Cincinnati's former Crosley plant has become a vacant eyesore with signs of serious decay, and the Crosley building's owner owes nearly $170,000 in back taxes.
Inside it, the Crosley car was developed. Millions of radios were made there from 1930 until it closed in 1960, and for 12 of those 30 years, music, comedies and soap operas were broadcast from the eig.hth-floor studios of WLW. The ninth and 10th floors are in a tower decorated with a stone fireplace, ornate wood carvings and mahogany paneling and were occupied by the genius behind the Crosley empire of appliances, radios, electronics, airplanes and autos, the visionary inventor, entrepreneur and Cincinnati Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr.
Crosley and his empire have long since turned to dust and the Crosley headquarters, vacant and vandalized since 2006, is headed in that same direction.
The building was condemned by the city of Cincinnati in March of 2012. Last week, for the 11th time since 2006, city officials ordered Hosea Worldwide Inc. to board up the rundown landmark. The Newport-based firm is part of Hosea Project Movers and has owned the Crosley building since 1999.
Hosea didn't respond to the city's order to board up the building or to the city's condemnation orders. Hosea now has a June 26th court date, and also owes $168,422.77 in taxes dating to 2008. Hosea claims the property is overvalued for tax purposes.
"We have found that people who don't pay their taxes also don't take care of their property," said Ed Cunningham, Cincinnati's chief building code enforcement officer.
The Crosley building is clearly visible from Interstate 75, north of the Hopple Street exit. So, too, is its state of disrepair.
Graffiti covers the tower that is still graced by two big stylized cast-concrete Cs. Peeling paint hangs from the building's skin. Lizards dart in and out of the basement and around rubble on the loading dock.
Thieves have stripped the building of every piece of copper wire. Graffiti vandals have left behind empty paint cans. One defaced a panel of mahogany in the weather-beaten remains of Powel Crosley's office. Trees grow on the roof.
The Crosley building occupies an acre of Arlington Street at the northern tip of Camp Washington. Neighborhood groups have tried for years to have the site properly maintained. Windows hang open and shattered. Fuzzy insulation pokes through the broken glass. Curtains flutter in what's left of fifth-floor executive offices. Poison ivy and wild grapevines climb as high as the third floor. The leaded-glass windows in Powel Crosley's tower office stand open to the elements.
Cunningham met with Hosea's vice president Todd Hosea on June 21 at the site. The city requires vandal-proofing the building, and the removal of litter and graffiti. Hosea said on June 22 "We got everything worked out. It's not going to be torn down." The graffiti will be covered and the site secured beginning next week.
Cunningham said he's waiting to receive a detailed plan from Hosea as to how they are going to comply with the city's orders, and the court date still stands.
"We are not advocating demolition," Cunningham stressed. "This is a stout building. The floors are as thick as something you would find at Fort Knox. It can be saved. And put to a good use. But it must be protected from the elements and from vandals."
Autoworker Owen Bell sees people nosing around the building every few days. He lives in one of the two homes on Arlington Street and walks his dog Red by the plant's boarded-up entrance with the "C" above the door. "You can always feel this cool breeze coming from the building's broken basement windows. It makes the hair on your arm stand straight up. It feels like history is seeping from the place."
The eight-story, 299,873-square-foot Crosley building with its distinctive 10-story tower on its northwest corner was constructed in 1929 and opened in 1930. The art-deco structure was designed by Samuel Hannaford & Sons, the same architectural firm that gave Cincinnati its nationally-listed Music Hall and City Hall. The Crosley building is not on any official historic register.
From 1930 until moving downtown in 1942, WLW broadcast from the Crosley building's eighth-floor studios. With 500,000 watts of power at night, Powel Crosley's WLW was "the Nation's Station."
WLW could also have called itself "the world's station." On clear nights, its broadcasts could be heard around the globe. And so a worldwide audience heard WLW's roster of stars, which included Red Skelton, Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Ruth Lyons, Fats Waller, the Mills Brothers and Andy Williams.
Crosley sold the broadcasting and manufacturing arms of his empire in 1945 t concentrate on Crosley Motors, Inc. The new owner, Avco, closed the radio plant in 1960. Since then, the Crosley building has been home to various businesses, most recently as a warehouse for Hosea. David Hosea, the president of Hosea Project Movers, bought the building in 1998 for $1.8 million and transferred the site to Hosea Worldwide in 1999.
The Crosley building has sat vacant since 2006. Joe Gorman, community organizer for the Camp Washington Community Council, said "We see the Crosley building as the welcome mat to Camp Washington and the city." He has called city officials repeatedly about the building's condition and about how the building fits into the neighborhood's future. "With the development going on in Camp Washington and with the excitement being generated by the opening of the American Sign Museum," Gorman said, "we don't want the Crosley building to be a dirty welcome mat."
He sees several possibilities for the structure: industrial, residential, a vertical farm for growing lettuce and mushrooms, a new home for the city's maintenance department. "It may be just a shell of what it once was," he said. "But it still has so much to offer. And not as an empty lot."
Owen Bell said "Every time I walk my dog Red by that building. I look at those old walls and wonder, if they could talk, what would they say?"
Just two words.
(Thanks to Brian Jackson for the details. See new photos.)