Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cincinnati's Lost Neigborhood: Kenyon-Barr, The greatest "Architectural Rape" in city history!

Today's blog is about a journey of discovery and how I am still learning about the history of this city. The more I learn about how corrupt city officials have destroyed it over the years, the more determined I am to save it.
Classic High Storefront at 654 Carr. It and everything around it is now a gone and a low end Industrial park!

Like most  Architecture and Preservation Enthusiasts I am always on the lookout for piece of Cincinnati history. Historical documents, old postcards, stock certificates inn long gone companies and of course Photographs! I buy mostly on line, sometimes I find things at antiques shops or junk shops. A few weeks ago I bought 3 old black and white photographs and at first I assumed they had to be OTR or West End. High end architecture 1860's-70's, the photos were taken around 1960 based on the paper and processing. They also has a guy standing in front of each one with a  sign. It looked like an architectural survey photo. On the back of each one was handwritten in pencil Cincinnati. One had an address 654 Carr. A quick check of Google showed an industrial area west of Freeman between 6th and 8th, in fact the whole area was nothing but industrial. Once again shaking my head I wondered what :idiot at city hall tore this one down. But I still didnt know where the other two photos were, a nice Second Empire Townhouse and an incredible bayed Italianate. It took some time and a fair amount of research but I am here today to talk about a neighborhood called  Kenyon-Barr, that you never heard of, and the story of the greatest example of "Architectural Rape" of a neighborhood in Cincinnati History.
San Francisco? New York? No Cincinnati! IMAGINE what 636 Carlisle would be worth restored today?

Kenyon Barr was just as elegant as many parts of OTR, fine Italianates, Second Empires, grand churches and storefronts. When built it was a prosperous neighborhood in the then prosperous ,West End. After The Depression it was largely the home to African Americans who had come to Cincinnati looking for work. It was close to the manufacturing areas and had largely fallen out of favor with those who built the neighborhood and had long traveled away up the hills to the 'better' neighborhoods in Price Hill, Fairmount, Mt Auburn and Avondale. By the 1950's it was run down but it was all there. It was poor, its people were largely uneducated but it was a community.
Elegant Second empire rubbed shoulders with high style Italianates, and its ALL GONE!

City officials however saw the area as a 'problem', it was too close to the downtown business district. Privately city officials wanted it gone and "those people" out of the downtown. Thanks to the Federal Government and something called "urban renewal" there were millions of dollars of federal funds to make it happen (sound familiar?). the city began to buy up property and systematically tear it down.  Remember, there was no Historic Preservation Act, no section 106 review (not that means anything even today with the Urban Conservators "rubber stamp" ). There was no one to stand up for the history, the architecture, the people.

Oh there was some resistance, some protests, but they were small in scope. Interestingly Kenyon-Barr demolitions were to extend to the other side of West End over to the Dayton Street area but by the time that phase was to happen 1960's activism had taken over and a small group of white property owners along Dayton street banded together with African Americans who lived in the area to stop the development of the projects into their area. That gave birth to Community Councils.

The activism of the late 1960's "saved' what was left of Daytron Street and the West End but even today, one by one, the city continues to demo property in that area. In spite of the 1966 Preservation act , in spite of section 106 review, BECAUSE, there is still federal funds to do so, and our city, just like it was way back then is addicted to federal monies. And what is that grand "urban renewal' plan? It was called Queensgate 1 and 2, and the land was sold at a fraction of what it cost to demolish it.  Estimates are that 25-40,000 people were eliminated from the downtown. Where did they wind up you ask? Well mostly OTR and Avondale and Mt Auburn, which are now targets of "blight abatement", using CDBG and NSP funds.

City officials systematically eliminated an entire neighborhood and few batted an eye, after all it was just a bunch of Old Houses and buildings.

Imagine if the city had taken a different approach back then. Imagine if they had spend money on stabilization and restoration. Kenyon-Barr would likely we one of the most desired neighborhoods , close to downtown, High Style Architecture with elegant brick rowhouses and townhomes . Estimates are that over 700-900 structures were leveled to build an industrial park It was the largest "Architectural Rape" this city ever saw and few are old enough today to even remember it.

How did I find this out? It took some research but I was able to match the other two photos to an achive collection on Kenyon-Barr at the Cincinnati Historical Society:

Look for the Kenon Barr collection link. I found the same two photos with the address. Yes they are demoed as well. There are over 500 photos in the collection of lost neighborhood of  Kenyon-Barr. Please take a look at what we lost and you should be very, very, angry and more importantly you should have a new resolve to see that this doesn't happen again and insist the city stop its misguided demolition and VBML policies that are systematically destroying our Urban neighborhoods. This should never be allowed to happen again!


Quimbob said...

Well, it was more than the city. There was issues with flooding & there was the federal highway system.
Some of the buildings probably had serious mold issues. Ponding after flooding led to mosquito spread illness. A census/social worker estimated 8+ people per residence (not building) at one point.
dunno if I can post an image.

St Charles said...

The City of Cincinnati is a victim of a good intentions by people at the Federal level. What a damn disgrace that was and is for the people and the heritage of Cincinnati. We need to have a City wide meeting for all those who love Historic Cincinnati. Then we need to go to the mayor and the City council and demand the demos of our historic heritage STOP IMMEDIATELY. If they dont agree it is high time to take this to court and get an injunction. With organizations like OTR adopt and Knox Hill Neighborhood association and Westwood concern etc There is no reason any more of our heritage needs to be demolished. HELL NO

Ann said...

More info on the Kenyon-Barr neighborhood and the demolition:

Paul Wilham said...

Interesting however that we were able to 'resolve' the flooding issue when we put an industrial park in it. While its true the highway took out some of it, Queensgate killed everything else in the basin. The city lost money on it and in terms of property tax base today houses on that site with that density would generate 3-4 times the property taxes that light industrial does now.

As for occupancy, 8 people per residence. These were large buildings the tenements were often 3 bedrooms and people had more kids.

Much of this was racially motivated at the time. Today we do the samne thing except its not only blacks it "appalachians" in Fairmount and Price Hill.

The lesson here is we need to restore and redevelop not demo.

St Charles said...

I am asking everyone to send your favorite recipes. We are going to make a cookbook for the benefit of OTR West End Adopt to pay for stabilization of seriously distressed buildings in our neighborhood. The money will go to pay for tarping brick work or whatever we have to do to save the buildings until a new owner can be found. I am going to submit a historic family recipe for elderberry wine.
Lets make this the Best Damn Cookbook that was ever written in Cincinnati. This is no Pottersville. Lets all come together to save the historic heritage of Cincinnati. It is a wonderful Life in Cincinnati! For all of you who dream of a Restored Historic Cincinnati, Our heroic hearts shall not yield to the wrecking ball. We shall be strong of will, united in purpose and even in these dark days we shall overcome those who seek to destroy our beautiful neighborhoods and City!!!!!
Can send recipes to the OTR adopt facebook page or the No More Demolitions in Over the Rhine and West End.

CityKin said...

I think much of the mindset was race-based. You see the same thing in St Louis or Pittsburgh: If you look at the photos of the buildings they took right before demolition, all the people in front of the buildings are black.

David said...

My sense is that Queensgate actually sits quite a bit higher than Kenyon-Barr did. A lot of fill created by the expressways was used to raise the level of that area. Though it was mostly about race as citykin noted.

Byron said...

mold and overcrowding is no reason to raze a neighborhood.

Aaron said...

Check out Contested Ground by John Emmeus Davis

urban_drift said...

wow, thanks for this post. Always knew about the west end, but never about this portion of it...
thanks again