I remember when I first saw photographs of the old public library downtown as a child; I was amazed. The previous main library looked like an Escheresque steampunk fantasy.
A few years ago, my father send me the following Buzzfeed photographs: “15 Gorgeous Photos Of The Old Cincinnati Library.” According to the “Charming ‘Old Main’ library” story on Cincinnati.com, the building from the 1870s was sold and razed in A.D. 1955, having been replaced by the typically dull and dulling mid-twentieth century monstrosity that still stands today. There was evidently no protest of any kind by anyone, which seemed to be the public’s default reaction to those fits of modernist architectural iconoclasm until the 1980s. What were people thinking? Were they so enraptured by the progressivist Zeitgeist that they did not fathom the loss of beauty— did not shrink from the ever encroaching ugliness of the new styles? Alternatively, were they just so relieved by the superior hygiene and comfort of newer structures that they gave the dismal aesthetics a pass? Perhaps, they confused the two, thinking that modern cleanliness and comfort required modernist style and never considering that one could improve the plumbing without defacing beauty. Or, perhaps, the World War II generation was simply exhausted from the fight and eager to get along with life, come what may. The Cincinnati.com article’s commentators suggest that cost was the main reason that the library was not renovated, but 1950s America was one of prosperity and ambitious public works. They could have afforded it. They just did not care to do so.
A counterprotest movement did finally take shape, starting with culturally sensitive women’s groups around the country who found the loss of continuity and beauty in all the modernizing demolition objectionable. These sensible ladies started historical preservation societies and lobbied to save landmarks and neighborhoods. In Cincinnati, likeminded women formed the Miami Purchase Association for Historic Preservation, which eventually became the Cincinnati Preservation Association. An exemplar of such women on the national level was Nancy Hanks, Nixon’s appointment to head the National Endowment for the Arts. Her efforts saved the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, D.C. from the same spirit of destruction that claimed Cincinnati’s lost library.
Americans have become accustomed to think of themselves as the only people in the world who donate to charity. There is something to that belief—Americans do have a strong philanthropic and volunteerist heritage, and the great wealth of the country’s citizens have allowed them to store up some treasure in heaven by giving it to others in need. Yet, that giving spirit lurks abroad, as well, as can be seen in the following Russian news story about a toddler who is waiting for a heart transplant in Cincinnati: ”Первый канал и Русфонд призывают помочь девочке, которая срочно нуждается в пересадке сердца.”
It is strange for me to see a Russky news story that covers my hometown.
Rusfond had already raised a half million dollars to send the child to Cincinnati, and they received another four and a half million dollars from Russian viewers following the broadcast. Such is enough to help the little girl and dozens of other children.
Lent is ending (for the Orthodox), and Holy Week is upon us. I wish everyone a good and beneficial Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, and all the days until Pascha. Arimathea postings will resume afterward.
I do not having anything appropriately pious for the season, but I’ll share a link that my father sent me from the Hamilton County Auditor’s site—Downtown Cincinnati 1968 Vintage Photographs. My father said that some folks at the auditor’s office recently found, scanned, and uploaded them online. They are practical photographs instead of artistic ones—like a 1960’s version of Google’s streetview. Still, I found them interesting. Below is a photograph of Izzy’s original deli:
By the way, Dusty Rhodes, our auditor (since A.D. 1990) and a well known local DJ (since A.D. 1961), is one of only three Democrats for whom I have ever voted—and I’ll continue to do so until he retires. Many years, Mr. Rhodes!
Before I address the topic, I would like to wish you a thoughtful Armistice Day. Many blessings and much thanks to all active military and veterans.
Greg and Debba Haupert have an interesting blog featured on The Enquirer’s web site, 52 Neighborhoods/One Voice. On it, they write of their ventures into the Queen City’s neighborhoods, where they talk with locals, see the sights, and eat breakfast. The posts are pleasant but often laughably delicate. Consider, for instance, how they treat the slum Millvale: “Millvale – But wait, there’s more.” Yes, more crack whores, more violence, more bastard breeding, more wastes of public money . . . so much more. Yet, the Hauperts are not natives; so, I suppose their good manners may excuse their whitewashing.
I think that there are more than fifty-two neighborhoods within the city limits. What about Brighton? And I have never even heard of C.U.F. Who came up with that amalgam of Clifton Heights, University Heights, and Fairview? We always just called the whole place Clifton.
There are many more neighborhoods beyond the city limits, given how Cincinnatians have resisted annexation more steadfastly than folks from other cities (the edge of Columbus is on farmland). So, I hope that the Hauperts extend their anthropological survey of Cincinnati after they complete their fifty-two trips.
A few days ago, Drudge linked to a Daily Mail article that featured demographic maps of various American cities. Cartographer Eric Fischer created the maps, and you can see many more cities so depicted on his Flickr site, Race and Ethnicity. Here is the tribal dotting for Cincinnati:
Follow the link to the Flickr site where you can look at much larger images; the larger images show the ethnic composition of neighborhoods much better, as the smaller images only allow the dominant ethnicity to show in densely populated areas. Here is the original image.
On his site, Fischer states that he was inspired by Bill Rankin, who runs Radical Cartography. Rankin has a nice section on D.C. Check out his depiction of how chocolaty Chocolate City remains. Click on the site’s image to enlarge it for better viewing.
Looking at it, what strikes me most is how Rock Creek Park effectively divides the racial composition of the city. People casually say that Northwest (the northwest quadrant) is the nicer—whiter—part of town, but the dividing line is not North Capitol Street; it is more like Sixteenth Street and Rock Creek Park. I also find it amusing how Catholic University and Gallaudet are vanilla islands in N.E.
The dark and lovely neighborhood of Crestwood is the brown peninsula jutting westward from Sixteenth Street into Rock Creek Park. This “Gold Coast” area is the historic center of upper class, black Washington, and the houses are gorgeous. Indeed, it is the home turf of recently defeated Mayor Fenty. There is nothing at all like it in Cincinnati, where “nice houses” and “predominantly black neighborhood” only signify a formerly nice neighborhood that has become a slum with cool architecture—imagine Rome in the seventh century, where civilization remains only as a memory in stone. In contrast, Crestwood remains a real community rather than a decaying relic of a dispossessed past.
If you are a map geek—a cartographile, I assume—then enjoy Fischer’s and Rankin’s works.
I found an amusing, century old New York Times article on Visualingual’s charming site: “He Likes Cincinnati, She Paris; They Part.”
Having lived in both Cincinnati and Paris, I understand the dilemma. I love both cities, though the allure of each differs sharply from the other, to say the least.
When I travel, I like to sample the local cuisine. There are many ways to accomplish this. One can dine at the finest restaurants that a city has to offer, but one has to be wealthy in order to do that. One can also get himself invited to dinner by local folks in order to sample regional homestyle cooking, but one has to be outgoing, charming, witty, or quite good looking to gain the favors of reserved natives. Naturally, rich and beautiful folks have the advantage. If you find yourself lacking in those prized goods of human life, you can always sample the cheap but beloved establishments of a given place. Peasants and proletarians have their esteemed spots, too.
Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide often feature such delightful local dives where one can eat at establishments honored by regular folks. Another useful resource for travel within the United States is Roadfood.com. I recommend checking it whenever you venture into a new town.
For Cincinnati and its neighboring towns, Roadfood lists Price Hill Chili, Graeter’s, Putz’s Creamy Whip, Mr. Gene’s Dog House, Camp Washington Chili Parlor, Hathaway’s Coffee Shop, Zip’s Cafe, Blue Ash Chili, Friendly Stop Cafe, the Root Beer Stand, the Golden Turtle, and the Golden Lamb. I have eaten at all those establishments except Zip’s Cafe and the Friendly Stop Cafe. I would say that the list comprises many representative favorites from Cincinnati, though I note many conspicuous absences. Still, I encourage you to consult Roadfood and to enjoy those cheap eats.
Several nights ago, I had a dream about the old Ape House at the Cincinnati Zoo. It has been long closed, and I awoke not knowing if my mind had constructed the dreamscape or if I had simply remembered it. For I often dream of places that do not exist outside my imagination or of real places that change considerably in my dreams. Once, I dreamt that Catherine the Great escorted my family on a carriage tour of Saint Petersburg, but it was quite different from the city on the Neva. The mind is bizarre. Anyway, as I thought about it more, I was sure that my dream was based on my childhood memories of the zoo.
To confirm my memory, I looked online for pictures of the old Ape House, which led me to Cincinnati Views. The site has many postcards, maps, and photographs of the city. On the Downtown Streets page, you can see this view of Fourth Street looking east from Race Street:
For a more industrial look, consider this wonderfully melancholic view from Price Hill on the Bird’s Eye View page:
Spend some time on the site; it has thousands of images.
In celebration of my father’s birthday, I wish to introduce a guide book to Cincinnati that was published in A.D. 1943, Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors by the Ohio Federal Writers’ Project. You can read the book online with Google Book.
My favorite passage is the following from page 433, which caused quite a chuckle for my father who grew up in the said neighborhood:
A century ago Dayton Street was the “millionaires’ row” of Cincinnati. Here lived men who had amassed fortunes in the early pork-packing and beer-brewing industries; some of them moved on west with their businesses, to help found the great packing companies of Chicago and the breweries of Milwaukee and St. Louis. Many of their descendants stayed in the city but moved to the hill suburbs. Today the stone-front town houses, each with its rusting iron fence in front, still are in good condition, and the street has an anomalous and somewhat false air of well-being.
Well, that was my Dad’s ‘hood, which was rough even back then, as he tells me, when the area was still a white neighborhood. Ghettos come in all shades. My father grew up in a former carriage house, which would have belonged to one of the industry baronial families in earlier years.
The guide book is a fascinating read for any Cincinnatian—or for anyone interested in urban American history, for that matter. It gives you insights into the city’s history and its present circa A.D. 1943. I find the past backward looking perspective quite interesting; a local history book written today would cover different material—and do so differently. Moreover, I appreciate texts published before our nauseating cultural revolution as a welcome respite from current fads and quirks. Read, for example, the guide’s coverage of the tensions between the city’s abolitionists and the citizenry not so disposed: “The disorders of 1836 and repeated assaults upon local Negro colonies were reactions to the Islamic fury of abolitionism.” The passage on page 42 breaks so many contemporary rules, it verily warms my heart. I especially enjoy the phrase, “the Islamic fury of abolitionism.” Consider, also, how the guide treats (on pages 226-227) the beginning of Cincinnati’s white flight, which would have been rather recent for the book’s writers:
Lincoln Park signified peace and contentment to the crowded West End. No doubt it helped formulate the goal of many West Enders—a home on one of the cool hills. As the Negro population of the city expanded and the colored folk moved north, additional white families who had acquired the necessary capital took the momentous step of buying homes on some hill. The main participants of this mass migration of the 1920’s and 1930’s were the Jews who now live in Avondale, Walnut Hills, and Price Hill. Negroes and also white hill folk from Kentucky and West Virginia moved into the rapidly decaying and emptying houses, and in two decades the entire West End became homogeneous—rough, tough, and squalid.
I find its honestly and straightforwardness rather charming . . . “White hill folk,” or as we are supposed to say nowadays, “urban Appalachians.” The squalor of the West End remains, though the Jews have long since abandoned Avondale, Walnut Hills, and Price Hill for tonier environs like Amberly Village and Montgomery. When they left, the black American ghetto arrived. Strangely, I never knew that Price Hill had a significant Jewish population. To me, Price Hill is a West Side Catholic bastion, and only recently has it been affected by demographic shoving.
Anyway, enjoy the guide and, if you hail from the Queen City, learn a bit about your heritage. Did you know, for instance, that wineries existed along the Queen City Avenue artery in Fairmount, Westwood, and Price Hill, or that, during Prohibition, that area was known as “Death Valley”? Did you know that Cheviot’s Harvest Home Festival has occurred every year since A.D. 1860? I bet that you were not aware of a massive castle home at Werk Road and Harrison Avenue modeled on the chateau of Blois, France—which I visited as a boy. The soap making Werk family built the home at the end of the nineteenth century, but, unfortunately, it was razed just before the Second World War. In fact, the West Side used to have many fine sites, from botanical gardens to art museums. I suppose that the influx of the white West Enders and others from downtown guaranteed that the Western Hills would become the middle class, blue collar, German Catholic neighborhoods that we now know them to be. The moneyed folk moved to the outer East Side, such as Indian Hill.
If you are not familiar with Cincinnati, you can read my post, “The Queen City of the West,” or learn a bit about our town by reading Ed the Sports Fan’s somewhat unflattering “Cincinnati—As Nasty As It Wants To Be.” Naturally, I would not expect a foreigner such as Ed to understand us perfectly, but it is an amusing piece, nonetheless. I am reposting a fragment that includes my favorite part concerning the city’s East - West cultural divide [emphasis added]:
When it was founded in the 1700s on the northern banks of the Ohio River, Cincinnati quickly grew into what has been called America’s first inland boomtown. It rapidly became a gateway to the untamed West.
Today, nobody calls this a boomtown. The metro area population is around 2 million, placing it in the top 25 nationally, and there are many major corporations located here. But its residents admit that Cincinnati is as likely to think small as it is to think big: resistant to change, wary of the outside world and happy within its own cultural cocoon.
“From the day I got here [from New York], I was totally struck by how much better this place is than our own people give it credit for,” says nine-year Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski.
For comparison’s sake to other cities, Cincinnatians might need to get out more. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer says he has neighbors in his suburb whose idea of a vacation is to go downtown and stay in a hotel.
Not even the widespread passion for Ohio State football resonates much in Cincinnati—the Enquirer doesn’t have a Buckeyes beat writer.
And you can forget any kinship with the state’s largest city, Cleveland, well to the north.
“Cleveland is an East Coast city,” Daugherty says. “This is a Southern city. I’d say it has more in common with Louisville.
“I think Cincinnati is sort of an island unto itself, because it has nothing in common with the rest of the state.”
Which seems to be fine with the locals.
“I don’t really think of myself as an Ohioan,” says Cincy native Tori Meeker, a bartender at the Rock Bottom Brewery downtown. “Cincinnati is very self-contained.”
Cincinnati is almost its own nation-state, its life separated from Kentucky by the river and from the rest of Ohio by the I-275 beltway. Provincialism is fairly predictable.
“This is the only city in America where if they ask what school you went to, they don’t mean college,” says Cincinnati Bearcats basketball coach Mick Cronin, a Queen City native. “They mean high school.”
The city basically has two factions to it: the gritty, working-class West Side and the more affluent East Side. Cronin describes the difference in terms of youth sports.
“On the West Side, they play to win,” he says. “On the East Side, everyone gets to participate.”
Pete Rose is the ultimate West Sider—the hometown tough guy who made it big. You do that, and the headfirst slides count more with your constituency than the years of lying about betting on baseball. A recent reader poll in the weekly magazine CityBeat said Rose is still the favorite athlete in Cincinnati.
“We’re homers,” Cronin says, “which explains our affinity for Pete Rose. If the people in this town could vote for Pete to get into the Hall of Fame, he’d get in unanimously.”
Similar affection has been extended to another famed-but-flawed hard-ass, Huggins. Certainly, Huggins’ winning percentage dictated most of his popularity, but his unpretentious, combative style played well here, too.
“He was perceived as a blue-collar man of the people,” Dougherty says. “We love our white-bread, Chris Sabo, Cris Collinsworth, shut-up-and-play, dirty-shirt heroes.”
Don’t underestimate the “white-bread” part of that quote. Cincinnati has championed several minority sports heroes: Oscar Robertson, Anthony Munoz, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, among others. But it’s probably easier to be Carson Palmer in this town than T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
In terms of demographics and lifestyle, this is a long way from New York, Miami, San Francisco and even Atlanta.
There are a lot of adjectives tossed around about Cincinnati: family-friendly, affordable and safe, to name a few. But one word that comes out of every mouth, without fail:
First, I love the bit about youth sports! Simplified and generalized, but it captures the spirit of the difference.
Second, in no way are we a “Southern city.” Rather, Cincinnati is at the nexus of several American regional cultures. You can definitely tell that the world changes once you drive into Kentucky.
Third, and much to the chagrin of Andrew, Ed is absolutely correct in his perception of Cincinnatians’ self-understanding. His nation state, not part of Ohio analysis is right on. I was not aware of “Ohio pride” until Andrew explained the ways of our corn fed Buckeye kin to me. I just assumed that everyone self-identified with his hometown rather than the state. Per Tertullian, what has Cleveland to do with Cincinnati?
Fourth, I obviously do not agree with Ed’s racial assessments. His words betray the white “unilateral disarmament” mentality about which I have written elsewhere, as, for instance, in “‘Crazy Bastard’ Old Code Words for Black.”
Yet, this is not meant to be a political post. It is about my father and my city. However, in my mind, there is a strong connection between my father and Cincinnati. Perhaps, some of my love for the city has elements of filial devotion, literally. I never thought much about this, thinking that it was normal and natural for everyone, until I began to discover that many folks do not share such an intellectual and emotional connection between locality and family. Certainly, the ancient Greeks did so. Perhaps, the blood and soil (or Blut und Boden for those who like to paint us as fascists . . . and German sounds so much scarier) paleoconservative tendencies of the city’s population, which I largely share, are due to this simple cultural trait. It inoculates those who have it from the universalist tendencies of the Enlightenment that serves as the animating philosophical principle of the Left and of the “propositional nation” theory of American history and society. The more people feel grounded and belonging to a particular place, the more conservative they tend to be. Even in Leftist dominions like Vermont, you can detect strong conservative cultural currents. Their conservatism may not translate into the political language or policies of the American Right, but it is unmistakable in its value of that which is local and rooted. As Rod Dreher’s so-called “Crunchy Cons” are wont to point out, there are many traditional, conservative elements in the American Left where we can find common ground. The political axis moves considerably according to different issues.
Well, happy birthday, Dad! Thank you for siring me in such a special town and for raising me to love it.
Some of my mother’s family have been in southwestern Ohio since the eighteenth century, while my father’s folks arrived in Cincinnati before the American Civil War. I was born and raised there, and I share the civic love and pride of my people.
Coastal types that never venture to places like the Midwest think that there is nothing there but churches, corn, and factories—you know, where provincial xenophobes fearfully cling to their guns and religion. It is their loss. I love New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco—their denizens may justly boast of their cities’ many fine qualities. However, there is more to America than the wealthy urban metropolites.
Cincinnati lies at the nexus of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, our “Tri-State.” This location puts us on the cultural frontiers of several regions that have enriched the particular Cincy way of life. In the Queen City, you find elements Midwestern, Eastern, and Southern. You sense a mixture of the city and the small town—urbane and cosmopolitan institutions adjacent to the local chili parlor . . . world class venues mixed with the provincial inclinations of the people. The local neighborhood, parish, and high school hold claims of allegiance over Cincinnatians’ hearts. The city and its elements are part of its inhabitants, as Cincinnatians make up, quite obviously, the city.
I believe that it is this localism that has kept the official boundaries of the city so small. While other large cities annexed surrounding communities over time, Cincinnatians have largely resisted becoming part of Cincinnati proper. In Columbus, for instance, the edges of town are corn fields, while Cincinnati has been able to swallow very few of its extra-urban suburbs. Cities, villages, and townships surround and infiltrate the political bounds of Cincinnati, but everyone in the Metropolitan area considers himself to be a Cincinnatian. As such, the city proper now has 332,252 residents (down from 503,998 in 1950), while the metropolitan area has over two million people.
Cincinnati was once the fastest growing urban area in the United States and the fifth largest city, and the neighborhoods and architecture of the nineteenth century beautify our town. The German Catholic presence in the city is palpable in every area of life, from social morés to religion to architectural styles to festivals to diet. The Roman Catholic school system is one of the largest in America. Corporate presence has long been strong in Cincinnati, which is the headquartered home to some of the country’s largest companies, like Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Macy’s / Federated, and Chiquita. Until recently, the city was heavily industrialized, but like the rest of the United States in general and the Midwest in particular, the last forty years have been rough on the city. The medical establishment in Cincinnati is one of the finest in America—something that you take for granted until you see the world beyond the seven hills. Surprising to coastal elites, Cincinnati is also home to great dining; I have heard that only San Francisco has as many fine restaurants per capita.
Politically, Greater Cincinnati has been a bastion of Republican conservatism for generations, but white flight has reduced the white population in Cincinnati proper to just over half its residents. The black population is predominantly poor and has guaranteed Democratic municipal government for decades. Needless to say, such government has been utterly dysfunctional. From Cincinnati to Detroit to New Orleans to Washington, D.C., any city governed by demagogues who have been given blank checks for power and corruption by the large poor uneducated black population has suffered greatly. Aristotle wisely stated long ago that healthy representative government requires a large middle class—otherwise, you get Marion Barry, Kwame Kilpatrick, David Denkins, and the other embarrassments to republicanism. This is mainly an issue of class, education, and intelligence, not race. However, penurious demagoguery in America has had better fortunes in the race hustling business than in class warfare amongst the majority population. When concerned citizens try to resist these demagogues, the black population circles its wagons in tribal reflex, since any attack on one their own is yet another example of the Man’s telling them what to do. Sigh . . .
However, we cannot blame the stupidity of Cincinnati’s local government on the black newcomers. Before the Great Migration, there were few blacks in Cincinnati, but the incompetence of the city council goes way back into the nineteenth century. Local politicians have done their damnedest to choke Cincinnati for many generations. Note that white flight did not cause Cincinnatians’ resistance to annexation, though certainly that has been an influence for the last four decades. Rather, Cincinnatians knew that Cincinnati’s city council would harm their communities even back when everyone was white. It seems that, in Cincinnati, at least, bad local government is color blind.
Despite the foolishness, short-sightedness, and general stupidity of the political establishment, Cincinnati is still a wonderful place to live. We eat Cincinnati style chili (not Texas chili!), we say “Please?” instead of “Excuse me?” or “Pardon” if we do not understand you, and we’re sophisticated enough to read the paper but sensible enough not to believe it.
Space513 (our area code) is a nifty site that highlights some of Cincinnati’s beloved dives, while the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens is one of the best zoos in the world.
Below are links to some Cincinnati and Ohio area fixtures.
City of Cincinnati,
Architecture of Cincinnati,
Camp Washington Chili,
Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal,
Cincinnati State College,
Cincinnati Transit History,
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden,
City of Cincinnati Government,
College of Mount Saint Joseph,
Covedale Center for the Performing Arts,
Delhi Flower & Garden Center,
Elder High School,
Macy’s / Federated Department Stores,
Fifth Third Bank,
Gold Star Chili,
Graeter’s Ice Cream,
Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce,
Greater Cincinnati Convention and Vistors Bureau,
Hebrew Union College,
LaSalle High School,
Mount Airy Forest,
Northern Kentucky University,
Ohio Book Store,
Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism,
Ohio Right to Life,
Ohio State Government,
Ohio State University,
Price Hill Chili,
Procter & Gamble,
Putz’s Creamy Whip,
Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati,
Saint Catherine’s Review,
Saint Xavier High School,
Seton High School,
Southwest Ohio Amusement Park Historical Society,
Spring Grove Cemetery,
Supreme Nut & Candy,
Thomas More College,
Treasured Churches Of Cincinnati,
United Dairy Farmers,
United States Playing Card Company,
University of Cincinnati,
Yahoo Local Pages, &
Young’s Dairy Farm