Friday, June 11, 2010

Cincinnati Urban Conservators office is NOT doing their job!

1873 Westwood is what is known in urban planning as an "anchor structure". A key structure that helps 'define' a neighborhood. It is an example of something that is fading from the American landscape "the corner store". It is to any one with any level of training or appreciation of architecture a thing of beauty. Maybe a little "down on its luck " but easily restored
This is what the City of Cincinnati did to it in the name of "blight abatement". When every other forward thinking city now works to stabilize structures like this and likely "landbank" them our city clings to an outdated urban renewal model that has FAILED everywhere else and long abandoned. If you recall I reported about the MSD plans to majorly improve the area with an infrastructure project that would create new park nearby. This structure 'could have' been a part of that redevelopment.

No I cant blame the contractor, he is just doing his job. I can't even blame Ed Cunningham's department because they have to ask for sign off to do this, and take it to a nuisance board hearing. I can't blame the South Fairmount Community Council which misguidedly turns in property like this and doesn't advocate for stabilization. (though they need a serious 'attitude change')

There is one entity to blame The office of the Urban Conservator of the City of Cincinnati. They are the ones who determine if this building lives or dies. You see most demolitions are done using Federal dollars. The Historic preservation act of 1966 requires that the city to determine if any building 50 years old is Potentially historic and could be listed on the historic register. That is determined by a process called a Section 106 review. A process this city does not have.

1673 Westwood is EASY to create an architectural case for:

"Classic Italianate double brick storefront with stone detailing. Storefront circa 1875-1885 (possibly as early as 1870) The building features high style tin entablature at the top of the building (likely from Cincinnati tin works, A columnar storefront design with cast iron columns (possibly Mesker) The building appears to have intact storefronts with transom over windows. One can observe 2 over 2 windows on many of the upper floor windows indicating that these are original .The Brick work on the chimneys is well detailed and exhibits good craftsmanship. Overall an exceptional example of mixed use corner store architecture.I suspect the interior also had period details as well"

The above is just from looking at the photo not doing a site visit.

Local preservationist Bob Prokop was able to find this historic information by just some very minor research:

"From 1898 to at least 1919, the Spring Garden Loan & Building Company met every Tuesday evening at 1673 Westwood Avenue. In the mid 1920s, the Beneficial Union, South Fairmount District No. 466 met every Thursday at 1673 Westwood Avenue. In 1896, Mr. Harry (a driver), Mr. Bernard (a plumber), and Mr. Henry (a grocer) live in upstairs apartments at 1673 Westwood Avenue. In 1922, two gentlemen by the name of Arthur F. Heuschling and Harry A. Geers — both of them in the soft drink business — lived in upstairs apartments at 1673 Westwood Avenue.

Isn't it interesting that in what I assume was not a lot of time that Bob was able to identify people and events that took place at 1673 Westwood?

Isn't it interesting that I was able to do an accurate architectural assessment by just looking at a picture? If the building was standing and I spent maybe 15-20 minutes there, I probably could prepare a 4-5 page architectural review report on it.

There is already enough written history about the South Fairmount area on the net.

My point? I've seen national registry nominations approved with about that much information.

This begs the question. Just what does the Urban Conservator actually do in the City of Cincinnati?

I will grant you the office is understaffed for a city with the amount of architecture Cincinnati has. It is REALLY understaffed in terms of the ability and the lack of "preservation background" of the staff. This is what happens when people are placed in positions because of "politics not practice". The taxpayers and this city deserve better.

Had there been a proper Section 106 review, as most cities do, the Urban Conservator would have performed a site visit. Had that taken place, a TRAINED Urban Conservator would have observed the same architectural detail that I was able to discern from a photo.

This would have then triggered "trained staff people" to do a very basic internet search on the location, check some Sanborn insurance maps, check old city directories etc.

Had ANY of that been done by the Urban conservator and his staff, this building would have been determined to be 'potentially historic" and placed on the city inventory survey. Had a REAL section 106 review been done, members of the community, might have come forward with additional information.

My point, NONE of this is being done. The Urban Conservator is not doing his job. He is not following the programmatic agreement with Ohio Historic Preservation Office (OHPO). I have copies of emails where OHPO is telling Mr Harris that he MUST do site visits, that he MUST afford an avenue for Section 106 review, that the Nuisance Board determination is not the place for public comments about the history and architecture and if information comes forward at that hearing, it MUST go to the Urban Conservators office and be reviewed.

I have ZERO confidence that the Office of the Urban Conservator is performing the function required under the programmatic agreement with the city and therefore the state OHPO should review EVERYTHING on that demo list and demand the city provide to them proof section 106 reviews were done. If not TERMINATE the agreement and yank the federal funding! Maybe that will wake up the mayor and city council to how SERIOUS this is.

This isn't a "new problem' this has been going on for years. If the City wants vibrant urban neighborhoods then it must install the trained staff to properly do the job they MUST do by state and federal law.

Otherwise I predict the city will find itself subject of federal audits. In the meantime , in my opinion ALL demolitions of property older than 50 years old should be halted until OHPO determines the city has a proper section 106 review.

We NEED a workable section 106 review and this will be topic of conversation on the agenda of the livable Communities Committe of City Council on June 22 at 2:00 pm. If you would like to comment feel free to attend the meeting. If you can't attend the meeting but have concerns I suggest you email or call Ron Wahl, Assistant to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls
Ph: (513)352-6228 Fax: (513)352-3621,


Rick said...

it sickens me to see cincinnati literally disappearing every day i drive around. they seem hell-bent on making this place as generic as every other city in the US.

St Charles said...

WTH is wrong with the City Government in Cincinnati? Other Cities would die for a marvel such as that building. The country is swinging back to the small local store and this spot would have been ideal. Check out this article in the St Louis Post

My heart is broken to see that beautiful building gone. We need a lawsuit NOW against the City and the overseeer has to pull the funding NOW. Not one more building can be torn down until this is resolved. This is too big of loss. I am on the PHONE NOW Will everyone else please join me. What really makes me boil is they are using our tax dollars for this craziness.

St Charles said...

What is the OHIO Preservation Office Number to contact to raise HELL

St Charles said...

If Cincinnati wants us to come and spend millions of dollars restoring the area They have to give us protection from the dozers. We need immediate action NOW.

Paul Wilham said...

OHPO is on this. They issued an ultimatum letter on May 27th that the city had to produce documentaion of their process, they asked for specific case files. A halt on one specific demolition as well.

I recieved an email from them today and they have added these recent demolitions to an ever growing case file.

Accoding to the letter I was CC'd on from 5/27, if they do not produce the documents and demonstate they have a viable section 106 process, they will move to dispute the agreement under stipulation X and that can result in termination or substancial modification of the agreement.

No process? No agreement and that means, NO FEDERAL FUNDING. The urban conservator isnt taking this seriously but others are.

Maybe when the city gets its federal monies cut. Or has to PAY BACK millions in NSP funds, it will understand how serious this is.

St Charles said...

It is huge Paul This is the single most important issue facing Cincinnati. How do they expect us to invest millions of dollars in the City of Cincinnati if they do not offer us reasonable assurance and protection That the money we are spending is being wisely invested. IE that the city is not pulling the rug out from under us. I think we need to file a suit and ask for the demos to be stayed until this is stopped. The Westwood Building is way over the line.