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Cincinnati: Clifton Heights: Old St. George Redevelopment

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Holy crap, Old St George is on fire.

 

Both steeples are burning, and according to news reports, the fire dept can't manage to even get water up to the steeples. Fire fighters have been called back from the building. Hopefully, they can rescue the rest of the building — the steeples are going to be lost.

 

One of the steeples just fell down.

 

Tragic.

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FUCK.

 

Craig called me on the breaking story. I posted it on the front page of Abandoned. Let me repost the history and some photos --

 


 

DSC_4803.jpg

 

Old St. George Church

Bordered by Calhoun Street and Vine Street, Old Saint George was once a vibrant church located, however, in a declining neighborhood. Clifton Heights, immediately to the east of the University of Cincinnati campus, was becoming a blight, an eyesore filled with suburban fast-food restaurants and dilapidated historical structures. Add to this a mix of 1970- and 1980-era structures that were constructed out-of-place character-wise, graffiti artists and rampant disarray, along with Cincinnati's general population decline, Old Saint George simply could not keep its doors open. Built as a Roman Catholic church in 1873 for just $80,000, a parish school was attached in 1914 and a parsonage and monastery was constructed in 1928. The church began to see its decline as the crime rate nearby skyrocketed and home ownership edged towards 20 percent by the 1970s and 1980s. The church, which once held services of 1,200, was barely filling a fourth of the seats. It was purchased from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1994 by a volunteer team that was led by Larry Bourgeois who turned it into a community and arts center.

 

It became a place to hold meetings and social functions, but the revenue generated could not pay the rent. Foreclosure was in late 2004 and the 132-year-old church's fate was sealed. The structure was designed by Samuel Hannaford in the style of Romanesque Revival on one of the highest points in Cincinnati and was even listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but big-business came 'a knocking. Walgreens, a nationwide drug-store chain, had requested the church be demolished to make way for a suburban-style drug-store.

 

Old Saint George's days seemed to be quite bleak. The collection of run-down structures across the street, bordered by Vine, McMillan, and Calhoun, were coming down for the new Calhoun Street Project. A mix of retail, student housing, and upscale condos were being constructed just one block over, replacing vacant or decrepit complexes. Just down the street, the powers of eminent domain were being exercised by the city to give control of an Arby's and a few other suburban developments to new upscale developers.

 

Gone for good?

 

So was Old Saint Georges history? Thankfully not. The church merged the congregation with Saint Monica's, now named Saint Monica/Saint George. The Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. purchased the church property for $1.6 million and did minimal repairs to the roof. In December 2005, renovations began. The painting of the front entrance foyer was the first project to begin. Total renovations, including major work on the plumbing and electrical systems, along with repairs to the roof, are expected to take at least two years.

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Holy crap, Old St George is on fire.

 

Both steeples are burning, and according to news reports, the fire dept can't manage to even get water up to the steeples. Fire fighters have been called back from the building. Hopefully, they can rescue the rest of the building — the steeples are going to be lost.

 

One of the steeples just fell down.

 

Tragic.

 

saw the whole thing, it looks like arson.

 

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They showed it on the news after it was pretty much contained.  The whole building there with basically just the steeples charred and the news reporter was saying "the entire building is a loss".  Did the fire burn the interior of the church or was it just the tops of the steeples?

 

I hope the owners don't use this as an excuse to tear the church down.  It's such an incredible building.  Pictures do not do it justice.

 

This is a time when someone like the Lindners should step up and fork over the restoration money before it is a lost landmark.

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I just read in the Cincinnati Enquirer that the fire damage was limited to the steeples.  It didn't damage the actual church.  If no one donates the funds to rebuild the steeples then they can at least chop them off for now and make new tops rather than demolish the whole building.  That would be ridiculous.

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I just read in the Cincinnati Enquirer that the fire damage was limited to the steeples.  It didn't damage the actual church.  If no one donates the funds to rebuild the steeples then they can at least chop them off for now and make new tops rather than demolish the whole building.  That would be ridiculous.

 

again I suggest arson

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Cops in the area suggested that it was an electrical fire that started in the west steeple and moved to the east. Probably just speculation, but that's what I heard.

 

So strange to see it in this state.

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The fire chief guy said it started in one of the steeples and then spread across a catwalk to the other one.  It's turning out the images on tv were far worse than the actual damage.  Although that is pretty dramatic with the tops of the steeples crashing down in itself.

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Those images are so incredibly sad.

 

I hope they can at least salvage the building.

 

Hopefully some charity or organization starts some sort of drive re-construct or re-model the steeples.

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Okay I'm fresh back from the scene.

 

First of all, from what I could see, the building with the exception of the steeples looks fine.  That includes the towers, which were heavy masonry, up till the point where the steeples began, which were apparently made of wood.

 

I noticed in recent weeks that pieces of copper had gone missing from the steeples, which makes me think someone was up there trying to steal the copper tonight and somehow set things on fire, possibly with a blow torch.  The fire apparently started on the west tower, and I distinctly remember seeing pieces of copper missing on the east tower meaning bare wood was exposed to the embers coming over.  The easterly direction of the wind is confirmed by the enormous ice slick covering all of the parking lot and grassy area to Jefferson St. 

 

The inspectors were clearly at a loss for what happened because there's nothing that should have set a fire up there, I told them about the missing copper and the light bulb went off.  Even if people weren't stealing it, the missing copper on the east tower made it more vulnerable than it would have been otherwise.  The inspectors were asking people in the crowd if they saw anything so arson is on everybody's minds.   

 

My copper theory raises the specter that someone or someones burned to death up there, the inspectors can't get in the towers until the remaining wood steeple beams are removed so there's no knowing right now. 

 

 

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There were substantial pieces of copper roofing missing from the steeples a year ago when I was up there. I'm not for sure if you can get a good representation from my photos, but the right steeple has copper missing (due to wind damage), and the left had damage as well (not visible in the photo).

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Sorry about this being out of focus, it's the only jpeg I shot tonight and I can't open raw files on this computer.  This was at roughly midnight:

 

DSC_7277.jpg

 

There was definitely more copper missing recently than on your year-old photo, esp on the inside (west-facing) of the east tower. 

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Wow. I would hate to have it be copper thieves or arson, but at this point, it really would not surprise me.

 

Looks like we'll have little nubbins for Old St. George from now on :( It still looks beautiful though.

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churchfire.jpg.jpg

Photo from CINCINNATI ENQUIRER | GARY LANDERS as the first of two steeples fall as fire engulfs Old Saint George Church in Cincinnati yesterday.

 

Tragic! 

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Also, now that I think of it, the cross atop the west tower was leaning a bit recently as well.  If people were trying to get at that copper, they'd be sawing and beating at the steeple from the inside obviously.  I had no idea these things were wood but since they are it seems you could take a jig saw up there and cut from the inside out.   

 

 

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Yeah half of the neighborhood was out of power because of it. My house wasn't though. It was sad seeing this in person, with such a beautiful church. The building is definitely an asset to the neighborhood. I took some pics of it with my camera phone but they didn't come out very well.

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I'm sensing new nightclub.

 

it's so funny that you say that....

 

I was driving back to campus from Sharonville with a few friends yesterday afternoon an hour before the fire...we were talking about this very church and I said I would not be surprised if it went the way of BoMA in Columbus or Church in Denver. Both of those really quite high-profile club projects came out great, and I think this area could definitely use some new nightlife.

 

so soon after we parked, went and got Chipotle, and when we finished our meal, saw all the firetrucks racing down Calhoun and McMillian....sad day for Cincinnati.

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Saw this online today.

 

Broke homeowners linked to arsons

Authorities in economically stressed cities see an increase in torched houses. Is the nation's mortgage mess transforming more Americans into criminals?

 

Arson is nothing new in Detroit. It's a time-honored weapon of the angry, vengeful, distressed and dispossessed in a city that gets hurt harder and sooner than others, making it a perfect place to spot early evidence of stress from the real-estate meltdown.

 

The Detroit Fire Department can't draw a definitive link between its rising arson rate (151 arrest warrants in 2007), rising foreclosures (up more than 65% last year) and falling housing prices (the region's median house price dropped 17.3% in the past four years, to $145,173).

 

But Capt. Steve Varnas of the department's arson section says he sees a connection: In 2005, the city issued only 80 arrest warrants for arson -- about half the number last year. "Things were going great," Varnas says. "There were fewer desperate people in 2004 and 2005."

 

Across the U.S., homeowners are searching for ways to escape from mortgages they can't pay -- or don't want to. A few are turning to arson, but it's too soon to turn anecdotes into meaningful statistics. Consumer pressure and state laws require speedy settlements, which means insurance companies are quick to pay up and slower to complete complex arson investigations. Definitive answers will come later.

 

But the signs of trouble are there if you're looking for them:

 

The FBI reportsthat arson grew 4% in suburbs and 2.2% in cities from 2005 to 2006. The 2007 numbers aren't out yet.

 

In California, a state hit particularly hard by foreclosures, insurance companies must tell the state within 60 days if they suspect a fire is "questionable." Last year, more than 120 reports were filed, and in 14 foreclosure was named a possible factor. The previous year, just 70 reports were filed, with seven citing foreclosure, says the state insurance commissioner's office. (Not all reports become arson cases.)

 

Arrest warrants for arson in Detroit rose 89% between 2005 and 2007. "We are up to our eyeballs in arsons," says Varnas, of the Detroit Fire Department. "We're not only dealing with hardened criminals. We're dealing with desperate people."

 

A trend -- or arson as usual?

In Stockton, Calif., where foreclosures are rampant, Deputy District Attorney J.C. Weydert is wondering whether he's looking at an arson trend or just a coincidence.

 

Weydert, a prosecutor with San Joaquin County's Economic Crimes/Insurance Fraud Unit, usually handles a residential arson case every two or three years. "Now I've got two in the pipeline," he says.

 

More from MSN

Is it time for a home insurance checkup?

MSN Real Estate: Who's responsible for 'orphaned' properties?

Your lender doesn't want your house

Facing foreclosure? 9 options for homeowners

MSN Real Estate: Shop for foreclosed houses in your town

 

 

Industry analysts are divided.

 

"When the economics are dismal, people are doing things that perhaps they thought they would never do," says Joe Toscano, a Connecticut arson expert who, with 11 other investigators, spoke recently by phone about the issue from a meeting of the International Association of Arson Investigators.

 

The association's members, from seven cities around the country, say arson fraud will rise; they've seen it happen before. Arson always grows when the economy plunges, Toscano says: "Based on 35 years' experience, yes, I anticipate there will be an escalation."

 

But John Hall, in charge of fire analysis and research at the 112-year-old independent National Fire Protection Association, sees no link between economic stress and arson.

 

"We have been collecting statistics for over 25 years, and there has never been a development in the economy that has shown a clear impact on arson," Hall says.

 

Tales from the trenches

Some recent cases:

 

In Woodland Park, Colo., a homeowner was accused of burning his home just before he was evicted in a foreclosure action.

 

In Houston, a man was charged with faking a racial hate crime to cover arson at his home.

 

In Russellville, Ind., a woman was accused of trying to cash in on an insurance policy by offering her neighbor $5,000 to help torch her home and cover up the crime.

 

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I actually like the look of the property with the burned out steeples, it looks fascinating.  It's undeniably sad though for the history of the city.  Contrast the ugly stale structures that as if by Stalin's design create conformity from which there was previously beautiful variation.

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I went out to see the damage today and took some photos. The first two are from the Walgreens parking lot, the second two are from Inwood Park. Sorry they are so big/the quality is crappy. I dont really know how to use a camera/my camera isnt that great.

 

<img src="http://i28.tinypic.com/bgd1er.jpg">

 

<img src="http://i27.tinypic.com/opo19f.jpg">

 

<img src="http://i31.tinypic.com/2cmndch.jpg">

 

<img src="http://i28.tinypic.com/300bj89.jpg">

 

 

 

 

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I wonder how much damage was done just from the water. I'd imagine all that water they had to use flooded the building. I hope they're able to preserve the building.

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^

I've often thought the same thing. Pretty much every time i drive down Calhoun I think that if i was rich i would make this into a bar, similar to J-Hall. You see this type of thing in Europe and it works well. I think Pittsburgh even has a couple. These old churches have the best acoustics and great atmosphere.

 

It would be great if the community pulled together and paid to get this building restored. I think from the outside it is probably the best looking church in the city.

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hey I thought of that FIRST lol.

 

anyways, here are some GREAT articles about some churches gone clubs...

http://www.clubsystemsinternational.com/year_archive.html/2003/may03/church.htm (CHURCH Denver)

http://www.clubsystemsinternational.com/year_archive.html/2007/10/places2.htm (BoMA Columbus)

http://www.clubsystemsinternational.com/year_archive.html/2002/dec02/sanctuary.htm (Sanctuary Pittsburgh)

 

also, anyone ever been to Limelight/Avalon/Studio Mezmor in NYC? another old church!

 

 

 

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