Situated on a hill overlooking a strip of Gilbert Avenue sits an old
house that stands out from its urban surroundings in Walnut Hills. Though it
may seem out of place against the backdrop of apartment buildings and
businesses, inside the house lies a story of being in the right place at the
right time, of discussion and of empathy and compassion.
2950 Gilbert Avenue is the last remaining building that was once part of the
Lane Theological Seminary. It is also the former home of Harriet Beecher Stowe,
author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although
it is not where she wrote the novel that introduced Northerners to what slavery
is like in the South and increased tensions between the two regions, it is
where Stowe spent 18 years of her life.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been translated into more than 60 languages — second only
to the Bible. It is no wonder that visitors from as far away as Russia and
China have recently visited the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. In fact, Kelli
Higginson, the house’s only paid employee, says most visitors come from out of
“This house is unique because at one time it was the ground center for
discussion of slavery,” says volunteer John Douglass. Built in 1832, the house
was saved from demolition and purchased by the Ohio Historical Society in 1943.
It is still owned by the society today and is designated as a historic
Stowe lived in Cincinnati from her early 20s until 1859, one year before her
famous book was published. Her presence in Cincinnati had a lasting impact on
U.S. history and beyond, as Uncle Tom’s
Cabin is read in schools around the world. While living in the border town
allowed Stowe to see firsthand the desperation of slaves trying to escape to
freedom across the Ohio River, it was also here that Stowe was exposed to the
controversial debates going on at the seminary where her father, Dr. Lyman
Beecher, was president.
Students of the seminary debated about the issue of slavery in 1834 before it
became a hot topic throughout the rest of the U.S. Should slaves be
emancipated? If slaves were to be freed, where should they go? Some supported
sending freed slaves to Africa, while others thought they should be allowed to
stay in the U.S. Enrollment at the seminary dropped after the school’s board of
trustees dismissed these so-called “Lane Rebels.”
Living in Cincinnati also gave Stowe a stark look at the tension between the
anti-slavery movement and those opposed to it. During the Cincinnati riots of
1836, the press that printed The
Philanthropist, an abolitionist newspaper published by James Birney, was
twice destroyed and thrown into the Ohio River. This sparked Stowe to find her
own abolitionist voice and write her first remarks about slavery, in which she
defended free speech and denounced mob rule. Her work was published in her
brother Henry’s newspaper.
When the cholera epidemic swept through Cincinnati and Stowe’s one-year-old son
Samuel Charles died, the personal tragedy caused Stowe to empathize with slave
mothers who were often separated from their children. Her son’s death was the
catalyst that caused Stowe to begin writing Uncle
While it is a work of fiction, Stowe’s novel depicts what American slavery was
like at the time. Her visit to a Kentucky plantation allowed her to see how slaves
lived. However, many argued that the book’s depiction of slavery couldn’t be
accurate. Stowe responded with A Key to
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which provides factual evidence from her experience in
Cincinnati to defend her claims. (Copies of the key just arrived in the Stowe House’s
gift shop; Higginson says they were on backorder for six weeks).
The Ohio Historical Society plans to renovate the house this summer. The
renovations will restore the house to what it would have looked like when
Stowe’s family lived there. The house will also host Stowe’s 205th birthday
celebration (with cake and ice cream, of course) on June 14.
The Board had planned to vote today on a request to demolish
the Dennison Hotel building at 716 Main St., but attorneys for Columbia REI,
LLC, the development arm of the Joseph family, on Friday asked the Board to delay the vote in order to have
a hearing on the matter. Their request came the day after Conservation Board
staff recommended denying the demolition request for a variety of factors,
including evidence that the Joseph family has not attempted to sell or lease
the building to someone who would redevelop it, an engineering report that says
the building could still be used for residential purposes and documents showing
that the Joseph family purchased the property with the intention of demolishing
it for redevelopment. Such considerations are commonly undertaken by the Historic Conservation Board regarding buildings in a historic area like the Eastern Manufacturing and Warehouse District.
Of course, the city staff report, written by Urban Conservator Beth Johnson, will not ultimately decide the fate of the building, which was designed by noted architect Samuel Hannaford and still boasts a “ghost sign” noting its “105 rooms and 60 baths.” That would be the Historic Conservation Board itself, which is comprised of seven members, five of whom were recent appointments made on Mayor John Cranley's watch. The most controversial of the appointments is developer Shree Kulkarni, who in the past has butted heads with the very board on which he now sits — because he wanted to tear down historic buildings on Fifth Street to build a parking lot.
CityBeat reported on Friday’s request here, Thursday’s urban conservator recommendation here and details of documents showing that the Joseph family bought the building to block low-income housing from being developed.
One noteworthy player in all this is 3CDC, which purchased
the building in 2013 for $1.3 million then sold it to Columbia one month later
Preservationists hoping to save the building hosted a press conference on Friday. They expect a big crowd at today's meeting and what will likely be a contentious future hearing, should things go that far. The Save the Dennison Facebook page, which you can find here, has links to more background, including the following Cincinnati Enquirer article from 1987 when the Joseph family smashed up some other downtown buildings, leaving parking lots in their wake.
• Gov. John Kasich is busy on the presidential campaign trail
explaining his own unique versions of delegate math that could somehow lead to
a convoluted GOP convention awarding him the nomination, and sometimes he eats
pizza with a fork. Last week, Kasich said he wouldn’t be inclined to sign any
law banning conversion therapy aimed at un-gaying homosexuals and that he had
never heard of Leelah Alcorn.
• Last week, Kasich offered a tip for young women concerned with sexual assault: “Don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol.”
• NPR today unveiled its “School Money” project, a collaboration with 20 member station reporters looking at education funding in public schools. Part 1 of the series considers academic spending per student, finding a stark difference in the academic resources at schools in low-income neighborhoods and those in more affluent parts of America’s cities.
The following is a snapshot of educational realities in public districts, according to NPR:
Ridge's two elementary campuses and one middle school sit along Chicago's southern edge. Roughly two-thirds of its students come from low-income families, and a third are learning English as a second language.
Here, one nurse commutes between three schools, and the two elementary schools share an art teacher and a music teacher. They spend the first half of the year at different schools, then, come January, box up their supplies and swap classrooms.
"We don't have a lot of the extra things that other districts may have, simply because we can't afford them," says Ridge Superintendent Kevin Russell.
One of those other districts sits less than an hour north, in Chicago's affluent suburbs, nestled into a warren of corporate offices: Rondout School, the only campus in Rondout District 72.
It has 22 teachers and 145 students, and spent $28,639 on each one of them.
What does that look like?
Class sizes in Rondout are small, and every student has an individualized learning plan. Nearly all teachers have a decade of experience and earn, on average, more than $90,000. Kids have at least one daily break for "mindful movement," and lunch is cooked on-site, including a daily vegetarian option.
inside the NPR project is the following line, which I feel like could use a bit
more explanation: "In Ohio, which is our best guess for
the state you’re currently in, the average district spends $12,018 per student, similar to the
nationwide average. You can explore further or search for a district by name
below." (Emphasis by NPR.)
Is Kai Rydssdal looking in your window right now? Are you sure?
Supreme Court today will consider President Obama’s executive action on
immigration. Obama’s legislation would grant temporary legal status to parents
of children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. A collection of
states, led by Texas, sued over the executive action, which Obama created in
response to the House’s inaction on a Senate-passed immigration reform bill.
• Ohio State Sen. Bill Seitz last week unveiled a new idea — require money up-front from anyone proposing longer voting hours. Judges at times allow polls to stay open past scheduled closing time. Seitz’s bill, which he says has nine co-sponsors, would also allow an immediate appeal of a judge granting longer hours.
• A local woman is going to appear on a new reality show. I don't know what it is, but you should watch it!
new study says being a reporter is the worst job… three years in a row.
• An octopus dipped out of an aquarium in New Zealand, got
into a drain pipe and squirmed out into the ocean toward freedom.
• The Reds return home tonight to host the Colorado Rockies after losing five of six on their road trip to Chicago and St. Louis. But don’t worry — Dan Straily is joining the rotation. Seriously, I think he’s a good baseball player.
• CityBeat reporters Nick Swartsell and Natalie Krebs will be around town today, Nick at the Historic Conservation Board meeting and Natalie at a City Hall presentation for the Violence Prevention Working Group. Follow them on Twitter: @nswartsell / @natalie_krebs.
The demolition request is on the board's upcoming Monday meeting agenda, but the developers have asked the board to table it and reschedule the vote.
That request comes after the city's Urban Conservator Beth Johnson issued a report yesterday that rejected the developer's claim thatit cannot reuse the building and that restoring or preserving the building with result in a negative financial return.
Historic preservation advocates and affordable housing activists both have rallied around the building, which was designed by noted Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford's firm and, until five years ago, contained 114 units of single-room occupancy affordable housing. The Cincinnati Preservation Collective, the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, City Councilman Chris Seelbach and others held a press conference today outside the building decrying attempts to tear it down and calling for more affordable housing in the central business district.
The Dennison was the last of more than 20 downtown buildings containing such housing. The building was slated for redevelopment by Model Group for 63 units of permanent supportive housing to be operated by The Talbert House in 2013. However, that project fell through and the building was purchased by Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation affiliate CBD Holdings for $1.3 million that year. 3CDC then sold the building to Columbia, owned by the influential Joseph Automotive Group family, for $740,000 a month later. In filings to the Historic Conservation Board, attorneys for the Joseph family have indicated they purchased the property at least in part out of concern that supportive housing would devalue other properties it holds in the area.
It is unclear when the vote on the building will be rescheduled. Preservation activist Derek Bauman called the request by Columbia "shenanigans" and wondered if the vote would be rescheduled for a less-convenient time.
Columbia says the building is decrepit and unsafe, and says it would like to use the land it occupies as part of a large-scale development that would provide office space for an as-yet-undetermined Fortune 500 company.
We’re closing in on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616, and today is the Ides of April (that means the 15th of the month), so let’s start with several notes about the Bard.
Cincinnati Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar continues this weekend (it’s onstage through May 7). You might recall that the emperor’s assassination happened on the Ides of March. We’re a month late, but it’s worth noting since that historic event was the impetus for one of Shakespeare’s great plays of Roman history. Caesar is the focal point, but the play’s most interesting characters are Brutus, the morally conflicted conspirator, and the ambitious Marc Antony, who has his own designs on the throne. It’s also worth noting this production, since it will be followed in May by Shakespeare’s other Roman story, Antony and Cleopatra. Many of the actors playing key roles in Julius Caesar will return in the second production. It’s a rare pairing of these two works, made possible by Cincy Shakes depth of talent in its resident acting company. I wrote about this project in a recent Curtain Call column. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
If a history play isn’t enough, then you might want to
head to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood where Cincy Shakes is continuing
its education initiative, Project 38 Festival, working with more
than 1,600 students at 45+ different area schools to bring each of
Shakespeare’s 38 plays to life in creative ways. The celebration is
already underway (performances continue through Monday) in Washington
Park and the Woodward Theatre (1404 Main St.) — 43 free performances in
all. Eighteen performances feature exclusively Shakespearean text, while
others interpret the plays with music, dance, filmmaking and visual
arts. One is even told with computer animation. For the festival’s full
schedule, go here.
Know Theatre opens Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson this weekend. The Cincinnati Playhouse recently presented Gunderson’s intriguing show, The Revolutionists, a fantasy set during the French Revolution. The show at Know is rooted in real events, too, focusing on a group of brilliant women hired by the Harvard Observatory to catalog the stars. Directed by Tamara Winters, the production features a cast of excellent local professionals — Maggie Lou Rader, Justin McCombs and Miranda McGee (from Cincy Shakes) and Annie Fitzpatrick and Miranda McGee (regularly seen at Ensemble Theatre). It’s a fascinating story as well as a chance to experience another work by an award-winning young playwright. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
New Edgecliff Theatre opened the final production of its 2015-2016 season this week, Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things.
It’s an emotional drama about relationships and love and what you can
believe. Performances are at The Hoffner Lodge (4120 Hamilton Ave.,
Northside). Read my recent column for more about NET’s search for a
home. For NET tickets here.
A production with young audiences in mind kicks off this weekend with the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s “Off the Hill” staging of The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book by playwright Y York. It’s about a fierce mongoose and his enemy the cobra Nag. The show, directed by the Playhouse’s new director of education, Daunielle Rasmussen, debuts at the theater on Saturday (10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.); tickets are $5 at the box office. The show then tours throughout Greater Cincinnati, starting Sunday at 2 p.m. at Cedar Village Retirement Community in Mason. Full schedule here.
Good morning all. Here’s the news today.
• A report released yesterday by the University of Cincinnati says that former UCPD chief Jason Goodrich pushed for aggressive traffic stops as a tactic for boxing out criminals from the neighborhoods around UC, then lied about that to investigators after the shooting death of unarmed black motorist Sam Dubose by UCPD officer Ray Tensing. Those enforcement techniques created what Goodrich reportedly called a “no fly zone,” which Dubose was in when he was pulled over for not having a front license plate in Mount Auburn. Goodrich and Major Timothy Thornton left UCPD in February. Tensing is scheduled to stand trial in Hamilton County Courts on murder and manslaughter charges in October.
• Cincinnati’s Urban Conservator Beth Johnson issued a report yesterday saying that developers seeking to tear down 716 Main Street, an 1892 structure built by the architecture firm of noted Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford, have not presented enough evidence to make their case. Owners Columbia REI, LLC — owned by powerful Cincinnati family the Josephs — have caused controversy with their request for permission to level the building, which sits in a historic district downtown. Johnson’s report notes that the owners seemed to have purchased the building with the intent to tear it down, and that there are other economically feasible uses for the structure that the owners didn’t consider. In documents Columbia filed with the Urban Conservation Board, which will decide the fate of the building Monday, the owners said they bought the building because they were concerned that planned permanent supportive housing there would decrease the value of other properties the group owns in the neighborhood. Columbia holds several parcels of land on the block, many of which also once held historic buildings. Columbia leveled some of those structures in the late 1980s, promising new buildings in their places, though today most of the parcels are parking lots. Columbia says it’s interested in using those plots, plus the Dennison’s, to build a headquarters for an as-yet-undetermined Fortune 500 company.
• Speaking of big developments, Clifton Heights may soon get a huge one. Developers M-G Securities, Nassau Investments and Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. are proposing a $75 million project at Vine and McMillan Streets on a now-vacant plot of land just west of Vine and south of Calhoun Street. That development could include a 195-room extended-stay hotel, 130 apartments, 350-400 space underground parking garage and an outdoor community area. The developers are calling it a potential gateway to Uptown neighborhoods.
• Are you a believer? You’d better be if you want to work for Northern Kentucky’s upcoming Noah’s Ark-themed park Ark Encounter. Workers seeking to fill the 300-400 food service and other jobs at the park will have to sign a form professing their Christian faith, founder Ken Ham says. That’s controversial because the park has wrangled with the state of Kentucky over a tourism sales tax rebate worth up to $18 million. It looks as though the park may get to have its cake and eat it too, receiving that tax break while also stipulating religious beliefs for its employees.
• U.S. Sen. Rob Portman had a nice visit yesterday with President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, but says he’s still not going to push for a confirmation hearing for him or vote for him if there was one. Portman said he was impressed with Garland, but that Obama should not be allowed to nominate a Supreme Court justice in “a very partisan year, and an election year.” That’s an echo of talking points from other Senate Republicans, including Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said he will not hold a vote on Garland. Democrats have hit the GOP hard on what they say is a highly unusual, obstructive maneuver. The court has been down a justice since conservative firebrand Antonin Scalia passed away earlier this year.
• So, yeah, Democrat presidential primary contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debated last night, and as predicted in this spot yesterday, the gloves came off. There was shouting. There was tension. Memories of the cordiality of the first debate were nowhere in mind. As expected, Clinton lit into Sanders on gun control, his weakest topic among liberals. Sanders blasted Clinton on her relationship to Wall Street. You get the picture. This was the last scheduled debate for the two, giving both time to take a breather and work on some new material before the primary fight ends this summer. You can read more about the debate here.
I’m out. Laterrrr.
The city staff report, written by Urban Conservator Beth Johnson, refutes Dennison owners the Joseph family of the Joseph Auto Group's claim that they cannot reuse the building and that restoring or preserving the building with result in a negative financial return.
Some of the evidence the report cites is a lack of attempt by the owner to sell or lease the building to another buyer who might be able to restore or use the property; documents from the Joseph family that indicate it bought the property with the intention of demolishing it for redevelopment; and a structural engineering report that found the building could still be used for residential purposes after minor structural updates.
The family purchased the building located at 716-718 Main Street in 2013 in part to block plans to turn the building into affordable housing, according to documents the family's legal team submitted to the Historic Conservation Board.
The University of Cincinnati today released an independent report on its police personnel with details that give further context to the departure of its former police chief, Jason Goodrich.
The report by consulting company Exiger suggests Goodrich pushed for more traffic stops around UC and that he and UCPD Major Timothy Thornton were later "untruthful" about their knowledge of those stops. Stops increased by 400 percent during the year leading up to the July 19 shooting of unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose by UCPD officer Ray Tensing, the report reveals, and those stops have been heavily disproportionate toward blacks.
"Five interviewees said that, at the start of Goodrich's tenure, he held one-on-one meetings with each UCPD officer," the report reads. "During these meetings, the Chief described his approach to proactive policing — namely, the areas around campus should be viewed as a 'box,' and UCPD would use traffic enforcement to 'stop' and root out anyone carrying drugs or guns, and individuals with warrants, in those zones. They were, according to the chief, to be effectively 'no fly zones,' through which, via excessive traffic enforcement, criminals would not want to drive."
In February, Goodrich and UCPD Major Timothy Thornton resigned from UCPD for then-undisclosed reasons. UC has promised a full slate of reforms to its department following DuBose's shooting death. The school fired Tensing, who is now charged with murder and manslaughter.
"In our initial interview, Chief Goodrich indicated that he was unaware of both the extent of, and motivation for, this substantial upsurge in stops," the report reads. "As Exiger learned from other interviews, the Chief had made similar assertions to several senior UC administrators at various times following the shooting. These assertions — both to Exiger and the administrators — could not be reconciled with interviews that Exiger conducted of sworn UCPD members, or with documents that Exiger had received by request pursuant to the Assignment. Exiger viewed this seemingly conflicting information as sufficiently troubling to bring the matter to the attention of the UC Administration, including the UC General Counsel."
After those revelations, the company set up interviews with UCPD personnel in late February. In those interviews, the report says, Thornton was also untruthful.
"During one of these first interviews, Major Timothy Thornton, Chief Goodrich’s second-in-command, made statements mirroring those of the Chief — that is, denying knowledge regarding the extent of, and motivation for, the sharp rise in traffic stops during the Chief’s tenure."
UC says it released the report in the name of transparency.
"Look across the country, around the world at what's happening here and the places where there are police-community relations problems and the way police agencies are responding," UC Vice President for Safety and Reform Robin Engel said, according to 12 News. "Look at Chicago, look what's happening in these places, that doesn't have to happen here. If there were mistakes then we need to understand what they were and we need to correct those problems and work with out community to make sure that we are policing in a way that they want to be policed. We need to move forward and are very transparent in a collaborative way. That's what we're trying to do here at the University of Cincinnati."
Goodrich joined UCPD in October of 2014. He previously worked as chief of police for Lamar University. Before that, he worked in Vanderbilt University's public safety office. Thornton joined the force in February 2015 and had also previously worked for Lamar University.
Students' religious expression is limited to non-instructional times like lunch periods and after-school activities. HB 425 would permit religious expression in the classroom and on exams and homework assignments, going so far as to prevent a teacher from punishing or rewarding a student's response that is based on his or her religious beliefs.
Rep. Bill Hayes, a Republican from Harrison Township, introduced the legislation back in January. He says the bill is simply to clarify what is permitted for religious expression in public schools.
"It seems that many school administrators, school boards, teachers, parents and even students are sometimes confused about the extent to which they may engage in religious expression in the school setting," Hayes said. "HB 425 seeks to address that very problem and respond to it."
Hayes previously introduced the same bill during the last legislative session, but the session ended before it made it to the House floor for a vote.
Rep. Michael Curtin, a Democrat from Columbus, brought up concerns about the bill from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the only organization to testify against the bill in front of the House's Community and Family Advancement Committee in February.
The ACLU said the language of the bill is too broad, possibly forcing teachers to have to choose between obeying the law and enforcing academic standards in the classroom.
"If the assignment is on biology, human evolution, et cetera, and a student writes a paper on intelligent design or the Earth being 10,000 years old," Curtin said, "does the instructor have the ability to flunk that student for his paper being out of context?"
Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Democrat from Cleveland, disagreed that public schools should be required to accommodate students' religious beliefs to the bill's proposed extent.
"When we send our children to public schools, it's an expectation and a right that each of our children receive an unbiased education," Howse said. "It is upon this educational foundation that our children can build their values and choose a route of expression."