Today, I found a sliver of sun, as I stood across Washington Park’s dry spray fountains, shut down for winter. I turned and turned and turned, trying to imagine a park filled with (mostly) women who will march for human rights this Saturday .
Hundreds of women and supporters of women’s and human rights will travel to Cincinnati, and in particular, this neighborhood called Over-the-Rhine. Over-the-Rhine has been a lightening rod for civility and civil rights for centuries and continues today. I wondered what the marchers would actually see in the neighborhood. As a writer and local, what did I want these marchers to know?
I felt compelled to share some points of light and darkness, for consideration as women and men from all walks of life peruse the neighborhood before, during, and after the march.
The event is based around Washington Park, a park built on the site of several former cemeteries. Washington Park, along with Music Hall, once played host to the World’s Exposition. In 1870, thousands of travelers came to see the finest our world had to offer.
While Music Hall is under construction, now is a time to reflect on the centuries of change Music Hall has endured, what a newly opened up Music Hall will mean to those on the outside looking in, and how this icon has stood the test of time. Through private and preservation funds, Music Hall will reopen this fall as a reminder to the skills and ingenuity of our ancestors and the importance of arts in our communities. As a fact, the hall was built for both industrial and German choral fest purposes. Read more here on about its preservation and tours.
South of Music Hall on Elm, Memorial Hall has also recently undergone renovation, though less obvious from the outside. Tile has been polished, air conditioning installed and a kitchen added. Memorial Hall is now operated by 3CDC, in conjunction with events coordinated by the Cincinnati Memorial Hall Society, which can be credited for its preservation for many years before a new deal was struck with the county, city and 3CDC. The Magic Flute will be playing on Saturday, but the hope is this space will continue its use as an intersection of civility and the arts. Watch this video to learn more about the perseverance of small group of individuals committed to Memorial Hall.
Continuing to the south, Wash Park Art offers a small gallery amidst plenty of change, open Saturday from 2-5 p.m. And the Transcept, another church renovation, has opened and offers a less finished interior for events and cocktails.
At the corner of 12th and Elm, the Drop Inn Center was located where the Cincinnati Shakespeare is now being built. The Cincinnati Shakespeare Theatre was the first of five theaters to have performed the entire canon of the Bard’s work. Around since 1993, their current headquarters are at Ninth and Race and this new building will be nothing but stunning. Every seat in the house will be no more than 20 feet from the stage.
That being said, its important to take in what was once there. The Drop Inn Center has been relocated to Queensgate at the old Butternut Bread site. Many residents saw this as a loss. But many also believed that a greater number of men and women experiencing homelessness would have greater access to program and case management, and upgraded facilities through a new Shelterhouse. For its size, Cincinnati has been on the forefront of seeking solutions for homelessness, whether temporary or permanent. You can read more here about the group Strategies to End Homelessness.
The SCPA, School for Performing Arts, was located in the Pendleton area of OTR until a recent move in 1977 and boasts of Sarah Jessica Parker, Nick and Drew Lachey (98 Degress), and countless others who have moved on to star or dance on Broadway or come back and make Cincinnati theatre their own. They too have their own schedule of events one should peruse.
The Ensemble Theatre, a block over on Vine, has undergone its own magical physical and company transformation, under the leadership of D. Lynne Meyers, a Cincinnati icon in the theatre scene, as the little theatre that has grown mightily and become a stabilizing force in the neighborhood, working with nearby social services agencies to offer shows to their clientele, or create a job or position for them. The Know Theatre, one more block over from Vine, is known for its more experimental work and its famous FRINGE fest.
There is and will be so much creative energy in the space where you are standing. Its hard not to act on behalf of the betterment of our city (not just on the stage) when you are presented with this kind of force. But I would encourage everyone to not look past the past. Take note of the changes and ask yourself if the city has benefited from these changes and how.
Washington Park was once home to canals and gondolas. Many citizens slept in the open air, to escape summer heat. Over time, as vacancy rates climbed in the neighborhood, this park became know as an area of crime, while also a respite for those experiencing homelessness. As an avid walker and devoted fan of this park, I can say some of its use is mourned (the pool, the basketball court), but other aspects are utilized to the max. I have found more simple conversations happen in this park, over the dogs, the flora, the mix of folks just seated on the bench. I have learned more in this living room, than in any other indoor living room in the city.
Beyond the southwest corner of the park, the newly renovated Central Parkway YMCA stands. The Y was finished in partnership with Model Group and Episcopal Homes who completed the living spaces above for 65 affordable housing units for seniors. One of my favorite neighbors recently moved in here, and I get a kick out of seeing him when I go work out. The club and housing are quite the pairing, and certainly how the original Y was intended for use.
Several churches line Race Street, along the eastside of the park. First Lutheran Church was a site of support for many of the streetcar proponents. This sanctuary housed many first time advocates (like me) who shared their voice in a safe space, with thanks to host Pastor Brian. They also play host to Future Leaders OTR, an organization dedicated to serving the youth of this neighborhood and helping them realize successful gains.
Hyde Park Community Church (OTR) was formerly the Nast Trinity Methodist Church. While the congregation is mostly a white, younger crowd, I have witnessed the many good deeds of the congregants, acting on behalf of and for residents of the neighborhood, including the reinstall of a nearby pocket park.
I can speak of Prince of Peace, at 15th and Race, through personal connections. They too recently completed a series of renovations. Containing more sparse decor than many other churches, the interior is beautiful nonetheless. They have a dedicated leader, Pastor John, who supports local children through a tutoring program, run by the inimitable Lisa Burns. Pastor John, through Building Hope in the City, works with individuals experiencing homelessness to renovate old buildings in exchange for their service. Prince of Peace also operates a Winter Shelter during the months of January and February.
The above three also serve meals to individuals experiencing homelessness at various times throughout the week. The Downtown Council has put together a small leaflet with that information and is available at the Visitor’s Center on Fountain Square. One will note individuals have access to a free meal at any time of day throughout the week.
On the north corner of 14th and Race, sits the Earl of Race. You can read more about him here. But Earl is happy to chat and engage. He is a favorite of my dog’s, and will tell you what you want to know (and what you don’t) about the neighborhood.
At the north end, near the Anchor restaurant, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing has been serving the community of OTR for decades, through Buddy Gray and RESTOC, and now as OTRCH. They continuously put efforts to maintain the diversity and eclectic nature of Over-the-Rhine behind all their projects. They have a dedicated staff and work hard in conjunction with many state and federal housing programs, as well as 3CDC, to preserve and protect properties for all those who wish to remain living here.
If you walk north on the west side of Race, between 14th and 15th, one will note a Poetry-to-Go mailbox. That’s mine. I installed the box when we moved. I fill the box with poems I have penned about the city, its culture, about celebrations and defeat. Stop by, I try to keep an ample supply of poems in the box.
Of course, there are other streets and point of interests to note of when you walk.
Near the northeast corner of Liberty and Race, the St. Anthony Center (not the Messenger) will soon house a mix of social service agencies who have committed to working together under one roof. The Center for Respite Care is for individuals experiencing homelessness needing medical recovery. Also, Haircuts for the Heart, Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank, St Francis Dinner Club, Mary Magdalene House, and other agencies will find their way in. This is groundbreaking for Cincinnati and social services to step up and share resources, such a one building, in this fashion.
Down Liberty Street is the distribution center for the Freestore Foodbank, which also operates Cincinnati Cooks! from a center along Central Parkway. I have known several women who have served in various capacities at Freestore, and I am assured this is the best run social service, where 94% of donations go towards programs and services.
Further north on Race, Findlay Market has been Cincinnati’s kitchen and grocery for many years. The vendors today are many who have been around for decades, some second, third, and fourth generations. While there are new vendors all the time, some of my favorites are Dean’s Mediterranean, Madison’s, and Macke Meats. (The M’s are coincidental). Take the time to visit them all in, chat with the owners, then make a note to return again.
Across from Findlay Market is Our Daily Bread, serving breakfast and fellowship, lunch programs and kids clubs. The hours are posted on the website, where one can read about its founder, “Cookie” Vogelpohl. Cookie recently passed away but all who work or volunteer here are witness to the passion of one woman. One Woman – with the help of many others.
A few other places to note: Tuckers on Vine, recently reopened after a neighborhood effort to help fund their renovation following a kitchen fire. They are an institution. There is also another Tuckers on 13th, though one should not confuse it with the original. This one too boasts of diner fare and a gregarious owner that my husband and I have often chatted with on our Saturday morning walks.
Along Republic and 13th, there is a little lending library and pocket park. This is the site where Timothy Thomas was killed. His death led to the riots of 2001, which led to another downfall of a once thriving neighborhood. Whether you believe in supporting the police or supporting the young black male who was killed, we can do better with each other and for each other.
Most visitors to Over-the-Rhine know either one of two things about this neighborhood. First, they know OTR was once named a most dangerous neighborhood in the U. S., together with the fact that crime does still happen here, while also housing some of the most passionate, committed social service agencies in the country. Or, they know Over-the-Rhine as a tourist destination for its many art venues, historic sites and tours, as well as a culinary stop for those visiting the city.
I live in that intersection. You can too. Stand in the middle of Washington Park to feel the energy and tension and history that have combined to make this neighborhood a place for protest – and for peace. I try to stand in that place everyday. It’s the only location from which I can see the other side.