Sunday, July 20, 2014

Another Historic Westside Property Recieves National Attention

Gorgeous restoration , well priced at only 149K, is likely off the radar of local buyers, will probably have a new owner moving from out of state .
This  is the fifth Westside property in the last few months to be featured on the nationally read Old House Dreams website and seems to point to the fact that, nationally, among preservationists , the Westside has a lot to offer and the world doesn't 'revolve' around Over the Rhine.

This grand restoration on State Avenue is one of dozens scattered all over the Westside in several neighborhoods and is just the latest to receive this kind of positive national attention.

You can read the piece on the Old House Dreams website:

While the Westside may be off the radar for locals it is definitely on the radar of may well monies preservationist who are buying homes. The housing diversity and quality seems to be particularly appealing., as those from out of state realize what quality architecture exists on the Westside. When you look at the comments made from out of towers about how great this home is, you begin to realize we do have a lot to offer.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Endangered Cincinnati Landmarks and why we need real solutions, not more taxes

Saving a historic lock by cutting if off the door it came from is shortsighted, so is quick fixes to fix landmarks just because you are embarrassed,
Cincinnati must learn to deal with the national embarrassment of having not one, but two landmarks on the National Trust Most Endangered list this year. As usual to show "we really care", we now have a rash of knee jerk reactions , plans and proposals are out there.

Some are calling for higher taxes, others are calling for higher fees, some could care less. It's a typical reaction of this city to "fix it this minute no matter the cost, or, to not fix it at all if it raises our taxes". Landmarks of this size and scope are important to the history of the city but what is really called for is a long term solution that not only gets these landmarks repaired but insures that they will be financially stable, long term.

Landmarks are costly, they quality of construction is difficult to duplicate and the people, who know how to do this are expensive. The key is to think long term, not quick fix, and to be sure that this city, as current stewards of these properties, does what it can without sacrificing the economics of the whole community.

As you can see from the photo at the beginning of this piece . I saw this just the other day at an antique mall. A bin full of locks still attached to the wood. The 'short term' solution of "well the locks are valuable so I'll saws-all them off.  The locks were preserved but the doors were destroyed. This is the perfect illustration of single mindedness and impulsive solutions. "I think the locks are valuable and Ill cut them off'. The locks were for sale for 14.00 each and as anyone in restoration will tell you the doors they were cut off of would sell for 100-150.00 each if intact.

So far 'proposed solutions' are looking at 'fixing things' but none of them address the long range goal of how do we make union terminal and the music hall sustainable long term. Before we do anything we need to assess if the present uses serve the best use, and, are they profitable? Clearly if they were we might not be in this situation, so we need to look at is there space for other uses and/or is what is there in the best location?

Could the Music Hall or Union Terminal hold other things too, say a boutique hotel or restaurant space. Are there things we could add that would generate revenue? For example there is a lot of land in front of union terminal. Could a private developer be found to develop that land and proceeds from a sale or long term lease could generate revenue for restoration for example. Or consider, our small and aging convention center, too small to be major player for the lucrative convention business that goes to Indianapolis for example. Maybe we build a new convention center with underground parking and above ground hotel/condos on that land and link it with union terminal? A larger convention center could generate much needed tourism revenue and convention business and maybe while Union Terminal is under restoration a site for the museum and library to operate?

The facts are that public-private partnerships are one of the best ways to save landmark structures. Consider 'naming rights'  could we have the P&G music hall? or some other entity? Could the Music Hall hold restaurants or a boutique hotel that could supplement the operation cost and allow the building to be used in better multi functional manner?

We need to slow down and look at all the possibilities for these iconic landmarks of this city. Let us open this debate up to alternate proposals and most importantly lets not make spur of the moment decisions or fixes, that make  us feel good, but fail to accomplish the long term goal of making sure two landmarks are standing 50-100 years from now.

This will require something not normally found in this city, creativity, consensus and most importantly common sense.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Small Buildings should be preserved too.

Grand style in a small package
Some preservation organization seem to only care about grand mansions built by famous local architects. However, Indiana Landmarks is different, they apparently believe that good things come in small packages and while they do help save "grand mansions' a lot of their efforts are on saving the everyday workers cottages, small homes and in this case a unique but small commercial building, the Frasier and Isham Law Office in the small town of Fowler Indiana .

Window seats in the bays
The building is a example of the design skills of the firm of J. F. Alexander & Son . The style might best be described as Eclectic in my opinion but the round turreted bays of brick and stone shown "Romanesque'  influence . The Romanesque style is generally reserved for large mansions and government buildings. Its use in a small structure like this is rare.

Can't get more secure than your personal vault
The building is on the registry and Indiana Landmarks has attached protective covenants that will insure its future protection. The property is for sale at 45,000.00. It even has its own vault!
You can see the landmarks listing here. Landmark for sale
Encaustic tile floor

This property has great encaustic tile and woodwork too and perfectly illustrates that our "built history" often comes in small packages.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cincinnati Corporate Interests vs. Preservation: A History Lesson

People in the Lytle Park area, residents in OTR, and preservationists city wide are all outraged at the loss of the buildings on Arch street for another "corporate box" building. The feel CPA isn't representing them, and there was no "transparent process" and that this was a "done deal" months before any public comment. Worked out in backroom meetings and they may well be right.

This was, and is, predictable , the city of Cincinnati has a history of back room deals where corporate interests take precedent over mere neighborhood interests. To understand why this is allowed to happen you only need look back at history to see it.

City workers showed up to take photos of "blighted" buildings like these in 1959, the car in the photo is only 2 years old,

One day men began arriving in a neighborhood in Cincinnati, the year was 1959.  They were white and that made them stand out in Kenyan-Barr an almost exclusively black neighborhood west of the city courthouse. They had cameras and signs and they were taking photos of all the buildings. Something was up but the average resident had no clue that soon their neighborhood would be destroyed, that they would be homeless, scattered to the winds of Avondale, Walnut Hills, OTR, causing the mass white flight and leading to the deterioration of the city.

This "blighted building" held a local barbershop. Note the level of architecture lost

Kenyan Barr is the neighborhood you probably never heard of in Cincinnati. It was, in the 1940's and early 1950's our Harlem.. Built between 1850 and 1890, unlike OTR which was built as tenement housing, K-B was a neighborhood of Rowhouses and single family homes with commercial corners and area with even larger mansions  and not been a struggling neighborhood  with newly arrived immigrant's, but rather a neighborhood of those who had made it already. By the 1940's as people moved out to better areas it was mostly a   rental district and was overwhelmingly black, though it had a vibrant business corners. There were poor living there but ether were middle class blacks as well who lived there and owned businesses and employed people. There were 2800 buildings, with 500 shops,churches and other non residential facilities. TEN THOUSAND families , almost THIRTY THOUSAND people called Kenyan Barr home.

This Second Empire 'Blighted' Mansion still had its original wrought iron fence
The city first planned its destruction in the 1948 Master plan, that was a plan drafted largely by politicians and with the input of "corporate interests'. People were already moving farther out and the city accepted the idea they would not move back, the city needed however to build a highway to get them there and places for them to work. That plan called for the entire demo of the West End (3100 buildings), but by 1956 more detailed plan was drafted that kept the Dayton street area as there were some influential white families still living there.

No that's not Brooklyn, its Cincinnati, there were hundreds of 3 story single family rowhouses. What would this be worth today within walking distance to downtown. According to the city these were "blighted"
The  Kenyan Barr Master plan was published in 1959. It proposed the complete eradication of the neighborhood due to 'code violations'. The city had spent several year making sure that 'code violations' were placed on all but FOUR buildings in the neighborhood (same playbook the city used starting in 2002 in S Fairmount, by the way, for MSD to drive down property values and make the argument the area was 'blighted' and that project would be an improvement).

Elegant French Second Empire Duplexes were in Kenyan Barr, Gorgeous detailing, but these were signs of a "Blight-Ridden" neighborhood that should be demoed for an industrial park
The city 'promised' relocations and new housing conditions but that did not happen. People were given 30 days to get out, some were placed in Laurel but most were left to their own devices. People left the neighborhood often with only that they could carry with them. There were no lawsuits, no community meetings to save the area...this was 'progress'.

This corner building was built as a single family townhome. With its elegant bays what would it be worth today?
In its place would be 'Queensgate' an industrial park that would insure that work would remain downtown and not be built in the suburbs. The city and Feds spent 43 million dollars, the land was sold to corporate interests for 7.8.million. By any measure Queensgate was a failure in Urban renewal, another example of short sighted urban planning and sacrifice of an entire neighborhood for immediate corporate interests. In fact the book "Common Ground" by J. Davis which chronicles this, is often required reading in Urban planning courses and is a prime example of what "Not to do", yet we keep doing it.

Is it that the buildings are "blighted" or did corporate and city leaders just think the 'wrong people' lived here?
Look at the photos here (over 800 are on line at the Cincinnati museum site more photos Kenyan Barr Collection). What would 2800 buildings downtown be worth today? These were far higher end buildings than OTR and most were single family. This would have been our Brooklyn, our Dupont Circle. A restored Kenyan Barr would have generated far more in property taxes than Queensgate ever will. Cincinnati could have been a premier historic destination . We are but a shadow of what we could have been, and we still repeat the same mistakes, in the same city offices, with the same corporate players.
We look back now and say "how stupid we were"...yet, here we go again.

Rest in Peace, Arch Street, you were not the first, and if something major doesn't change, you will not be the last.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Queen City No More: Cincinnati History on Life Support

While some were 'patting themselves on the back' that they got Music Hall and the Train Station on the National Most Endangered List, those of us who care about preservation realize that Cincinnati's  Historic built environment is on life support and there is no doctor, or cure in site.

Cincinnati as a city should be embarrassed to have not one but TWO landmarks on this list. In case you didn't know this already, Cincinnati is  a national laughing stock in historic preservation circles. Look at our recent history over the last few years.

Gamble House...gone, a block of Corryville...gone, Glencoe ..gone! Buildings coming down everyday, in fact over 250 this year are down or will be down. Arch street is next and probably 5 more buildings even MSD's own preservation consultants agree are historic eligible in Fairmount. We are losing historic structures at an alarming rate.

Why does this happen? Simple, the preservation community has no backbone. In just about any other major city there would be a huge fight to save Arch Street and preserve that neighborhood. We are about to lose some of the oldest buildings in the downtown.

I've said this before and I will say is again CPA (Cincinnati Preservation Association) is ineffective, and afraid to fight for history because they are upset about upsetting the friends of their donors who sit on the boards of local corporations. You have two landmarks on the National  Most Endangered because the group that is supposed to be the 'voice' of Preservation is mute.

Ponder that OTRADOPT and Knox Hill Neighborhood Association , both fledgling organizations, have saved more historic  buildings from the wrecking ball than CPA has in the same time. They have done it without wealthy donors too.

You can not have historic preservation without fighting for it. "Please can we save this property, but if its 'inconvenient' for you then go ahead and demo it, because one of our donors might be friends with your board of directors," is not how you save historic properties. Do not get me wrong, there are some people who belong to CPA who care, but they are afraid to take on the "old guard" that wants CPA to be 'society preservation group' that puts on an occasional home tour or holds a lecture.

While they are doing home tours and lectures our history is being bulldozed. Its time for a real preservation group made up of passionate people who care, who wont be afraid to upset a donor,. In other cities Preservation organization sue, they go to court. Not here that wouldn't be 'polite'. No push for the Arch street properties to at least be moved. No push to slow the pace of demolitions. Preservation organizations are not afraid to get their hands dirty in other cities. They get together and clean up endangered buildings, they fix them. They do not have to be owned by some locally important dead person or architect designed, if its old and historic they do everything in their power to save it.

Cincinnati needs to stop calling ourselves the "Queen City", all the Jewels in our crown are being taken away one by one... and either no one cares, or those that should are afraid to stand up and fight. Maybe we should just change our name to Detroit and get it over with.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Pursuit of a "Country House"

I haven't posted in a while because frankly I've been too busy. With the mortgage crisis and real state bubble in the rear view mirror (hopefully for good) and real estate prices getting back to decent levels, we have been working feverishly on our Indianapolis property, which we have had to hold until prices went back up. We are pleased to announce it goes on the market this weekend and it is our hope that "The Willows", our restored and updated Shingle style home, that has been featured on HGTV and urban times finds new loving owners.

Over the last few months we have been engaged in evaluating where we are, our goals etc. When we bought our home in Cincinnati, we never dreamed we would wind up being defacto developers. But with us now owning eight homes and half a dozen building lots, that is where we are. Much of my time is now spent with meeting with city officials, promoting the Save not Raze program and showing homes to potential preservation minded owners, meeting with builders and developers, public speaking requests and my activities as president of the  Knox Hill Neighborhood Association. Knox Hill, in addition to being a "preservation passion", has become a full time job, leaving little time for relaxing. In fact our last real vacation was in 2002.

So, we decided we needed to be able to get away from the 'job' of Knox Hill and decompress. To that goal we decided that we needed a 'country house'. A place we could get away to. It had to be livable/campable. It had to be historic, and it had to be within an hour of Cincinnati. Close, but not too close to town. It had to be quiet, not urban, and a place we could fix up along the way but not be "pressured". We drew a circle on the map surrounding Cincinnati and began the arduous task of research, looking at a lot of homes on line and some in person.

Of course, true to our "Preservation Principals", it needed to be a house that would benefit from our unique abilities. So in proper "Victorian lifestyle" we plan on having our city home, the Historic Nagele Merz house, and our "country getaway". This will allow us to divide our time, allow us to focus more clearly on the tasks at hand that day and also pay more attention to our historic design business.

All I can say right now is, after months of looking, we think we have found the "right house". The offer has been prepared, we think the sellers and us are on the same page, and when we can make a "formal" announcement, a "landmark home", will once again realize its potential and we will be able to getaway for few days a week. As usual, everyone will think we are crazy, but this will work for us.

We have also set some goals of getting some of the Save-not-Raze program properties into new preservation minded owners hands.  Keeping our development properties in Overlook District on tract and of course the patient and detailed restoration of Nagele Merz. But most importantly, devoting little bit of our time to relaxing.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Solarium Redux: Staging a small space for resale.

One of the challenges when you decide to sell a house is to "let go" of your own personal style. Your own like and dislike may not translate to the demographic you are trying to sell to and often that requires restyle and restaging of a space.

This enclosed porch/solarium provides an outdoor feel indoors.
One of the great things in smaller houses is found space. Such is the case with the solarium. This space is only 7x13 feet but three sides are windows making it appear visually larger than it is. This space was originally planned to be a small study and we selected darker richer colors, however we re-envision this space as being overflow for the living room, perhaps a small office space.

Fabric is a quick and easy addition and it provides some sound deadening from street noise.
Our first decision was to go with a lighter color on the walls and trim, This creates an architectural paneled effect. We also determined that the "focus wall" which is seen from the street above the architectural paneled space needed something special, we found a fabric with a French theme. This material is a bleached linen and if sun fading were to happen would simple "patina' the fabric. Note: we covered the switch plate to make it recede visually with the wall

The other decision was to take advantage of the floor which was done in a simple wood parquet. We chose a tile with a nice scale which would visually expand the space and relates well to the new exterior color on the house. There is also a side benefit that this will warm up in the evening and provide some thermal storage which is beneficial on cooler days.

The classic tile floor creates European feel to the space
We decided to use a French style area carpet continuing with the theme and paired that with an old mahogany buffet, which allows for lots of extra storage.

The sideboard and a couple of chairs are more than adequate for this space.
Because the space was small we used smaller scaled side chairs with lighter wood. The fabric matched our paint color too. Total cost of this restage was inexpensive about 100.00 for the tile plus about 50.00 for the fabric and paint. We kept the simple reed blinds which control light. We will throw in a couple of house plans and a fern or two to give it that solarium feel and feel like your outdoors on a cooler day.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Cincinnati Preservation Bargains: A Knox Hill Cottage

At only 9900.00 Its rare to find a restorable cottage in Knox Hill at this price.
Cottages are making a comeback, just ask anyone on Knox street right now. What makes 1874 Knox Street a Preservation Bargain is its location . Sitting in the 1800 Block of Knox it sits in the Knox Hill Historic Core redevelopment zone.

This home next door is undergoing major restoration by KHNA VP Mark Elstun and is typical of restoration efforts on the block
The houses on the left are undergoing restoration , the houses on the right are under restoration. The houses across the street are undergoing restoration...well you get the picture.

And this two bedroom cottage is the perfect size. It has a dry walkout basement for expansion too. Sure you could buy a two bedroom condo in Over-the-Rhine for 300-350K OR, you could buy this 'right size' cottage with parlor, dining room kitchen 2 bedroom and bath for ONLY 9900.00! More importantly you will be surrounded by restorations and great neighbors. only 5 minutes to Findlay market and did I mention that there is a 19 acre nature preserve in Knox Hill with biking/hiking opportunities?

This is a house with a history and under that vinyl is its original façade and there is photo to guide you. As you can see on the left is this house circa 1920! Note the small windows that have been covered by the 1990's remodel.

The historic Nagele Merz House restoration is right across the street from this home,

In addition, two of the Knox Hill Save not Raze project homes are on this block. The buyer of this cottage will be ground zero for restoration in Knox Hill, Great neighbors, great neighborhood, what more could you want AND its campable . Buy it before someone else does or you'll be saying remember when you could get an affordable house in Knox Hill? MLS#1399747 This is a negotiated short sale home and possession can come in 30 days. Rehab loans may be available.

Be a part of the Knox Hill Renaissance

Cincinnati Preservation Bargains is an ongoing series promoting historic preservation opportunities city wide. Dozens of home shave been saved and are on their way back thanks to this series. Restoring Cincinnati one home at a time.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

OTR leaders, while you were preoccupied with your dedicated bike lane, 50 Ft away another hisitoric building is demoed

The demo of this historic structure on Mohawk is less than 50 feet from the proposed dedicated Central parkway dedicated bike lane  project
Yesterday after I made the mere "suggestion" that maybe we had more important issues than a dedicated bike lane on Central Parkway, I was immediately jumped on by bike advocates, 'self appointed OTR leaders', and Millennial's who suggested I was being an "obstructionist to connectivity" on Facebook. In middle of all that, I received the above photo showing NOT 50 FEET away from the precious proposed Bike lane, another historic pre 1900 building on Mohawk, in the middle of the Brewery district was coming down.

The IRONY of this sad situation is, I actually looked at that building and the one east of it to buy and redevelop as first floor retail for our design firm and antiques business. In fact I was ready to put a great deal of effort in Brewery District. The building was not 'too far gone' when I looked at it. The problem was not in the actual monies it would take to do the work to rebuild the roof structure and replace the floor jousts on parts of the upper floors. The problem was, that I could not justify the  additional cost of legal fees and hundreds of hours of wading though city red tape and roadblocks. Those cost would have added so much time and money to the final project costs that it didn't make economic sense. It also points to why we are so behind other cities in terms of downtown redevelopment.

We are on an unsustainable path of  Blight=Bulldozer and until people realize that we are destined to be a second, or third rate city and we are a national laughing stock in Preservation circles, its not going to change. There are some people in OTR that need to stop patting themselves on the back, roll up their sleeves, and start fighting for Preservation. They need to stop listening to certain city councilmen who whisper sweet nothings in their ear about how great they are , and how great OTR is and WAKE UP. The council has the ability in their application for HUD monies and other funds to change how monies are spent and allocated and until you start making their life uncomfortable, it is far easier to appease the demolition contractors  who will contribute to their re-election campaigns.

While by no means Preservation, the saving of these historic iron front facades in Louisville, at least preserved historic street view integrity
Ponder this, since 2008 when we bought our first property in Knox Hill, the City of Cincinnati has demolished over 700 buildings, the vast majority built pre 1900. Add to that number, other significant private developer driven loses like Corryville , the area around Peebles corner, 3CDC demos and private demolitions where the owner just gave up and rented a bulldozer, all the demos in Fairmount for the MSD project, you add hundreds more to that number. Put that number into perspective, If the city lined up the bulldozers in just one area ( say OTR) it would no longer exist....and you are obsessing about a dedicated bike lane project? REALLY? Maybe, we need to worry a little less about "connectivity" and a little more about having something to connect to?

Even in small town America, people seem to care more about their buildings than we do, This historic façade in Tustin CA was saved after a fire and new conduction will be behind it. Here we would just bulldoze it.
The City of Cincinnati CITY WIDE has allocated only 200,000 for building stabilization in 2014, and those funds are being spent on two projects. one in Bond Hill and one in Price Hill. That's it TWO projects! While we stabilize two projects the city will demo an additional 250 properties in the name of 'blight abatement' this year. I spent more last year on stabilization and restoration of pre 1900 properties, than the entire City of Cincinnati will spend CITY WIDE in 2014. How pathetic is it that? This city, which claims to care about its historic core, gets away with demoing 250 properties this year and stabilizing TWO.

For those of you who are now suitably outraged by the demo of the Mohawk Building, guess what? Its not the only one coming down in Brewery District. the bike lane is supposed to spur redevelopment , will there be anything to redevelop or "connect" with?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Early Historic Harrison Ave Italianate Victorian hits the market

Looking beyond the remuddle one can see the elegant tower and two story bay window which are the signature of the Italian Villa style. This is a case where less is more and that porch needs to go.
People drive by this home everyday without notice. One could be easily fooled into believing this was just another late 1890's Victorian covered in a bad vinyl siding job.

However that is not the case with this home, this home is an early home on the street . Most likely built between 1865 and 1870, this home was based on the  emerging Italianate Villa style. Instead of the clumsy Queen Anne porch  there would have been no porch exposing the two story double bay window to street view. A simple set of stone steps would have lead to a single or perhaps double door with transom. Over that would have been an elegant but simple porch most likely supported by Brackets on either side. This home no doubt sat on a fair amount of land and was one of a handful of "gentleman's farms' as they were known in the day.  A comfortable house in what might soon be called the 'suburbs' where one could grow some grapes and other small crops and live the idyllic country life.
This grand confection of leaded glass was no doubt a part of the 1895 remodel. The suspended ceiling and vinyl floor needs to go however

By the 1890's this house would have appeared dated and out of style and as the Victorians were known to do it would have been updated to the more "modern' Victorian style of the day. The Queen Anne porch was added , a new leaded glass door and old fashioned cast iron fireplaces with their  gaudy gilded mirrors over them were removed for  new ones in wood with tile surrounds and gas inserts. If you look closely however you still see signs of the earlier house with the elaborate crown plaster and center medallions in the parlor and formal dining room.
Under that carpet are inlaid hardwood floors, the mantle and tile are part of the 1890 redo, the plaster ceiling medallion and crown molding are clearly part of the original 1895-70 structure.
This home is offered at 89,900.00 and you can see the listing here , While it has suffered  some remuddling indignities like the vinyl and paneling and suspended ceilings in some rooms, Key interior features like the many fireplaces are there.

One can easily see that this house is livable and one can comfortably 'camp out' while they restore this grand old house and entertain in this formal dining room.
This home could easily be restored to its 1895 period or a more enterprising restorer could take it back to its more historic 1865-70 roots. Either way its livable as is.

The paneling needs to go and the ceiling raised (bet the crown is under it). Part of the adventure of restoration is you may just find a treasure. look at that great mantle!
This  home sits just north of the Knox Hill Neighborhood and on the way to Westwood. Minutes o downtown and Findlay market.