Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Clifton Friars Club

Summer was approaching and I realized I hadn't gone out and explored anything in awhile. I made it one of my goals to get out more during the coming break from class. As I walked out of my art history final, summer officially began for me at 4:43 that afternoon. I hadn't even been five minutes into my vacation when The Boy Scout called me with a plan. With no time to waste I grabbed my gear and met him in Clifton. It was time for our first exploration of the summer: The Clifton Friars Club Building.

We met up with Seicer as we trolled up Ohio Ave., cameras, tripods and gear in hand. The imposing building rose above the overgrowth and pine trees to reveal castle like turrets on its roof. Opened in 1930, the building had been home to the Cincinnati Friars Club. Not to be confused with the New York Friars Club (who perform the "Roasts" broadcast on Comedy Central), the Cincinnati Friars club dated back to 1860 and serves as an organization that provides outreach to disadvantaged children through physical activity. The club relocated and abandoned this structure in 2006. Demolition had just begun earlier that week as "Cincinnati's 8th Precinct" began climbing over the rubble into what remained of the Friars Club.

At first, we had a very limited knowledge of what the building had been used for or who the Friars Club was. So as you can imagine, we were quite surprised when we climbed into what once had been a swimming pool.

- The Friars Club swimming pool.

Upon seeing this I was reminded of an episode of the popular 1990's Nickelodeon Show; "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" The one entitled: "Tale of the Dead Man's Float." In case you're unfamiliar with the series, that episode, or don't care to watch it; here's a synopsis:

"A young boy who's afraid to swim ends up getting trapped in the abandoned school swimming pool with the girl of his dreams and a monster that makes people drown."
Lucky for us there were no "monsters that make people drown," but at the same time there were also no "girls of our dreams." You gotta take the good with the bad I guess. Regardless, that episode scared the hell out of me when I was a kid.

- The Friars Club swimming pool.

- Lane ropes and lifeguard equipment left in the pool.

- No Diving.

- The Whirlpool.

The lower floor had included the pool, sauna and other rec rooms including dance studios. Navigating our way from this floor, we came across a tragic discovery.

- Panoramic view of the "mural room." 

A series of murals adorned all four walls of this room. According to some research dug up by Seicer, the murals had been created by Lume Winter, a muralist who had lived at the Friars Club. He began his work in 1941 and completed the murals by 1944. The one of a kind murals depict religion, industry, warfare and other historical events. Tragically, they'll be lost forever aside from the few photographs of them, when demolition is complete.

- A section of the mural already partially demolished.

- A section of the mural depicting World War Two.

- Tile on the floor coincidentally featured swastikas in a room where murals depicted the American victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. However, prior to its use by the Nazi party, the swastika had been commonly used to represent life.

The other rooms on this floor lacked the unique qualities of the murals. Cubicles, offices and drop ceilings marred the rest of the rooms.

- The former Friars Club offices.

The views from the former Friars Club offices provided a nice perspective of the surrounding neighborhood, however, we assumed better views would come if we could find a way to the roof.

- Overlooking Clifton and the front steps.

We made our way to what was left of the basketball courts and gym. The wooden floor was covered in puddles and had been ripped to shreds on one end. The opening provided by the demolition of the East wall added a unique view of Christ Hospital.

- The gym.

- The gym floor.

- Gym bleachers.

The next two floors featured hallway upon hallway of single room dormitories. Many of the rooms still included personal belongings and appeared eerily similar to the one room dorm I had lived in my sophomore year at Ohio University before I transferred.

- Dormitory hallway.

Our quest for the roof lead us to the elevator maintenance room. Still intact with it's 1930's mechanical and electrical equipment, old elevator service papers were laying on a table mixed with paperwork from the Sprint corporation. The papers included details about the cell phone antenna that had been installed atop the building.

- Documents found in the elevator mechanical room.

We stepped out onto the gravel covered roof as the sun was setting. The surrounding view from the former Friars Club provided a spectacular view of the surrounding neighborhood, downtown and even the Ohio River.

- Downtown Cincinnati as seen from the roof.

- Christ Hospital as seen from the roof.

- Clifton and Clifton Heights as seen from the roof.

- Clifton rooftops and the Ohio River.

We watched from above as a red van pulled up and parked along the fence which protected the average civilian from getting too close to the dangers of the demolition. Out walked a man who stood up to the fence and gazed in at the mess of concrete and steel that had once been an intact building.

- "The Boy Scout" sitting atop one of the building's castle like turrets. Hughes High School seen in the background.

We waited as the man retreated to his van and sped off before we retreated as well, back to the ground floor. We again climbed the mountain of rubble. The Boy Scout and Tonto decided to stick around, they were going to try and find a way to the basement. The conventional stairs had been lost in the subsequent demolition, but that wasn't going to stop them. Seicer and I had places to be though. We said goodbye to our friends and goodbye to the Friars Club.

- The former Cincinnati Friars Club.

Summer is off to a good start.

Update | Oct. 18, 2017:
  • The former Friars Club was eventually demolished and was replaced by some really gaudy student housing. 


  1. Those murals make me sad. They were an artist's gift of time, talent & self and now they'll just be destroyed as if they never meant anything to anyone. I can't believe there was no effort to preserve them and move them off-site. Thanks for capturing them.

  2. Kerrie, thanks for checking out the new update. It is tragic that those murals couldn't be preserved. Maybe if we had brought them to attention sooner, or if the friars club had tipped off one of the many arts foundations when they left the building. Sadly, they're pretty much lost now.

  3. Another awesome exploration in the city. I run and drive by there all the time and the building goes unnoticed. Thanks for shedding light on what this building once was. Do you know of any plans for the site once the building is gone?

  4. Hopefully someone had the brains to photograph the murals extensively before hand to at least have documentation of them - intact. I doubt it would be by the purchaser.

    Lets hope what goes in its place is not a Blue Ash transplant. Judging from the two buildings on Highland they will be conservative and boring. Gee, I hope I am wrong. Friars is not the only building being torn down in this project. The house to the South is gone. One or two others hidden from the street to the SE were purchased too. One looks very old.

    Really, if ever there was an appropriate social services building it was Friars. Even if it was converted into a dorm for lower income students... or are lower income college students a thing of the past?

    Maybe it will have pretty gates.

  5. I was a member there circa 1976. my brother and i were allowed to go there after school and there was a little window in a game room where you could trade your membership card for a board game. we sat and played stratego game after game.

  6. It's sad to see what has happened to that building. I can remember going there as a 7 yr. old back in '92 because they had youth baseball leagues. I only did it for that one year but my older brother played baseball for them for several years. They used to have games at places like nearby Fairview Park and the parks that used to exist off MLK and Eden Ave.

  7. Again you bring to life our beautiful city. It is a shame to see the life in this building going away. Thanks you for the amazing photos.

  8. It looks as though tons of stuff could have been removed and recycled as building materials that could be used in another building.IE bleacher,gym floor,whirlpool...and the mural! What a sad waste!

  9. Don't know how I missed this post! I grew up, and my folks still live on Ohio Ave. Played Baseball and Basketball at the Friars for my entire childhood (5-16), as well as attending and working as a counselor for their summer camp.

    We initially were promised by the developer that we could remove the gym floor so that we could re-lay it in the Brewery...considering he gave us less than a 24 hr notice prior to demolition, that didn't happen. Instead, we removed the four original metal (copper) ladders from the swimming pool. Hoping to re-use those in the brewery instead.

    The demo is a damn shame. Cheers!

  10. Oh, my gosh. I went to the Friar's Club for swimming during the '50s when they allowed girls to come on weekday mornings. I learned to swim, along with my neighborhood girlfriends. We also saw music performers some Saturday afternoons, like the Isley Brothers, Brenda Lee. Can I get permission to use one of the building's photos for my family history book I'm currently writing? I'd give credit of course. I always do. I'd sure appreciate it.

  11. Wow i cant believe its gone. I use to come to ohio every summer in the mid 80's my uncle was a member i had guest pass i would play basketball with the older men they were like 45 to 60 years old i was 15 that ran like 15 games straight when i looked at these pics it brought tears to my eyes i seen myself feeling like i was there. Pool whirlpool sauna weights lockers racket ball all gone wow

  12. my uncle was the athletic director there from 1960's -90's he built the awesome teams we had that were unbeatable.

  13. I lived there from 10/74 through 3/75 it was a great experience and a very safe place to live. To see this beautiful architectural artwork destroyed is criminal. This is one of the reasons that I left Cincinnati.

    It is the fact that the greedy powers that be are dismantling the true beauty of this city for profit and rebuilding with garbage monstrosities, lacking in taste and decorum.

  14. I lived there in 79-80 as a Foster Kid One of the unwanted because not many foster homes wanted older teenagers that had not yet aged out. They gave us a place to live and learn how to grow to began the next step in life. They gave us social functions , made sure we had food and a room..... along with an allowance , took us on trips like ski trips to Franciscan Cabin near Howell, MI learn about Outdoors and learn how to Ski and have well as freedoms to grow anarn about life in a safe way ...............We had weekly group meetings and completed high school ........and people to talk with if needed. and the little restaurant served alright food most of the time. sorry to see it gone....