Arts Start Here – Gettin’ My 52 On in Kennedy Heights

FullSizeRender_1This is the fourteenth in my series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to find what makes each space relevant to me.

The dawn sky looked to be clear and the sun was rising earlier. From within my courtyard, I felt no wind. Only warmth.

I scrambled around the house, dragging the dog through his morning warm-ups of downward dog, up dog, chow down, pee and poop, and headed out the door, dressed as I was in t-shirt and running tights.

Then, as I drove to Kennedy Heights, I watched the temperature gauge of my car drop from 52 degrees to 43 degrees.

And there I was, parked at Daniel Drake Park,  wondering if I should brave the cold or walk the neighborhood another day. But warmth was near, I reasoned. So I locked the doors, pulled my hands into crossed arms and began my trek.

Daniel Drake Park was named after Daniel Drake, who founded Cincinnati’s first medical college. The views from the ridge were stunning and one could imagine a past, atop this hill, that offered quite the relief from the crowds of the city.

Kennedy Heights is accessible via the I-71 Red Bank Road exit, and from Plainfield Road, Kennedy Ave, and Montgomery Road. As I strolled along Woodford Road and then up Red Bank, (yes, Red Bank is NOT just an exit off I-71), I was the recipient of a few mixed reviews from bus drivers and early morning commuters. Some waved, some stared me down. I marched on.

IMG_0143I twisted and turned through a few neighborhoods to find some bungalow housing, some Tudor style. In this election year, I found more mayoral candidate signs than I had seen in other neighborhoods. Of course, time also inched closer to the primary runoff. If I were to ask a candidate, would he or she tell me that IMG_0140Kennedy Heights is very active, politically?

I meandered up and down streets, some ending in railroad tracks, until I ran up to Montgomery Road. Here, its evident that The Arts were a mainstay in this neighborhood. Artworks was once again present with their mural, and the Kennedy Heights Montessori Center and Lindner Annex were housed in a former Kroger. (Carl, Robert, Richard and Dorothy Lindner all attended the former Kennedy-Silverton school). The center played host to many community events, including a Cincinnati Playhouse program called Off the Hill, with an upcoming appearance on April 22nd. The Linder Annex rental space was an extension/partnership with the Kennedy Heights Arts Center.FullSizeRender_1

The Arts Center loomed tall along Montgomery Road, along with the requisite Flying Pig, and had been the site of many of my employer’s Women Writing for (a) Change functions and programs. The center has a burgeoning offering of summer camps and is hosting the current artist in residence, Joshua Brown, a Cleveland guy.

IMG_0060The community seemed tied into itself. And upon further research, they really were. On their community website, Kennedy Heights promotes themselves as a District A.

District ‘A’ stands for the ARTS & for ALL of US. 

We’re a citizens’ initiative where arts+community meet throughout Kennedy Heights & Pleasant Ridge in order to drive inter-neighborhood collaboration for a stronger future.

Across these two historic neighborhoods that date back to 1795 along the Montgomery Road corridor in Cincinnati, Ohio, we’re a catalyst for collaborations of all sorts, and especially for sharing and multiplying our arts assets.

Today, these neighborhoods are inclusive and vibrant family communities.  Through the contributions of District A, both Kennedy Heights & Pleasant Ridge Community Councils intend to forge an ever more robust future.”

FullSizeRenderThere were several green spaces that rambled through the community. Kennedy Heights Park ,spanning 12,000 acres, had begun as a small space in the 1930’s and been continually added to over the years.

I had just missed KH’s annual Sap run, held on April 8th, which was followed by, or perhaps prefaced by, an all you can eat pancake breakfast. I knew a few runners who would not want to miss out.

Several streets stayed in my mind, far too long if you ask my husband. Orchard, Rogers Park, Davenant, and Robison Road boasted of many unique homes as well as views from atop bluffs. Strolling through Davenant Avenue, along where the infamous Yononte Inn once stood, I so badly wanted to meet someone who would let peek over the ridge. But, alas, it was too early to trust.

IMG_0133The Yonote Inn was built in the late 1800s by Lewis Kennedy as a means of attracting potential landowners to the area. The inn was named for a Native American princess who married nearby. There were approximately 50 rooms to the hotel, and though the structure burned down in 1909, a stone gate remains as a marker to the past.

I found a fascinating read on how the railroad, once touted as a means of traveling to this then-suburban neighborhood, also became its downfall. The criss-cross pattern of the tracks divided streets and families. Today, as I walked along Zinsle Ave, the deserted Cincinnati, Lebanon and Northern line reminded me of the Minuteman hike/bike trail we had walked in Boston, near Somerville. Many neighborhoods, as well as subdivisions, could be reconnected through healthier means, alleviating much of the travel at the usual cut in the hill down below.FullSizeRender

I returned along Robison and crossed the parking lot of the Redwood Carryout, the neighborhood’s only grocery or convenience store. A lovely tribute to the personality of the neighborhood and those who have been its foundation for many years, in particular the owner of the Redwood can be found IMG_0134by reading the community’s newsletter.

There was little other commerce to speak of, other than Woodford Paideia school, a Cincinnati Public magnet school dedicated to promoting Arts and Culture. The school is designated as a community learning center (CLC), a hub for treating the whole child, and its lot contains the neighborhood’s community garden.

The neighborhood was once founded on a marketing ploy to entice residents out of the city, stating it was a “moral imperative” to leave because crowds caused crime. Today, Kennedy Heights is a testimony to neighbors reaching across tracks and boundaries.

IMG_0132The actions and investments send a strong message to youth and neighbors in the community, modeling how to cross the divide. While short on commercial resources, this neighborhood found art to be a viable and valuable commodity in creating its sense of identity. In this political climate, where arts funding is threatened, there will be places where art is not only a means of survival, but a means to thrive. Kennedy Heights will be one such place.

I was thankful I hadn’t lugged my warmer gear for the walk that day. Like most artists, I like to be “awake” in the moment, to take in sights with all my being. The crisp air and five mile jaunt certainly left me “woke” and ready to return to my artist self.



Searching for Stillness – Gettin’ My 52 On in Mt. Adams

* This is the thirteenth in a series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods, to find what makes each relevant to me.

Some of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods are easily reachable on foot, but more difficult to cover from a writing perspective. Mt. Adams is one such neighborhood, not because it’s filled with so many vistas, or cultural attractions or bars, but because it is fraught with history. Mine.

I first encountered Mt. Adams as a college graduate. My first Easter as a Cincinnatian, I plodded up the steps and prayed the rosary with my sister, Laura. It was a time-honored tradition for any local. In subsequent years, I walked the steps while my first husband played golf. I walked the steps with my parents. I walked the steps with my young son and his aunt (who borrowed a few lilacs from a neighbor’s tree). I walked the steps with Mark.

Now, I walk the steps with ghosts. Devin is gone. Laura in a care home. My father is deceased and my mother unable to join me. My son is off at school during Easter. Mark is challenged to take time off on Good Friday. And my walks have expanded to include my local rendition of Holy Wednesday’s Roman Tradition of Walk of Seven Churches.

But still, I walk the steps. Whether it’s Easter or not, I stand on the steps. I only pray on a few, until an image of a loved one comes to mind. I don’t conjure up the images, an aura simply arrives.

I usually time my walks to Mt. Adams to coincide with sunrise. If I have countless photos of an Oregon sunset, then I have in equal numbers, pictures of the sun rising from high upon the mount.

Steps from the base of Adam’s Landing lead me up to one of the best viewpoints for sunrises and river views. Then it’s just a slight turn towards the Holy Cross Church of the Immaculata and the remainder of the steps that the other faithful, the ones not familiar with the base of steps, stop and pray.

In my younger years, I had plenty of friends living in Mt. Adams, and the bar scene was quite active. It’s where we went. Its what we did. Unless there was a ballgame and then it was Flanagan’s.

Mt. Adams first existed as Mt. Ida, where a washerwoman lived in a tree. The neighborhood was since renamed. Eden Park surrounds the base of the neighborhood, and thus the mount is enveloped in green. The Cincinnati Art Museum, which boasts of FREE attendance, is located there, and there is discussion of making the museum more pedestrian accessible via Gilbert once the Baldwin project is complete. At the end of April, I will be co-teaching a workshop based on a current exhibit, titled Poetry of Place.

A few other cultural institutions are located in Mt. Adams, including the venerable Playhouse in the Park, which just hosted a startling rendition of Jane Eyre. The Playhouse, like the rest of our live theatre venues has plans, sort of, to undergo a major renovation. The plans were announced, with no actual plan shared, but I’m confident the patrons and executives will put forth one to rival the Ensemble, Shakespeare and the rest of those located in the basin.

The second Rookwood pottery building was located here, and the kiln is often a room where one can eat a meal, depending on whatever restaurant is opening in that space. The current one recently closed. The Celestial‘s Incline Lounge hosts astounding jazz vocalists and musicians and is another of the best views in the city. The Pilgrim Chapel underwent its own metamorphosis and lives on as an intersection of faith, community, and arts.

The history of the monastery is quite fascinating. The building sits Cincinnati’s original observatory, which was moved to Mt. Lookout and is now an event center. And, of course, one knows all too well, the demise of the incline, which would have reconnected this neighborhood to the lower neighborhoods in the city. As it stands now, most use several sets of steps and then a few of the pedestrian overpasses to walk to work.

Yet, my love for this neighborhood has nothing to do its charming homes, inspiring infill, or for what could have been and should still be.

Mt. Adams is where I go to find a quietude in the darkness in my life.

In 2001, rioting broke out in Cincinnati, following the killing of Timothy Thomas on April 7th at the hands of a Cincinnati police office. A week later, as Good Friday approached (the 13th). At the time, I still lived in Loveland and had planned to walk the steps. Several neighbors knew of my tradition of walking the steps and encouraged me to stay home.

But I went. It was my own private protest. And, I took my young son.

The Mt. Adams steps always represented to me what was insurmountable. Isn’t that why we climb? Not for the view, but for the struggle for stillness on each step of the way? I went that day in 2001, to be silent in the midst of city filled with unrest.

Finally, whenever I descend Mt. Adams, the light reappears and I find it in my steps to locate a particular street sign. It’s the closest I come to another place where I go to find the calm inside.

Of Printing, Pork and Pasta – Gettin’ My 52 On in Camp Washington

This is the twelfth in a series about walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to discover what makes each relevant to me.

Like any Italian worth her semolina, I first encountered Camp Washington through the Sacred Heart Ravioli Dinners held on Palm Sundays and again each October. Back then, my sister, Laura, and I, following a long Saturday night, stood in line to take in a dinner that was – almost – like Mom’s.

I next found Camp Washington through the famed chili parlor after returning from a concert, while Laura still lived in Clifton. The actual the artist’s name escapes me, but we rode in the back of a limo ride we had won, and instructed the driver to whisk us away to the closest chili stand.

Now, I used a similar logic to entice my husband out of bed and into another cold, near-rainy weekend.

In my laziness and busyness, I selected Camp Washington because of its proximity and we drove out and parked near Sacred Heart Church, where the raviolis have been rolled and served for over 100 years.

Winding through the back streets near the church, we strolled in awe at buildings that extended for blocks, imagining what manufacturing once looked like in the heart of this neighborhood.

As we turned towards Spring Grove Ave, we noticed several folks coming out of their worn down trailers parked in used car or scrap metal lots and firing up a cup of coffee and their minds for the day.

Once on Spring Grove, we walked parallel to the bike path that runs along Mill Creek towards Spring Grove cemetery. But what I saw on bike was not nearly as detailed and marvelous as what I noted on foot.

FullSizeRender-83Ideas and Ad ventures is a printing company housed in a garage. I shot the photo before knowing what was actually housed there because I just liked the name.

Next, we stumbled upon the John S. Swift Company Printers. Their motto was “Got to print? Get it swift.” The company was founded in St. Louis, and now based in Illinois. Camp Washington was one of its service locations.

After a few more snapshots, I finally put it together. Camp Washington was and is a hub for printing.

Before my next printing discovery, we strolled past the William Powell Company’s Union Brass Works whose claim was having made the first brass faucet in the west, “west” being the Ohio River in 1846. (On a return trip, we also read how Cincinnati manufactured the first glass over door, allowing consumers to ooh and ahhh while peering inside the oven).

Camp Washington installed several history poles along Spring Grove, including one that spoke to the slaughterhouses of the past, and also of the Queen City Sausage Company where pigs really did fly, or did a few other, unmentionable things. The company spruced up their backyard recently, in nod to being good neighbors, and any real estate novice could tell you that space screamed for a beer and brat garden (to serve, not grow).

The Cincinnati Bindery, started in 1964, changed hands from its original founder, Hugo Grummich, to other buyers, while its assets also changed hands. Eventually, Karl, Hugo’s son, brought the bindery back to life after longtime customers pleaded for its return.

Along the northern portion of Spring Grove, past Camp Washington, Artworks painted another fabulous mural, paying homage to Cincinnati Freedom, the cow that escaped and went on the run for 11 days back in 2002. There was also a collection of smaller homes, some in Italianate style, that populated the area.

Meyer tool, which supplies precision components to the aerospace industry, had a large facility here, so the past and future of manufacturing was still evident here in Camp Washington.

The neighborhood’s origins were based in the U.S.- Mexican War where Ohio troops gathered to train. There is an odd wall at the far end of Valley Park. And an old workhouse now houses a rehab center.

We arrived too early in the day for the American Sign Museum, but I have attended several events at the center, and even when bored with the event, I am never bored looking with fascination upon the signs from my youth. The center also offers neon sign repair and I had a Red Bird shoe sign repaired there.

For those that might glimpse the old Crosley building from the interstate, plans keep moving closer to a rehab project for CORE resources. The last press release was dated June of 2016, and stated that actual work was still months out.

We walked a good five miles, encircling the entire neighborhood. Camp Washington had a lot to offer for the right entrepreneurs and current residents and I found their park to be one of the most charming, lined with magnolia trees and with the nearby community garden and the salt pile as backdrop.

I liked the Camp, and if there were a bit more housing, or a home for sale and I was a bit younger, it might be a place for me. However, once we circled back to the car, we heard the screech of trains and cranes from the metal scrap yards. I wasn’t opposed to industry, but I was opposed to lack of sleep.

This Sunday, April 9, Sacred Heart will serve their 106th Ravioli Dinner. (Doors open at noon for dinners and ten a.m. for carryout. (Bring your own containers and red wagon to pull the load home.)

The Italian half of the congregation did not begin here in Camp Washington. Originally, the Italians worshipped at Fifth & Broadway until 1992, when the church sold the building to the city, which in turn, sold the strip to P&G for their corporate headquarters. The congregation was in essence taken under by Tide.

The church still offers an Italian Mass on the first Sunday of each month, where unexpectedly the congregants are young. “They’re looking for reverence and beauty, a sense of transcendence, and to be connected to their parents and grandparents, the generations of faith,” according to an old interview with Father Fernandes.

Most exciting of all, I found a complete online listing of Cincinnati-based Italian organizations where I can get my Italian on. My parents had a long history of membership in the IAV and Sons of Italy, social clubs designed to help Italians get on their feet after migrating from Europe. Perhaps it’s my turn.

The community is active in many ways, preserving 52 homes and supporting a growing artist community, through their boards and councils. The executive director of the community board (a development arm), Joe Gorman, reached out to me. In his email, he called Camp Washington an urban Appalachian neighborhood.  And yes, those words sum up my experience.

Whether coming to Camp Washington for the pork or the presses, or for the Italian dinners, there’s a grittiness to the neighborhood, including a boxing club, I could feel below the sidewalks, of the desire to work, and the need to feed.

Sailin’ Away – Gettin’ My 52 On in Sayler Park

Another jaw-dropping mural from Artworks. These murals have become their own beacons for me.

* This is my eleventh in a series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to discover what makes the city relevant to me.

When finished, I will most assuredly look back on these days and consider how I strolled Cincinnati’s neighborhoods purely for procrastination (manuscript edits await), and a bit of inspiration.

Again, my husband, Mark, joined as we set off with goal of completing the trifecta of western riverside neighborhoods, landing in Sayler Park via a turnoff from River Road.

We parked near St. Aloysius Church where I turned to Mark and said, “I love a good road named Portage. Because you know you are close to water.”

Heading down Gracely Road (named after one of the town’s founders of Sayler Park), we walked parallel to River Road. Along this route the town was founded, beginning with a square and subsequent hardware stores, plus bakery (This is how I enticed Mark).

We strolled along Gracely for several miles, first encountering a bar stool store, then the many historical homes, brushed like painted ladies from the Victorian era of the neighborhood’s origins in 1911. Several boasted of soaring stairways where might imagine the carriage stopped at the base, and guests, including ladies in heels, had to step up to the main entry.

The neighborhood also developed to the north where a majority of houses surrounded several square blocks and the Fernbank Golf Course, with its executive par 3 course.

After a few miles, we looked downward towards the river and noted the entrance to the Hamilton County Park of Fernbank, a park developed from the combination of three parcels of land and city-county relationships. We hiked through the closed car entrance from River Road and found ourselves near the designated spot for riverbank fishing. That was the closest I had come to the river, other than below Smale Park, which is technically off-limits, and being in the river.

Along the bike/hike path in Fernwood Park, a sign tells the story of the Great Stairway. In 1885, the U.S. undertook the effort to construct 54 dams to put the Ohio River to work, beginning in Pittsburgh (Darn, they always beat us). Dam 37 was located near present day sightlines from Sayler Park. Those dams remained usable until 1929 and in the early 1950’s were replaced by modern day structures.

Prior to rejoining the neighborhood above River Road, we stumbled upon the sign for The Cabana bar, opening April 10th, and the old Fore & Aft. Years ago, I spent a few summer nights out on the Fore and Aft. Because of its distance from the city, I could distance myself from concerns of the day. Many would remember the sinking of the Fore & Aft in 2005.

Circling back, we crossed paths with Cincinnati Parks’ smallest park, Thornton Triangle, and eventually with the Parkland Theatre, showing RockDog and Batman.

Sayler Park felt more town-like than an actual neighborhood, which is where I often get confused. What, exactly, constitutes a neighborhood, other than the city, at one point, coveting someone else’s goods many years ago?

If one’s lifestyle included fishing or boating, this neighborhood was perfect. If one’s goal was to own a painted lady, one should monitor the real estate sites closely. As last check, very few homes were for sale.

Several portions of the drive reminded me of a few areas along the Oregon Coast that circled the bay, with homes situated on the hillside. Thus, I was saddened to come to the end of the line, not of just the walk, but in this neighborhood, of the western portion of city along the river.

I wanted to trek on like the intrepid travelers of old, following the whims of the river, motivated by the chance to chart worlds unknown.


BREAKING NEWS: Sayler Park to get new 13 Below brewery!


Along “The Stretch” – Gettin’ My City On in Riverside

This the tenth in my series of exploring all 52 neighborhoods of Cincinnati to discover what makes the city relevant to me. #GettinMy52On.

Despite feeling under the weather, I convinced my husband to turn our Sunday morning walk into one of my 52’s. In the end, some of our photos turned us into activists for the day.

“Where we headed this time?” he asked.

“I thought we would drive out past Sedamsville and hit Riverside.” The neighborhood of Riverside appeared on the map to be more of the same of Sedamsville. More stretches of railroad tracks along the river. More stretches of road along the tracks. More sidewalks abutting stone walls with whispers of what once lived up on the hillside. However, Riverside was on one of the 52 and so we set out.

We parked in the same spot where I had parked in Sedamsville. Our first fifty feet were still in the wrong neighborhood.

Once we hit our stride, I took in the shape of the land, how our forebearers would have found this site a plausible place to make home. The river stretched lazily before us, as if the current wanted to reach the Mississippi ahead as the welcome party. Across the water, hints of green rolled across the pastures of Kentucky. And the hillsides offered their own form of protection.

We took a side street denoted as a detour, and came upon several historic homes, which looked to be in better shape than those around them. Then, we walked along a road name Hillside, where the last scoops of dirt and stoops of stone were all that remained of many, many homes years ago.

The state was undertaking a $500,000 investment in storm drainage along Hillside Ave., perhaps with the intent some of this land could be redeveloped into useable space. Though through some quick research, I found very little to back up my supposition.

The original River Road was one of Cincinnati’s first roads constructed. The site of the Anderson Ferry, with a short cruise across the river, made for a favorable crossing for many, including Native Americans. The ferry crossing had been in use for over 200 years and was the oldest ferry in continuing operation in the United States.

We had accessed the ferry in the past, when we had returned from an airport drop off, sat outside Drew’s on the River and toasted to shipping off another kid. The café officially opens April 3, appropriate. Imagining the ferry as horse-powered provides quite the startling contrast to today’s transportation efforts.

River Road was once called “The Stretch”, developed as part of the first turnpike system. For anyone following the current Brent Spence Bridge toll debate, there was also a toll road located nearby, in use until 1910. Wealthy families rode in their carriages out for rides on Sundays. The community enjoyed its autonomy and affluence for many years. In 1890, Riverside’s population was near 2100.

As recent at 2005, builders proposed development that would have included Target, WalMart, or other large retail chains, but nothing came to fruition. This sign indicates the area is once again being considered for large-scale development, as down below already contains manufacturing and other light industries.

Looking up from Riverside Road, a fair portion of hillside is dedicated to Embshoff Woods nature preserve, but not accessed via Riverside.

My legs had grown weary from our second six-miler in a row. We turned for home, first encountering this billboard, which I posted to Facebook. Herein is one of many reasons I objected, stating later: This billboard sends a message that mommies need a makeover at all, suggesting that even during this life-altering time, society will still be conscious of and perhaps demand that a mother attain the perfect body.

We also passed the Riverside Academy (a charter school) where my eyes were drawn to a makeshift bus shelter at an actual Metro bus stop. My husband and I both snapped photos, incredulous that a bus stop on a main route, near a school would have, as its shelter, a metal lean-to frame.

Upon our return home, Mark posted his photo to a Facebook politics group. And there ensued the uproar over the bench. What kind of bus system we were running in the city (other than one that needs more funding and a complete overhaul in its logistics)? And because the bench had been brought to the attention of the SORTA board, confusion reigned on whether removal was required or necessitated due its to lack of compliance. (At last check, the bus shelter remained.)

Policies that allow for the removal without replacement for some of our most basic needs of bus riders are foolish. Bus systems that lack the connection for people to access over 75,000 current jobs are antiquated. Anything less than an overhaul is an embarrassment to our city. This is not a transportation issue.

If those jobs are inaccessible, so is education, and access to a way of living that is a want for all citizens. As is the case, people don’t often choose where they live, they live where they do, because of generations of others. Or because they are financially mobility-challenged.

Many homes in Riverside are spectacular, others falling into disrepair. The neighborhood council is named Riverside Civic and Welfare Club. For those not familiar, there is currently an expansive plan for biking and hiking trails along our river’s western edge. Gilday Riverside Park is a part of that trail, and I hope the city continues to create a viable development at the base of the river in Riverside. With so many moving citizens moving into the city, this looks like a promising neighborhood, and I’m sure many will want to visit Jim and Jacks with live entertainment and the COD father as the marquee menu item.

While the bus shelter argument will live on, if we, as city, have communities with access to groceries,  jobs, and safe and healthy neighborhoods, transportation becomes less important. Riverside has access, character, and history. They deserve a viable bus shelter too.

Coming for the Coneys – Gettin’ My 52 On in South Cumminsville

Mr Gene’s Hot Dogs was the only reference point noted as I searched for South Cumminsville in Google Maps.

“Ok then,” I said to myself. “That’s where I’ll start my walk. For sure, I’ll be hungry if nothing else.”

South Cumminsville used to be part of the larger Cumminsville. But the northern half was assimilated into Northside, while the southern portion remained on its own.

I took the Viaduct (is that really a name?) to Beekman Street and continued north until I found the coveted hot dog stand. From there, I parked down a side street and began my walk at St. Pius Church and school, erected in 1925 and now existing as an Episcopal Retirement Community-sponsored apartment.

I walked north on Beekman, struck by the murals below the walkway which connects the east and west sidewalks of Beekman, allowing one to traverse Beekman to get to school, or what once was called a school and is now apartments.

At the base of the parkway was a set of colorful murals depicting life in this little community that ran along the Mill Creek. From atop of the pedestrian overpass, I gazed around the small neighborhood bounded by I-74, Mill Creek, and West Fork offshoot of the creek which circles around the western border of the neighborhood.

Before long, I had found Elmore Café, which I plan to frequent because I KNOW they will card this 51-year-old that could, technically, pass for a thirty-year-old. They also have a newer looking outdoor space that could be a great place to meet some new patrons. Their last FB post was in August, 2016, but I believe they are still operating and I want to, you know, flaunt my ID.

I circled through the hushed neighborhood and found an interesting church denomination of Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo. For the record, Eritrea is an African nation in the horn and is currently rejecting any international aid to eliminate the famine happening there.

Returning to Mr. Gene’s as my touchstone, I proceeded south on Beekman but landed in Millvale, so I quietly stepped back out, knowing I would revisit that patch of sidewalk again.

Along my route, I encountered several affordable housing tracts developed through CMHA, Millvale Apartments, and to get in my steps, I turned up a residential hill and found a breath-taking, albeit distant view of Christ Hospital, Cincinnati State, and of course, the trains. Nothing ever seemed far away from South Cumminsville, unless one has to consider crossing the criss-cross of interstates to get there.

I headed back north and “found the funny” in a restaurant on the Mill Creek West Fork, Ocean Breeze. There wasn’t much water running through the creek now to create a breeze, but I like the images evoked.

As I stood to take a photo, a man walked past. “Hey, how are you?” I asked.

“Good, honey, how you be?”

“I’m great today and how ‘bout you?”(I sounded a bit like a former cheerleader, “Yes, yes, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ‘bout you?”).

“Honey. I’m good and I’m glad you asked.”

I was prepared for a lengthier conversation, but he skidaddled away and left me with a smile on my face, as I anticipated lunch.

For 50 years, Mr. Gene’s had sold chili dogs and coneys to passersby and anyone washing their car next door. I searched my wallet and only found $2.40, so I was happy to see the credit card sign welcoming my plastic. I was hungry, had covered about four miles, and the time was long past noon. I stepped up to order a coney and Sierra Mist.

The clerk attempted several times to run my credit card. “Oh, honey, its not you, its our system.” She located the manager. The manager couldn’t run the card through either. Finally, an employee handed me my coney and drink.

“But I haven’t paid yet, did I?” I wasn’t certain the card had gone through. “But what about paying?”

“Oh, we’ll figure it out.”

I was happy to walk away with what might be a bonus dog and sat on a nearby step in front of an empty building, eating my dog in the sun, thinking this was how coneys should have been eaten for the last 50 years.

Working in Neighborhoods and the Cincinnati Reds teamed together a few years ago to renovate a playground and ballfields. I know well the attraction to wanting only the basics – safety and something for kids to do. After all, that’s what I remember my parents wanting for us.

The neighborhood has an active community council, an updated Facebook page and community garden produce offered at various events. Even the Cincinnati Enquirer recently covered the neighborhood and its resilient residents.

I wish I would have met just one of the residents in this ever-evolving community, but the temperatures kept most inside.

There is a tight-knit, quiet resolve about this neighborhood unmatched in others I have walked. On these walks, I ask myself, Would I, could I live here? What part of me would do so? There is the writer-me that says, “No, you would always be misspelling or abbreviating the name of the neighborhood.” And there is an inner-me, the part that likes simplicity accompanied by coneys, that answers,”Yes.”

(Read more here about the Artworks murals)

This is the ninth in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to walk Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to the city’s 2017 election, to find what has made Cincinnati relevant to me. Sometimes, I’ll coerce my husband to join me.


Gettin’ My Fill – Gettin’ My 52 On in Sedamsville

I found more than lizards in Sedamsville.

My husband and I woke early on a sunny Sunday morning. “Can we do one of my neighborhood walks today? I’m kind of behind,” I asked.

“Sure. Where we going?”

“Umm…” I stuttered while I checked out a map. “How about…Sedamsville.”

It’s pronounced Suh-DAMS-ville,” said the Cincinnatian who often can’t find his car in a parking garage.

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

“Do you know where that’s at?” He quizzed me.

“Kind of.”

We drove about seven minutes – though I’m sure I could have walked – straight out Eighth Street, just past State Street, and arrived in Sedamsville in minutes.

I parked the car near the historic center, along Steiner Ave, and we proceeded to walk back towards the city, on the northern sidewalk which skirts the river. The river view was heart-soaring that morning. Most of our walk to the end of the neighborhood centered around The View.

Why was it, a place like Sedamsville, separated from the city center by mere miles, and possibly linked by bike and walking paths, had suffered in the morning shadow of the city? How did we allow, in the 1940’s for a widening of a road and razing of 91 homes?

Although Sedamsville might seem isolated and remote, residents could take the streetcar into the city and the Bromsley-Sedamsville Ferry took people across the river to Kentucky. The city also had a Train station. – Sedamsville Rectory website.

We traversed up and down hills, taking in a few of the historic homes until we encountered Brent, a resident walking his two dogs. Brent had lived there since 2008, purchasing some property, inheriting one other. He and his wife had made this their home, with partial views of the river.

Brent informed us Ray Brown Properties had purchased plenty of the vacant land and homes (ten acres) along the stretch below us, to develop into a Towne Properties type of East End Adam’s Landing stretch of homes. Of course, the view would be perfect at just the right bend in the road.

However, according to some, Ray Brown has not been kind to the neighborhood. (Read the backstory here). His track record, as of 2010 and 2012, including a restaurant that did materialize, does not bode well. Now that our city is in preservation mode AND understands the value of our city’s history, our preservation codes need to be looked at and upheld at EVERY juncture. Otherwise, we have valuable vacant land, with no historic homes, sitting blank. The city looks foolish in allowing this to sit for so long.

Brent also pointed us towards the community gardens where a run of chickens were kept on a hillside, reminding me of ancient European towns.

There was little commerce to speak of in the neighborhood, but we kept on trekking down to the Boldface Park, which resembled many of Cincinnati’s other more grand parks built about the same time.

It was at this time, my walking partner became distracted by the lizards, basking in the warming sun. Unfocused as he was, we circled back through the center of the neighborhood, now anchored by Santa Maria services, and a few old schools and churches that had since closed.

The Santa Maria Center (which I will write more about in a later post about Lower Price Hill and because the center has its origins in Italians) expanded to a location here to serve families, residents and revitalization efforts. Their work is worth the look.

The famed Haunted Rectory was featured on a Ghost Hunters episode and is currently being restored through the Midwest Preservation Association, according to its website. There is a former church and also two other properties which you can read more about.

In 2003, an urban revitalization plan was prepared by UC. Here was a snapshot of the neigbhorhood’s historical significance. “Sedamsville also encompasses a cohesive array of mid-19th and early 20th century residential and institutional buildings, including many fine examples of building types and styles common in the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The neighborhood’s remarkable collection of institutional buildings includes an excellent Gothic Revival parish church, one of Cincinnati’s few surviving Romanesque Revival public schools, and Fire Company No. 26, one of the city’s oldest firehouses.”  We have this amazing resource for Urban Planning at UC’s DAAP, yet continued to ignore any of its proposals. It’s not always money that is lacking, its political will.

The community sits just below two major greenspaces, Mt. Echo Park, which is accessed from Elberon, and Embshoff Nature Preserve which is part of the Riverside neighborhood. Sedamsville could benefit from access to and from these areas, as only a few ancient steps and odd pathways lead near to those locations.

While compact, Sedamsville (.346 square miles) was once mighty, boasting of the birthplace of Pete Rose, and will return again someday, when city leadership realizes the importance of connecting our communities.

What I loved most about this community was its accessibility to everything the city has to offer. View. River. Access. One really could get one’s fill of amenities considered most important to a successful, thriving neighborhood.

I found Sedamsville to be one small dot that shouldn’t be taking this long to connect back into the center.

This is the eighth in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to walk Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to the city’s 2017 election, in search of what has made Cincinnati relevant to me.

Holding It Together – Gettin’ My 52 On in the West End

img_9220At the near center of West End stood Bard Alley. But the dramatic tension did not end there. Walking the West End over the course of two days, I experienced the neighborhood as a divided one. Liberty Street and Interstate 75 act to define and divide.

As I started just past City Hall, mediating upon the neighborhood itself, I was struck by the fact, south of Liberty feels “residential”. There were many developments and rows of townhomes that gave this side of the West End its distinct feel. Of course, most would not have been possible without the destruction of the neighborhood itself.

In the 1950’s, the interstate tore through what was a diverse, on its own terms, neighborhood. Second, the demolition of failing public housing produced a more mixed income population at City West, the largest housing build that had happened in Cincinnati since WWII.

There remains, in this part of the West End, the first Jewish cemetery as many Jewish settlers started their life here, before migrating to up the hills. Central Ave, once known as the “Barbary Coast,” contained a multitude of saloons and brass rails. Along 12th and Central sat the city’s first hospital (and lunatic asylym).

The Wesley College for Women once sat where Hays Porter Elementary is today.  And Taft Information Technology High School is just up the street, with its occasionally bright Friday lights of football.

Mound Street was once an actual mound and the Cincinnati History Museum wing, in an obscure corner, houses a tablet excavated on this site. On my walk, I found no such evidence of mounds, but I will be looking the topography with a different set of eyes. I find it fascinating we sit on so much history and plow it over.

img_9210Messer Construction is currently building their headquarters here. Unfortunately there were a few historic buildings torn down to make way. (I’m not sure what condition they were in). And with more traffic will come more concerns. But I suspect Messer will plan to be a good corporate neighbor.

Note: There have been past skirmishes over where downtown begins and the West End ends. As early at 1940’s, Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighborhoods, still referred to areas encompassing City Hall as the West End. The writers claim George Street, between 7 and 6th (think Cincinnati Bell) was the city’s tenderloin district. At the turn of the century, the War Department ordered the doxies closed. (No fun, right?)

But another history to this part of the West End, is not steeped in brothels or bars, but in what was established as firsts.

img_9202Ironically, the book I’ve been reading made no reference to the 1886 first African American high school established here in the West End, Gaines High School. But the guide does reference the founder Deacon Gaines, who fought for the passage of the law to give African-Americans rights to public schools, as the person who gave land to form Westwood. The guide also does not mention Saint Ann’s, which was the first African-American Catholic congregation to exist here in the city.

Along the walk, I strolled past the Lincoln Rec Center with its Olympic-sized pool to swim laps, and the West End Y with some of the best staff, where kids run in and out all day reminding me of why I live here, and why I want more for them.

img_9218Just up the street is the Qkidz building. The movie, The Fits, was based on this dance group, discovered via Youtube. Hundreds of young African American girls come through these doors for the sisterhood and the dance.

I turned back up Liberty past the Fire Station training tower. I’ve yet to see a real fire here, but seriously, I’m ok with that.

fullsizerender_3I landed past my center, Bard Alley, and walked up and down the space. The alleys are the best parts of my journey here in the West End. There are numerous alleys to peruse, some strewn with garbage, others just overgrown. But Corn Alley, Bard Alley, Pink Alley. The names alone cause me to smile.img_9299

fullsizerenderAnd finally, what gives me rise when I stroll these streets is the connection to shoes. The old David Shoe Company.

Day Two

I began my walk down Liberty, passed the Stanley Rowe apartment towers, and headed towards one of my favorite, little-seen stretches of homes along Livingston Street. As I rounded Freeman Street, and wound my way around this part of West End, I stopped to mourn many beauties whose time had come and gone.

The First German Reformer Church had a brief stint as the site of a Foxy Shazam video (not my style) and future arts center, but the church, owned by a former band member, appears more decrepit by the day.

Enter a caption

Across the street, an older gentleman sat perched on a black milk crate, squinting into the sun. His name was Carl. He’s lived there for 25 years.

“Trying to hold the neighborhood together,” he told me. He lamented the vacancies that hurt his eyes each morning.

“Wish we could do more for the kids right there. I always seen them kids yanking at the vines that grow over the that wall, to terrorize the dog on the other side.”

We both laughed, yet I knew what he meant.fullsizerender

I continued making more turns in, out and around some areas I hadn’t trekked I before. Citylink is located here, despite initial protests. Citylink offers multiple social services in one setting. They even have a new partnership with Findlay Market. Little known fact. I was once locked inside Citylink’s lot. I had been enticed by their garden, and the presence of figs, so I entered the lot without realizing it was a open locked gate. Preparing to leave, I couldn’t get out. Finally, I made my way inside the building, thanks to the generosity of a client, who found my escapade humorous. What an Italian will go through to see a fig.img_7991

Over more protests, St. Vincent de Paul will be expanding operations on Winchell. I once read there were 23 social service groups for 6,000 residents in the West End. And we must find a way to spread this out, not for land value sake, but for the sake of all citizens. Read more about the controversy.

View from Union Terminal looking out to the driveway.

Turning back around and heading for home, Union Terminal caught my eye from the street. Lincoln Park once stood where the drive to the museum center is now. What a loss of greenspace and splendor.

There were many gems in the West End, those along Dayton Street and others yet to be realized. Sam Adams and and the Kaiser Pickle company to boot.

There is plenty more for me to explore in the West End, The Sands school turned senior housing, for instance. Perhaps in 2018. The neighborhood will hold my frustration, curiosity, and imagination for many walks to come.

The bard once said, “And as imagination bodies forth / The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen / Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name.”

John Harshaw wrote the definitive”Cincinnati’s West End” about the African-American experience in the 40’s and 50’s. The read is a great walk through history. Perhaps if I write more about the West End, this neighborhood, “holding it together” through the dedication of community councils and businesses, will rise beyond imagination.

This is the seventh in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to walk Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to the city’s 2017 election, in search of what has made Cincinnati relevant to me.

Read Casey Coston’s intense overview of the West End in Soapbox Media.

The Hames of Linwood – Gettin’ My 52 On

fullsizerender-64Linwood? Was that really a neighborhood, I asked myself, as I studied my map of Cincinnati’s 52? I had been to the area plenty of times, but always thought it was connected to Mt. Lookout or the like. On the map, the neighborhood was nearly contained within a single, narrow band. One could not really circle (or square) around that kind of neighborhood.

The temperatures were still in the teens when I had left home to walk Linwood. Sunrise occurred at 7:48 a.m., and as I parked my car near Lunken Airport, the sun peeked over Cincinnati’s eastern hills.

Rare for me, I wasn’t dressed particularly warm, but I was emboldened by other pedestrians, the Bob Roncker’s runners. If they were running in the frigid air, surely I could too.

My first steps past the airport, along Wilmer Road, led me to the Linwood Cemetery, now signed Columbia. While I wandered past the Soldier’s monument amidst other headstones, my eye was drawn downhill. There, I found a gravestone with a large tree growing out of its side. Insert your own metaphor here.

img_9111I continued to my hike along the western edge of the airport property and waited impatiently for someone to board a private flight (was Emilio in town? Again?). When no one appeared, I worked my way past Everything But the House and Sweaty Bands, to the convoluted intersection at Beechmont Ave, Wilmer, Wooster, and Beechmont Circle.

Trying to locate the Rosa Area Equine Center, I found Wooster Road. Alas, no horses were out yet, but found myself smiling at the notion of a horse arena, so close within the city. Just beyond Otto M. Armleder Park, I spotted a familiar sign. Prus Construction.

Joe Prus and family operate this company as part of the fourth generation. It’s not often tears come on these walks, but they trickled as I meditated on Joe and his wife, Thelma, my next-door neighbors in Loveland. Ten years my senior, Joe and Thelma saved me from myself for many, many months. And they loved Davis like a grandson. I’ll never forget Joe, and especially Thelma, playing baseball on the driveway with my kid.

fullsizerender_1Circling back to the confusing intersection, I chose to walk the railroad tracks to get to where I wanted to go. As I teetered on the rails, I understood how the neighborhood had grown up on either side of the tracks. But I would see later, the area grew in different ways on the north and south end too, and then was divided by Columbia Parkway.

I found a Main Street section of Linwood. A few old municipal buildings and churches had been repurposed. Linwood’s independent town hall, which was now Ark by the River church, had been the subject of a lawsuit with a former Ohio politician.

Along Eastern, the Linwood Baptist church still stood. The Linwood public school had been closed in 2005 and sold at auction.

fullsizerender_2A few new businesses looked to be taking shape. Bloodline Merchants furnishings and antiques, and an artist studio with a familiar name. Polly Hart had drawn the Going Green magazine feature after Mark and I had moved.

fullsizerender_3I traversed the soaring railroad pedestrian overpass to get to the other side, circled a little neighborhood within the neighborhood with well-tended homes, and traversed it once more so that I didn’t get lost. Ever one to “find the steps”, I located a short route up to the school parking lot and a few homes, garages, and swings hidden from the street.

The rest of my route took me back down Eastern (parallel to Wilmer), past Terry’s Turf Club and the now closed Bella Luna. The last time I visited Bella Luna, we had celebrated my parents’ eightieth birthdays. Harry was gone. Dad was gone, and Mom too in way. But the strains of Italian music and the stains of Italian sauce lived on in photos.

fullsizerender_5Feet now frozen, I scurried past homes in less than pristine condition. Yards were littered with rubbish, debris, and old children’s bikes. Here, I saw the contrast of our two America’s. Two sides of the same neighborhood, struggling to find a foothold less they fall into the abyss. There was a certain futility palpable that day in that section of town. I suspect there is some transition about to happen here, though that’s presently not within my realm to investigate other than a quick auditor search which produced several results under “Prospect Hill Properties 2014” as vacant land on the western hillside.

The two major roads through Linwood somewhat bisect if you take a quick turn onto Airport Road. You’ll find yourself by the Blank Slate brewery eventually back at the airport.

I contemplated an omelet at the Sky Galley, but honestly I wanted to be home. I was cold. I had a manuscript that needed tending and all day dedicated to writing it.

I am still working my fingers around the map of 52, trying to understand why Norwood is not in the city. Or why Linwood’s boundaries were drawn in so tightly, as if the townspeople said, Let’s just zip it up and call it a day. I trace old properties now on the site of Columbia Parkway that further tore the area in two.

Linwood represented so many divisions. Those who tended to the properties, those who chose not. Those who would rise up in a private airplane, run around a golf course, and those who could not. Those who rode horses, those who walked dogs. Those in the industry and those without.

Researching after my return home, I learned that Linwood was once home to J.A. DeArmond Hame Factory (formerly Ferris Hame).

What the heck was a hame? Well, it turns out you need two of them to get your horse to pull. Two curved pieces of iron or wood forming or attached to the collar of a draft horse, to which the traces are attached. This forms the collar which allows the horse to pull with full strength.

Courtesy of LCC

“Due to many separations,” according the Linwood Community Council, “it is suggested Linwood’s unique identity is slowly disappearing. Hopefully, with hard work and great people like our Community Council, we can work together to preserve our community.”

I love a good word like hame. One I didn’t know. One with a history. And I like the idea of community that once made hames for horse collars has the strength to pull its weight once more.

This is the sixth in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to walk Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to the city’s 2017 election, in search of what has made Cincinnati relevant to me.

Of Folding Clothes and Rockin’ Democracy

fullsizerender-63Today, I woke up in shame. Petitions for my candidate, Yvette Simpson for Mayor, were coming due. My email said so. My petition was blank, devoid of 25 of the 500 names Yvette needed (as did each mayoral candidate) to be certified for the ballot.

I emailed a volunteer to admit my failings, informing her I would still drop off Mark’s petition that day.

I drove off to visit my mom and found her fast asleep. I cranked up Sinatra, Time After Time, cleaned her closets, and folded the clothes in her drawer. The task wasn’t pointless but it wasn’t exactly fruitful either. Living in the moment with Mom also means the moments in which she sleeps.

On my return home, I stopped by Yvette’s office to deliver Mark’s petition (and my empty one). Yvette answered the door. Darn it. I admitted to my candidate that I had failed.

With grace, she accepted the petitions, one blank and one full. However, Yvette appeased me by informing me petitions were not due to the Board of Elections until February 16th. I could still collect a few signatures over the coming weekend and make an impact in a small way. Together, the blank petition and I crept out of the office.

I drove down Gilbert. My stomach sank. Is this what you marched for, Annette? Is this what you want to remember, when Yvette wins? Is this what democracy looks like, just because you have had a sick mother, a sick dog, a sick husband and a sick manuscript?

Those thoughts occupied my brain as I rolled down Liberty St. At the Race St. intersection, I had a choice. I could turn left and go home. See if I could work out the kinks in a novel in places that just weren’t working. Or, I could head to Findlay Market.

Minutes later, I stood at Findlay Market with my petition and clipboard in hand, near Pho Lang Thang, where the crowd and the sun were both in proximity.
My first thought was, I’ll just gather a few signatures, so I feel better about my contribution. My second thought was, I’ll get halfway down the page. By the time lunch hour was over, I had two signatures left to go. My final signee said, “Oh, I love Yvette. And thanks for standing up for democracy.”

I ordered a Mimi’s eggroll as my reward, hopped back in the car, and drove to Yvette’s office. The door to the office in Walnut Hills was locked from the outside, so I knocked and the windows rattled. When Yvette spotted me, I danced outside the door, waving a full petition in her sight.

Yvette was overjoyed, probably because of the quick turnaround. And I, ecstatic, marched out with a million women who had my back.