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East Toledo landmark expected to be razed

Vacant Playdium is called safety hazard


The 110-year-old Playdium at 1958 Front St. has a long history in the Birmingham Historic District of East Toledo.

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A 110-year-old East Toledo landmark is expected to bite the dust soon.

The former Playdium, a popular bowling alley and dance hall during the 1950s and 1960s, is a safety hazard and could be demolished within the next couple of weeks, city officials said Friday.

It has sat vacant for years and is structurally unsound, Bob Mossing, code enforcement manager, said. However, a final inspection of the property is pending and the city has yet to make the final decision on whether to demolish it, he added.

The structure at 1958 Front St. dates back to 1902, according to Lucas County records. Although it is not listed as historic, it is in the Birmingham Historic District, an area of East Toledo with a rich Hungarian heritage, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The three-story building itself, with its ornate tin ceilings, was built using elements of Hungarian architectural style, a study of the area showed.

The property has a long history as an entertainment venue. Prior to becoming a bowling alley, the building was a night club known as the Gypsy Camp. In 1948, four area bowlers bought it and converted it into the Playdium Lanes, making it East Toledo's fifth bowling center.

It was fitted with modern amenities for the time, including automatic score keeping and an electric eye at the foul line. The venue also housed a tavern, a restaurant, and facilities for dancing and private parties.

Lucas County administrator Peter Ujvagi, a Hungarian immigrant to Toledo who grew up in the Birmingham neighborhood, said the Playdium was once a community focal point. He recalled that during his childhood, local supporters of Hungarian resistance to Soviet-bloc occupation met there.

"It was really a community center," Mr. Ujvagi said. "For my generation, those of us who are refugees, we remember it as the place where we gathered."

But as East Toledo's industrial economy withered during recessions in the 1970s and 1980s, so too did business at the Playdium.

Playdium Inc. sold the building in 1990, and it has changed hands several times since then, according to county records. Tom Gibbons, principal planner for the Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commission, estimated that the building has been vacant for at least 15 years.

The current owner, Michael Mossing, bought the property for $1,500 in November, 2010. Mr. Mossing -- who is no relation to city code enforcement manager Bob Mossing -- told The Blade he bought the building sight unseen, intending to fix it up as a living space for himself and possibly as a dance-hall business.

But Michael Mossing determined he lacked the money to do all the work the building needed, and also had problems getting to the site because his driver's license was suspended.

After receiving numerous fines for nuisance violations, he approached the city about resolving the matter and, in August, signed an agreement granting the city permission to tear the building down.

Mr. Mossing said he intends to repay the demolition costs, which the city estimated could be $10,000 to $15,000.

"I have no choice," the owner said. "I will have to pay the city that money back. It will be over time, of course."

Bob Mossing said the city has had problems with the building since 1994, and numerous nuisance complaints have been lodged against it. He said the Toledo fire department has deemed it unsafe for firefighters to enter if there is a blaze.

"We continue to get complaints form the neighbors. We board it up, the boards are taken off," Bob Mossing said. "I really don't like taking down historical buildings, but sometimes you just have to."

Mr. Ujvagi, however, said he was distraught to learn of demolition plans.

He said he hopes at least to arrange a delay to permit salvage of significant architectural features from the structure.

"The Playdium, from my perspective, is both a tragedy and a symbol in our community of what we do with buildings that are historic and significant," he said. "The reality is that every time we lose one of these buildings, it's not just the building we lose. We lose the history and the soul of the community."

Mr. Gibbons said the Playdium's unusual architecture almost certainly played an important role in helping secure the Birmingham neighborhood's historic designation.

"It's a very unique structure," he said. "It's kind of a sad moment that it is being torn down. I think for a lot of people in Toledo and East Toledo there's probably a lot of memories of that building."

But City Councilman Mike Craig, whose district includes East Toledo, said the Playdium's decrepit condition dictates its demise.

"Unfortunately the current owner didn't do anything to stabilize the building after he bought it, and it's got to come down," he said. "It's an unfortunate necessity."

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at or 419-724-6272.

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