Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cincinnati Historic Building Inventory is Incomplete and Inaccurate

One of the primary preservation planning tools used by the city is the Ohio historic building inventory. This inventory was first completed in 1978 and has only been periodically updated. For a city with the amount of potentially historic architecture this inventory report is a 'joke'. The inventory is full of errors and key historic eligible properties are not listed on this inventory. the reason this is critical is that this report is often 'used/misused' by the Urban conservators office for determination if a property is 'potentially eligible. Under section 106 review required when Federal funds are used for projects or as is the usual case here Demolitions.

The problem with this system is it is complex, the actual report form ( now on internet) is very time consuming to complete , most importantly it is the 'field reporter' who is making the critical determination in section 5:

Check box if Property may be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places- To complete Section III.C of the Project Summary Form, you must use the background information and field observations you have made to decide whether the property is eligible for or already listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Please check this box if you think this property may be eligible or already listed. You should explain how you made this decision for each property in Section III.C of the Project Summary Form.

Eligibility if key here, if the field operative "doesn't think" its eligible it is not forwarded to the state. Given these surveys are little more than drivebys here it is no wonder that only a fraction of properties that may be eligible are on this list. With no proper Section 106 review happening right in Cincinnati, properties that should be protected from demo with federal monies are not.

I recently reviewed the entire South Fairmount site table. Did not take long as there are less than 2 dozen properties deemed eligible on this list. Given I have over 20 years experience in Historic Preservation, have worked on historic building inventory projects and written registry nominations, this is perhaps the most inaccurate report I have ever seen, and if it is indicative of the entire city reports , preservationist have serious problem and should be alarmed.
In looking at my own neighborhood boundaries ( a small fraction of South Fairmount) I was able to only find two properties listed as "potentially eligible". 1716 Fairmount (the Laurer House) and 1865 Fairmount ( the Addison House). Both these are potentially eligible houses. The Laurer House is perhaps one of the oldest properties in the neighborhood circa 1840 and the Addison House which is an outstanding example of Italainate architecture.

My big question? Was the person taking the inventory Blind? Look at the following examples in my small neighborhood and tell me if we have an accurate inventory:
Perhaps the most recognized house in Knox Hill this Richardson Romanesque mansion was built for a prominent Cincinnati banker. Architect designed, Tiffany windows, original slate roof with finials, outstanding brick work and detail.
This 1892 Queen Anne Mansion with Turret suffers only from 1920's siding which is over the original and only minor detail loss and is easily restorable. This house has prominent family ownership, and outstanding interior details.This 1894 Victorian: prominent family ownership, architect designed, original slate roof with finials and lightning rods, Outstanding designed stained glass windows including a palladium painted and stained glass landing window. Intact period interior detailing as well
Rare 1860's frame Gothic church with original Gothic arch windows, original double Gothic arch doors. Rarest of the rare architecturally and perhaps one of a few frame Gothic small church structures left in the entire state in this condition.
1871 Second Empire "Nagele-Merz House" with neo grec interior stencilling, Antone Nagele (Nagele stone works) also built the historic retaining wall in front of this house. ( House under restoration) One of 14 Identified second empire structures within the district. (potential architectural style cluster) 1895 late Victorian/early Craftsman with diamond limestone detailing on the front columns Tudor detailing on the front facing gable, this home has a historic garden side yard designed in the 1920's with extensive stone work and period plantings. Prominent local family ownership history1894 "Chalet style". Rare style architecture with yellow brick with massive bracketry, easily mistaken for craftsman. This home features high style architectural interior details and has been in same family ownership for 4 generations.
1906 Craftsman on Knox: Remarkable, never modified, center hall arts and crafts bungalow with original tile roof, original windows and superior period Craftsman. An outstanding textbook example of the craftsman style.

Amazingly NOT ONE of these properties is listed on the historic building inventory as potentially eligible!

These are just a fraction of potentially eligible properties based on architecture and/or history in our neighborhood. Other structures not potentially eligible for individual lisiting may be 'contributing structures" to a historic district or a historic cluster of intact structures.

An inaccurate Historic Building Inventory report puts historic property in danger. Given we do not have a proper 106 review in place, there may be hundreds of properties on the demo list that should not be. We know many have been demolished using federal monies without proper review or review based on looking at this building inventory report which is seriously flawed and incomplete.

Given the city expects to complete an update survey of 24 neighborhoods this year with one person, we should all be alarmed about the quality for this 'update' to contain any meaningfull data? It can typically take 1-2 years for team of people to conduct a proper inventory in other states in just one township with a high concentration of quality architecture and Cincinnati will do it in 6 months for 24 neighborhoods? Incredible.

The solution? In my opinion neighborhood groups must take the responsibility to conduct their own building inventory and submit that information to the state OHPO to have that data reviewed so the Historic Building inventory is accurate and potentially historic structures are not demolished using our federal Tax dollars. We need preservation of our historic building inventory not its destruction. The Urban Conservators office lacks the staff, or knowledge, to properly complete this task. It is going to be up to the Preservation Community to see this is done right.


St Charles said...

Name and Phone number of who to call to complain please. What happen to the buildings featured last week that they were trying to doze? The city Consevator needs to get some help or step down.

Paul Wilham said...

I do not think its an issue of complaint as much as it is recognizing the problem exists. I have asked OHPO to comment back to me on this issue. I believe its going to ultimately be up to neighorhood groups and local preservation interests to see these properties are on the the inventory, and I think we will have top submit them.

The city neither has the money (or the inclination) to put more properties on this inventory list because it means more hoops for them to jump through.

Imagine if all the property in Cincinnati that is trully Historic was actually registered historic? We would have the largest collection of landmarks in the nation.

When this Inventory list was first done IN 1978 no field worker would have even noticed a mid century structure or even an art modern building. They were looking at early houses or houses that just screamed landmark or had architect provenance.

What we consider historic and what we need to protect has changed alot in 32 years!

St Charles said...

Yes I agree but what happened to the houses featured before the last demo hearing?

Paul Wilham said...

Likely will be another week/10 days before we get deternminations back, but typically they are always declared for demo.

It really is a 'sham' hearing at eth nuisance board. I can't recall the last time they didnt order a property demoed and clearly concerns are falling on a deaf ear at eth Urban Conservator becaue he rubber stamps these on to nuisance board.

Probably going to take a trip to federal court to stop them.