Don’t Buy This Place
Posted on May 17, 2023 Posted by John Scalzi 50 Comments
There’s this building in the neighboring town of Piqua (yes, home of Captain Underpants) that I pass by occasionally, and I’m a little obsessed with it, because it is slowly but inexorably being eaten by vines, and no one seems to be doing anything about it. The building is for sale by owner (you can just see the sign, off-kilter, in the window), but I don’t know who would want it, nor could I recommend in good conscience that anyone buy it except possible to tear it down. For all that, I want to know its story and how it got into the state it’s currently at. The house haunts me, basically. There’s a tale here.
Any buildings like this in your personal history – one that you have no connection with, but still have a powerful interest in?
I have a few such buildings in my life. The one that leaps to mind immediately is the old Oral Rogers building in downtown Tulsa. It’s a large building with no windows, and by all accounts has been condemned for years.
Yet it sits in a place of prominence, and the owner’s relationship with the city makes it fascinating to me. Oral was a televangelist, who also had the rare feature of believing strongly in education. He built a university that both of my parents graduated from, and where my mother currently works.
That university was the only project that worked out. He built a hospital that managed to operate for a few years before going out of business. Did I mention he was really into faith healing? Yes, he believed in a total health model treating the whole patient, mind body and soul.
It is impossible to live in this city long without developing links to Oral. My paternal grandfather passed away in his hospital. As such, I have complicated feelings regarding the man himself.
No less, his building sitting empty all these years on prime real estate baffles and astounds me. It seems to me bad brand management on the part of the university letting a building built by their founder to rot.
There are two.
When I was an undergraduate, I lived in an up/down duplex on 13th street in Atlanta. It was a bit of an iffy neighborhood but we had cool neighbors upstairs and on either side. All of it has been leveled now, mostly to make parking lots for the restaurants that serve the condos. That’s what happened to my house. But in the middle of it all, there is still one lonely, dark bungalow that still houses The Theosophical Society. I’m baffled why they didn’t take the money for their location and run.
Then there is my current neighborhood, Grant Park. It used to be a single estate, that of Lemuel P. Grant, who built the first railroad into what became Atlanta. Grant’s mansion is still here, but it is off limits because it is a disaster area. The roof is caved in, there are trees growing inside, the floors are dangerous to walk on. However, as recently as the 50’s – 60’s it was occupied by none other than Arnold Palmer. So disaster came fairly recently in its history, and I’d really like to know what happened and why.
Fascinating. Is that a door, on the right, that is overgrown? How do people get in there…. Gulp. Or get out?
Also want a story about the overgrown house.
I have heard of houses haunted by people. This is the first time I have heard of a person being haunted by a house. But you knew that.
There are a few buildings being slowly returned to the earth as they are taken over by the vines, mud, trees. I just want to say would someone just bulldoze this?
In the town I grew up in, Orinda, California, they had (and have) an absolutely majestic Art Deco theater. It went into decline in the late 1970s and into the 1980s and the (ultimately aborted) plan to tear the whole thing down was the sine qua non of the effort to incorporate the town.
It was eventually refurbished and has to be one of the top ten art deco cinemas in North America.
And it is an objectively terrible place to see a movie. The screen is small and remote, the sound is iffy at best. As soulless as big AMC IMAX theater might be, once the movie starts, you are immersed. The Orinda continues to struggle along — and I’d hate to see it go — but I go to movies so rarely (and then only the really big tent poles) I haven’t seen a movie there since Episode I.
But if you ever happen to pass through town, it has a stunning neon sign — and is worth seeing a movie there once.
John, we have one at the end of our block, and it’s INHABITED. I researched it 20 years ago and discovered there’d been a divorce. The woman got to continue living in the house, but if she moved out, the husband got the house and the valuable land it’s on. So she stayed and has allowed the house to collapse around her. Much of the siding has fallen off, the back porch rotted, and most of the windows don’t open. The back yard is now an impenetrable forest of trees and blackberry vines (she has to load her gabage into her car trunk and drive it around to the back alley cans for pickup). I suspect the husband may already have died, as she’s in her late 80s. The real winner will be the contractor who eventually buys the place. They’re knocking down beautifully maintained Craftsman houses on our street to built Fortress Moderne mansions, and this place won’t even require much in the way of demolition!
Have you ever looked at the Feral Homes photo galleries of houses around Detroit?
I don’t blame you for being haunted by this place. Look at those vines! Who wouldn’t be?
We have a former vet clinic a couple of miles away that was COMPLETELY covered in vines. It was really something wonderful. I was just thinking about it the other day in how much it blended in with the landscape so much better than all of the other buildings in the area.
When the clinic closed, the vines all came down, so it’s almost the opposite of what you are having.
Buildings that take real estate (heh) in my mind are aplenty. Hope to share those later, but this week is WEIRD at work.
Hope you find out the story. Or, write a story that satisfies your haunt.
Haunted by? not really. Fascinated by is more like it: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/alameda-spite-house
Orinda Theater mentioned above – it is nice looking on the outside. I remember seeing a movie or two there, but I don’t remember much about the insides. Now, the Castro Theater in SF is/was awesome both inside and out. I used to go there for the Noir festival every year pre-pandemic.
Plenty of places, but the one I remember is the abandoned Children’s Theater Building on the corner of East Genesee and Westcott Streets in Syracuse, NY.
I would love to have shot there before some real estate developer bought the place and turned it into condos….
@Max H Malcolm Do you mean Oral Roberts?
Yes, there was a house that haunted me for many years. It was just off I-5 facing the freeway. If not there, then it was on 505. I am not sure when it was abandoned, but I first saw it in 1984. Over the next 15 or 20 years, it slowly collapsed. I drove up that way most years between 1984 and the mid-late-90s; the last time was maybe in 2010? It disappeared completely. I wish I had taken photos.
I was wondering if that was kudzu but then I realized that if it was the house would be completely covered in the time it took for you to compose and post this.
Not an attractive building and it looks like it is located at the top of a T intersection. Automatic bad vibes.
We lived in an old Glasgow tenement flat, 1890s red sandstone. Across the road another line of the same 3-storey flats. One flat opposite and below us was unfurnished except for a grand piano in the big bay window. The lights never came on in that flat. No one ever went in or out. One day, the police opened the door to let the utility company in. We were shocked to see the light on and people moving around. They did what they needed to and left, and the flat returned to its splendid vacancy, just a grand piano and nothing else. And we never saw another light there.
I grew up in a rural small town and have seen a couple of old barns, pump houses, and other outbuildings completely destroyed by blackberry vines. That building just needs a weekend with some garden sheers and a coat of paint.
The sheer number of old ‘Addams Family’ -style houses in Massachusetts would stagger you. In every state of repair and dis-repair.
Years ago I had to deliver to a house in Springfield that had been the set for the movie, “The Reincarnation Of Peter Proud.”
(Showing my age here…)
In Fairhope AL during the 1970s & 80s there was a lovely but abandoned 2-story building situated on the cusp of downtown. Formerly a bicycle repair shop, for years a neon ‘Schwinn’ sign in the front bay window, obviously on a timer, illuminated the accumulating dust on the bay window shelving. Stories I heard varied the theme of a family real estate squabble following a death, but no one seemed to know for sure who owned it, making it a minor haunted house mystery. It never went up for sale, and the power wasn’t cut until I was well into high school. Even as town began expanding exponentially during the 1990s, the place remained untouched until relatively recently, renovated into a frou-frou tourist boutique.
I haven’t lived there for years now, and at this point the lingering question for me is: Whatever happened to that fantastic neon Schwinn sign?
Yup, the Historic St. Petersburg YMCA building at 116 5th St S, St. Petersburg, FL. (Feel free to look it up online, there have been several stories about it in the Tampa Bay Times over the years.) There’s a slight personal connection in that, pre-pandemic, I used to work in an office in the next lot over and we had a conference room overlooking it from the east. There have been various owners over the years with plans to restore and re-open it as various things, but none of them have actually managed to do so. It’s considered a historic building so there’s only so much that can be changed by anyone who wants to update it, which apparently none of the owners sufficiently researched before making their plans, because they ALWAYS end up abandoning whatever they had planned and trying to find a new buyer.
EMPTY HOUSE — SINCE 2015
On January 21, 1950, Kenny married the love of his life, Ruth, at her parents house in Ohio. They shared over 63 wonderful years of marriage before she preceded him in death in January, 2013. Kenny, age 87, died two years later, in January, 2015.
Since his death, their house has been empty. It still is deeded to Kenny. Someone eventually removed the abandoned vehicles, and someone mows the yard twice a year. It sits on a very nice piece of acreage, with a little stream in the back. The barn is full of crumbling and rotten detritus, and the house windows are broken and open to the weather and wildlife.
I’m kind of in love with this house, and what it symbolizes. Every year it becomes less a monument to a family, and more of a testament to the irresistible forces of time and nature. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. What humans build, time unbuilds.
I keep painting it:
Yes. There’s a grand old house in a nearby very small town that is just crumbling into itself. I get so sad for it when we drive by. It was a very nice place 10 years ago, and now it’s trash. :(
There’s a house on 123, in McLean. The lot alone has to be worth 750k. Covered in vines, driveway slowly disappearing, and yet there are still lights on inside.
There’s a building in my hometown that has been under construction for as long as I can remember: it sits at an intersection, but to my knowledge, it’s never been completed (it’s sealed up: doors, windows, roof, etc., and hasn’t been occupied. It’s like it’s been frozen in time (there’s still a whole bunch of construction materials sitting next to it.)
A house I call the Witch’s House on the next street over. The woman who lived there eventually moved into her car and then one day she was gone, leaving her falling down home and a coterie of feral cats. Apparently the bank has owned the property for many years and yet it sits abandoned.
Reminds me of bees swarming around a queen that had escaped the hive. Except these bees have been enhanced – like Major John Perry – by the CDF.
There’s a building just outside of town that was an old CWA union hall that was for sale about the same time I was shopping for a house. It was out of my price range by a factor of two, but had all the things you’d expect in a union hall and could probably support a roomate or two if you didn’t mind helping convert some of the spaces into bedrooms (I was still in my 20’s, and had ideas). Also the land on the location was probably going to increase in value and you could sell in 20 years for a tidy sum when you wanted a “real” house.
I didn’t do it, of course, but later my Dad was like “I would have helped you buy it.” and I realized how close I came to living there (and probably constantly working to make it habitable).
There’s a few houses that facinate me and that i would like to know more about.
But, in your case, other than the blocked door, what’s the problem with vines? Many people, at least here in Montréal, will intentionally plant vines to cover their walls… Even McGill University does that! I find them beautiful!
There was this farm in the Coast Range my family would drive past when we were going to see grandparents on the coast. Over the course of a few years, I saw this barn slowly get consumed by a Himalayan Blackberry bush (aka The Devil’s Kudzu) on the property before eventually the property owner decided that the only option was to burn down the barn, as it had been fully engulfed.
I think it’s The Family Tree….
That there is an Ivy League house. Very prestigious.
Those plants are certainly doing better than the ones that were supposed to cover the old architecture school building in Stockholm….
This is interesting because it looks like it is facing the end of a street with a T intersection. Those that follow the principles of Feng Shui avoid buying properties facing the end of streets because the chi rushes down the street and either moves through the house too quickly (not leaving any luck) or is deflected from the property (where most luck is driven away). This is an unlucky building. The ivy is the result of the bad luck as it slowly tries to dissolve this object that blocks the chi. Or perhaps, the ivy is trying to invite more chi in, as chi loves to linger in lush greenery. Such is the mystery of the chi. In either case a process is going on, which maybe points to a reason for your interst in this place.
When I was but a youth, my aunt rented a house next door to my grandmother (her mother), in Nottingham – it was a huge rambling Victorian many-bedrooms-and-lots-of-outbuildings. My cousins and I played in the attics over the several garages and ran wild in the huge, L-shaped garden which ran almost 1/2 a mile alongside the fields next to the river, with a big brick wall and curious cows on the other side. And, right at the bottom of this wondrous garden, a funny little building two storeys high, always locked, maybe one room to a floor. I think it looked like a railway building, but there was no railway. I always wanted to get in and I always wanted to live there. I haven’t been back for more than 50 years, and I doubt if the garden and the building still exist…
And, 38 years ago when I moved to Norwich, I lived and worked in a magnificently scruffy wreck of a shop, some parts Victorian, some Georgian (earlier) and some mediaeval(much earlier again). It had been built by a weaver and had a big room at the top with enormous windows for the light. The building behind was abandoned, occupied only by enormous spiders and pigeons who nested under the holey roof. In the debris of a tiny room on the dangerous top floor, I found a small necklace of shell and coral – these were put round the necks of small babies in the 18th century to protect them from disease and ill-luck. I just love these sorts of places. Sadly, after I was removed from the shop by an officious City Council, the whole place was gentrified to death and faked and flummoxed into submission, even the beautiful curved-fontage was removed and replaced with a much less interesting style… Sigh.
usually vines grow up, I am fascinated by how those vines are growing sideways across the house. It’s an extra level of demonic.
I live in a soulless suburb with HOAs. That means there are no houses with character like this..
KG Anderson and Jim Gilbert and Bits, loved your stories..
it’s not an individual house that haunts me, but the whole Mountain West abandoned log cabin genre. often while wandering around the few remaining open spaces in the US West, I’ll stumble upon the remnants of a cabin slowly becoming earth again. Every time I have to sit down and contemplate for a bit..
I’ve seen a number of quasi-abandoned houses here in Hawaii, vacant places (sometimes in very luxe neighborhoods) slowly being covered by lush tropical overgrowth. I saw one on Oahu in a very nice area remain vacant for over a decade; I believe someone finally bought the place and did major remodeling. Another was squatted in for years before being sold, left vacant, gutted, and eventually torched, leaving an overgrown empty lot full of junk. With the price of housing here, I don’t know what the owners are thinking, unless there is a financial squabble locking the houses from being sold off.
I’ve visited my great-grandparents home in rural Ohio once, a farmhouse and outbuildings left to slowly fall apart. There is a huge cast iron stove rusting away on the back porch/kitchen, and you could still go upstairs then, as long as you stuck close to the walls and didn’t venture out onto the rotted floorboards.
Where there are places like that around here, the owner just springs for a quick lick of paint and a hefty insurance plan, then a couple of weeks later there is a mysterious fire. Odd how that keeps happening to old buildings in these parts.
There’s also a collection of haunting houses at mcmansionhell.com. More or less at random:
When I worked in the USAF missile fields in north central ND back in the early 80s there were a large number of abandoned farmhouse and businesses out in the great beyond. One old-style gas station off of a road we travelled — the kind with the garage door made of up glass panes with the lift behind it for oil changes and lube jobs, back when gas stations also performed vehicle maintenance — looked like the owner had locked it up on a Saturday afternoon and never came back with calendars and flyers on the walls, engine belts hanging on the wall, etc.
After that I worked in the aerospace industry in the LAX area. I used to drive down Lincoln Blvd in the Marina area where there was a large tract of vacant land — a few hundred acres — that belonged to the Hughes Corp. I was told that the land was tied up in the fights over Howard Hughes’ estate. Had to some of the most valuable vacant land in Southern California. It’s since been developed into Playa Vista.
https://www.sunnews.org/a-look-at-the-lookout-house-in-sunset-beach/ is a house in Sunset Beach, CA. That’s between Seal Beach and Huntington Beach. It’s obvious (though perhaps not from the photo) that the entire house is built on sand, and that the weight of that 3 story tower has bent and warped the southern section over the years. I have no idea if that door even opens any more. I’ve watched it for years, have never yet seen a person going in or out, though it seems inhabited, and is in a prime oceanfront location. The article says it was previously a railroad stop of the famous LA Red Car tram line, and a lookout tower for enemy subs during WWII. What an amazing history.
Is there a Zillow listing? I’m curious.
Every house I lived in as a child still haunts me.
Ugh- “house that haunts me” is so much nicer than “the house that makes Julie angry”, which is what my household calls the duplex three blocks from here that has been empty and not-quite-finished for the eighteen years I have lived on this street.
I live in a Big Coastal City ™ that has an “empty homes tax” to address the fact that your uninhabited investment property “earns” more value in a year than it could ever gain by rent (and if you let PEOPLE live there, they might damage it, or be able to vote against your interests, so why on earth would you?) There’s obviously an exemption for properties that are still under construction, and every three years or so a token bit of work (adding front doors, or masonry work for a future fence) will be done to keep this particular bit of speculation cheap and legal.
It’s directly across the street from my teenager’s high school, and I am haunted by the ghosts of friendships that will never be made when packs of teenagers migrate across the street for lunch or after-school games. The whole “interest rates are shit; real estate is the only place to park money that doesn’t lose against inflation” decade has resulted in only grandparents/yuppies being able to own the big old houses around the school, and there’s only room for so many of them inside the lunchtime blast radius.
And I feel for the people who will one day buy a “new” house that sat half-finished—and visibly mouldering as a result—for decades.
There were two old storage buildings near my Grandma Sears’ house in Cadyville, NY. I walked passed them most Sundays when I was in elementary school when we visited Grandma after church. One was red with fading paint, the other was a greyish blue. There were no windows, so the contents were a mystery.
I forgot about them for years until there was a prison break in nearby Dannemora. It would have been amazing if that was the place where the pair of inmates got caught.
Pre-pandemic, I used to ride the Capitol Corridor Amtrak train to work in Santa Clara, CA. I was fascinated by the views of town of Drawbridge, which is the SF Bay Area’s only ghost town. Only accessible by rail or boat, it’s been closed to the public for several years, as the remaining buildings slowly decay: https://www.sfbayws.org/drawbridge
Ivy on a house isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even the kind that roots in the wall doesn’t cause issues with sound masonry, and it makes an attractive, protective, insulating cover.
When I was in middle school there was a guy in town with an elaborate handlebar moustache who owned a company that went through and rehabbed old falling apart houses with good bones back to their Victorian glory. It was pretty spectacular.
Not a house, but a honking big chimney that was apparently part of a foundry. It was at the end of this street (Miller Shaft Road) of houses that served the management of this coal mine in Portage (Pa.), and when the mine closed my grandfather bought one of the houses. It was still standing into the mid-1970s Eventually the street was extended and the foundry chimney came down. I learned much later that, apparently, there was a single handed effort to knock down the chimney but the guy doing it managed to get himself killed in the process, so it just sat there for decades.
When I was growing up, I spent every summer in Atlantic City, NJ (before and a few years after the casino invasion).
My grandparents owned a big house one block off the beach. Immediately next door to us – and I do mean right next door, as no one had any yards – was a slightly seedy pseudo-Victorian house. It was enormous and had at least one turret. I was mesmerized by the place – I think I’d never seen Victorian-style architecture before.
We called “the castle.” My parents and grandparents warned us kids not to go there, not to knock on the door, etc. Looking back, my family definitely had some Shirley Jackson vibes about that house!
Finally, when I was a teenager, I befriended someone who lived there. I was sooooo excited to finally get inside… but found nothing exotic, or threatening, or even very artsy. Just a somewhat rundown house, the current occupants of which weren’t doing much to keep tidy, much less repair.
Less “Shirley Jackson” than “broke beach bums.”
There was a house in Oxford that I rode past on my way to and from grammer/upper school (it changed from one to the other while I attended). I don’t know if it was a real Elizabethan house, but to me at that age it looked like one, twisted brick chimneys and all. It was somewhat dilapidated, but didn’t look in too bad condition, and one old (again to me) lady seemed to live there on her own. It had an orchard on one side which had a carpet of simple crocuses, aconites and snowdrops in spring. I loved it so much, I wanted to live there when I grew up, and always slowed down to get a good look when I passed, going out of my way to see it after I left school. It was knocked down, and replaced with generic executive housing in the 1990s, I cried when I saw that it was gone.