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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.