This is my thirty-sixth in a series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to find what makes each relevant to me. Follow me on Instagram for a hint of where I’ll venture next.
I never walk in the middle of the day, but rain had subverted my plans, and I didn’t want to experience another setback in my schedule. I also didn’t want to get in a car and drive. So, I walked my own neighborhood. Was that cheating? Maybe.
My city walks first started here. It was in Over-the-Rhine I sought discoveries once beyond my reach. As in the term, apophenia, defined as the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data, here I made my first connections to people, places, and things and have come to rely upon the continuation of making connections to guide me in my days. And it was here that I paid homage to Music Hall, every damn day. I couldn’t help myself.
But where would I start, given how well I knew neighborhood? In the corner, like all the rest.
I walked past Music Hall and stopped for a brief moment along 12th to admire the Ophthalmic Hospital. A few years back, the buildings were undergoing stabilization and had been proposed as a boutique hospital. But, no progress has been made to date. I circled back towards Central Parkway, and found the new Cincinnati Shakespeare Theatre, set to open with a production of a Midsummer’s Night Dream.
As I ambled along the side of the famed School for Creative and Performing Arts, I took in the whole of the school, which I didn’t often do as I rushed past. I’ve taught community workshops there, as well as enjoyed the artistry of a young neighbor of ours who attends school at SCPA. They have a rich set of arts offerings to rival its neighbors.
I made it to the other corner of OTR, along Sycamore, where I took a peek inside the treehouse bar that had a run in the media for turning away patrons without having a posted dress code.
I miss the Diner on Syacmore. The last time I visited, I was with my sister, Beth, her hubby, Mark ,and my friend T. Whatever happened to the white chicken chili? It was the perfect foil to my way too late nights. The auditor file for that address was non-existent when I searched the archives, but that has happened often with our auditor’s work. Occasionally, the diner was used for commercials or commercial ventures, but I would like to know that the chili is coming back.
I continued north to see how efforts were progressing with Ziegler Park and pool. The park recently hosted its grand opening. Due to the afternoon rain, there were few pool patrons, but during my previous pool visits, plenty of neighbors and children were enjoying the surroundings.
Peaslee Neighborhood Center had been a mainstay, serving this neighborhood for many years. I had participated in many community programs here, as advocate and writer. They did a lot of work with very little fanfare.
I crossed Liberty Street towards some of my favorite alleys and the Teez Café where speculations rains about its original use as a White Castle.
Along Main is an eco- garden where a large-scale Northpointe development project fell through. There was too many objections from the neighborhood. City policy needs to include affordable housing, otherwise, we’re just giving away the farm.
I continued my walk up Main, past Rothenberg School, down Mulberry and took a little known set of steps back down to Vine. It’s a bit of shady spot, but I’ve been walking those steps for a long, I no longer notice.
I stopped to admire Schwartz Point, a former jazz club, where the owner used to cook the meals on Tuesday nights. I heard the club might come back, but the swale in the roof left me a little concerned. However, there was currently a fundraising project for its restoration.
Along Vine and behind its eastern side, there is a series of alleys that someday will be really cool when they are no longer vacant. But just the intersection of vacancy and alley ways leads to disruption. Even while I snapped photos, there was plenty of activity going that didn’t appear legal.
Soon, the St. Anthony Center, which will host 6-8 social service organizations will open at the corner of Republic and Liberty. The Center for Respite Care, where my husband serves as a board member, will be one of those services. As part of Impact 100, our organization voted for this project to receive our funds. As I walked past, the contractors wanted to be certain their good work was highlighted.
After walking only a few hundred yards, there was the dichotomy which was so overwhelming. Vacant buildings to me always signified vacated lives. And the sheer number of vacant buildings that existed in Over-the-Rhine was still astounding, despite how difficult or unaffordable it was to buy a home here.
I had spent a lot of time thinking about our neighborhood. After visiting thirty-five other communities, I could honestly say OTR, more than any other, represented the widest cross-section of what was important to a neighborhood, what made it so hard to live here, what made it so hard to leave. And that cross-section was made up of cultural icons, tourism, hot restaurants, social services, startups, chamber businesses, affordable housing, outrageous housing, and an active and vocal community council.
It’s what made it unique (oh they all are, but how many have a Music Hall & Memorial Hall and three food pantries/free meals within four blocks of each other?) Over-the-Rhine had the tourism dollars because we had the cultural icons. We also had the heroin addicts and panhandlers because we had access to free meals, 7 days / week. We had event spaces that were lightening rods for Lumenocity, CSO, and soon, BLINK, (you will want to learn more) and for activism, from the trial for the murder of Sam Dubose to the Women’s March and every little protest in between.
Those were my thoughts as I kicked up dirt down the alley where no one lived. And that’s where my mind landed. And my photos, too. Because for all the scrutiny that OTR underwent on a daily basis (ok, maybe I take some of it personally), we still had buildings where it was easy to hide out and deal drugs, prostitute, abuse children, sit vacant and allow to crumble because of our historic codes or historic boards not living up to their commitments.
There was really only one-quarter, no, perhaps one-eighth of the neighborhood that the average person who lives or visits Cincinnati really knows.
I continued on towards the end of Race Street, where St. Phillipus church still opens it door. The Bellevue Incline would have run somewhere above. (You can see the plaque along Clifton Ave.)
“In 1890, the incline was rebuilt to accommodate vehicles and streetcars. Unlike Bible-reading English section, Over-the-Rhine’s German burghers like a relaxed Continental Sunday. In the English, everything is quiet, while in the German section, people crowd into beerhalls and coffeehouses on nearby hills…No city in America was more alive on Sunday than Cincinnati.” – Cincinnati Observed, John Clubbe.
The remainder of my walk was through an area that most people didn’t consider Over the Rhine, or should I say didn’t realize was a part of OTR or didn’t even drive through that way to know it was OTR.
North of Findlay Market, one can walk along McMicken and come across a brewery which has had many name changes. Known once as the Felsenbrau (brewed in the cliffs), there were many underground tunnels to explore and its worth checking out the new Brewery Heritage Trail for their tours and eventual trail markers. Then, moving along, there were other breweries and buildings to marvel at in an area technically called the Mohawk District.
My walk concluded at the Mockbee, a former theatre/church, turned into nightclub performance venue. It was on my list, but I could never stay awake long enough to “go out” at ten, but I’m getting there.
Living in the city required all sorts of changes to one’s routine, including how one routinely thinks. Earlier morning walks to beat the traffic and construction noise, eating out through the weekdays/catching the theatre to beat the tourists or crowds. Someday when I am done with my walks, I’ll delve back into some of those topics, but mostly what is required was apophenia, the ability to see connections where before there were none. That had been at the heart of these walks, at the heart of my living here in OTR and what must be at the heart of every debate on every issue.
And living in OTR, because I am surrounded and challenged my way of thinking, I really do see things more clearly, and thus issues become murky. I can no longer claim to see things in black and white.