Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why is the Albee Gone?

After looking at the pictures from the Albee Theater from my last blog post, I just had to know more about the story. I went to our wonderful Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for answers in the newspaper archives. What follows are articles from before the Albee was built to after its demolition. It's a lot of reading, but it gives answers to those who want to know just why the Albee it's no longer with us.
1904-1930 Sanborn Insurance Map, Click to enlarge - Source

Cincinnati Times-Star September 1, 1925
That Is the Word That Comes From New York.
Office and Commercial Buildings Along With Movie Palace
By J. M. Allison
NEW YORK, N.Y. – September 1
The long pending negotiations looking to the acquirement by the Keith Albee interests and their allies of what has been known as the Famous Players Lasky theater site on Fifth and on Vine streets in Cincinnati, were brought to a definite and final conclusion yesterday at a meeting at which E. F. Albee, Ben L. Heldingsfeld and representatives of the Famous Players Lasky organization effected the transfer of the property to a special corporation of which Mr. Albee is president and Mr. Heldingsfeld is secretary.
Because of the close and intimate connection and the friendly relations existing between the parties, it had been practically assured for some weeks that this deal would be made. In fact, Rapp & Rapp, the Chicago architects, are well along with their work of preparing the plans for a theater to be erected on this site which will cost a million and one-half dollars.
 To those who know that his means, it is enough to say that it will be an Albee theater. That is, it will have all the magnificent and artistic beauty of the Albee theaters in Brooklyn and Cleveland, which are distinctive as the finest theatrical structures in the world. The realty was taken over on a basis of nearly $2,000,000, so the total investment will be $3,500,000, and Cincinnati will have the finest moving picture house in the world.
Though the theater will be used, for some time as least, for the showing of Greater Moving pictures, it will have a full stage with complete equipment, all necessary dressing rooms and the same marvelous backstage arrangement, which exist at present only in the two Albee theaters already built. The individuals and companies interested in the project are: Mr. Albee, personally; the B.F. Keith Connecticut company, Senator John T. Harris of Pittsburgh, I. Libson and Ben I. Heldingsfeld of Cincinnati, Edwin J. Lauder of the Keith organization, Senator J. Henry Walters and former Congressman J. L. Rhinock.
The work of wrecking the present building will begin as soon as the plans are completed and the theater will be finished in 1926. The plot on which the theater is to be constructed has a frontage of 120 feet on Vine street, below Fifth (the old Stag hotel location), and runs back 200 feet to an alley. It also has a frontage of 46 ½ feet on Fifth street and here the main entrance of the theater will be located.
There will be a large commercial building on Vine street and also an office building over the entrance on Fifth street. The theater will be very large, but its exact seating capacity can not be given until the architects have finished their work. The negotiations for the sale of the property were made and completed through Walter S. Schmidt of the F. A. Schmidt Company of Cincinnati.
Sheraton-Gibson Hotel with the Albee Theater to the right, present day US Bank - Source
Cincinnati Post and Times-Star, May 26, 1960
Hotel Seeks to Buy Albee
by Si Cornell
The Sheraton Corp. wants to buy the RKO Albee Theater and turn it into a convention hall, which would be connected with the corporation’s Sheraton-Gibson. The rear of the Gibson and the side of the Albee are separated only by the narrow Carew place. If the sales goes through, plans are to connect the hotel and theater by ramps on upper stories.
Negotiations have been going on for five months. RKO’s asking price for the theater isn’t known, but estimates place it anywhere from $2 million on up. If the hotel does buy the theater, some interior changes would be made so that huge banquets could be held there as well as conventions.
Cincinnati Post and Times-Star, May 26, 1960
Cincinnati Post, October 13, 1974
The Albee war: an urban love story
by Richard Gibeau
The Albee Theater, dark and brooding behind its boarded-up doors, is a central figure in love story that will be playing tomorrow before the City Planning Commisson.
Another is Frances Vitali, a slight, gentle woman who, in her self-effecting way, has challenged City Council, planners, developers and assorted movers and shakers. The commission’s hearing on the Albee’s qualifications to be protected as a Listed Property comes after an almost three-year sequence of events. It all began in January 1972 with the revelation that Unit, Inc., newly transplanted from Dallas, planned to erect a high-rise office building with shopping arcade at the southeast corner of Fifth and Vine streets.
The Albee, the Wiggins building and other property in the quarter-block segment fronting on Fifth and Vine would be razed. With that new, Mrs. Vitali took the first tentative steps from the relative obscurity of the Colonial Laundry that she and her husband Americo operate in Corryville. She began collecting signatures on a petition protesting the destruction of the Albee, hoping for 300 names registered in opposition to this thing they call “progess”. She got 340 names and sent them to then Mayor Thomas Luken with a letter saying it was “only the beginning of our fight to save the Albee Theater. “We love our city and must share in its remaking,” she wrote.
Other opposition to the project soon emerged, although few, if any, talked so unabashedly and articulately in terms of love for the city as Mrs. Vitali. The Cincinnati Chapter of the American Institute of Architects quickly moved to the fore, joined by the local chapters of landscape architects and planners and by many in the University of Cincinnati community. Their protests focused on Fountain Square plaza in terms of traffic congestion and what the overwhelming scale of a 50-story building would do to the sunlit character of the plaza.
So the plans of B.W. Morris, chairman of Unit, apparently collapsed temporarily. Morris later indicated, though never publicly, that his plans had been revived and expanded. He acquired an option to purchase the Sheraton-Gibson, in addition to options on the Albee and the other properties. Plans were prepared for a development fronting the entire length of Fifth from Vine to Walnut, although not rising to the height of the original tower.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Vitali and others sharing her convictions formed the Save the Albee Committee and struggled on in the effort to win support in City Hall. The preservationist movement won an opening when the listed property ordinance, providing limited protection for properties of historical or architectural value, was adopted by City Council in April, 1973. In September, the Miami Purchase Assn. requested inclusion of the Albee as a listed property. That request has been reinforced by a series of letter endorsements, secured by Save the Albee, from Gov. John Gilligan, Charles Sawyer, Cincinnati lawyer and philanthropist, J. Ralph Corbett, Walter C. Langsam, president emeritus of UC, and others.
With those letters in hand, Mrs. Vitali will represent Save the Albee tomorrow before the Planning Commission in the latest round of a 34-month fight that has made her name a City Hall byword.
She sat on Fountain Square Plaza yesterday and talked about her experiences and the merits of preserving the Albee, not as a monument, but as a vital cultural instrument.
The turning point in the Albee campaign came earlier this year, she said, when Mr. and Mrs. John Strader of Clifton became honorary co-chairpersons and a brochure stating the case for the albee was prepared. The brochure documents the unique qualities of the Albee designated as a national landmark in 1972. But it also argues for a new life for the Albee, as part of an office/hotel complex, connected to the Skywalk system. Incentive zoning considerations are proposed to enable a developer to include the Albee in a Fountain Square development with minimal financial burden.
The case presented in the brochure “has brought a lot of response from citizens and very little from City Hall,” Mrs. Vitali said. “City Council has hurt our city. If just three years ago when this project started, they said, ‘Look, the Albee is a vital part of our city’, then the developer knows that he has to work with.” She is dismayed that so many in decision-making roles seem to know little about the Albee, seeing it only as an out-of-fate movie house now boarded up. “When you talk to the people who have to make this judgment, they have never been in the Albee Theater, so how can they make this judgment?” she said. “Why doesn’t the city start on this? Why do they leave all those loose ends hanging there?”
Mrs. Vitali speaks nostalgically of the Albee as a part of her youth, but she also is filled with the ferment of ideas of what it can be in the future. “We’re calling out project Theater on the Square. It should be going on all season long.” She sees it as a house for opera, ballet, brown-bag performances at midday, tourist attractions, Christmas programs, school graduations, educational programs for youth in the daytime, profit-making in the evening, “the theater could really be an art gallery in itself.”
“To me this theater has so many uses that you can’t even begin to count them.”
Much of her discussion of the Albee’s possibilities is in terms of its potential for young people. “When I started this, to me it was a very emotional thing because I remembered the Albee in its heyday, but now I see its value for bringing life back to the square.” “I’m only working on this actually because I think of the youth of tomorrow. I know what this meant for me,” she said.
If the Albee’s proponents are successful in their quest for Listed Property status tomorrow, Mrs. Vitali said they are counting on steps by the city administration to save the theater. “We would like to help. We would like to make it feasible for the developer to incorporate it in his plans, whatever they are,” she said.
View from the Albee Stage - Source
Champions Of Albee Get Some Bad News; Council Can’t Help
Cincinnati Enquirer, November 16, 1974
Advocates of preserving the Albee Theater as an historic landmark under the city’s “listed property” controls got a double doses of sad news at the Cincinnati City Planning Commission meeting.
First, Morton Rabkin, assistant city solicitor, held in an opinion that the Commission has sole authority to designated landmarks for preservation, under the City Charter. City Council, Rabkin said, is unable to override the commission or initiate legislation in this area.
Last week, the commission refused by a 3-3 tie to recommend to council that the Albee be protected as a “listed property.” The proponents, asking what they could do, were told by Councilman Charles P. Taft they could ask a member of council to introduce an ordinance to make the theater a “listed property.”
Rabkin Friday submitted to the commission a formal opinion stating council could not preserve property as a landmark without first getting a recommendation from the commission.
City Manager E. Robert Turner provided the second bit of bad news for the Save-the-Albee group. He was not on hand for last week’s commission vote on making the Albee a “listed property.” But Friday he said that had he been at the prior meeting, he would have cast a negative vote, as had been speculated in the Enquirer. That would have made the vote 4-3 against.
But while council might not be able to initiate an ordinance to make the Albee a “listed property,” it is nevertheless inquiring in that connection as a result of a motion and resolution at Thursday’s meeting by Councilman David Mann. The motion, referred to the city manager and Planning Commission, asks them to report how making the theater a “listed property” would jeopardize redevelopment of the surrounding half block, as charged by opponents of Albee preservation.
The resolution which was adopted urges owners of the Albee to permit members of council and the commission to tour the building to aid them with a decision. The Planning Commission authorized a $25,000 contract with the Miami Purchase Association for a survey and ranking of Cincinnati’s historic sites and building. The information will aid the commission in reviewing National Register nominations, listed property and other requests for preservation of landmarks, it was explained. …
Cincinnati Enquirer, September 18, 1976
Cincinnati Enquirer, September 18, 1976
Fans Gather For Last Look
by Barbara Murphy, Enquirer Reporter
Old and young roamed about aimlessly. Some wanted mementoes of a place once packed for stag shows, others just wanted to take a last look at what some consider to be one of the world’s most beautiful pieces of architecture and design.
“All the people here want a piece of the theater,” said Clem Long, president, National Content Liquidators, which is handling the sale of all the contents in the 50-year-old movie palace. The Albee had some of its glamour intact Friday. Price tags hung from almost all items, and empty spaces dotted the auditorium where some of the theater seats had been picked up and sold. Hundreds of theater seats were bought for about $20, balcony seats sold for $15.
“I bought three prisms,” said a Pleasant Ridge woman. She was not sure what she would do with them, but she added she was sad to see the loss of the theater. The single-cut glass prisms, taken from the chandeliers, were selling for up to $10. A Western Hills resident carried away three white milk-glass letters selling for $3 apiece. “I just wanted to get my initials,” she said. “I have strong feeling about the closing of the theater,” she added.
Just about every article was tagged and ready to sell. The electrically raised orchestra pit was selling for $1000, and the stage drape for $350. An $150 settee was outside of the auditorium and downstairs in the lounges $350 Louis XIV chairs waited to be bought. Bannisters, lamps, chandeliers, paneling, fountains, even toilets and sinks are all in line to be sold. Drew Diamond, cashier for National Content Liquidators said that many articles had been sold by Friday afternoon. “A lot of small items are going real good,” he said.
As Cincinnatians fingered the artifacts, many felt indifferent yet many felt disappointed. Mrs. Thomas L. Eckert, Kenwood, was looking for some of the eight inch milk-glass letters to decorate the side of their barn with. “I thought it was worthwhile to come and see the Albee again,” she said. Mrs. Eckert, originally from Australia, said that the Albee reminded her of Europe. Caroline Wellage, actress, has plans to decorate a wall of her home with the glass letters. She also plans to add the years 1927-1976 in glass, to commemorate the Albee’s 50 years of life. “It breaks my heart,” she said about the theater closing.
“I wish I weren’t here,” said writer J.J. Todd. “Sitting in one of the boxes reminds me of what our kids will miss,” he said. “This shouldn’t be able to happen. Progress is one thing, but heritage is another,” he added. “They could have saved it if they wanted to,” said Jeff Fecon, sixth year architecture student at the University of Cincinnati. “Any city can build new buildings,” he said. “It would have been no problem to restore, but it will cost $3 million to tear down. The main goal is not really save the Albee, but to bring back life to downtown Cincinnati. This liquidation sale cheapens everything. It’s a shame to know that money and power rule, and not people,” he said.
John Bassette and his wife were browsing through some of the lounges. Bassette feels that the loss of the theater is tragic. “I’ve studied it but there is no other feasible way to keep it. It’s in a lot worse shape than I thought.” Mervin Clark, Walnut Hills, came in to get a last look at the building. “People cannot grasp the detail that was put into these plaster casts,” he said. Karl Topie, retired cellist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was on the Albee stage the night it opened in December of 1927. “It’s terrible to see it go,” said Topie. “It’s the most beautiful theater ever built.” Matt Macleid, Walnut Hills, tried to add a little humor to the idea of tearing down structures. “Europe has wars,” he said. “But we’ve got urban renewal.”
Fountain Square Hotel, east side of Vine between 4th and 5th Streets - Source
Cincinnati Post, December 17, 1976
City buys Albee Theater
by Ellen Schmitz
The City of Cincinnati has bought the Albee Theater on Fifth Street from the RKO-Stanley Warner Theaters, Inc., of New York for $2 Million.
The Albee and the Fountain Square Hotel, which was part of the purchase deal, are the first portions of the Fifth Street block to be purchased by the city for the Fountain Square South development. Richard Melfi, head of the city’s real estate division, said yesterday that he expects to have a contract on the other properties. If the city cannot reach agreement with the other property owners on a purchase price by the end of the year, Melfi said, he hopes to have the matters in court by the end of the year.
The city expects to spend a total of about $7 million for purchasing the parcels on the Fifth Street block between Vine and Walnut Streets. Another $700,000 is expected to be spent on demolition of the old structures, which is scheduled to begin on March 1.
Many citizens tried in vain to prevent the city from tearing down the old theater. But the city and the developer, the John W. Galbreath Co. of Columbus, said it was not feasible to include the Albee in the plans for the $60 million office-hotel-retail complex.
The joint development agreement between the city and Galbreath requires the city to acquire and clear the property and to build a three level underground garage. Nell Surber, director of the city’s department of development, said the city portion of the development will cost about $6 million (not including acquisition and demolition costs). She explained that the underground construction will being next summer and that the office-hotel-retail complex should be completed by the end of 1979.

The Death Of The Albee
Cincinnati Enquirer, March 19, 1977
Management billed it the world’s finest theater. Gloria Swanson, Harold Lloyd and Norma Talmadge were amount the movie greats to wire best wishes. And Clara Bow, the “It Girl,” starred in “Get Your Man” to open the ornate theatrical palace – the E.F. Albee – on Christmas Eve, 1927.
That was a great year for the movies. Talking pictures had made their debut. The Wall Street crash was still months away. The ‘20’s were still roaring and no more so than in the rush to motion picture houses. Thus was the temp as Albee owners received the telegrams and unloaded the flowers that flowed their way on the eve of Christmas Eve.
“Cincinnati attains world’s leadership in another important field through the new E.F. Albee theater which opens today at 11a.n.,” trumpeted an advertisement in The Enquirer that December 24. Tickets for 4000 seats were advertised at prices ranging from 35 cents in the balcony to 75 cents in boxes. And the “Albertina Rasch Girls” were among the opening stage acts.
The Albee, of course, was more than a film theater. Live entertainment thrived on its stage. Actors talked enthusiastically of the elevator that took them to their dressing room – a “first” for the Albee (performers had long complained of having to walk up long flights of stairs to dressing rooms in American theaters). Moreover, the new Cincinnati cinema also boasted a pool for aquatic acts.
Actors and actresses who graced its stage read like a “Who’s Who” of entertainment. Fred Astaire and Grace Hayes, mother of Peter Lind Hayes, were there. So were Smith and Dale, the original “Sunshine Boys,” and Ray Henderson, pianist-author of such greats as “Sonny Boy,” “Birth of the Blues,” and “Sunnyside Up,” Jackie Gleason, Ben Burnie and Jack Benny were among stars there.
The Albee did its World War II bit with what must have been one of the nation’s top star-studded bond sales. It came as no surprise, then, when it went on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The shower of shows, the Albee, itself, was a showpiece of the first order.
Victim now of the wrecker’s ball, it will be missed. But if indeed the Albee had to die (its last movie, “Big Bad Mama” in 1974, apparently was one of its worst), all signs suggest Fountain Square South – the marvel set for its place – will mark a Cincinnati advance more notable, even, than the one which excited the city that long-ago December day.
Ohio Theater, Columbus, Ohio - Source
Ohio Theater Has Familiar Surroundings
Cincinnati Enquirer, November 19, 1978
by Paul Lugannani, Enquirer Travel Editor
It is not surprising that a lifelong Cincinnatian should have the I’ve-been-here-before feeling when he, for the first time, steps through the heavy, ornate brass doors of Ohio’s official theater in Columbus.
It is called Ohio Theater and is located directly south and across the street from the Capitol building. The feeling of familiarity is bona fide. Those beautiful doors once graced Cincinnati’s late, lamented Albee Theater, which was zapped from Fountain Square in the name of progress. Additionally, inside near the doors are two heavy brass “ticket posts” in which ticket-takers place stubs. Those, too, came from the Albee. There is more. In the upstairs foyer are two ornate, wrought-iron benches with brilliant red velvet seats – also from Cincinnati’s historical showhouse.
“All of those things came here from Cincinnati after the last showing at the Albee,” explained Don Streibig, the busy and vigorous manager of the Columbus theater. “You might add, too, that I also came from Cincinnati – Western Hills High School, Class of 1944.”
Streibig was happy to report that Ohio Theater, unlike the ill-fated Albee, barely escaped the same ball of destruction in the name of urban renewal. Columbus city planners had designs on the property as the site for building the new 28-story State Office Building.  Fortunately, for theater-lovers, a strong Columbus Association for the Performing Arts won a long battle for preservation.
Streibig cheerfully conducted a tour of the fully renovated “luxurious palace of splendor.” Being a person who cannot pass a drinking fountain, I stopped at an ornate porcelain one mounted in a wall of the second-floor foyer. “Oh, yes,” Streibig chimed in, “that came from the Albee, too.” That gave me a funny feeling because I recalled I had taken many drinks from that same fountain over past years in the Albee.
“Let’s sit down here and talk a bit,” the manager suggested, indicating seats in the rear of the house. The seats in the loge were all new, thickly cushioned and covered with brilliant red velour. “We also added an inch more space between the rows for greater convenience of theatergoers,” Streibig noted. Seating capacity of the house is 2837, he said.
Looking around the vast interior, I again sensed the similarity between it and the old Albee. Bas relief floor-to-ceiling, triumphal arches stand over the forward box seats. Overhead is a vaulted ornate ceiling. And gold leaf gives a lustrous background throughout. Red and yellow curtain are graciously draped over the wide stage, with an organ visible on the left side.
Streibig proudly recalled that former President Gerald Ford and entertainer Bob Hope headed the celebrities list last December 3 at the theater’s golden jubilee anniversary. Ford presented a plaque from the U.S. Department of the Interior designating the building a National Historical Landmark. At that time, also, the Ohio Legislature passed a joint resolution proclaiming the edifice the Official Ohio Theater. The plaque now is mounted on the front of the building. …
So magnificent is the restoration of the Ohio that renovators of other old theaters around the country use the Columbus experience as an example, Streibig said with pride. …

Author's Note - The Ohio Theater in Columbus has a wonderful summer movie schedule. I got to enjoy "Gone With The Wind" last summer on a big screen in a classic theater. It is something to experience and worth the trip. Here is this summer's line-up:  2012 CAPA Summer Movie Series. It would be wonderful if a local theater such as the Emery or the Taft could do something similar in Cincinnati.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lost Cincinnati - The Albee

There are times when I wish I was born about 2 decades earlier so that I could have seen buildings in Cincinnati that are lost to memory and pictures. When I see what the Albee theater once was, it is one of those times.
For those unfamiliar with the Albee, a brief history:
Design by Thomas Lamb, noted architect of many vaudeville and film theaters, The Albee was completed in 1927 at a cost of $4 million. It was considered the best of all the "movie palaces" in Cincinnati. It was located on the south side of Fifth Street, across from present-day Fountain Square where the Westin Hotel is.
Source -
The Albee received its name from the builder, E.F. Albee, noted vaudeville theater owner and a relative of the playwright, Edward Albee. The theater held 3,500 seats and the first film to be shown was "Get Your Man", starting Clara Bow. Live shows were also part of the Albee's schedule but this waned in the 1950's. Films still played until 1974.
Source -

While efforts were made to save the theater, the Albee met its demise in 1977 to make way for the Westin Hotel. Luckliy, portions were saved, including the organ which went to the Emery Theater and then to Music Hall. The iconic marble arch on the front of the building was eventually incorporated into the Convention Center.

I stumbled upon these great photos while researching another building and I just had to share. Most of these were taken from slides owned by the Cincinnati Preservation Association and digitized by UC's DAAP.

Demolishing the Albee
Demolishing the Albee
Proposed design by UC students that incorporated the Albee arch

The Albee arch at the Convention Center - Source
I hope to follow up in a few days with articles about the Albee from the local newspapers. This one is a recent and great read - Albee Theater Set Standard

Monday, June 18, 2012

Beer, Banks and Waffles

One of my favorite places to eat in Over-the-Rhine is Taste of Belgium. I just love seeing the cool tiles on the floor, the beautiful tin ceiling and eating their delicious food. So I decided I just had to know more about this building.
Source - Digging Cincinnati History
The Hamilton County Auditor dates this building to 1850. In that year, Henry Schmidt ran a coffee house at this southwest corner of 12th and Vine Streets. By 1865, it is a saloon ran by John Becker and at this same location, brothers Max and Edward Weil ran a store offering books, book binding and stationery. The Weils continued this business, possibly in the second floor, until they moved around 1880 to another corner at this intersection.
1887 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source
The saloon disappears from the city directories during the 1880's, when Mrs. D. Zehnder had a shop that sold hair jewelry, real and imitation hair and other fancy goods. But never fear, the alcohol returned by 1890, when the corner location was called The Jefferson Club and the saloon was run by John Kammeron. The place was busy in 1895 with the following groups using it as their meeting place:

EXECUTIVE BOARD OF THE OHIO STATE LIQUOR LEAGUE. J. M. Kammeron, Chief Organizer. Office, s.w.c. 12th and Vine
GOODFELLOW SAENGERCHOR, meets every Tuesday at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
HARMONIA MAENNERCHOR, meets every Tuesday at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
JEFFERSON CLUB, meets first Monday of each month at s.w.c. 12th and Vine.
LITHOGRAPHIC ARTISTS, meet first and third Mondays of each month at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
NEW CHARTER FISHING CLUB, meets first Monday in each month at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
PRESSERS' AID ASSOCIATION, meets every Sunday at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
RHEINLAENDER UNTERSTUETZUNGS VEREIN, meets first and third Tuesdays of each month at s.w.c 12th and Vine
SALESMEN'S INTERNATIONAL AID ASSOCIATION, meets second Saturday of each month at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
SCHLESWIG HOLSTEINISCHER UNTERSTUETZUNGS VEREIN, meets second and fourth Mondays in each month at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
WESTPHALEN UNTERSTUETZUNGS VEREIN, meets Second Thursday of each month at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
YOUNG MEN'S SOCIAL CLUB, meets every Thursday at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
BOOK BINDERS' UNION No. 27, meets second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
CINCINNATI LITHOGRAPHIC PRINTERS' UNION No. 8, meets second and fourth Fridays of each month at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
TEAMSTERS' AND DRIVERS' UNION, meets first and third Sundays of each month at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
VICTORIA BUILDING ASSOCIATION NO. 3, meets every Wednesday at s.w.c. 12th and Vine
1891 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source

By 1905, the corner bar received a new name, familiar to many Cincinnatians, The Bank Cafe. G.J. Peterson named it this for very good reasons. Right next door, the then-new Union Savings Bank was built, now the Ensemble Theatre, and just across Vine Street stood the Western German Bank.

The ownership of the saloon changed hands to Frank Hee around 1910. He continued to run the business through prohibition, selling soft drinks instead of alcohol. In the 1930's, Samuel Petroff ran the business until 1938, when Walter Hee, Frank's son, took the business back into the family.
1904-1930 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source

In 1951, Joseph C. ʺBusʹʹ and Martha Lee Schroer brought back the Bank Cafe. They must be the owners who put up the great sign at the corner. The Schorers retired from the business in 1982. As you can see in the photo below from 2004, the Bank Cafe had also become the Vine Market Carryout, offering breakfast, lunch, dinner, 25-cent wings and check cashing.
The building was rehabbed as part of 3CDC's development of the Gateway Quarter. The corner, called Gateway Arts, housed the information offices and the upper floors were renovated and leased to the Cincinnati Art Academy for student housing.
Now, we have Taste of Belgium, where you can enjoy delicious waffles any time of day, whether with coffee in the morning or a Belgian beer and chicken for dinner. A beautiful restaurant and yummy food!
Source - Digging Cincinnati History

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Hotel at 12th and Republic

I just love this sign on the side of this building at 12th and Republic in Over-the-Rhine:
24-30 W 12th Street; Source - Google Street View
So what is this hotel? The story starts around 1880, when this building was built and Republic Street was called by its original name, Bremen Street. In that year, there was a barber shop in the left storefront, a saloon on the right and upstairs was a boarding house ran by Mary Droppelman. Just five years later, a daily market and meat store replaced the barber shop, but the saloon continued in its space.
1887 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source
Finally, in 1893, a hotel is found. It is run by William Stross, an immigrant from, where else but Germany and he, along with his wife Antonia, ran this hotel. They had 12 children but only 10 were alive in 1900. William previously had a saloon on Vine Street and continued to run a saloon at the street level of his hotel.
STROSS WM., Proprietor Stross Hotel; also, Wine, Beer, Liquors and Cigars, n.w.c. 12th and Bremen - 1893 Williams' City Directory
In 1900, there was a mention of the Stross Hotel in this newspaper article:
During a fire which damaged the Stross hotel at Cincinnati, O, to the extent of $3,000, Miss Dolly Le Claire, a trapeze artist, descended from a high window on a rope made of bed clothes.
Unfortunately, William Stross died at 48 years old in 1906 and this very interesting memorial was written about him in The Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic:
Dr. William Stross, graduate of the Miami Medical College, class of 1903, died at his home at Twelfth and Bremen after a lingering illness, of Bright's disease. Dr. Stross has had a singular and interesting history. Born in Germany forty-eight years ago, he served as a musician in the German army for his term and then came to America in 1883. He was a master of several musical instruments and toured the country for several years as a member of Weber's Band. Fifteen years ago he established the Stross Hotel. Becoming interested in medicine, matriculated some years ago in the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery, and finally graduated at the Miami Medical College when the two colleges merged. There was perhaps no work of his active life of which he was more proud than the securing of his medical degree, though he never had an idea of entering the active practice of his profession. The memory of William Stross will long be held in loving remembrance by those who knew him best. Of his many kindnesses to members of the theatrical profession, who constituted the principal patrons of his hotel, there are innumerable stories. Probably few will know of the helping financial hand that he gave to many struggling medical students, save the recipients themselves. It is safe to say, however, that he was the most popular man of his class. His classmates were often his guests, and at the time of his graduation they were no less delighted than himself. The world can ill afford to lose such men as William Stross. Honest, kind-hearted, God-fearing, a devoted husband and loving father, the deepest sympathy of all who knew him is extended to his bereaved family.
1891 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source
Antonia continued to run the Stross Hotel until 1913. At that time, the shops on the ground floor became a "clothing renovators" shop and a restaurant. In 1920, the Republic Hotel at 24-26 W 12th Street was run by Henry Howard but just five years later, furnished rooms are offered by Mary Whitaker, with Hygiene Corset Company at the corner and Kroger Grocery & Baking Company at 26 W 12th. This must have been a time of great change in the neighborhood, because in 1930, the Hygiene Corset Company is still in business but the other spaces are listed as vacant.
1904-1930 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source
But as you can see from the map above, the Republic Hotel makes a comeback and is once again listed in the city directories in 1935, run by Osmer Riggs.

In more recent history, the building was sold in 1988 to Tender Mercies, an organization that provides housing and services to homeless person with emotional and/or mental disabilities. Some renovations were made at that time and the building was called Harkavy Hall, in honor of Frank Harkavy, a former president of the Board of Directors of Tender Mercies.
2005 Hamilton County Auditor
In 2007, plans for renovations were made that involved remodeling the interior, saving historic details where possible. When it was finished in 2009, mechanical changes made included adding an elevator and central air conditioning. In addition, the facade was restored and the courtyard was updated. Luckily, the "HOTEL" sign was kept so we all could learn more about this building at the northwest corner of West 12th and Republic.
Hamilton County Auditor

Monday, June 4, 2012

What Remains - Central Union Station

About a month ago, a fellow Cincinnati history fan posted this picture on Facebook:
This was the Central Union Station, also called the Grand Central Depot. This beautiful building, built in 1883, once stood at the corner of Third Street and Central Avenue. It was home to the Big Four Railroad (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis) and many others. In 1894, the book History of Cincinnati and Hamilton County described the magnitude the Central Union Station and the Big Four had:
This system (Big Four) connects at the Central Union station in Cincinnati with the trains of the Chesapeake & Ohio; Queen and Crescent; Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern; Louisville & Nashville; and Kentucky Central railways for all the principal points in the East, Southeast and South. The total length of all lines owned, leased and operated in the "Big Four" system amounts to 2,336.11 miles.
The board of directors is composed of Cornelius Vanderbilt, William K. Vanderbilt, Chauncey M. Depew, J. Pierpont Morgan, George Bliss, H. McK. Twombly and James B. Layng, of New York; S. J. Broadwell, Alexander McDonald, Melville E. Ingalls and William P. Anderson, of Cincinnati; Amos Townsend and James Barnett, of Cleveland; Benjamin S. Brown, of Columbus, George A. Farlow, of Boston.
1887 Sanborn Map - Source
 Plans for the station on Central Avenue began as early as 1871 and in 1873, an ordinance was pending in City Council to allow for concessions to be made to the railroads so they could unite in a common passenger depot. These plans were dropped and then revived in 1881. When the building was finally completed and opened in early 1884, it was described as being:
"on a grander scale than its down East (Boston) competitor... The style of the great edifices, which is to cost within a trifle of half a million, is a happy combination of Queen Ann and Eastlake. There is to be hardwood and tile interior finish and a fireproof mansard roof." (Cincinnati Times Star, 3/20/1933).

1891 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source
This was not the only train station in town. There was also the Pennsylvania Station, the Sixth and Baymiller Station, the Court Street Station, and the Fourth Street Station. This caused quite a tangled mess of tracks in the riverfront area, which was subjected to the periodic flooding of the Ohio River. So in 1929, it was decided that a new depot should be built in the West End and in 1933, Union Terminal was opened.
1904-1930 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source

Even flooding cause the Central Union Station to close earlier than expected. Plans were made for ceremonies to open Union Terminal on March 31 and April 2, 1933 but the river flooded and trains were sent to the new depot on March 19th. On August 31, 1933, demolition of the 50-year-old Central Union began and the reported reason was to escape paying taxes on the vacant building, which was still owned by the Big Four Railroad. The first two weeks were spent removing the interior of "fine and valuable wood furnishings", taken by the wrecking contractor and the brick and stone exterior was being reused by the Big Four in other road construction work (The Cincinnati Post, 9/27/1933). Plans were made in 1934 to use the location as a freight yard for perishable goods.
By 1939, talks began about redeveloping the Third Street area into what would become Fort Washington Way. Jake Mecklenborg's website, Cincinnati Transit, explains in great detail how and why it was built. Make sure you check out all the pictures too!
Cincinnati Riverfront 1949, Click to view larger - Source

So what about the remains? Comments made to my preservation friend's photo indicate that a small portion remained at Third and Central. Coincidentally, a blog fan, Dave, sent me an email to inquire about a brick and stone wall in the parking lot at this same corner. He took some great pictures for me and also outlined on this old postcard of what now remains of the old Central Union Station.
Outline by Dave, Photo Source
 Here is what remains today:
Just a small portion of the original Central Union Station remains at the corner of Third and Central

Parking lot view shows the windows which allowed light to the lower level of the building. You can also see where the floor beams attached.

Close-up of what was once the right side of the doorway into the station on Third Street
Approximately the same view from the original photo
I am so grateful that my favorite Cincinnati building, Union Terminal, has been standing now for almost 80 years, 30 years longer than Central Union Station was a part of Cincinnati. Thanks goodness for those who fight to preserve our landmarks today.