What we have here is the high-rise symbol of one of Columbus's least glamorous neighborhoods, the Mt. Vernon Avenue corridor (address: 1253). But it's also known, with good reason, as Historic Poindexter Tower, because it was one of the very first public housing projects constructed in the entire nation. Today it stands utterly vacant, windowless, cordoned off with warning tape, and beseiged by demolition equipment that could spell its end any time this year. (It's May 2009 as I write this.)
Most people probably associate public housing on this scale with the measures of the Great Society. But the first of the big residential towers of this kind went up not during the Lyndon Johnson years, but at the end of Eisenhower's term. Like Chicago's famous Cabrini Green projects, Poindexter Tower was built in 1960, making it the first of its kind in this city.
Over time people weren't just warehoused in the tower, though; a program allowed them to become owners, and by 1998 there was a condominium owners' association representing the owners of 101 units. It was very much a part of its neighborhood--one that wasn't always considered bad. Through the 1960s, the area often referred to as the King-Lincoln District was a part of town where you could live well without owning a car, catch an easy bus to and from downtown to work and shop, and walk the streets without fear of crime. Poindexter Tower was a proud part of its community.
But...well, time does go by, and cities work in certain ways. The crack epidemic of the 1980s plagued Mt. Vernon Avenue. Gang violence, neglect, and the near-total indifference from a government more concerned with anything and everything but caring for the very poor wore it down fast. As a symbol of the "King-Lincoln District" (aka Mt. Vernon Avenue), you could do a lot worse: A hopeful start followed by a precipitous decline.
Today a lot of people won't drive around here without their doors locked. Most avoid the neighborhood entirely. And it's been this way for a couple of decades, time wasted on inactivity and vicious programs like "welfare reform" which might have been spent sparing the residents the danger and shame of living in a building where the front doors wouldn't lock; the glass had been kicked out of half the ground-floor windows; burglaries and assaults were commonplace; and vandalism was so widespread that nobody even tried to clean it up anymore. (This website offers some rather low-quality photos which show the deplorable condition the place was in when the last occupants still remained.)
That was the '80s, the '90s. It's a very common story when it comes to public housing--"the projects," as they've come to be (pejoratively) known. By the middle of the first decade of this century, it was clear that the building was unsaveable, and the holdout residents--many of whom had few options for other housing--began to move out in droves. In 2006 the condo association represented just 69 owners.
Now demolition was being openly discussed, as you can see in this Dispatch article from November 2006. "It's riddled with asbestos, needs a new roof and boiler system, and has been vandalized," the head of the aforementioned association was quoted as saying. "Tearing the building down is probably the best way to go now."
Few could argue. The last of the residents of Poindexter Tower moved their things out, boards and fences were put up all over the grounds, and by 2008 it was a shell.
Unlike buildings in more promising neighborhoods, there has been little interest from private developers. Similar buildings in better locations have been snappeed up by real estate giants, rehabbed at great expense, and turned into swanky condos. (See the current progress over at the Seneca Hotel for one example.) But with the economy being what it is, it's unlikely that any major client would be interested--particularly since the whole eastern end of Mt. Vernon Avenue resembles a demilitarized zone.
So now it's an abandoned, if not particularly ancient or ruined, ten-story building among a great many other abandoned buildings in this part of town, just waiting for the Caterpillars to start pulling it down. Maybe there will be a controlled implosion; I'm not really sure, but I'll try to keep you posted.
The interior, usually something I've got many photographs of, remains unexplored. I'm not sure what they're planning for Poindexter, but I suspect it's being demolished, and I might not have a chance to explore it. Nevertheless, it remains worthy of inclusion on my website, I think, even without a thorough interior tour. Rest assured that it's high on my list of places to explore, and should I go, I'll post the inside tour photos right away.
ThePRN.com: Historic Poindexter Tower
Dispatch: Poindexter Tower Could be Razed
Carmen, Barbara. "Vacant Condos Could be Razed: Owners of Units in Poindexter Tower Have Few Options." Columbus Dispatch. November 20, 2006.