Exploring a temple, observatory, and factory on the road towards Cleveland, Ohio was a good way to cap off a trip to the Rust Belt.
Snaking through weeds as tall as my body and plowing through rapidly melting snow, the remains of the Republic Rubber came into view. The dilapidated complex, a monument to the effects of globalization, mechanization, and corporate cost-savings manufactured tires and hoses for the automotive and aerospace industries. At its peak, Republic employed 2,300 with a payroll of $4 million but closed in 1989 after a decade of struggling under an employee-buyout.
That’s not to say Republic Rubber is an isolated case. The city it’s located in, Youngstown, Ohio, has been transformed from the poster child of the rust belt into a city revitalizing itself by its bootstraps. Driven in part by a surge in domestic oil and gas production that has led to over a billion dollars in new industrial investment, and a downtown bursting at the seams with new apartments, restaurants, and breweries, the city has never looked better.
Additionally, nearly all of the vacant and abandoned industrial sites, which adorned every entrance to Youngstown’s city center, has been razed. Industrial parks and recreation facilities have been built on a few of them, and grandiose plans for additional green space and urban development have been proposed on others.
I revisited the Newburgh Masonic Temple in Cleveland’s Mile Park neighborhood later in the evening. A noted city landmark, the distinct brick, and terra cotta facade were constructed in 1916 along what was then the village of Newburgh’s public square.
Like other inner-city neighborhoods in Cleveland, Miles Park saw its population and status significantly decline in the latter half of the 20th century as much of the surrounding industry either relocated, downsized or closed outright. The temple was in use until 1977 when it merged with a lodge in Brecksville.
Large scale industrial abandonments, like National Acme, are rare to come by. Once one of the largest manufacturers of machine tools in the United States, National Acme in Cleveland began as the merger of two notable machine tool manufacturers, the Cleveland Twist Drill Company and the National Acme Company.
Much like other manufacturers in the 1970’s and 1980’s, diversity was the key to survival. Although it was one of the largest machine tool manufacturers in 1980, it saw its total shipments drop significantly within just a few years due to a flood of cheap imports from low-wage countries. Record sales were replaced with record losses, and National Acme responded by trimming its workforce and closing plants.
To shield itself from the turmoil, National Acme acquired telecommunication and electronic companies. By 1990, the company was recording profitable quarters, but it continued to divest itself of its former mainstay. It’s cutting tool manufacturing operations were sold to DeVlieg-Bullard in 1995. The company slowly moved operations out of the factory to a more modern plant in Twinsburg, shuttering the Cleveland plant entirely in 2002.
After the building was emptied, it was used as an illegal landfill. All Points, a garbage disposal company operated by Christopher L. Gattarello, leased National Acme’s factory for a proposed cardboard and paper waste recycling facility. The facility was never built, and instead, the building’s shell was used to dump household garbage. Gattarello was charged on illegal open dumping, operating a solid waste landfill without a license, and running a solid waste transfer facility without a permit.
The Warner & Swasey Observatory, constructed by Worchester Warner and Ambrose Swasey as a gift for Case Western Reserve University, opened in 1920. Creeping light pollution from neighboring Cleveland eventually led to its closure in 1983.
The abandoned observatory sold at a foreclosure auction in 2005 to Nayyir Al Mahdi and his girlfriend, Stacey Stoutemire, for $115,000. The couple had planned to restore the building into a residence, but the plans were dropped after the pair were convicted of mortgage fraud.
As depressing as the observatory was in its current condition, it was in far better shape than the poorhouse that we came across on the following day.