Huffing Up the Bluffs – Gettin’ My 52 On with the CUF

fullsizerender_1I love old steps.

Long before my move downtown, I was charmed or tripped up by steps in the ancient cittadinas of Italy. Stairs that crumbled with every tread, spilled over into the hillsides, yet had stood solid for hundreds of years.

Since that time, the steps of Cincinnati have held my imagination captive and my lungs in check. One can read the most comprehensive guide to Cincinnati’s steps here. But nothing compares to toes tapping on the limestone and your feet feeling the foundation of the ancestors – the market shoppers, the brewers, the laborers and those seeking refuge from the basin and its “balmy” temperatures in summer – experiencing the sensation of stealing away into another world.

I had wanted to walk before the chaos of Christmas descended on the household. To be clear, the chaos had already arrived. The day was crisp, though the skies not blue. I cheated once more, and chose a neighborhood close to me, again within walking distance of my own. I promised to venture further to complete my “52” quest when the weather warmed or my days were less busy running a holiday B&B.

cuf-jpegThat morning, I turned out my front door and walked north on Race Street. When I arrived at the Ohio Street steps, I knew I would walk the CUF.

What is the CUF? The communities of Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview.  I like calling this neighborhood the CUF. Not only do I love acronyms but the neighborhood also encircles a portion of University of Cincinnati, as with a cuff.

The Ohio Street steps at Race’s end.

Where Race Street ends, past the roundhouse of the Cincinnati Bell Connector, a passageway of steps rises to Ohio Street, a street with a few interruptions in the lower basin and plentiful Victorians in the direction of the University.

A meanderer, I had never made my way across Clifton Avenue to walk the shortened version of Ohio Street. I pushed my way up the hill, past what appeared to be campsite, and was granted access to another set of steps. This one joined with one from Vine located along Charlie’s ¾ House. Finally, I was up the bluffs of the CUF.

Most of this combined neighborhood is residential, and boasts of more students and food for students than anything else, other than the views from Bellevue Park, site of a former incline. (Note: Fairview Park runs along the western edge of the neighborhood, where the view is painted with a broad brush of industrial complexes and railroad tracks.)

The view from Fairview Park

The views are stunning, and often provide insight into the landscape that one cannot see from ground level in the basin of the city.

From up here, I catch my breath. I love what the steps represent. The passage of a simple, ordinary time. The original inhabitants were seeking fresh air, better housing and access to work or the University.

img_8688Several homes in each pocket of the neighborhood’s fabric are stunning and qualify as B&B’s (see Elysian Place).  I happened upon John, a resident who was so excited to move back into the city from Oakley (no lie, this is what he told me). He greeted me, anxious to connect with people that might be neighbors. At first, I corrected him. “Well, I live in OTR, so technically, we’re not neighbors.” But the longer we talked and I explained to him my quest, I remembered that’s why I was walking. So I agreed, “Yep. You’re right. We’re all neighbors.”

“Well then, I’ll see you again,” he promised, and I’d bet he will.

Cincinnati Police Patrol Station #7. 1895. S. Hannaford.

I continued my walk up the other portion of Ohio Street, the more thriving portion which connects to campus, then turned down McMillan, reminded of the many times I had rambled through the CUF neighborhood during FC Cincinnati games. The summer brought out many fans, during a time in the neighborhood when traffic was probably light or non-existent. I hope more people on the streets added to a greater sense of safety for all. Oftentimes, despite the heat and dark, we tramped back down Clifton Ave, along a somewhat suspect road most people might have driven once and decided never to again.

As part of a biweekly writing group at Roh’s Café, in some sense, this was my neighborhood too. And I felt some ownership for Fortune Noodles where I could watch the chef pull the noodles and pan fry them for me.

fullsizerender_5Instead of continuing back down, I wove my way around University Heights along Straight Street, though I needed to get home at a reasonable hour, meaning before the coffee ran out.

Climbing back up Straight Street, I closed in on Riddle Road in Clifton Heights (so many heights). I once couch surfed at my older sister’s apartment at Mont Michel during my first year in Cincinnati, before couch surfing was cool. Laura and I spent many lazy days poolside on the weekends, before my apartment was vacated and I could move in. The road remains a riddle to me because of the relationship it still represents. The woman who brought me here still beguiles me with her remembered charm.

By now, I bounded down the Fairview steps, walked along McMicken and passed the Charles Dickens Cooperative. I’d read that Dickens had visited Cincinnati in 1840’s but I had no idea why this house was so named, and neither did the Internet (if anyone knows, please inform me). For the record, it’s easy to confuse McMicken and McMillan as they cross each other. I’m not sure whose idea it was to give those streets such similar names, but in my “younger” days, that was where I often got lost.

According to a 2014 CUF neighborhood newsletter, Loss of public stairways in CUF has persisted since the 1980s, when the steps leading from Fairview Park to the top of Warner at Fairview were closed and removed. Other stairway removals include Klotter Avenue (1996), Devotie Avenue (2003), Coon Street (unknown year), and Hopple Street [2] (2014). The CUF community once had 24 public stairways paths within its boundaries. From that total, 9 stairways have been either closed, removed, or abandoned. Several other stairways may resemble conditions of abandonment but remain open. Causes for closure or abandonment have ranged from community petition from residents to unsafe structural conditions.

I’m not sure I tread on or had eyed with envy all 24. Some stairways reminded me of climbing a mountain in Malaysia, some reminded me of my youth, and the fact that I was waaay past prime and had to huff and puff my way to the top.

Heading home down the Fairview Park steps.

Perhaps the steps are simply a metaphor for anyone living in the city. Never let a stairway, falling down or broken, stop you from the progress to be made towards a better view. Or returning to what might be dreaded, in this case, an absence of coffee, at the base.

This is the third in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to visit all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to Cincinnati’s 2017 election, in search of what makes Cincinnati relevant to me.



A Heart Connection at Mile 472.1 – Gettin’ My 52 On with Queensgate

img_8501The wind chill was eight degrees. I was the only human on the sidewalk. It seemed appropriate then, that I walk Queensgate that day to pay homage to the work behind the work.

Queensgate once belonged to the West End before the West End was carved up by highways. The neighborhood was home to some of the first hog slaughtering businesses and now stands as one of Cincinnati’s light and heavy industrial centers, originating from a Metropolitan Master Plan developed in 1948.

The area nearest the Ohio River is now riven with gravel companies and train tracks. The area closer to Union Terminal is occupied by smaller warehouse businesses. They are nondescript businesses, with names we may or may not know, but if you have ever walked around this area, you will always see a George Fern truck of some sort, passing by. The George Fern event and exposition company has been in existence img_8507for 100 years and now serves 1,000-plus events across the country and Canada. Their parking lot looks like a semi-trucker convention they might already be serving.

Whimping out because of the cold, I walked Queensgate  because I wanted a neighborhood in proximity to my own. So, I simply rolled down Central Ave (not Central Parkway), turned right at the UPS and there was Queensgate in all her iron glory.img_8503

But I also came to Queensgate for inspiration. I was tired. The dog and I were not at our peak of our relationship, his whimpering waking me at 5 a.m. I had a lot to process that week with a mother battling shingles, and sisters in need of love and care. It might seem odd then that I was drawn here, to a space with its rust and dust floating through the air, and homeless encampments situated beneath towering overpasses. With its lost art behind Longworth Hall or the Cincinnati Police Federal Credit Union, and the conveyor belts that ride high into the sky, Queensgate is a peek behind curtain of a city reported on in newspapers or lauded by industry magazines.

img_8508On that day of frigid temperatures, I strolled along what is considered the Port of Cincinnati past an open warehouse where a man, wearing a lesser amount of clothes than myself, was loading rebar onto pallets for the duration of the day. Soon, I stopped for several minutes to watch a front loader (truck name learned from raising the boy) dumping heaps of stone into a rail car for destinations unknown.

According to the Port: Cincinnati, Ohio is strategically located as a transfer point for various bulk, breakbulk, and general cargo. Being located just west of downtown Cincinnati, Cincinnati Bulk Terminals LLC (CBT) is well positioned to handle a variety of products and get these products moving to markets throughout the Midwest. Cincinnati Bulk Terminals operates two modern facilities (Cincinnati Bulk Terminals and Port of Cincinnati) with four (4) docks and over a mile of riverfront on the Ohio River. The terminal’s close location to major interstates I-75, I-71, and I-74 aids in the delivery time to end users.

img_8511The work in Queensgate called to mind a certain someone whose work ethic still resonates deep inside. My father. While Dad was not a blue-collar laborer, he labored tirelessly at everything he attempted in his life. A hustler when he was younger, picking apples at orchards, driving before his time, joining the Army, he eventually wound up in the family shoe business. He spent late nights, running the numbers on his adding machine, and early mornings at the UPS facility, picking up shipments for the day’s special orders. And in between those times, he perfected the art of Christmas lights and providing for his family.

img_8506Every Christmas, he dutifully gathered his train collection from the crawl space, and spent hours in the basement above and beneath the ping pong table, setting up his bevy of trains. I suspect the time was meditative for him, in the same way writing is for me. But I can’t always share my words in the same way he delighted many youngsters including my kids with his love of trains.

So, I came to Queensgate and walked along tracks that abruptly ended, stood beneath other tracks that don’t, to feel inside of me that desire, that pulse to race to work, to work hard. When the tracks rattled, my heart rattled awake.

And I found just little bit of my father. My father lived in Cincinnati for only the last nine months of his life, and here I could pay homage to him.

Had my father been well, had he not had the added care of my mother, I would have brought him to Queensgate. We would have watched the unloading of barges, the crating and packaging of freight, the movement of goods and wondered where those goods were headed next. We would have marveled together at the work behind the work. I could have marveled at the man behind the work.

img_8518Ironically, from this vantage point, I stood only one mile away from the city center of Fountain Square. (For reference, Fountain Square is also one mile from my home in Over-the-Rhine).

There was an actual Fifth Street, with a partially begun road and a sightline leading right into the city. However, my path was stymied by old walls and railroad tracks. I gazed out across the one mile of missing connection, lost over time to railroad and concrete. One mile to connect to the heart of city. One mile to connect to my own.

img_8523* Special thanks to my husband, who accompanied me on Day Two of my walk through Queensgate to capture a few images. My iPhone had died in the cold the day before.

This is the second in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to visit all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to Cincinnati’s 2017 election, in search of what makes Cincinnati relevant to me.


Where Have the Italians Gone? Gettin’ My 52 On with Walnut Hills


* This is the first in my series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to discover what makes each community relevant to me. 

Like any Italian worth her wine, I was drawn to Walnut Hills. That is, until I read that back in the 1930’s, one was told, “Don’t cross Gilbert, or you’ll get beat up.”

Why Walnut Hills?

Following the election, I found my wanderings in the city had taken on new meaning. Or more specifically, I wanted to find new meaning in my wanderings. I decided upon a strategy to visit all 52 neighborhoods of Cincinnati, during the 52 weeks of the year leading up to Cincinnati’s elections of 2017. I was already three to four weeks behind.

For clarification, I did not undertake this on behalf of any candidate, but for my own education and enrichment. To find the connection in the city, to find what intrigues me, to find out if what is relevant in my life is also relevant in the lives of others separated by highways, one-ways and three-ways.

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-5-08-57-pmI had considered starting at the top of the alphabet with Avondale, but that was cheating. That day, I wanted to begin with a neighborhood I could still walk to, given time constraints. I had already over-shared on Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, and possibly the West End and Mt. Adams, though they will certainly make the cut in the future.

My finger ran across Google Maps on my computer screen and landed on Walnut Hills. I have walked to and through Eden Park, and some parts of Walnut Hills. But only THAT part, where img_8432St. Ursula High School is located, or along DeSales Corner to visit O Pie O.

One goal of my wanderings was to go where I had not, or should not, or even dare not, go. From Google Maps, I jumped to the Wikipedia page to find out the exact boundaries for Walnut Hills. But suddenly, my ancestry jumped out at me and I forgot about boundaries.

In a few minutes of research, I learned about the Italian connections to Walnut Hills. (My husbands says only I can find Italian connections that are really not there.)

img_8435From Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighborhoods, “In the southwest, limited by steeply descending Florence Avenue, lies “Little Italy”, with its boxlike frame houses, a huge spaghetti factory, a few Italian-owned shops and restaurants, and many children.”

I was in love.

I tied up my laces and ran out the door, paying little attention to the temperature outside. I marched up Reading, over to Gilbert and down to Florence. As opposed to descending, I walked up Florence Avenue, desperate for signs of the Italians.

Disappointed that I didn’t locate any residual alfredo, I did stumble across the intriguing box homes along a mostly vacant May Street, which had been referenced in the historical marker along Gilbert Ave. I found the REACH development, and spoke to a few contractors working on large stretch of land behind the new Gomez Salsa.

Along the way, I spoke to an employee of Art’s Car Detailing, “Man, I saw you walk up this hill. You’re crazy.” I had to agree.

img_8437I encountered another woman as we admired Windsor Flats, the old Windsor School and Annex/Gymnasium soon to be apartments. She and I discussed the neighborhood changing for the better, she claimed. She was anxious for some of the newer developments that she might check out, when the time and money was right for her to move.

As I made my way back down Gilbert, I was reminded of the article I had read in Cincinnati Magazine, October, 2015. “In 1930, Walnut Hills’s census tract 21—the southwest quadrant near Florence Avenue—housed the highest density of Italians anywhere in the city. “When I grew up,” says Dillard, “we were always told Don’t cross Gilbert Avenue. Because they called that Little Italy. And we’d get beat up if we’d cross [into] Little Italy. It was an Italian slum, really—poor Italian families poured into that particular area as they immigrated into the U.S.” – Charles Dillard, a physician who once ran his medical practice in Walnut Hills.”

Well, I did it. I crossed Gilbert, back and forth, leapfrogging the lights. And, I didn’t get beat up, just got a few “hey girl, looking good in those tights,” which seemed to me what most Italian men said to a woman walking down the street. I thanked them and moved on.

Though I had been seeking the Italians, the best I could do was to pay homage to the former  Cable House Italian Grill, the sight of many a good Italian meals in my 20’s. While Italians may have been difficult to find, I did find people like myself.

Curious, willing to engage, looking for a place and persons to make this corner of Cincinnati their home.

This is the first in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to visit all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to Cincinnati’s 2017 election, in search of what makes Cincinnati relevant to me.