December 2010

The fall of Niagara Falls

On a misty night in late October, a stringy-haired newspaperman bellied up to the bar at Frankie G’s, a musty dive in Niagara Falls, the decrepit city in western New York State that sits atop one of the natural wonders of the world. The editor, Mike Hudson, slapped down some cash and ordered a round of Labatt’s for the house, which consisted of five people, including the proprietor. Hudson, the founder of the weekly tabloid Niagara Falls Reporter, freely refers to his town as “a godforsaken place,” and it was hard to argue with the assessment in the neighborhood surrounding the bar. The area is the worst the city has to offer, a place of drugs and crime and boarded-up brick houses.

Hudson knocked back a shot of Sambuca and rummaged around for his cigarettes, shouting epithets and contributing jokes to a running discussion on local politics. “It’s been all downhill in this town since 1969,” said one of the other patrons, a ruddy-faced man who had his first name, Fred, sewn onto his windbreaker. “Ever since they knocked down the whole goddam downtown,” muttered the bartender, Frankie G.

“That’s what everyone will tell you about the place,” Hudson said later that night, over plates of spaghetti at a local Italian joint, which was bedecked with photos of hometown mobsters and dead celebrities.

Niagara Falls’ descent into blight—in spite of its proximity to an attraction that draws at least 8 million tourists each year—is a tale that Hudson’s little newspaper has been telling for years. Read more about Niagara Fall’s past ills and present woes from Bloomberg Businessweek after the jump.

Warren County Orphan Asylum and Children's Home
Mary Haven Home for Boys threatened with demolition?

Known as the Warren County Orphan Asylum and Children’s Home, the Mary Haven Home for Boys in Warren County, Ohio is a notable historic landmark for the southwestern part of the state. The three-level brick building, in a state of deterioration, could be demolished if the Warren County Commissioners receive their favorable outcome in a court hearing.

The home, funded via a will from Mary Ann Klingling, was completed in December 1874. It served orphaned children and was free of all denominational restraint, and it later became home to a troubled teenager residence before closing in 1995. A non-profit and ministry used the building after its closure, but the Home has been vacant for several years.

In mid-2009, a county resident filed a citizen’s complaint with the Lebanon housing code enforcement office, and approached county commissioners to have the building restored, with the property utilized for its original purpose outlined in the will. A lawsuit was filed against the county. Meanwhile, the county has made a motion to file a lawsuit to terminate the trust, which apparently the county is still bound to, so that it could give the commissioners full rein on the property. If that happens, the property could be demolished, especially in light of the high costs of full rehabilitation.

Read more about the history of the Mary Haven Home for Boys and the proposed demolition after the jump.

End of the line for the Oakley station

There is more unfortunate news from Cincinnati, Ohio, and this time it involves the former Marietta & Ohio Railroad train depot in Oakley. Reported from the Cincinnati Enquirer, the station was purchased in 1991 by Doug Master, who sought to restore the depot to its former glory. After suffering 20 years of neglect after the station closed in 1971, the property was utilized as a cooper and recycling business.

But CSX Transportation, who owns the land the station resides on, has upped his lease payments to unsustainable levels. Now the owner, who once prided himself as being the individual who saved the station from demolition, may be forced to tear it down himself. Read more from the Cincinnati Enquirer after the jump and view an aerial from Microsoft’s Bing mapping service.

Trying to overcome the stubborn blight of vacancies

In its heyday in the 1930s, this Rust Belt town called itself the City of Homes, a place where a working-class man could be master of his own castle.

But when it fell upon hard times, thousands of homes fell into foreclosure in one of the first modern mortgage crises. Thirty years later, many of those houses still sit, their boarded-up windows staring like dead eyes into Youngstown’s streets.

As cities around the country try to pick apart the snarl left by the foreclosure crisis, Youngstown stands out as a troubling specter of how hard it is to have success. Its vacant-building rate is still 20 times the national average, according to figures provided by John D. Bralich, a researcher at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at Youngstown State University.

But despite the city’s best efforts to deal with the vacant structures — including, most recently, a handful of legal remedies meant to increase municipal control — they remain a maddeningly intractable problem.

Read more about Youngstown’s blight problem from the New York Times after the jump.

Newly built ghost towns in Spain

It is a measure of Spain’s giddy construction excesses that 250 row houses carpet a hill near this tiny rural village about an hour by car outside of Madrid.

Most of these units have never sold, and though they were finished just three years ago, they are already falling into disrepair, the concrete chipping off the sides of the buildings. Vandals have stolen piping, radiators, doors — anything they could get their hands on.

Those few families who live here keep dogs to ward off strangers.

Yebes is hardly unique. The wreckage of Spain’s once booming construction industry is everywhere. And much of it sits as bad debt on the books of Spain’s banks, which once liberally offered financing to developers and homeowners alike.

Read more of Spain’s troubles with its overreaching developments and newly formed ghost towns from the New York Times after the jump.

Rightsizing in Saginaw, Michigan

The streets of West Saginaw are bleak this time of year. This is partially the effect of the season: indifferent gray skies, cutting Michigan winds, trees still and bare.

However, the austerity of Saginaw is not just a trick of the climate. It also arises from the built landscape. The streets are lined with monumental buildings, both residential and commercial. A few of these buildings–lovely Queen Annes, big-shouldered Prairie Four-Squares, Italian villas, Kahn steel-framed office blocks–are well-kept.

Many, however, are not. They linger sadly, everywhere, in various stages of decay. Ostensibly, this is a human environment and yet, one sees so few people as one explores the neighborhoods. This is what disinvestment and economic collapse look like.

Read more from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s PreservationNation blog after the jump.

Kentucky and Indiana Terminal Bridge

The Kentucky & Indiana Terminal Bridge (K&I) is a railroad bridge connecting Louisville, Kentucky and New Albany, Indiana. It is notable for its two abandoned automobile lanes flanking the railroad tracks. I set out, as I have done so in the past, to photograph the crossing. Within two minutes of arriving on-site, I was greeted by the friendly New Albany police. Oh well, that didn’t stop from photographing the bridge!

Kentucky & Indiana Terminal Bridge

The entire blog entry, with additional photographs and history, can be found after the jump to Bridges & Tunnels, another site that I manage.

Reymann Brewing Company
Wheeling’s Brewing History

Arguably, Wheeling, West Virginia’s brewing history is less known than that of Cincinnati, Ohio or Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but that can be blamed on the passage of Yost’s Law in 1914 that effectively killed the beer industry in the state. Wheeling, once home to more breweries than any other city in the Mountain State, was known as a major brewing center during the latter half of the 1800s, and also as an enclave for German immigrants.

There were at least 20 breweries operating in the city at one point, and over 130 taverns that were located along many street corners, serving up ales and lagers from the Nail City, Eagle, Balzer, Schmulbach, Reymann breweries, along with many others to the immigrants that called the area home. Wheeling’s nickname, Nail City, was rivaled with that of The Beer Belly, due to the copious amount of alcohol consumption. By 1900, through consolidation and closure, only six major breweries remained, producing over 300,000 barrels per year.

The largest of these breweries in the state was Reymann.

The foundations of the Reymann Brewery date to 1849, when George Reymann and Peter Beck founded the Franklin Brewing Company. Anton, George’s son, later took over operations after his father retired and Beck quit due to health complications, and constructed a larger, more modern facility along the north bank of Wheeling Creek. Caverns were dug out of the hillside, with storage capabilities of 7,000 to 8,000 barrels of beer. Adjacent natural springs provided fresh water, and coal from a nearby mine provided electricity. In 1881, the Reymann brewery offered stock for the first time, and by 1904, the brewery produced over 150,000 barrels per year.

With such an expansion, Reymann became well known around the Wheeling community, but not for excess. Reymann was known more for his philanthropy, founding Altenheim, a home for “Aged and Friendless Women,” mostly populated with immigrant women who came to work in the United States as domestic servants, working in the homes of the wealthy and had nowhere to live in their later years. He later purchased the 40-room Mt. Belleview Hotel, which was a summer residence for wealthy Wheeling citizens, and converted into a residence for aged women – bearing all of the expenses himself for a year. Reymann was also responsible for modernizing the Wheeling and Elm Grove Railroad, and for purchasing Wheeling Park and converting it into a popular amusement and recreation area for the region.

Another local brewery was the Schmulbach Brewery in South Wheeling, with its history dating to 1861 when Frank Zeigler founded Nail City Brewery at 33rd and Wetzel Street. Several cellars were dug into the hillside, one going as far as 400 feet in, and several structures were constructed. Later, a stock company was formed and the company grew to sell between 7,000 and 8,000 barrels per year. The master brewer for many years was well regarded Ernest Irion, formerly of the Gambrinus Brewing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Schmulbach, born in Germany but raised in Wheeling, was employed in the wholesale liquor trade by 1867. He acquired the majority of shares in Nail City in 1881, and took ownership a year later, where he became president. The brewery name was changed to the Schmulbach Brewing Company, and the facilities were modernized with capacity increasing to 50,000 barrels. It was not long, however, before Schmulbach was selling 200,000 barrels per year. An ice plant, West Virginia’s largest, was built next to the brewery, along with a bottling plant.

Schmulbach developed Wheeling’s Mozart Park originally as a beer garden. An incline that he financed extended from 44th Street to his park, along with a streetcar line. He was also instrumental in building the first skyscraper in the city in 1907.

The fortunes of these breweries and others soon changed, when West Virginia became a dry state in July 1914 under Yost’s Law. Schmulbach, Reymann and others were forced to close down or retool to produce other types of beverages. It was not until the 1990s that brewing returned to Wheeling, when the Nail City Brewing Company opened a micro-brewery in downtown, although it was later removed.

Although I covered only two breweries, I will soon make a return visit to Wheeling to document the remains of the Balzer and Eagle breweries, along with others! There is more information and photography after the jump to Reymann Brewery and Schmulbach Brewery.

More Over-the-Rhine buildings threatened (update 4)
142 East McMicken

142 East McMicken, image courtesy of Google Streetview.

There are some new developments in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati that are in need of some information. It has been long known that Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is preparing to convert the vacant Rothenberg Preparatory Academy at the Main Street, McMicken Street and East Clifton Avenue intersection into a functioning school once again,and had originally proposed demolishing 142, 146, 154 and 158 East McMicken for a parking lot and playground space. The Over-the-Rhine Foundation voiced strong disagreement with the plan, calling the demolition of four structurally sound buildings, one of which is an occupied private residence, unnecessary.

The Foundation stated that CPS has had a history of tearing down properties, especially in Over-the-Rhine, when it was not necessary, and that the proposal was an extension of that. Elaborating further, the Foundation located a vacant parcel of land across the street that could serve as a parking lot, and motioned that the playground could be constructed within the bounds of the existing school property.

The city later filed criminal charges against CPS for failing to stabilize the empty buildings. The case was later dismissed after CPS agreed to donate the 154 and 158 East McMicken to 3CDC.

In November, however, CPS submitted an engineering report to the city, stating that 142 East McMicken was in “imminent danger of collapse,” stating that the city’s lead building inspector approved an emergency demolition order after a walk-through.

On Sunday, December 5, Casey Klemm, an Over-the-Rhine resident, spotted two notices tacked onto the 142 and 146 East McMicken properties, that they will be demolished on December 16. 142 East McMicken is owned by the City of Cincinnati Board of Education, and was purchased in June 2008 — although it had some interesting swaps before that which date to 2000. 146 East McMicken, a private residence owned by Hopper Leva, has a 30-year Tax Increment Financing abatement that began in 2003. It may have been sold since the record was last updated.

Two structurally sound buildings that could be demolished. For a parking lot? Playground?


  • Update 4: 142 East McMicken was demolished.
  • Update 3, December 8, 4:25 PM: CPS outlined the agreement to demolish 142 East McMicken in these meeting notes.
  • Update 2, December 8, 3:40 PM: CPS purchased 142 East McMicken in June 2008 with plans to demolish it to make way for a new access area for emergency vehicles. The building, as CPS noted, was “dangerously close” to the school. A Main Street business owner, Kevin Pape, said he would purchase the building from CPS and rehabilitate it.As of 3:40 PM, workers could be seen taking down the roof of 142 East McMicken. Questions remain: Was federal funding used to demolish the building as part of the school project? Was a Section 106 review completed?
  • Update 1, December 8, 11:10 AM: An emergency meeting, held by the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, was held at Iris BookCafe at 10 PM regarding 142 East McMicken. According to the Foundation, if 142 East McMicken is demolished, the neighborhood will have lost about 50% of its historical stock, and as a result, the National Register of Historic Places designation could be removed — erasing much needed federal funding. Demolition crews have arrived on site of 142 East McMicken.It seems that the buildings could make way for easier truck loading access to the school.
Abandoned at the Carnegie

Isolation & TogethernessOn Friday, January 7, from 6-9pm, The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center will host the opening reception for Isolation & Togetherness. Featured will be the works of several artists, including Sherman Cahal of Abandoned who will be presenting selected works of derelicts. Other artists that will be shown include the works of Matthew Andrews, Alan Grizzell, Patrick Meier, Dominic Sansone, Mallory Feltz, Marcia Alscher and Janie Marino.

Admission to the opening reception is $8.00; $5.00 for seniors and students; free for Carnegie Members and children under 12. The exhibition runs through Friday, February 18, 2011. Admission to Isolation & Togetherness is FREE after opening night.

Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 10am – 5pm, Saturday 12pm – 3pm.

Hope to see you all down there!