TL;DR: A famous author’s childhood hideout…
History: Funded by a philanthropist and built at the turn of the century, this building served its main purpose for about sixty years until succeeded by a larger building of the same purpose a few blocks away. After a brief stint as a community center and a venue for USO functions, it fell into disrepair and was vacated.
When the city made a surprise vote to demolish the building in the mid-90s, it was met with strong local opposition. Backed by the support of a notable author who spent many of his early years, here; the building was instead sold to a preservation foundation who stabilized and maintained it through the mid-2000s, when it fell back into the city’s hands under the condition that they are to continue maintenance and efforts to make it a viable part of the community once-again. In 2013 the building was finally added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in recent months there has been a reborn, localized effort to preserve and restore the historic building, with an organized overgrowth and trash cleanup taking place behind it only a few months ago.
Explore: This one was only-accessible with permission, which was not difficult at all to obtain. I met its caretaker on a winter afternoon, and after a brief tour I was locked-inside. I briefly took-in the massive hodgepodge collection of priceless historic artifacts and bicycles being stored here, then did my thing…
Although a couple-thousand of these were funded by the aforementioned philanthropist, this location is unique in that it is situated on a steep bluff and features a corner entrance – easily the building’s most striking features. The building’s main entrance and facade are at street level, but the floors descend three stories into the embankment.
A new roof was installed during the 1990s preservation effort, which has certainly spared the building from water damage. Most of the original doors, hardware, and wood fittings are still as they were; and the doors still pivot easily. In the first basement there is a barricaded area where a 6×6′ or so section of floorboards have been removed; but beyond that and removal of a few walls of apparently-newer construction the building is largely as intact it was when it closed nearly 50 years ago.
The stairwell was the most photogenic feature of the building. It was the second staircase to be built here – constructed of fireproof materials to replace the original wooden one in the 1930s. The terrazzo flooring appears to be in really good shape and would only need a serious polish to shine like new, again.
There are two particularly large rooms on the main floor and first-basement, the former is well-lit thanks to a skylight and many windows that fortunately have not been broken. Closer to Earth, however, many of the windows in the first-basement have not fared so well and are boarded-up. Musical instruments of some kind are being stored here, and there’s very little room to move around.
The second-basement – poorly lit and dungeonesque in atmosphere – was likely used as storage and contained the building’s heating systems, which today are long-gone.
And with the sun setting, it was time to lock-up. As I headed for my car I couldn’t help but look back at and think of how the place stands as a survivor; decades ago the bluff it sits on was completely lined by buildings at one point, however today only this one big cornerstone remains – one that is worth keeping regardless of what its future use may be.