Monday, June 17, 2013

[Suburbia Lost] "Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em" Chevrolet - Montgomery


Just north of Cincinnati in the city of Montgomery, Ohio there's an abandoned car dealership. Its vast, wide lot is devoid of cars and inside there's no salespeople to be found. Good deals aren't the only ghosts left behind on the moldy showroom floor; there's also the ghost of a Cincinnati legend - Marge Schott.

- Montgomery's Traingle Point Plaza overlooking the abandoned dealership. Photo by Ronny Salerno

The City of Montgomery is an "affluent" little town (according to their wikipedia page where someone has used the word 'affluent' numerous times to describe it). When you pull off the Ronald Reagan Cross County Highway, you can immediately merge onto Montgomery Rd., the main thoroughfare that serves as the city's figure of speech "Main Street." As you cruise past the quaint shops, taverns, parks and restaurants - you may not even notice the abandoned 70's style car dealership on your right. Stop by the "Triangle Point Plaza" though and you can take in views of the shuttered showroom while you listen to the fountain water trickle down.

- Locked gates at the dealership lot. Photo by Ronny Salerno

This is America! From the "main street" setting to the highway named after the late President Reagan, Montgomery oozes red, white and blue. We as Americans love our highways, mainly because we love our cars. Even in the day and age of ever-rising gasoline prices and less driving - car sales in the states are on the rise. Automobile dealers dominate the advertising air waves and the glow of dealership lots, both new and used, light up the suburban night. Which is why the scene in Montgomery is surprising - an abandoned car dealership, how often do you see that?

Photo by Ronny Salerno

This forgotten dealership is peculiar though, not just in what it is, but in how it looks. Clearly, it's an "older" building. According to property records, it was built in 1975. Most recently, it was the home of "Joseph's Montgomery Chevrolet." While its not entirely clear, the same records seem to indicate that it closed sometime in 2005.

Photo by Ronny Salerno

When you peer in the showroom you can see molded carpet, eroded away by leaks in the roof. The logo of the Joseph Auto Group still emblazons the wall while rusted light poles guard over the weeds growing through the lot's asphalt.

Photo by Ronny Salerno

Photo by Ronny Salerno

Photo by Ronny Salerno

However, there was once a previous owner of this building. One whose name was both famously and infamously known all throughout Cincinnati, automotive sales and professional sports. That person was Marge Schott.

Margaret Unnewehr was born in Cincinnati in 1928. She grew up attending Catholic school and married Charles Schott in 1952, taking his name. In 1968, she was widowed at the age of 39 when her husband died of a heart attack. Upon his death, she inherited Charles' automobile dealerships.

Marge was business savvy and often used the wealth she accumulated to raise money for various local charities, something she would continue to do until the end of her life. Through these charities, she often partnered up with the Cincinnati Reds organization. In 1981, Marge bought a minority interest in the team's ownership. By 1984, she purchased a controlling interest for $11 Million.  Then in 1985, she was named president and CEO of the club as the majority owner.

- Marge attending a Reds game in her usual box seats. Sports Illustrated.

At first, Marge was well liked by the fans. She didn't sit in a luxury box, rather she could be found chain smoking her cigarettes in a common box seat. She kept concession prices low, allowed her dogs to have free roam of the stadium and continued to donate generously to charities she was passionate about. Under her ownership, the organization assembled one of baseball's greatest World Series teams: the 1990 "wire to wire" Reds who took the World Series from Oakland in a four game sweep.

...but, uh, she also did some pretty unpopular things...

- Marge kisses Reds manager Lou Piniella after the team won the 1990 World Series. Sports Illustrated.

Where do you start, how about from the baseball side of things?

Lou Piniella, who coached the Reds to their 1990 series felt jaded by Marge's organization and left at the end of his contract. His replacement, Davey Johnson, would only last a few seasons as well. Halfway through the 1994 season, Marge told the press that she wouldn't be offering Johnson a contract extension no matter how well the team did. Despite the team reaching the second round of the playoffs, Johnson was not rehired.

Then came the comments...

Marge was once accused of referring to star players Eric Davis and Dave Park as her "million-dollar niggers" and also of displaying a nazi-swastika armband in her home. She later claimed that the comment was meant as a joke and that the armband was a souvenir from her husband's WW2 service. But in a 1996 interview where she tried to explain those things away, she dropped these words of wisdom while talking about infamous Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler:

"Everybody knows he was good at the beginning, but he just went too far."

Schott was also known for her off the cuff remarks about describing baseballs players with earrings as "fruits" and not understanding how anyone could be offended by the epithet "Jap." The Hitler comments made everyone a little uncomfortable and in the wake of her interview, Major League Baseball suspended her for what would be her second time. She soon became the target of sports writers across the nation and was often lampooned on the "Bob and Tom" radio show as the host of a fictitious talk show called "Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em," a reference to her chain smoking habits.

- Marge with her iconic dog, Schotzie. Sports Illustrated.

During all this, Marge also held on to her car dealerships, but those too became a source of trouble. Once known as "Marge Schott Chevrolet Geo," the now abandoned dealership seen in this article was the location of another Marge controversy. Around the same time that Schott was defending Hitler and being suspended by MLB, General Motors was also not pleased with her behavior. GM filed a complaint that Marge had falsified 1995 sales records. Allegedly, she had claimed that 57 vehicles at the now abandoned dealership were sold to the names of members of the Reds organization and friends of hers as false buyers while the cars were stored at her estate. Instead of pursuing legal action, GM allowed her to sell the dealership in 1997.

By 1999, Schott was facing a third MLB suspension and sold her controlling interest of the Reds. She still owned a Buick dealership in Norwood and focused on her philanthropy efforts before dying in 2004. Despite her often controversial nature, Marge was a major donor to Children's Hospital and the Cincinnati Zoo.


In some ways, maybe this abandoned car dealership is a lot like Marge Schott. Marge made the kinds of comments Archie Bunker would've been proud of, an outdated way of thinking from a time when America still had "main streets" in every little town. Just off to the side of a road dressed up like those romanticized "main streets," is her abandoned namesake dealership, left behind as the auto industry and the country evolved.

"Those were the days."

Dedicated to Schotzie and Schotzie 02, woof woof and rest in peace, dawgs*.
*they were actual dogs. 

Suburbia Lost is an ongoing documentation of decay in the sphere of a perceived paradise. After years of photographing abandoned, forgotten, and often historical locations in the city, this project aims to take a look at how structures fare in the sphere of suburbia. You can view other entires in the project, here


  1. awesome, Ronny. you have a way of bringing the pics to life with your writings.

  2. "affluent" is french for pretentious.

  3. Fabulous write up, Ronny. I can never figure out if you will be a great photographer, or story teller or both.

    You always make me care about the story and the photographs. That's a rare gift!

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. "Everybody knows he was good at the beginning, but he just went too far."

    --the same could be said for Marge Schott.

  6. What would you say if I knew of someone, who had in their possession, Marge Schott's toilet from her box at the old stadium? And also the turnstile. And the old Reds hats in the outfield :P