* This is the twenty-fourth in a series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to find what makes each relevant to me. What will I learn? Where I will I go next?
One life has many origin stories. This is one of my mine.
Two houses awaited my approach at the end of my walk in Oakley. Mark was on call that Saturday morning, and I parked in the lot of the Hitching Post, the furthest point from those homes and trekked south along Edwards Road, past the Malton Gallery.
Many of the roads into Oakley’s residential neighborhood had been blocked off over time, to eliminate traffic pass-throughs from the Rookwood retail developments into the once quiet streets of Oakley.
In my “youth”, I spend plenty of time running and walking these stretches and found the homes as charming as I recalled. Though I didn’t remember the multitudes of allegiances proudly demonstrated through the various flags hung outside each home along certain streets.
I followed along and turned onto Minot. Once I got my bearings, I realized this area was a potential space for the FC Cincinnati MLS stadium. Ironically, I would be in conversations later in the week with a young couple who lived in proximity, and absolutely did not want a stadium there because they felt it would upend the neighborhood. Anyone who has entered and exited off the Rookwood exchange knows the traffic backup nightmare that already exists. I tended to agree with them.
I passed through the more industrial section to Oakley. And I would learn more of the history later in my research. But, as I walked the curve, I delighted in coming up the Brazee Street Studios where my friend Sara Pearce has a studio. Sara’s Paper with a Past artwork hangs in my home, but she became a closer friend when she and her friends invited me to march with them in Washington.
The stretch of retail shops in front of Brazee along Madison Road is worth checking out and the merchants have their own retail walk. The establishment that was now Maribelle’s, once belonged to a Jean-Robert, French-Vietnemese restaurant. The location was also home to southern-inspired restaurant whose name escaped me.
Most people knew Oakley for one of two establishments. Crossroads and Madtree. Mark and I had recently visited Madtree and understood what the buzz was all about. Also, the parking, was a little harebrained. Being from “the city”, we also wondered how much one could really make this a walkable destination and from where. But it’s a great spot and addition of pizza was a brilliant move.
I rounded the corner down Ridge to Brotherton, past a new favorite, The Wheel, then retraced my steps back up Brotherton to Club View Drive. Another group of charming streets were within sight, many renovated hobbit-like homes that backed up to the Hyde Park Golf Course, which part of Oakley encircles, but did not belong.
I trekked up, down and around some of the hills of Marburg. I had an agenda. Near Paxton, I landed at the playground.
I stood on the tennis courts, where I once took a few hits, literally, playing with my first husband, Devin, and friends. I stared out at a certain home across the street. My older sister’s friend, Nancy, lived there for a quite a while. She rented the space, and finally, after much contemplation, she bought a quaint home in Madeira. Nancy had a spirit that could lift the dead. She brightened up any room she entered, and was a dedicated social worker at Children’s. I also don’t think Nancy ever slept, worried as she was about all children, and committed as she was, to living a full life.
Shortly after Nancy’s move to Madiera, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Yes, she did smoke, but she was waaayy too young to have developed a habit long enough for such an incidious cancer to take her so soon.
Nancy died the year Devin was scheduled to receive his bone marrow transplant. I had last seen her seated on the porch, with breathing machine nearby, and we waved goodbye before leaving for Seattle. Nancy and I had bonded as individuals do, over a disease that had and would alter the course of our lives.
Nancy’s death hit Devin and me hard, because, like so many others, we had held out hope for our own cause. Her death shocked and shook us in a way numbers and percentages could not.
Ironically, after Devin’s diagnosis and prior to Nancy’s, she had visited Churchill Downs as an avid, annual participant in Derby festivities. In a show of support and awareness of bone marrow donations, she had sported this sign. The photograph has proudly been displayed in my office ever since (1999).
In an odd twist of Fate, Nancy and Devin and I had also shared a street. Ballard. I turned north and walked up the hill, anxious to see what condition a certain home was still in. Devin owned 4007 Ballard at the time he and I met. I spent countless nights there, before telling my parents I was moving in with him. To save money, of course. We hosted several wild parties, including an oyster bake, when we really didn’t know what that meant, and a few hot tub parties to boot. We were working together at the time, and often drove to our jobs and drove home together, in a weird arrangement that one of us should have stopped long before we started. But, we were young.
We eventually moved from that home to Loveland, but that home stood the test of our early relationship and had stood the test of time. Any neighbors out that day I walked would have witnessed, not a 50-something, but a 20-something, mourning more of who I had been, who I had so wanted be, but was held up temporarily by life forces beyond my control.
I continued at a more brisk pace because I had guests at home. I walked past St. Cecilia, where our former pastor from St. Margaret of York, Fr. Jamie, presided. Also, my father in law, Mark Sr., worked at St. Cecilia’s a few days a week. St. Cecilia’s was built in 1908 in the Gothic style and was a tough booking for weddings, for which my niece will be married there in two years.
The entrance to the public library branch boasts of an arbor and impeccable landscaping, but stood in contrast to some libraries I had seen in other neighborhoods. Another example of the lack of parity, and what might appear to be a more friendly-looking safe space than others I had encountered.
The rest of my time trekking back along Madison Road was spent hopping back and forth across the Madison to shoot fun photos. Oakley has charming square near the Oakley Theatre, site of many great concerts and events, and then back towards my car.
Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors refers to Oakley as the “nerve center of Cincinnati’s contribution to the war production.” The area was purchased in 1846 and named Oakley supposedly because of the plethora of oak trees, though most residents at the time called this area “Shusterville” after one of its founders.
In 1907, long after the racing track closed, Oakley was known for the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company (most recently known as Milacron or once known as the Cincinnati Tap and Screw) on a 125-acre site called the Oakley Factory Colony.
Oakley has an active community council, hosting a Final Fridays through the summer. And Habits had finally undergone a renovation, from my days at Star Bank, when our boss “took us to lunch” there, meaning we still paid.
When we lived in Oakley, we always wanted to be somewhere else. Someone else. The curse of being young. We also lived in Cincinnati at a time when the riverfront was flourishing, as it is now. And our jobs took us to many far flung locations, including the west side. But always, at the end of night, we had each other.
I had never driven my son, Davis, past the home where his father lived. I’m certain he follows his mother’s blogs devoutly, so now he’ll know. But Oakley, always called Hyde Park near in real estate ads during my years, was our own incubator for a young relationship and lasting friendships.
I wasn’t crazy of the new paint color. If I drove Davis to that home now, surely the first thing he would notice is the paint combination, sporting University of Oregon colors where he now attends.
That home had been backdrop for the first of many origin stories. Twenty-five years later, I would stand in front of the home, envisioning Devin driving his black Nissan Maxima up the driveway, me, trailing behind in my Toyota Cellica, entering a life we couldn’t imagine.