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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Viaduct

It's not abandoned yet, but the Western Hills Viaduct is crumbling beneath the thousands of cars it carries every day. The City of Cincinnati is planning to spend millions over the next five years, however, for a rehab and/or replacement plan. Sadly, the billions upon billions of dollars being spent on the I-75 Mill Creek Expressway Project and the Brent Spence Bridge Replacement/Rehab Plan don't account for the Viaduct, and barely alter the interchange with I-75 at all. This could be a missed opportunity, but it may be possible for the City to attempt to propose plans for the Viaduct, and take advantage of the massive projects that are forthcoming by extending the bounds of those projects. A new viaduct could be built simultaneously to the massive reconstruction of I-75, and it would improve traffic flow in the grand scheme of the interstate. Doing this would leave the old one disconnected from traffic, and ready for a contemporary alternative use. This is a proposal for just that, a way to use a (soon to be) abandoned, decaying piece of urban infrastructure as something positive, in this case a park:

Western Hills Viaduct Rehabilitation Proposal
Western Hills Viaduct Park Project presentation poster, click to enlarge.

I won't get into the history too much, because between Jake Mecklenborg at Cincinnati Transit and Sherman Cahal at Bridges & Tunnels, it's written up perfectly, but it's extremely important to note that the Viaduct was built in 1932 and is one of the most architecturally significant bridges in Cincinnati. It's not often a bridge has such character, and the threat of it being demolished caught my attention.

Western Hills Viaduct Rehabilitation Proposal
The eastern archway of the Viaduct, shown here with park space on top deck.

Western Hills Viaduct Rehabilitation Proposal
The proposed, hypothetical Western Hills Viaduct rehab/replacement plan. Click to enlarge.

Western Hills Viaduct Rehabilitation Proposal
Typical scene atop the proposed Viaduct Park.

The concept is a simple one. After hundreds of thousands of dollars of research, the city will probably determine it is more viable to replace the Western Hills Viaduct than rehab it. Aside from the fact that it's old and difficult to upkeep, the lanes are too narrow, the sidewalk is a joke, and it fails to meet a number of standards that came about when the interstates were first built (since it was built 30 years prior to any interstate highway). If replacement is the way to go, a little investment could make the historic structure into a destination.

Western Hills Viaduct Rehabilitation Proposal
What the new Viaduct Park would like like from above, with the Cincinnati skyline behind.

A similar project has been undertaken in New York City, where an aging, defunct elevated freight rail line was converted into a park. The High Line recently opened its first phase to the public, and has become extremely popular.

The High Line
The recently opened High Line park in New York City.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cincinnati North Hotel

The building formerly known as the Cincinnati North Hotel is a prime example of one of the grandest architectural products of the 1980's. Sike. It's actually an extremely ugly perversion of modernism; it's the look of modernism on the outside, with none of the thought process behind it. It's such a goofy looking place, that I had to see it. So on a single digit winter night in the frozen tundra of Springdale, Gordon Bombay, Lance Delune and myself decided to finally take a look at the place we had discussed quite a few times in the past.

Cincinnati North Hotel
The king of suburbia.

Mr. Bombay and myself have different reasons for our attraction to this place. For him, childhood memories of growing up in Cincinnati's northern suburbs and visiting the hotel in its prime drove his desire. For me, it's a simple love of buildings that are the subtlest trolls of the architecture world. Horrible 1980's faux-modernism is exactly that. Especially when it's such an imposing building: a massive, 10 story, slightly off-white monolith surrounded by 8+ acres of empty asphalt.

Upon entering the building inconspicuously, we were immediately time warped to 1994. As the photos will show, the Cincinnati North Hotel is a state of the art 1990's hotel, in terms of both decor and technology. As is our standard procedure, we first made our way to the roof to enjoy the view, before working our way down.

Cincinnati North Hotel, Lobby
The fancy chandeliers add a touch of class to this otherwise horrible photo. Thank security for the image quality.

Cincinnati North Hotel
The beautiful view from the roof was short lived, as the sub-zero windchill eventually set in.

As we made our way back down through the building, we began to realize the place had simply been closed up one day, and mostly left completely untouched since (minus a few places where it seems mold/water damage has been repaired). This made it pretty creepy, as it was exactly the type of place Zombies dwell.

Cincinnati North Hotel, Creepy Hallway
Zombies could have popped out from any door in this hallway at any time.

Cincinnati North Hotel, Lounge
Once some sort of fancy penthouse lounge, this room looks like it was excess chair/TV storage, including one giant wood framed 1980's classic.

Cincinnati North Hotel, Room

Cincinnati North Hotel, Room
The rooms hadn't even been cleaned since the place closed, in this case the Hooters take-out bag (nice choice) is still on the table.

Eight of the ten floors were the exact same floor layout, so we skipped a few because it was late and we were hungry. Aside from that, the building had no power or heat, so it was pretty cold inside. Not cold enough to freeze the indoor swimming pool, but cold enough that we weren't inclined to take a dip.

Cincinnati North Hotel, Pool
The indoor pool was in prime shape, if the building had had heat and wasn't ~20F we may have taken a swim.

We made our way back out through the lobby and into the restaurant. The "Roxzzzzz" Bar & Grille as it was called (yes, five Z's) made the nostalgia kick into high gear, despite the fact that I had never been there before. Looking at the extremely standard hotel menu and prices was a flashback to any 90's childhood vacation. Sentiment aside, the restaurant was pretty creepy. It had very few windows, and was basically pitch black except for our flashlights, which we had to be extremely careful with for a few various reasons.

Cincinnati North Hotel, Pool

Cincinnati North Hotel, Pool
The restaurant had ketchup bottles and salt shakers still full and on the tables. Also, the long exposure delivered an unconfirmed sighting of the Loveland Frog in the top left corner by the "Cincinnati Windows" poster.

So the Cincinnati North Hotel still sits abandoned. It was built in 1981 as a Sheraton, then closed and became a Ramada, before finally being briefly branded as a Best Western. The current owners recently defaulted on a $16 million loan and are tied up in a lawsuit with some bank because of it. The power and water have been shut off, fines are piling up, and it would appear that there is little hope for this building.

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