What, if anything, does Valentine’s Day mean to you? Is it a time to share a tender moment and Hallmark greeting card with the one you adore, or is it a time to scoff at said lovebirds, drowning your cynicism in large, red martinis?
If you’re in the former category, searching for a publicly sanctioned romantic “spot” is not exactly a simple endeavor around these parts. Sure, Cincinnati might be named after an ancient Roman, but the erotic fountains and naked statues dedicated to every god and goddess ever dreamed up are, well, not so much in abundance around these parts.
If you’re looking for love, or at least an architectural/sculptural representation thereof, your best option in the Queen City is the aptly named Temple of Love in Clifton’s Mt. Storm Park. By definition, the Temple of Love is a tholos, a name used by the ancient Greeks to signify a round building. The tholoi generally functioned in two ways: either as a sacred space, shielding a central statue or offering or as a secular place of congregation.
In Mt. Storm, however, the Temple served neither function. Presumably designed by legendary landscape architect Adolph Strauch in 1852, it was originally part of the palatial estate of Robert Bonner Bowler.
Perched atop a rising hill, the Temple stood above a reservoir that supplied water to Bowler’s 17 greenhouses, gardens, orchards, a waterfall and lake.
Today, it — along with the stables, a cavernous mound formerly used for wine storage and part of the original fencing — is all that remains of what the city of Cincinnati calls “one of the finest homes in America.” Ironic, considering it was the city of Cincinnati that razed the home in 1917 to create the parking lot we have today. This sumptuous, now-phantom estate, “complete with marble floors and fireplaces, wrought iron curving staircases, French cut-glass doors and hand-carved wood inlaid with gold” (per the city of Cincinnati’s Web site), played host to individuals such as Charles Dickens and Edward, Prince of Wales.
Although formerly part of a grander design, today the Temple of Love is a solitary figure. Its isolation, however, places the Temple on center stage, serving to endow the structure with a melancholic beauty. In form it’s quite simple (eight columns supporting a dome) but decorative detail enables the work to transcend simplicity with classical elegance and grace. Fluted Corinthian columns fancifully support the frieze, a decorative band of low-relief sculpture, which features rosettes, acanthus leaves and swans, the latter likely an homage to the swans who called the property’s lake home. Atop all this is a scallop-patterned dome capped with an urn.
So the Temple is certainly exquisite and beautiful, but what, if anything, does it actually have to do with love? Author John Clubbe claims that the temple is directly based on none other than Marie Antoinette’s own Temple of Love at Versailles, which sheltered a statue of Venus. Yet while the two do share a similar appearance, the romantic appeal of Mt. Storm’s Temple of Love is a little more quixotic.
The flawlessness of this lone but perfect structure silhouetted against the changing seasons is, in my eyes, hopelessly romantic.
It’s hard not to fall in love with something at this place, be it a human, the picturesque landscape or yourself — I know from experience. My husband certainly knew what he was doing when he dropped to one knee on a hot summer night and asked me to marry him here. I mean, how could a girl refuse?
THE TEMPLE OF LOVE is located in Mt. Storm Park at 660 Lafayette Ave., Clifton. CINCITECTURE, a column on area architecture, appears once a month.