Kevin LeMaster, founder of the Web site Building Cincinnati (www.building-cincinnati.com), reports that since mid-2007, developer Arlon Brown has quietly been buying more than two-dozen historic riverside properties by going door to door and giving an offer. While many residents have been unable to refuse his often-inflated prices, some aren't going down without a fight and are working to save their neighborhood by gaining recognition on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
Located two miles west of downtown along River Road, the 2003 Sedamsville Community Development Plan quite aptly describes this relatively small expanse of land as follows: "With its narrow streets, clustered houses and two churches with spires pointed heavenward, Sedamsville evokes a unique urban image and exudes a strong sense of time and place. Features such as mature trees, original stone retaining walls, steep hillsides, narrow lots, and compact physical boundaries lend charm."
According to the national register nomination, some of Sedamsville's common architectural styles -- including those in threat of demolition -- are the same as those found in other Cincinnati neighborhoods: Italianate, Second Empire, Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, Queen Anne and Craftsman.
In addition to such features, Sedamsville was once home to a small but successful business district on River Road, which has long since been destroyed. In its heyday, it was home to throngs of German and Irish immigrants who constructed two rival hillside churches -- the Gothic Revival-style Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Emil Baude's High Victorian Gothic-style St. Martin's German Evangelical Protestant Church.
While the community began as a series of country estates, it eventually became a largely working- and middle-class neighborhood. The area's predominant landmark, Boldface Playground, is recognizable for its stone pavilion but famous for the Cincinnati Red who grew up playing ball on this field -- Pete Rose.
While it was once a self-contained, thriving home for streetcar commuters and laborers, Sedamsville has basically undergone a systematic deconstruction since the mid-20th century. In 1948, the city began razing properties for its Master Plan, and this has continued to the present day with the River Road widening project, which has demolished the vast majority of buildings along the south side of River Road. Now a handful of residents -- members of the Sedamsville Historic Committee -- and local historic preservationists are in a race against the clock to get a portion of the community nominated as a historic district in hopes that this will save its historic structures from demolition.
Even if it does make the National Register in August, the city claims it can do nothing to prevent further demolition by Brown in the proposed historic district. According to Building Cincinnati, Brown's projected high-rise condominium development is called "Harbor Lights," and will require the demolition of up to 30 properties, including St. Martin's Church, which Brown owns, but plans have been frustratingly vague and unavailable to residents.
So what's the harm in tearing down a few old buildings, you ask? Historic preservationist Bobbie McTurner, author of the NRHP nomination, believes in the value of these blighted properties for several reasons. Besides our topography, part of Cincinnati's inimitable charm lies in our regionalism, a strong component of which derives from historic buildings such as those under threat in Sedamsville. A unique and nurtured sense of regionalism in turn creates a wealth of possibilities for cultural tourism, which is exactly what this city should be courting.
At this point, Sedamsville is only a shred of its former self. Even this shred, however, could be gone within a short time. Here's the thing: Demolition is sometimes necessary, but once we destroy our historic properties, we can never regain what's been lost.
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