing. Contrasted with recent photos of The Crosley Building, Beth was kind enough to contribute the historical photographs seen in this article. Many of the photographs feature her grandfather.

- Broken windows and disrepair have left the building open to the elements.

- A typical work day at The Crosley Building.

- A modern view of the building's now mostly empty floors.

- Employees posing for a group picture outside. If you look closely, you can see how some people who weren't actually present were later edited into the photograph - a technique used even before the advent of "Photoshop."

- Crosley today.

- Graffiti is prevalent on the walls within the building these days.

- Bill Smith (right) as seen working at the Crosley Building.

- The caption reads: "Annual Safety Dinner 1954. First - J. Hobino, Model Shop. Second - E. Maher, Quality Control. Third - E. Sutter, Central Stores."

- A rusted, forgotten grill sits atop The Crosley building. A sign to bring back the annual safety dinner mentioned above?

Bill passed away in August of 2007, a few months after the first time I explored the Crosley Building. While the building's fate is yet to be determined and slowly becomes forgotten - the innovations of the Crosley Corporation and employees like Bill Smith are not.

This article is dedicated to his memory.

Special thanks to Beth Battle for contributing these photographs.

For further reading and more photos check out the previous Crosley posts and check out Dr. Venkman's excellent writing and photos on the building's history and future over at Local.Architecture: Cincinnati.

Updates | Oct. 18, 2017:
  • Intended to be redeveloped as part of the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Crosley Building's rebirth still hasn't come to pass.


  1. The book, "Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire That Transformed the Nation" gives a great history of this company and its founders. Great Read!

  2. My Parents told me that as a child Doris Day lived next to the old Cosley Building near the parking lot.

  3. Great photos & story telling. Love seeing the old & new photos. Great job!

    I still don't know WHO was added to that group photo though..I guessed one guy maybe in the back :)

  4. A great article and enjoying the site!

  5. Thank you for another great posting. Here in Richmond, IN, we have Crosley history with a Crosley/Avco plant still standing, though mostly unused. I read a biography of the two brothers and how they worked together to accomplish all that they did. Amazing.