Sunday, September 7, 2014

Secrets in Those Brick Walls - 815 Elm Street

I stumbled across this pretty house a few months ago at the suggestion of a reader and I thought it must have been a prominent person's house. I had no idea the stories this house would hold!
Google Streetview, 2012
The Hamilton County Auditor dates the building from 1876, which seems like a good date based on the Italianate style of the architecture. However, this lot had been bought, leased and sold many times before that date, so another structure was probably here before this building was constructed.
Index to 1st Series (1789-1859); Deeds, Leases, & Mortgages; Hamilton County Recorder
The city directories also verify that others lived at this address before 1876. The address before the city-wide renumbering of 1896 was 297 Elm Street.

Fitzpatrick, John (0) Cabt-mkr, res, Ws Elm bet 8th and 9th.

Phelps Allen E. bowling saloon, s. s. 3d b. Walnut and Vine, h. w. s. Elm, b. 8th and

Bennett Joseph B., agt., 297 Plum (?)

RINGGOLD Fred,, (E, G, Webster & Co,) 297 Elm

Mork Jacob, dry goods, h. 297 Elm

Quinn H. livery stable, s. w.c. Gano and Lodge, h. 297 Elm

Quinn Harry R. clk. s. w.c. Lodge and Gano, bds. 297 Elm

Quinn Hugh, Iivery stable, s. w. c. Lodge and Gano, h.297 Elm

1887 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source
Around 1876, the lot was purchased by Kate Bennett. Miss Bennett, also known as Kitty, had a quite a reputation in the city, even before she purchased and perhaps had this house built on Elm Street.
The Cincinnati Daily Enquirer; Nov 22, 1869; pg. 7

As you might imagine, this house on Elm Street gained the same reputation. In the 1880 Census, Kitty Bennett is listed as keeping an assignation house, which a quick Wikipedia search revealed was a "more formal, legal and euphemistic term than the synonymous "house of ill repute". Multiple stories can be found in the newspaper archives about incidents involving Madame Bennett and/or her "inmates". 
Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922); Sept. 27, 1879; pg. 12
Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922); Feb 6, 1885;pg. 8
By 1885, Kittie had "retired" from the business and a new proprietress had taken over, keeping the same last name of Bennett:

1885 City Directory
Bennett Blanche, h. 297 Elm
Freeman Myrtle, bds. 297 Elm (also mentioned in the article above)
Gray Lottie, bds. 297 Elm

Moulton Geo. butler, 297 Elm

Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922); Jul 23, 1890; pg. 8
The practice of keeping the Bennett last name with the house of ill-repute continued with Jessie Bennett in 1890 (see above article) and Mabel Bennett in 1895. By 1900, Mrs. S. C. Murray operated the "resort" as it was called in the newspapers until 1911. 

1910 City Directory
Anderson Lula bds 815 Elm
Courtney Helen bds 815 Elm
Davis Josie bds 815 Elm
Hayes Hazel bds 815 Elm
Murray Mrs S C h 815 Elm
Sanders Ada bds 815 Elm
Spillman Minnie bds 815 Elm
Walker Eugenia bds 815 Elm

In 1910, the Enquirer recalled the days of Kitty Bennett, when it was revealed she had died in New York and her name was really Mrs. Helen Smith. A murder had occurred in 1885 in the alley next to the house but Madame Bennett never told what she knew of the story.

Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922); Apr 14, 1910; pg. 9 - Click to enlarge

By 1912, the house had lost its ill-repute and became a boarding house. In 1915, 18 people listed this house as their home address. Renting furnished rooms continued into the 1940's and beyond.

1904-1930 Sanborn Insurance Map - Source

By 1986, the house had a restaurant on the first floor, known as Audrey's Silver Fleet, known for home-cooked meals. However, they closed in 1990.
Cincinnati Magazine; January, 1988
In 1991, CafĂ© Dunderfunk, a coffee house opened but by 1995, Merl's Eatery had taken over for the next year. In 1996, Aralia, a Sri-Lankan restaurant opened and remained there until at least 2001. In 2005, the building was converted into five condominiums, as they remain today.
1968 - Hamilton County Auditor; Building is on the right.
2005, Hamilton County Auditor

2011-2013, Hamilton County Auditor