In a now-quiet Ohio Valley steel town—right around the corner from the famously abandoned car dealership—stands a building so grand for its purpose, it’s difficult to believe it was simply a greenhouse and florist. The English Tudor-style building is so very handsome it seems to have been plucked from one of Britain’s verdant fields and plunked in the centre of fields of concrete instead; that it is flanked by massive, overgrown greenhouses made it an even more outstanding sight.
This is not the original Riverview florist and greenhouse headquarters (nor the last); that caught fire in 1935. The Tudor edifice in my photographs was designed by East Liverpool architect Robert Beatty, with the admonition he include pieces of the old greenhouse building—specifically, charred beams rescued from the ashes of the original. These Beatty integrated into the French doors leading to the greenhouses. Presumably, there they remain, future success built, as it nearly always is, on the success of the past.
You’re probably thinking this enterprise must have been at least a little successful for such an impressive structure to serve a florist & greenhouse during the Great Depression, and you’re right. It’s such a marvellous story, too!
Frank and Rosa Bosco left their native Naples to settle in America during the 1890s, Frank working in the Salineville coal mines. But he also seemed to love gardening, since he was selling to neighbors plants he grew in the backyard greenhouse built by his own hands. In 1924, Frank and his sons purchased a greenhouse in East Liverpool, and Riverview (it may well have had a river view at that point) was born. They were extremely successful—according to the website, so much so that son Sullivan had to leave his railroad job in order to help run the family business.
As mentioned, the original building burned in 1935, and the one I photographed designed and built to the family’s orders. This was surely a silver-lined cloud, as it allowed the Boscos to have something perfectly suited to their needs as a greenhouse, florist, and orchid grower—they gained a sales room, offices, and design rooms, all in a very attractive building flanked and backed up by acres of greenhouses. That they could do this during the Great Depression tells me the Boscos and Riverview were not merely successful, but probably so due to excellent customer service and products. No doubt popping into Riverview for flowers was nearly always a pleasant experience, don’t you think?
I was rather surprised to learn that during the 1950s, Riverview was America’s largest orchid grower and shipper, even developing an orchid named for the wife of Frank’s son Charles (the Brenda Jane orchid). The company moved into landscaping and flocking Christmas trees at mid-century (ahhhh, the 50s!), and by the 1960s, they boasted 100 full-time and 100 part-time employees. This is not mid-century Detroit or New York City; it’s East Liverpool, Ohio. That is an impressive roster of staff the Boscos were able to employ!
By the 1990s, Riverview remained one of America’s biggest retailers and shippers. Perhaps they even shipped to the little florist I worked for in Michigan!
So…What happened? Why does the building commissioned by the Bosco men stand this way, bereft of its people, its orchids, its life?
I’m not really sure. In 2006, Riverview was purchased by a new family; in 2008, Riverview relocated to Sixth Street. This property, stately Tudor offices and all, is owned by the city, and a local contact in the area tells me the building is in much worse shape now than when I took these photographs in 2010 (I did not post them until just this Halloween because I’d been “saving them for Halloween!” and, three years in a row, forgot to post them because…well, classic cars, usually).
It seemed (here we go again) such a shame, to let this go, especially with so much in the way of local roots, from the Bosco family to the local architect. At the very least the property seemed fairly secure, despite a few broken and even open windows, so there is that. This would make a fine building for a museum—I hope whatever the city plans to do, they do quickly so it is saved. According to this news article, sixty acres’ worth (!!! I had no idea the property was so enormous) of greenhouses—300 buildings of glass and steel—have been demolished, but the main buildings are likely to be preserved. (Whew!)
I’m not one to enter abandoned buildings, as you know, and I prefer they be left alone and thus preserved, so I hate seeing them damaged. Riverview may at least have been semi-preserved by the fact that it is on a main road in town, where police are driving by on a fairly regular basis. As a matter of fact, I believe one drove by while I worked, but since I was obviously not bothering (or really capable of bothering, honestly—I can barely climb stairs!) anything, he didn’t stop.
I suppose one advantage of being lovely to begin with is the inevitable decay is, let’s face it, easier on the eyes. No one is standing outside of old Home Depots taking photos. But people will stand outside a place such as this to admire, to mourn the passing of grace, and to wonder.
Photo of the building in 2012, all boarded up, for its own good.