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Hey, Have You Seen This?

Four little-known Cincinnati treasures

By Maija Zummo · September 5th, 2012 · Cool Issue
cool_homecomingbirds_jf2Charley Harper "Homecoming Bluebirds" - Photo: Jesse Fox
One of the great things about fall is that the cooler temperatures allow humans to walk around outside without getting sweat mustaches. It’s perfect weather for wandering the city to investigate Cincinnati’s sometimes-hidden treasures ranging from our great collection of street art (downtown’s remaining Shepard Fairey murals) to historic districts (the painted ladies in Columbia Tusculum look straight out of the Full House opening credits) to famous architecture (the Contemporary Arts Center was Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate Zaha Hadid’s first American project).

Strap on your favorite boots, breathe in that crisp air and start walking; it’s time to kick-start your own Cincy-centric scavenger hunt. Here are some of our favorite trinkets to explore this fall. Let’s start with historic and move our way to weird.

1: Riverside Drive Historic District

If you didn’t visit the Riverside Drive Historic District on a third grade fieldtrip, perhaps this attraction has never been on your radar. The 13-block Covington collection of historic homes and Riverwalk full of life-size statues of famous humans is located at “The Point,” the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers, and has an insane view of the Great American Ball Park. With more than 30 19th century homes in the area representing nearly every major architectural style from 1815 to 1920 (Victorian Gothic, Federal, Greek Revival, etc.), you can see the Thomas Carneal House, the first brick house in Covington, which is rumored to have a tunnel leading to the Licking River used on the Underground Railroad; the 1850s Mimosa Mansion, the area’s largest Italianate renaissance single family home complete with its original gas lighting system. You can even take a guided tour of the Mimosa Mansion’s 22 rooms furnished with original period pieces.

And if the history doesn’t entice you, the river views will.

2: Charley Harper Homecoming Bluebirds

So this isn’t so secret because it’s a 4,700-square-foot mural painted on the side of a visible downtown building (119 E. Court St.), but you have to see it if you haven’t yet. Completed this past summer by ArtWorks, the Charley Harper “Homecoming (Bluebirds)” mural captures the Cincinnati-based artist’s intuitive understanding of distilling natural subjects down to their most basic color and shape. Harper is even quoted as saying, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings.” This is ArtWorks’ largest mural to date and features a blue wall with two red-breasted bluebirds coming together at a white birdhouse. Created by professional teaching artists and 12 teenage apprentice artists, it’s the first of several Harper murals to come, according to ArtWorks.

3: The Boulter House

If you really want to moderately invade some people’s privacy, take a drive to Rawson Woods Circle in Clifton, and there, at 1 Rawson Woods Circle, you’ll find “The Boulter House,” a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian home completed in 1956. One of just three Wright homes constructed in Cincinnati during the architect’s lifetime (and finished only a couple of years before his death in 1959), The Boulter House, a National Historic Landmark, was originally built for Cedric Boulter, a UC professor, and his wife. The two-story, 2,700-square-foot home is made of concrete block, plate glass and “Taliesin red” mahogany. From the road, which is the only place you can view the home unless you know the current owners, you can see the giant living room windows and balcony, as well as the overall brown and white façade. wrightboulter.com.

4: Toynbee Tile Redux

If you’re familiar with the phrase, “Toynbee Idea in Movie 2001. Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter,” you might be a sci-fi dork, or maybe you’ve just seen the documentary Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. The film follows Philadelphia-based artist Justin Duerr as he attempts to uncover the meaning behind the “Toynbee tiles,” a collection of cryptic, rectangular, flexible linoleum tiles laid into asphalt at street intersections throughout the United States and South America over the last three decades. While the creator and reasoning behind the outsider art tiles remains unknown, the documentary speculates as to who laid the tiles, how they did it and even quotes a 2001 CityBeat story on the Cincinnati tiles.

Cincinnati had several original Toynbees, which were destroyed by traffic and/or construction. But we discovered two copycat tiles downtown, one in an original Toynbee location. The tiles, known as “House of Hades” tiles, have been cropping up in cities across the U.S. — there are about 100 today. The message on the tile at the intersection of Sixth and Walnut streets (use the crosswalk between the CAC and Cincy’s on Sixth) reads, “House of Hades One Man Versus American Media In Society ‘2011’” with accompanying text, “This is a game you will lose.” Just like the original Toynbees, the text varies and frequently references a strong dislike for American media. The tile at the intersection on Seventh and Vine streets reads “House of Hades plague and famine to American media in society ‘2011.” Resurrect Dead filmmakers assert the House of Hades tiles are copycats and their creator remains unidentified, although they have some clues. resurrectdead.com.



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