Friday, October 14, 2016

[Suburbia Lost] Bob Evans and Natorp's Garden Center - Mason, Ohio

The last entry in this week's round of Suburbia Lost stories: Mason, Ohio's former landscaping store and a familiar face from the American interstate.

Each day this week I've posted a new entry to the Suburbia Lost project. Unlike the more thorough articles and elaborate exploration history pieces I've written here on QC/D over the years, these entries tend to be brief and have a slightly more sarcastic tone. I don't want to come off as someone who's too much of a snob to even dare set foot in a chain restaurant or suburban fast food location. I have the words "Pizza Hut" on my bank statement enough to prove otherwise. Rather, I grew up in the Cincinnati suburbs and as an adult had the chance to go out and find real history, real architecture, and communities truly shaped and improved by their physical surroundings. Over time, that turned in to exploring historical and abandoned locations, the majority of which date back to a time when the design of a building was truly something special and its demise something to be mourned.

In my current day-to-day life, I live in an "affluent" suburb, but spend all day working in the city. The stories of places in suburbia are vastly different than the ones I've seen in urban areas, older areas, and established communities with rich history. For example, compare the dying Cincinnati Mills/Forest Fair Mall to that of the Dayton Arcade. I bet you can easily guess which of these similar function structurespeople wish to see protected and restored.

I don't discredit anyone for living in the suburbs and although I personally plan to leave soon and get back closer to the city, I've spent a good amount of my life in the land of wide boulevards and an Applebee's on every corner. Where I do take issue with the suburban mentality, especially here in Cincinnati, is the thought that the suburbs are somehow ultimately "cleaner" than the city, like some sort of paradise well down the highway from a slum. There's abandonment and decaying structures here in the suburbs too, all over if you really take the time to look. The difference is, there's not a whole lot of redevelopment opportunities and almost zero significant historical value. An abandoned Wendy's from 1994 isn't as easily convertible to swanky new condos as say a former brewery.

Back to the point of not being too good for Pizza Hut, there's something to be said for the sheer amount of corporate chains in the suburbs. It's not always cut and dry - there's corporate chains downtown and also some great local places out in the burbs, but the vast majority of suburban abandonment is from easily identifiable corporate-branded structures with little value. Corporate blight. Pizza Hut makes a decent pizza, but their abandoned parking lot surrounded stores add little value to your community.  And what is anyone going to do with an abandoned K-Mart? Frankly, these companies don't give a shit when they leave these buildings to rot (except McDonald's who's so protective of their brand image they rarely ever let a former location sit abandoned). I see this kind of abandonment and decay as a reflection of their wholeheartedly disingenuous marketing speak. At the end of the day, they're not at all concerned with their "mission statements" or being "members of the community." They exist to make money.

I'm not saying they're wrong for doing so, we enable them as consumers (and I love me some Pizza Hut and great deals at Target), but I like this project because it's a reminder that no matter how cleverly worded a corporation's mission statement is, they (and consumers too) view the suburbs as disposable. And suburbs themselves, for right or wrong, have been built on disposable, cheap materials and shortsighted planning. These "paradises" outside the city often reap what they've shortsightedly sown.

It's ok to enjoy a Whopper from Burger King, just realize if that specific location ever closes, the good folks in the corporate headquarters are going to let that abandoned, cheaply built, non historic, dime-a-dozen structure sit there until...

A) ... it burns down.
B) ...becomes a Chinese Buffet.
C) ...becomes a cash checking/tax return place.
D) ...becomes a used car lot.
E) ...your local government pays to tear it down while your mayor tells the local community newsletter that something "exciting" is coming (there's nothing).

All in all, I've grown up in suburbia. I don't much care for it, but I accept it for what it is and appreciate the good neighbors, nice parks, people I've met, and good experiences I have had. Like the earlier mentioned Pizza Hut though, I see the suburbs for what they area and in the end - their forgotten and left behind structures, and often their history, don't hold a candle to that of the city's from which they spawned.

All that being said, let's get to the last Suburbia Lost update this week:


- A former Natorp's location in Mason, Ohio. 

Unlike a lot of the other structure's seen in this project, Natorp's is substantially more unique. This particular location closed only because the local business moved nearby to a new, even larger facility. These photos are a little over a year old and I'm not sure if these structures are still sitting empty like this (or even still standing) back off of traffic choked Fields-Ertel Rd.

Natorp's traces its history back nearly a century to German horticulturalist William A. Natorp. Still a family business, the company is situated directly between the suburbs of Mason and West Chester with easy highway access. In a rapidly growing area north of Cincinnati and South of Dayton, the addition of new suburban housing also brings demand for landscaping. In the end, if your community is going to have abandoned structures, I guess a former garden center is better than an abandoned Bob Evans, especially if it means a local business is thriving so much that it outgrew its former location.

And about that abandoned Bob Evans...

Bob Evans:

Let’s be honest, even if you covered it in gray paint, anyone could look at this structure and know it was a Bob Evan’s, right? No one who’s ever traveled along the American interstate is going to drive by and think to themselves: “hmm, I wonder what kind of family style, country themed restaurant that used to be? I have absolutely no clue.”

As the company’s slogan once stated, the national chain began “down on the farm.” Derived from Bob Evans Farms Inc., a New Albany, Ohio food service and processing company, the restaurant was meant to evoke what some people feel is country living, down home cooking, or something of the like. It’s pretty much Cracker Barrel with another name and smaller gift shop. While the Bob Evans brand has now evolved to a more modern look and feel inside its restaurants, this location dating back to the days of their “remember when America was a much simpler place” decorative theme was left behind. A neutral paint job tries to deny the past, but we know the truth.

Thankfully if the people of Mason need their "Wildfire Chicken Salad" fix,  a "Little Farmer Breakfast" for the kids, or a place to not leave a tip after that post-sunday sermon breakfast, they only need to go one exit south to again be "down on the farm."

...not 911. 

Edit 10-30-16: Natorp's has been torn down to make room for a retirement community.

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. A few months ago I drove by the Natorps, it was fenced in like there might be construction going on. I can't place where that Bob Evans was.

    1. That one is actually up by Kings Mills and the Waffle House off that exit. It's tucked in back off the highway near the Beach Waterpark. Thanks for checking it out!

    2. Miss that Bob Evans, it actually had a farm house feel to it, which is nicer than their current set up.

  2. Natorp's location looks like it would be magnificent location for a microbrew/beer garden.

    1. That's true, unfortunately there's not really anything around it, but I guess up there that doesn't really matter.

  3. I also grew up in the Suburbs, and have recognized a lot of the places you've visited for Suburbia Lost. I lived up near Mason for most my life and really enjoyed the area while growing up, then as an adult I loved my cul-de-sac house, my yard, and the convenience of the big box shopping centers. But now since working downtown the past few years, and then moving to Bellevue, I enjoy the urban lifestyle so much more than I ever did the suburbs. At this point I could never see myself wanting to go back, there just too much good food, friendlier neighbors, and things to do in the urban core.

    I used to shop at Natorp's multiple times every summer since it was literally right down the street, I didn't even realize that location closed. I also don't recognize where that Bob Evans is/was.

    1. I think places like Bellevue provide a nice mix. Just got back from visiting some friends in Cleveland this weekend who live in the "suburb" of Lakewood. Yet they're not too far from the city, are near frequent public transport, have a walkable environment, etc. Bellevue is fantastic. All the conveniences of the city, but you can still have a yard.

  4. Natorp was torn down back in June and is now becoming a retirement community

    1. Thanks for the heads up, article edited.