Thursday, October 6, 2016

Retail Remnants: Demolition of the Pogue's Garage

"Pogue's garage" in Cincinnati ran along 4th St. between Race and Elm. Its demolition is another sign of the changing times and development in the city's urban core. Stale and sterile in appearance, the structure probably won't be missed by anyone. However, the story it's connected to is one of the Queen City's retail history and if anything, at least this parking garage once offered a great view from the top.

- The Carew tower watching over the demolition site of the former Pogue's garage. 

As I write this, 4th St. is closed* a few blocks away from where I'm sitting. Demolition crews are busy plugging away at the old parking garage. I've yet to hear anyone say that this structure is something they'll miss. Echoing last week's story on an urban renewal structure, this garage hails from the same era. Construction began in 1966, funded by an urban renewal grant. If you ever parked here, you'll remember the distinctive "corkscrew" exit ramp that twisted through the building's center. An intriguing feature, yet one that was abysmal to sit in during traffic.

- The garage's distinctive spiral exit ramps.

The structure stuck out like a sore thumb. It didn't just fit with modern development and the downtown renaissance of the last few years, it never really seemed to fit at all. As an architect told the Cincinnati Enquirer in May 2016:
"It's a terrible garage. That was probably the cheapest garage someone could build."
Its demolition will breath new life into a section of Fourth St. that for decades has seen nothing but the garage's faded pastel pink walls, crumbling concrete, and rusting metal.

My friend Bob Schwartz lives just a few blocks over and has passed the building every day since he moved to Fourth St. in 2009. He can't wait to see it go:
"I remember when I first moved to Cincinnati walking down Fourth St. from Vine to Central and thinking: 'this is the most amazing street anywhere.'
Except for that garage, how the hell did that happened?  
The south side of Fourth is beautiful and the north side is horrible.  
I took my bike to the top a couple times. There were these giant metal bandaids bolted on everywhere. And the holes you could see through to the street were crazy. And riding down the spiral with all the concrete and asphalt patches was nuts. A friend of mine from Indy calls Pogue's: "the inexpensive freaky death spiral garage." 
Oh! And that dumbass ramp."
The Pogue's garage had featured a ramp directly from a lane of traffic that quickly delivered cars from the street to structure and vice versa. However, because that ramp extended to the street, it created a dark pedestrian tunnel above the Fourth St. sidewalk. Even during the day, the tunnel usually only had one light working and was incredibly dingy, always unsettling.
 "I was amazed how bright Fourth is just by ripping it out. Immediate improvement on the street."

The garage did feature a few retail spaces on its Eastern end, but was ultimately built to serve the nearby H and S Pogue Company department store across the street in the Carew Tower arcade. Initially designed to hold 900 vehicles, three more levels were later added to accommodate up to 1200.

"Pogue's" traced its roots back to Irish immigrants Henry and Samuel Pogue. After buying out their uncle's dry good store, they established the H&S Pogue Dry Goods Company in 1863. Their flagship store on Fourth St. eventually grew and was connected to the Carew Tower complex across the way, where Pogue's expanded to even more floors.

in 1962, the company was purchased by the Associated Dry Goods Corp. and the for the first time was no longer under family ownership. Pogue's still maintained its reputation for being one of the city's higher end department stores though and expanded to the suburbs with a Kenwood store in 1959 and later to the Tri-County/Springdale area in 1962. Their suburban stores mimicked the feature's of the downtown store as well as the trends of high end, full flung retail stores at the time. Not only did these kinds of places have all the merchandise you could need (a one stop shop so to speak with varying departments), Pogue's was well known for its multiple restaurants, snack bar, and ice cream parlor. The ice cream shop downtown was located within the bridge over the street that connected the company's downtown spaces. When the massive parking garage opened next door, each floor was named after local Graeater's ice cream flavors that were served at the "ice cream bridge."

Under the new ownership, the Pogue's brand was expanded. A new location opened up across the river in Florence, KY and the creation of the downtown Skywalk system directly linked Pogue's to several downtown hotels and businesses. Additionally, Pogue's found its way into Northgate Mall. Aside from the Eastgate Mall and Forest Fair Mall, Pogue's was located in every major Cincinnati shopping complex.

As the recession of the 80's took shape though, and retail trends began to favor suburban developments as opposed to urban locations, Pogue's and several other longstanding downtown department stores faced trouble. The 5th St. store began a steady decline and the parent company began cutting down on the variety of merchandise at all Pogue's locations. Eventually, stores were converted from their high end reputation into the more modest model of corporate sister L.S. Ayres.
- The Pogue's building on 4th St. Image via Cincinnati Views.

Pogue's parent company eventually merged with May Department Stores who sold off all the suburban locations in 1986. The downtown store had it's 4th St. section (and historical building) demolished for the new Tower Place Mall while the 5th St. section was subdivided into new retail space and offices. The massive parking garage next door then began serving the all new Tower Place. Gone were the ice cream flavor named floors and a classic Cincinnati company.

Tower Place itself pretty much told the story of downtown department stores such as Pogue's. As retail changed and suburban developments grew, the massive downtown department store model started to fade. Tower Place was an attempt to build a suburban style mall in the heart of the city.

- Tower Place Mall, which replaced the Fourth St. H&S Pogue's store, seen just prior to its closure lined with empty storefront. From our 2013 story.

Like most downtown mall concepts (and even many suburban malls in general), Tower Place eventually closed down. We covered its demise in a March 2013 article and by the time of its demise, Pogue's garage had been the main parking structure serving the ill fated downtown mall. Cameron and I had ventured up there to snap a few photos. If the garage was ever good for anything, at least it had a pretty nice view of the city around it:

- Cincinnati as seen from the top floor of the Pogue's garage in 2013

And most will never forget that distinctive center "corkscrew" exit ramp:

- Pogue's garage center exit ramp as seen in 2013

Tower Place was eventually gutted and had most of its interior turned into a parking garage while ground level retail space was created. Once Tower Place was finished, work could begin on demolishing Pogue's garage.

The wrecking ball first tore into the old garage on September 10, 2016. It was the start of a six month process to tear down the garage, the last remnant of the Pogue's empire. In its place, a new parking garage is planned. However, this new parking garage will be hidden within a new structure, above ground level retail, and below 225 apartment units. After nearly fifty years, it'll breath some life into a section of 4th St that has been nothing but stagnant and brooding.

- Rendering of what's planned to replace Pogue's garage.

Update | Oct. 22, 2017:
  • The garage is now completely gone, but signs or announcements about the new development haven't been forthcoming.


  1. I'm very happy to finally see this horrible garage come down, and I hope the new development helps inspire other redevelopments on this section of Fourth.

    1. It's amazing how much it kills the atmosphere on that block. Having residents along there is really going to liven things up.