Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Neighborhood Shoots For Historic District Status for 2010

The Knox Hill Neighborhood is setting ambitious goals for 2010. The centerpiece of those goals is seeking Historic District Status for the area. The organization, formed in 2008, is small but that their small size may help the group move more quickly than other large neighborhoods who often get bogged down in politics.
The Knox Hill Neighborhood straddles the boundaries between North and South Fairmount, a boundary that depending on whom you talk to begins and ends at different places. The Cagis map shows one side of Fairmount St in North Fairmount the other side in South Fairmount. However as most residents will tell you "Knox hill, is a neighborhood within the town of Fairmount which was annexed into the City of Cincinnati".

The neighborhood group knew the houses were historic but didn't know just how important the Knox Hill area was to the German Community and in fact the history of the City of Cincinnati. The area is different than most of Fairmount which is made up of mostly small urban lots, The area was considered to be a perfect 'country getaway' and many of the "well to do" built weekend and summer homes where they could escape the grime, and congestion of the city of Cincinnati in the late 1870's.

The area was composed of what was the Luckey, Kinsey and Clark Farms as shown on early maps, in what it now known as Fairmount. It is interesting to note that Knox Street was only one block long and was called Irwin as you went East. What is now Fairmount was known as Central Ave. Prospect street is Now called Luckey Street in honor of one of the original founders. Locals simply called the area Kinsey farm or "Knox Hill".

In fact the area was unique in that most of its homes were not originally built as year round residences but rather as "weekend cottages" for wealthy industrialist and prominent German businessman who wanted to be close to the "Schuetzen Verein " which was an exclusive German club housed in the old Baptist Seminary building which was purchased in 1866 by a group of German businessman and remodeled and enlarged to include verandas, a rooftop viewing Cupola and the obligatory beer garden.

Today the site of Christian Park which was originally known as "Schuetzenbuckle Park". It was that development that fostered most of the house building in the area and it was only after 1888 when a devastating fire destroyed the Schuetzen Vernin that the houses began to be expanded and changed from weekend use to full time residences. These homes were purchased by mostly German Businessman and Shopkeepers and the area remained a German enclave well into the 1940's unlike most of Fairmount which was Italian.

The group has began an architectural survey of the area and most homes date from 1865-1890. Four structures have been identified that are Pre Civil war and may date to as early as 1850 making them some of the oldest residences on the West side. In addition to the cottages, the area is also home to several large mansions which sit on large "estate size lots'
The neighborhood Association expects a uphill battle to get the area declared Historic. As one resident put it "The city pretty much gave up on this area years ago and it had become 'dumping ground' for low income housing and after the neighborhood ran down they started bulldozing everything in site. The city's perception, and value, of the neighborhood, and ours. is totally different."

In fact one of the main focuses of the neighborhood group has been to stop demolition in the neighborhood and with its' "Save not Raze" project" the group has been trying to find buyers for properties currently on the city's "Keep vacant' , VBML, or Condemn list. Unfortunately the VBML designation in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods is often a "death sentence" for a home. Banks will not lend money on a home with a VBML designation and most old house lovers and Restorers want to live in a house while they restore it. Currently the group is exploring the whole VBML problem and hopes to submit a list of recommendations to the council next year to encourage restoration and redevelopment that could involve the possible creation of a historic preservation zone that would allow for some workarounds to the VBML and condemn orders, waiving of some inspection fees as an incentive to restoration and get owner occupants into these houses quickly and get them restored.

"The timing isn't ideal to pursue Historic status, with the city focused on its own long range plans but if we do not go for historic status now, in a few years, given the city's "bulldoze mentality", the neighborhood could be too far gone to be a cohesive historic district and Cincinnati will lose an important part pf its early history, said Greg Drake, part of the historic research committee."

The committee hopes to complete the architectural survey soon and begin the historic ownership phase research in Early 2010. The group's plan is to present a thoroughly researched nomination proposal to the Historic Conservation Commission. As one committee member put it " We are willing to do the work, after all , it is our neighborhood, and we realize , all things being equal , the city certainly wouldn't want to touch another registry nomination if they actually had to do much legwork. It makes it harder to say no when you lay all the information at their feet"
The group is currently asking that anyone with any historic photos or information about the area contact them. The group is especially interested in talking to previous homeowners who once lived in the area. More information about Knox Hill is on the Neighborhood website:

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