CLIFTON HEIGHTS - An effort to save the old mansion that’s home to Christy’s bar in Clifton Heights has spawned an unlikely alliance between University of Cincinnati students and homeowners near campus.
For decades, tensions have simmered between the two groups over loud parties, trashed rental properties and police calls.
But the battle to save the building known as the Goetz House at 151 W. McMillan Ave has united students and the CUF Neighborhood Association in a way that long-time Clifton Heights residents say is a first. The CUF group represents the Cincinnati neighborhoods of Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview, which sit atop the hills just north of downtown and surround UC’s campus.
And, beyond this battle to save a popular student and neighborhood hangout, some residents think the new group could be just what the fragile neighborhoods need to continue to thrive.
“It has brought people together in a way that in the 13 years I lived in Clifton Heights, I never saw those interests come together,” said Mike Morgan, a lawyer and preservation advocate who moved from Clifton Heights in 2012 but has been helping the effort to preserve the Goetz House. “It’s definitely the closest I have seen students and CUF working together – ever.”
The student-homeowner group, which had a few more students than homeowners at a recent meeting, calls itself Save Clifton Heights. It’s been meeting every Saturday afternoon at Rohs Street Café since out-of-town developers unveiled a plan Feb. 5 to demolish the Goetz House and several other nearby properties to build a seven-story student apartment development.
Even before developers shared their plan, the neighborhood association had applied to the city of Cincinnati to have the Goetz House designated as a local historic landmark. Such a designation would make the building far more difficult to demolish.
Now Save Clifton Heights is working to prepare for a hearing before Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board, the first step in determining whether the building will be declared a landmark. The hearing hasn’t been scheduled, but it could occur later this month.
UC students Diana Tisue and Charles Marxen lead the Save Clifton Heights meetings each Saturday. They’re both among the founders of the UC student group Preservation Action Network, formed to organize students with a passion for historic preservation.
“We’ve lost lots of neighborhood assets,” said Tisue, a Cincinnati area native who studies history and historic preservation at UC.
Marxen, a chemical engineering major who grew up in Columbus, said he was drawn to the effort because he has grown to love Cincinnati’s old, historic buildings and neighborhoods.
“In the past three years, I’ve seen b eautiful, old buildings in decent shape torn down to build uninspiring student housing,” Marxen said. “It’s kind of exposed a nerve, and I can’t really watch this happen anymore.”
Clifton Heights residents welcome the students’ enthusiasm for preserving the Goetz House. The Save Clifton Heights group consists of a few dozen people who have been meeting each weekend to craft a strategy to save the building and others who have been following the effort on Facebook.
M organ and Tisue have been working to research the original deed. Clifton Heights resident Sandra Wilson has been delving into records to learn more about the property’s history, too.
“The more the merrier,” Wilson said. “I’m a former student, too. And not all the students are bad. But this is the first thing that’s happened in a long time where we’re on the same page.”
Neighborhood association President Cherie Wallpe agreed.
“We have not had such a groundswell of support in the past,” she said. “We want to keep this momentum going.”
Marxen said it’s been a big change from the students’ perspective, too.
“Going to the CUFNA (neighborhood association) meetings, it is kind of funny hearing people complain about essentially us as students,” he said. “I mean, their complaints are completely justified in a lot of ways. So it’s kind of getting to know our neighbors.”
City Council, which has the ultimate say in whether the Goetz House is declared a landmark, has taken notice, too.
Councilman Cecil Thomas on Tuesday commended Tisue for her passion for historic preservation after she spoke to a council committee about the Goetz House, saying it was refreshing to see young people take such an interest.
And Councilman Chris Seelbach had two representatives at the Save Clifton Heights meeting March 9. Seelbach and his staff have been encouraged to see the residents and students working together, said Jon Harmon, Seelbach’s legislative director.
“We have an interest in being part of the dialogue,” Harmon said.
The current operators of Christy’s are watching
The Windholtz family still owns the property, which had been operating as Lenhardt’s since 1955, but the family closed Lenhardt’s late last year.
John-Michael Boggs and his wife, Sarah, who both worked for the Windholtzes at Christy’s, took over operations of the bar and reopened it as Christy’s Rathskeller & Biergarten on Feb. 8. Lenhardt’s remains closed, although Boggs hopes to expand into the space eventually.
Boggs said he’s been pleased with the neighborhood’s patronage of the business. The couple isn’t involved in the effort to save the building. But, he said, “we definitely want to stay in the loop.”
While preserving the Goetz House is the Save Clifton Heights group’s top priority now, Marxen said he hopes the energy behind that effort can fuel other neighborhood revitalization work, too.
“That is my sincere goal,” he said. “I want to see us work toward a plan for all of Uptown.”