The Hole

Posted by jdg | Friday, March 13, 2009 | ,

During our most recent trip to Cincinnati, I had a few hours to myself and walked from our downtown hotel up towards the hills and ended up stumbling across one of the strangest places I have ever seen. It was an entire abandoned neighborhood, Baltimore-style row houses built on tricky terrain: Hamsterdom from The Wire surrounded by hills.

Detroit, it seems, is far from the only city to boast gut-wrenching displays of urban decay.
One of the buildings was different from the others, built of limestone instead of brick with the word "Glencoe" carved above the door. Back at the hotel I googled that to find what this place was. The Glencoe building was once a hotel/boarding house. Over the years, this neighborhood tucked into a hidden valley was known as Little Bethlehem, the Standish Apartments, and the Glencoe Place Redevelopment Project. When I asked a nearby mailman about it he'd called it “The Hole” and said it was "a real bad place awhile back." I found confirmation of that nickname online. The half dozen blocks were built in the late nineteenth century by a developer who was angry that the wealthy citizens of nearby Mt. Auburn wouldn't let him build a hotel there, so out of spite he built low-income housing on their doorstep. Preservationists hoping for potential redevelopment struggled to gain historic designation (and its tax benefits) because they couldn't identify a single famous former resident or even identify an architect. After it was built the neighborhood soon became a slum, and was redeveloped under an urban renewal project in the 1960s (providing the strange plazas and incongruous midcentury streetlights). The rowhouses once again fell into major disrepair in the 1990s and have been vacant ever since, despite recent plans to turn them into condominiums (stalled indefinitely due to the economy).

This was spraypainted on nearly every door. I figured there was a 20 percent chance some guy with a sniper rifle was up on a roof watching me the whole time just waiting to be able to say, "Well, he can't say I didn't warn him." Highly effective.

It was eerie, how quiet it was. I didn't see another soul for the hour or so I spent strolling around in here until a young mother holding her child's hand silently cut through the neighborhood heading uphill.