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

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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.

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