Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Memento in the Rubble of a Mountain



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There's something about visiting an abandoned place, but how important to someone can an abandoned mini golf mountain and go kart track be before it's demolished for a highway?




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- The abandoned "Eastgate Adventures" in the distance across the field."


It's been nearly eight years since I started photographing abandoned places. I still don't have a good way of articulating what it is I find alluring or uniquely visually striking about the places I've been. I can go with the standard mantras about how eerie it can be standing in a place that humanity has left behind, what it's like to experience a location's state of decay or any of the other verbiage authors have used to define "urban exploration" as "ruin porn." Sometime's there's a personal connection, visiting somewhere abandoned that I had been to when it was active. More often than not, it's a place I've never been before, I'm experiencing it only in its vacant, ignored and forgotten state as a visitor. You try to picture it in your head - a sense of what that place was like when it was alive with the activity of humanity. A lot of time's you get the picture, take it in and move on to the next place. Sometimes though, a place sticks with you even if you have no prior connection to it. Places like the ornate waiting room of Detroit's Michigan Central Station or the underground network of Cincinnati's Subway. These places are often breathtaking, unique among the ruins and something that can't be experienced anywhere else.

Then there's the less significant places - the endless stream of abandoned fast food joints in the Suburbia Lost project or the less interesting "one off" locations such as Fairfield's golf course. They're quick visits, followed by a few notes - another pin the map, another check on the list. But one place recently stuck with me. Somewhere I'd never been before when it was still open.

On the east side of the metro area, bordering the 275 loop there was this fake mountain littered with putting greens. The "mountain" overlooked a small pond. The pond was bordered by a snack bar inside a faux log cabin, a go kart track and the nearby highway. It's the kind of place you dream about when you're bored growing up in the suburbs.

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- The shuttered go kart track at Eastgate Adventures.


I grew up on the opposite corner of Eastgate Adventures, miles away. Where I grew up, go karts were a thing of suburban legend. Kids talked about how awesome they were to drive during their summer vacation to the Smoky Mountains. You heard junior high rumors about go karts in this part of town and that part of town and whoever told you about them was always the best at driving them - but you never went. Go Karts didn't really exist except for in cheesy 90's movies and the tall tales of pre-teens. Surf Cincinnati had them, I knew it because I had ridden them (and Brett Schindler if you're reading this I totally won that race in the summer of 1999). Surf Cincinnati was long closed though.

Then one day, years later, while lost on the East Side, my friend Jon and I saw them. Just off the highway, circling the mountain were these little cars. Go Karts. They existed. We were just about to leave high school though, could drive real vehicles and by then the appeal of racing your middle school friends was long lost.

I'd pass Eastgate Adventures sometimes, when I'd take 275 to Route 32 on my way back to school at Ohio University. I didn't think much of it, I had better things to do in my limited free time.

Years later I'm having lunch on the east side with my friend Robbie. As I finish an order of cheese fries he mentions: "Hey, I have an abandoned place that might interest you."

"Yeah?" I said back.

"That mini golf course with the go-karts off 32, it's closed. Apparently they're building a new highway ramp through it."

After splitting our checks, he went back to work - I went looking for an abandoned golf mountain. I found it easy enough with the listing still on Google Maps. It was tucked back in this industrial area by a storage unit facility and off this obscure road. Sure enough there it was in the middle of the summer, a place that would seemingly be filled with people at that point in the season sitting there closed, padlocked and quiet.

My camera was in the car, but it was hot. Was it even worth photographing? Maybe some other time I thought, because who really cares anyways? Over time, it had been hard to keep doing the urban exploration thing. Why bother documenting it and staying up till 3 AM to write an article on a place that seems rather insignificant? I left, but scribbled the place down in my notepad as maybe something to come back to.

As the weeks wore on, I knew the wrecking ball would probably be coming for the mini golf mountain soon. For some reason, I kept thinking about the place debating any day when it was nice outside if I should go photograph it. I don't know what it was - the fact that I loved working at an amusement park for so long and was coming to terms with the idea that I'd never work in one again, because it's time to grow up and find a "real" job. But that mountain in Eastgate wasn't an amusement park, it was just some "family entertainment center." Maybe it's because there's days where you really miss being a kid and summer isn't really a break or important anymore. Or maybe I did just need to grow up.

Nevertheless, after one particularly stressful day of working in retail I punched out from work, hopped in the car and just headed straight to Eastgate. I had to go see it, to climb the fake mountain and get it out of my head.

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- An adjoining property set for demolition.


The sunlight was beautiful, the sky a crisp blue and spray paint markings littered the ground. Off in the distance, construction vehicles were stationed. Nearby the golf mountain, they had started tearing down trees to make room for the new highway ramps. You could see clear across Route 32 to the nearby Eastgate Mall.

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- State Route 32 and the nearby Eastgate Mall.


I stood there, still unsure why a seemingly insignificant abandoned location felt so important. I had never been there before, had no idea what it was like for people to go there, no idea what it was like for someone to work there, how long it had been there, what the history was or if anyone even cared that it was closing. But I stepped over the half demolished fence, clicked the camera on and just took it in.

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- Go kart station.


Weeds were growing through cracks in the go kart path. A gas tank that was once used to fill the carts stood at rest. The buildings had been emptied of anything valuable. A pay phone, something that has become a novel concept, still remained on the hook with "vintage" phone books hanging from it. The highway hummed in the distance.

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- Snack bar and restrooms.
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- Fuel pump.
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- Go kart track.
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The putting greens of the golf course were water logged and nearby weeds grew onto the walking paths unopposed. Rough graffiti on the "stone" walls depicted the names of wannabe suburban hood rats and their rough depiction of how the male sexual organ works - indications that I wasn't the first person to climb the mountain in its abandoned state.

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- Ascending the "mountain."


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The mountain's top putting green was the greenest and as you looked to the west you could see the sun setting on the pond, the kart path and the highway that would soon beckon the mountain's destruction.

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- The "summit."


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- Overlooking Eastgate Adventures and the nearby highway.


After I descended the mountain and left I felt an odd sense of satisfaction. I don't know what it was about Eastgate Adventures. I had no personal connection to it, but I felt it was a place I had to photograph, something I had to see and something I had to do. I like to think that the place meant a lot to someone. Someone out there has a connection to it in the same way that I was connected to places I loved in my past. In a way, I felt connected to it even though I would only see it abandoned, about to disappear from the landscape.

In the weeks following my visit I searched the internet trying to find photographs of the place when it was still open. A YouTube video showed people feeding the ducks and fish there. And a blog post from Leppert Weddings showed some wedding shots that had been made there.

- A wedding photograph from Leppert Weddings shot on the former go-kart track in 2011.


The Eastern Corridor Program is an important project in the Cincinnati area. In planning for decades, the project seeks to expand the area's transportation network from the city center to the Eastern areas via highway improvements, expanded roadways, new bus service, rail transit, bikeways and walking paths. Currently though, only the roadway improvements have received any serious funding, planning and execution. Thus was the cause of Eastgate Adventure's demise. I-275 intersects State Route 32 at an incredibly busy intersection in an area of high suburban growth. The golf mountain and several adjoining properties were purchased by the state in order to make room for the highway improvements shown below.

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- Above: The intersection of I-275 and SR 32 as they appear currently. Below: Orange lines mark where new highway ramps will be constructed. The location of Eastgate Adventures is highlighted in red.


A few weeks later I was having lunch with Robbie again, telling him about how I had gone out to photograph Eastgate Adventures. Coincidentally, the place was where he had taken his now fiancee on their first date. I went back.

The "mountain" was now just pile of dirt. A few putting greens remained and a backhoe was busy tearing out the last remains of the go kart track.

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- The "mountain," reduced to rubble as a highway light looms over it.


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There wasn't much left to see, but I was glad that I had visited when I did.

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In the debris I found a golf ball. I snapped my last photo, picked it up and left.

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Update | Oct. 22, 2017:
  • The US-32 interchange has been completed and the mini golf mountain is now completely gone. I still have the golf ball. 

28 comments:

  1. Very well done. Nice mini documentary.

    If you put your best work into a coffee table book it would sell at least 100 copies. Big pictures. Simple stories explaining when and where. Let the reader infer their own wistful sentiment from the photographs.

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    1. Might have to do that if I get some free time, thanks for checking it out!

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  2. I went there once on a double date in high school. Played a round of mini-golf, which really consisted of being a young mouthy jerk and not caring about playing mini golf. I'm sure a lot of Eastside kids had the time of their lives there. But, I'm a big fan of most of the stuff on your site. Keep it up.

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    1. Thanks J, whatever happened to the girl you took on the date?

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    2. Moved. We're FB friends...

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  3. Enjoyed the new posting. Thanks

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  4. Wonderful pictures Ronny! I really enjoyed reading this. We had a lot of fun on our date there. This place will certainly be missed. There aren`t many mini-golf places around anymore.

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  5. So glad you snapped these pictures. I grew up on the Eastside and I have fond memories of this place - from grade school girl scout outings, to middle and high school dates there. When I visit family in Cincinnati I have felt extremely sad driving past the abandoned sight of it. I'm glad you included the "why" it had closed, I had not taken the time to figure that out. When the Putt-Putt in Anderson closed (which was also sad!), it was the only outdoor mini-golf location in the area. Thanks again.

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    1. Thanks for checking it out. It's awesome to hear from people about their memories there, I appreciate you sharing them.

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  6. I'm not sure why, but this resonates with me too. I appreciate the before and after demo pics. Nicely done.

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    1. Thanks! I don't know what it is about the place, just seems like it would've been nice.

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  7. I really enjoyed this article. I grew up in the Eastgate area, and this place was a childhood staple of mine. Putting there was somewhat "expensive" for a larger family, so we only went on special occasions. I celebrated my 9th birthday there 20 years ago. As an adult, I went on a double date there with my now husband of 10 years. I'd venture to guess that most of the people who grew up within 10 miles of it visited at one time or another. It really was a fun place. The putting, the go karts, even the arcade...I have memories in all of it. I've since moved to NKY, but my mother still lives near by. The "clover" highway was always a traffic nightmare and needed redesigned badly. I am surprised it took Children's Hospital purchasing nearby land to get it done.

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  8. I'd like to tell you a little bit about Eastgate Adventures. I spent my childhood playing there, counting the days until I would be tall enough to ride the go karts. My dad's annual family picnic was there every year for as long as I could remember and this past year just wasn't the same at a new location without all the memories. When I was in high school my uncle bought the place and I, along with a number of my cousins, started working there. I think at one point there were 5 cousins working there all at the same time! The wedding picture you found is actually my cousin and his wife, they stopped by between the ceremony and reception for some pictures and memories. I loved going to Eastgate Adventures! I got numerous hole in one shots (some actually legit) and loved to feed the fish in the lake. Those fish were an amazing site to see and sometimes that was just as big of a draw to guests as the go karts or the mini golf! While working there we had a few late nights riding the go karts after closing or climbing the mountain to hang out.

    I am now 30 and about to get married. Unfortunately my kids won't be able to experience all those great family memories I had, but Eastgate Adventures will forever be a part of my family!

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Thank you so much for sharing your comment here. I can't imagine how hard it must be to see the place go, but I really enjoyed reading about your memories from that place. Those wedding photos are awesome.

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  9. Loved taking my kids there. They are 13 and 9 and are sad to see it go. Thanks for the memories.

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  10. Beautiful. I spent a few evenings as a kid there and had no idea it was gone. Thanks for sharing.

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  11. This was amazing to see for me personally. Thank you very much for the before and after photos. I grew up in Anderson Township and working the go-carts was my summer job in high school. Still to this day the greatest job I ever had, so many great memories there. That wedding photo you put up is actually the last owners son. I worked with him for two summers, did realize he took wedding photos there. Pretty cool!

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  12. I worked here for the last 3 years. Love the documentary. I am 100% attached to Eastgate Adventures and really appreciate seeing it through someone else's eyes.

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  14. I just wanna say thank you for the information that you have been shared to us readers. Thanks for posting this kind of theme.

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  15. I really like following your blog as the articles are so simple to read and follow. Excellent. Please keep up the good work..

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  16. Thanks for the photos. I snuck into the property a day or two after they had finished auctioning off the contents, just before they started actually moving things around. I used to go here at least a few times per summer, including the summer before it closed - there are quite a few thrilling go-kart stories I can relate.

    When I was in sixth or seventh grade, I remember mom and I taking a ride on the go-karts and making some remark about working here in high school. The guys working there said something about how it wouldn't be around by then. I believe it closed right before I graduated - just barely survived that long.

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  17. Is there anything left of it now? Did they get rid of the lake?

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