Then & Now: The rise, fall and rebirth of Over-the-Rhine

INTERACTIVE

For a series of 'Then & Now' interactive looks at Over-the-Rhine, scroll to the bottom of the article.

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CINCINNATI – Known by many as the trendier part of town, today’s Over-the Rhine is the perfect place for a quick bite, big festivals and local beer.

But for others, it’s the key to understanding Cincinnati.

“Many institutions have their origins right here,” author and tour guide Don Heinrich Tolzmann said. “Most of the architecture and churches in the Greater Cincinnati area can trace their roots back to Over-the-Rhine. Everything goes back to this district.”

Germans started congregating to Over-the-Rhine in the 1830s, and major waves of immigration continued into the 1840s and 50s.

At its peak between 1860 and 1900, the neighborhood was populated by 75,000 people, densely packed into tall, narrow buildings.

During that period, a trip into Over-the-Rhine meant actually travelling over “The Rhine” – a nickname given to the Miami and Erie Canal that divided downtown Cincinnati and the German district. 

A mecca of German-American heritage, Over-the-Rhine became home to 18 breweries that employed about 5,000 people.

This was the district’s golden age.

“Many of the people that worked for the breweries lived right here in the district,” Tolzmann said. “They attended church here, and they came to places like Washington Park where children played and people would gather for festivals.”

Over-the-Rhine was a place where a whole family could come together for a great Sunday afternoon, Tolzmann said. It was a district that attracted thousands of visitors from across the region – a place where anyone could enjoy a variety of food, beverages and arts.

But in the years that followed, it lost countless residents to the suburbs. What was once an explosion of culture and energy became one of several declining neighborhoods in the city’s ring of slums.

Tolzmann said Over-the-Rhine’s residents lost their spirit when they lost their neighborhood’s defining element: The Rhine.

“I think you can look back to 1920 when the canal that circled the district was dug up and there were plans to replace it with a subway,” Tolzmann said. “That really hurt Over-the-Rhine.”

The subway project was eventually canceled due to a lack of funds and buried under what we call Central Parkway today.

Another major blow to the district was Prohibition, which started affecting the region in 1920.

“All the breweries, cafes, restaurants, beer gardens – the employees lost their jobs,” Tolzmann said. “So people began moving out of the district and into the suburbs. They were looking for other places of employment. They started moving to the western parts of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.”

Once populated by 75,000 people, Over-the-Rhine became a shadow of its former self. In the late 1990s, it was home to only 6,000.

Many thought Over-the-Rhine would eventually disappear, swallowed up by Cincinnati's growing business district.

But they were wrong.

In 2006, the district was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of "America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.”

Since then, about 100 new businesses have opened in Over-the-Rhine, and many organizations have helped to preserve and revitalize it.

“The hundreds of millions of dollars that’s been invested in the neighborhood has not only brought along new development, but has encouraged and helped along the development projects in the area trying to get their start for decades,” said Emilie Johnson, president of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce.

Johnson says she is impressed each day by the number of pioneers starting small businesses, buying condos and renting apartments in Over-the-Rhine.

One block at a time, the Chamber of Commerce and organizations like the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) have paved the way for renovation and rehabilitation in many parts of the district.

“You can really see that when people work together, the difference they can make,” Johnson said. “Over-the-Rhine has enjoyed becoming a visitor destination – not just for out-of-town visitors, but for locals wanting to bring their families to see the renaissance that’s going on.”

The city’s upcoming streetcar, scheduled to be finished in April 2016, will provide transportation between Findlay Market and Cincinnati’s riverfront.

Johnson said she believes this development will increase the district’s connectivity and popularity.

“This is a combination of so many different efforts and collaborative groups working together to move the neighborhood forward,” she said. “It has certainly come a long way in the last 10 years or so.”

And while the district is far from perfect, Johnson and Tolzmann say its future looks bright.

“For Over-the-Rhine to reach its full potential, it’s going to be step-by-step… maybe block-by-bock or even foot-by-foot,” Tolzmann said. “It’s going to take some time. But I think the indication is the renaissance of Over-the-Rhine is clearly underway – and it’s only going to spread.”

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In this interactive piece, we examine Over-the-Rhine during the early 1900s and compare it to 2014 to see what has been altered -- and what remains unchanged.

HOW TO USE OUR TOOL: Click and hold the white circular “slider” tool at the center of each photograph. Then move the slider left and right to see “before” and “after.” (This feature may not be compatible with all versions of Internet Explorer, but works best with browsers like Firefox, Chrome or Safari.)
 

May 26, 1920: YMCA on Elm Street

 

The Cincinnati headquarters for the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) is a nine-story brick building at the northwest corner of Elm Street and West Central Parkway. This main branch was completed in 1918 with two gymnasiums, a swimming pool, handball courts, bowling alleys, a cafeteria and 331 rooms for resident men.

Founded in 1848 by Sunday school teachers of Central Presbyterian Church, the Cincinnati “Y” is said to have been the first in the United States, according to the WPA Guide to Cincinnati. The building is known for its educational program, character-building activities and its law school. Former President William Howard Taft delivered an address at the building, and it served as a United Service Organization center during WWII in 1941 for American troops.

Next door was a furniture store listed as The G & Sons Henshaw Co. furniture dealers. And next to that was the Franklin Cotton Mill Company, which had several floors and a machine shop.

Also across the street was a cigar factory called General Cigar Co. and a business called The Pape Bros. Molding Company, which also faced Central Parkway. The Pape Bros. business was completely totaled years before in a fire on July 9, 1891. According to a New York Times article written that same year on July 10, Pape Bros. and another nearby business called M. Steinert & Sons (which sold pianos) “crushed in their middle as if they were egg shells.” Pape Bros. later rebuilt and reopened.
 

Sept. 15, 1926: N.E. Cor. Central Parkway and Findlay Street

 

In 1926, Henry A. Leussing owned this building at the corner of Findlay Street and Central Parkway. The connecting building near the kneeling person (on the right of the photo) was The Dietz Mfg Co., which sold dish washing machines. Inside was a dish washer factory and other machinery. Nearby was The Merchants Police Co. Today, the dish washing factory building was replaced with a brick structure with large black orb windows. The building once owned by Leussing still stands, but is up for rent. A sign plastered over a window reads: “Coin laundry equipment fore sale, rental space for rent.”
 

Sept. 17, 1926: Northeast corner of Sycamore Street and Central Parkway

 

In September of 1926, Sycamore Street and Central Parkway were under construction. The building shown here was vacant at the time, but a year earlier, a man named Edgar Bettman used it to run a shoe manufacturing shop called Bettmann-Dunlap Co. In 1929, it was listed as home to the company Parke-Davis, a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Today, the youth education center Value Learning and Teaching Academy occupies most of the building.
 

Sept. 17, 1926: Northwest corner of Sycamore Street and Central Parkway

 

Shown here near the intersection of Sycamore Street and Central Parkway in 1926 is a corner shop of the eight-story Alms & Doepke building. Founded in 1865 by William F. Doepke, William H. Alms and Frederick H. Alms, the core of the Alms & Doepke Dry Goods Company was erected in 1878 and designed by Samuel Hannaford. The building would later be expanded in 1886, 1890 and 1906. By the late nineteenth century, Alms and Doepke had about 800 people on its payroll and was the region’s leading seller of dry goods. The business closed in 1955 after 90 years of operation. The building was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Today, the Hamilton County government owns the commercial building and its rooms are used as offices for Job and Family Services employees.
 

Nov. 13, 1926: Corner of Main Street and Central Parkway

 

Here’s a wider photo from the corner of Main Street and Central Parkway in 1926 of the Alms & Doepke building, where fabric, thread, clothing and other similar merchandise were sold for 90 years.
 

Nov. 13, 1926: West along Central Parkway from corner of Sycamore Street

 

Looking down Central Parkway in 1926 provides another angle of the Alms & Doepke Dry Goods Company building (right side of the photo). In the building next door were the offices of locksmith Elijah B. Nickoson and a tinner named Bernard Moore. Also there was the Hogan Shoe Company, two vacancies, the chemical company Ackley & Brink and the Model Laundry Company. Today, a new building owned by the Salvation Army sits in that spot.

The adjacent building in 1926 housed a soap business called The Fry Bros Co. and The Ohio Mechanics Institute. That building, which remains today, is now a mixture of residential space and Coffee Emporium.

Across the street from Alms & Doepke was and still is the Hamilton County Courthouse (left side of the photo). The mammoth six-story limestone structure was completed in 1919. The courts and county offices are here -- and one of the most complete law libraries in America is on the fifth floor. An earlier version of the courthouse was destroyed in the Cincinnati riots of 1884. Today, the courthouse is connected via skybridge to the Hamilton County Justice Center where inmates are held. The Justice Center was built in 1985. In 1926, that spot was home to the Large & Roomy clothing factory and The Walworth Co., which sold plumbers’ supplies.
 

May 25, 1927: 15th Street east of Central Parkway

 

In 1927, this portion of Central Parkway near 15th Street was under construction. The building with the arch-framed doorway (right side of the photo) belonged to the United Jewish Social Agencies, which was part of a city-wide system for Jewish education. The organization's president at the time was Dr. Samuel Rothenberg and its superintendent was Kurt Peisr. Today, this building is home to the Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Surrounding the United Jewish Social Agencies building in 1927 was residential space and apartments owned by John Stoffel Jr., John W. Naegel, Fred BIchsel, Annie Levy, Chas
Stiles, Jos
KeUer, Arthur A. Springmyer and John Harasa, among others. Across the street (the left side of the photo) was the Demeo Erminie Grocery. Next to that was Ebner John Bakery and Peerless Athletic Club. Farther down 15th Street was a fire department repair shop.
 

Aug. 31, 1927: McMicken Avenue west from Elm Street

 

Once called Hamilton Road, McMicken Avenue was renamed for Charles McMicken, the founder of the University of Cincinnati. The building on the far right is Over-the-Rhine's historic Jackson Brewery. After the Prohibition ended in 1933, Jackson Brewery became the property of Squibb-Pattison Breweries, Inc. Due to financial troubles, it was sold to a group of Detroit investors in 1934. A reincorporated Jackson Brewing Company operated at this site until it closed in 1942. The building still stands today. There are currently plans to convert it into a business called Grayscale Cincinnati -- a potential brewery, 192-seat live theater space and 300-person music venue. Cincinnati natives Scott Hand and Dominic Marino are raising money for Grayscale’s development.

Next to Jackson Brewery was a wagon shed and shop owned by Kraus & Penker Wagonmakers. Nearby was Wagner & Franke Auto Repairers – and next to that were several buildings owned by Mohawk Brewing Co. Established in 1845 as the Klotter and Sohn Hamilton Brewery, Mohawk Brewing Co. went through several name changes during its long run, including the William S. Sohn Brewing Company. It was given its final Mohawk branding in 1907. Today, the original Klotter and Sohn Hamilton Brewery building still stands at the northeast corner of Stonewall Street and McMicken Avenue.

Across the street from Jackson Brewery (not pictured on the left side of the photo) was the rust proofing shop Stolle Steel & Iron Co. and Hanna Park. Today, the park still stands and is called Hanna Playground.
 

June 5, 1928: McMicken Avenue east from Elm Street

 

In 1928, a typewriter manufacturer called Rapid Electrotype Company covered most of the intersection at McMicken and Elm Street (the left side of the photo). The building’s large windows were later bricked over and the entire second floor was demolished – essentially cutting the structure in half. It now sits abandoned.

Behind that was St. Philippus Evangelical Church, which still stands today under the name Philippus United Church of Christ. Farther down McMicken was HW Meier Lumber Yard, which is no longer there.

To the left of the typewriter manufacturer was Over-the-Rhine's historic Jackson Brewery.
 

July 2, 1928: Music Hall seen from Central Parkway, north from Grant Street

 

This photo shows the rear of Cincinnati Music Hall from Central Parkway in 1928. In front of Music Hall, (not seen in this photo) was Washington Park, which was completed in 1855. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark in January of 1975, the building was completed in 1878 and is the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera, May Festival Chorus and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

Cincinnati Music Hall has a reputation as one of the most haunted places in America due to its location. Prior to its construction, Music Hall’s plot was home to Ohio's first insane asylum. Next door at 12th Street and Central Parkway was Cincinnati Hospital. In 1832, a cholera outbreak in Cincinnati killed 832 people and resulted in many orphans. In response, the city constructed Cincinnati Orphan Asylum next to Music Hall near the corner of 12th and Elm Streets. The Orphan Asylum, a four-story building, was later called the “Pest House" because the hospital used it to isolate patients with infectious diseases. For 20 years, the grounds around the hospital were used to bury suicides, strangers and the homeless of Cincinnati. Instead of coffins, the deceased were bundled-up and dropped into the ground, according to Ghosthunting Ohio. In 1876, the land was turned over to the Music Hall Association. Music Hall was later built over countless unmarked graves on the original location of the “Pest House."

Today a skywalk bridge connects the rear of Music Hall to a parking garage. The skywalk was a gift from the Corbett Foundation and was added in 1975. Several buildings next to Music Hall (right side of this photo) that stood in 1928 have since been demolished. These buildings belonged to The College of Music of Cincinnati, which closed on July 31, 1955. The College of Music's administration building is the only structure that remains today. It sits at 1228 Central Parkway and is currently owned by the Pipe Fitters Union Local No. 392.
 

Sept. 15, 1928: Corner of Logan and Findlay Street

 

This building seen on Findlay Street in 1926 was residential space owned by Louis Kohlmeler, Geo McNutt, Ealph Wrisley, Pauline James and Luella Miles. Today, the building is abandoned and only half of it remains standing.
 

Aug. 10, 1931: Vine Street north from E. Clifton Avenue

 

Tom Wise, an actor in the 1920s Broadway comedy ''The Old Soak,'' once said there were only three streets in America: Broadway in New York, Market Street in San Francisco and Vine Street in Cincinnati. But there have always been two Vine Streets -- the portion reaching from Fourth Street to lower Central Parkway, and the Over-the-Rhine section running north to the outlying hills.

Pictured above is the latter. In 1931, this part of Vine near the intersection of E. Clifton Avenue was mainly homes. Most of the buildings on each side of the street have since been abandoned or demolished. A machine shop once produced metal goods in a tall building on the left, but that structure was later removed. Across the street (the right side of the photo) were more apartments, a tin shop and a drug store. The house on the hill in the distance was not built yet.
 

Aug. 11, 1931: Vine Street north from McMicken Avenue

 

This portion of Vine Street looking north from McMicken Avenue in 1931 shows a dense combination of stores and apartments. On the left side of the street was Garfield Loan & Building Co., a barber shop owned by Elmer Gross, a beauty shop owned by Mattie L. Broyles, a dress maker shop owned by Rosa and Mary Piepenbring and several apartments. You can also see an ad for Old Hickory Malt Syrup from Queen City Extract Co. Across the street (right side of the photo) was Fenton United Cleaning & Dyeing Co., a shoe repair shop owned by Oscar Silverstein, a barber shop owned by Elmer Gross and Wm Meyer, a wallpaper shop owned by Jos Roeller and several apartments. Today, the block is home to Schwartz Point Jazz Club, and several unoccupied buildings.
 

June 30, 1932: Mohawk Street west from Stonewall Street

 

The building with the round sign (left side of the photo) was a grocery store owned by Albert E. Eberhardt. The sign says “real ice cream.” Surrounding this store was residential space owned by Arthur Hull, Geo A. Schaetzle, David Federle, Edward Michael, Anton Grimm, Carl Hoffman, Geo F. Morsch, Paul B Thlel, Allisto Giovannoni, Kate Rechel, Jos Bayman, Walter Watt and others. Today, most of the buildings on this street are gone or abandoned. There is some residential space.
 

June 30, 1932: Mohawk Street looking at Byron Street intersection

 

The front row of buildings before the intersection of Byron Street were occupied by Wm M. David, Harry Klrschner, Anna
 Kouba, John McNamara, John K. Gossmann, Everett Gray, Archibald C. Zoller, Wm Sickinger, Jos
 Haekford Alice
 Long and Geo Mayleben. After the intersection, were homes and residential space owned by Willard Seibert, Clem H
. Piper, Emma Summers, Chas W. Jetter, Kate Ruff, 
Bertha
 Buss, Augusta Kummier, Adolph Schardt, Christ Wunder, Thos Greenwald and others. The building on the immediate left of this photo is still standing today but the building next door is gone. In that spot now sits a small gated lawn with playground equipment. Both buildings on the right before the intersection are gone. The buildings immediately after the intersection are still standing.
 

July 8, 1932: Logan Street south from Findlay Street

 

The immediate series of buildings on the left and right of this view of Logan Street in 1932 were apartments and residential spaces owned by Prank B. Hanls, Thos J. Eoehrich, Bessie Younger, Marie Humer, Nicholas Eleder, August Budneck, BU Globerson and several others. The first two buildings on the right and a few on the left have since been demolished. The tall building that still stands today (right side of the photo) was known as the Procter Apartments. Across the street was a heated garage that could hold up to 20 vehicles.

Much farther down the road (right side of the photo) was The General Machinery Co., a three-story building that had a massive cold storage unit and an area for beef and hog killing, as well as sausage making. Across the street from that was Mowhawk Laundry and the Sanitary Towel & Apron Supply Co.
 

July 9, 1932: Dunlap Street north from Findlay Street

 

The building after the fence (right side of the photo) was furniture maker The Jos Scheid Sons Co. The business Plymetl Products Co. also had an office there. At five stories, the building had an elevator and an attached lumber shed. Today, the words “The Jos Scheid Sons Co.” and “Furniture To You” are still written on the front of the building in faded letters.

Down the road was residential space owned by Rosa Butts, Richard Ronan and Chas Leppia. Across the street from the furniture company was an empty lot and next to that was a large garage with steam heat and electric lights. Down the road a bit was The Rollman & Sons Company, a general store founded by Isaac Rollman. From Vonhausen, Germany, Rollman settled in Cincinnati in 1847 at 21 years old. His sons later took over the business.
 

April 9, 1943: 12th and Vine Street

 

Now populated by the trendy restaurant Taste of Belgium, parking garages and art studios, this block of Vine Street looking south from 12th Street was home to the Western Bank & Trust in 1943. This building (on the left side of the photo) had large, impressive columns and has since been demolished. It was originally called the Western German Bank, but its name was changed in 1918 after WWI. Continuing on the left side of the photo, next to the bank, was Glossinger Cigars, Ida Gordon's dry goods, Paul J Fortsalos' hat cleaner shop, Star Radio Service, Louis Huthsteiner's cigar shop and Associated Music Publishing Co. Across the street from the bank on Vine was Esberger Bros. Jewelers, The Fifth Third Union Trust Co., optometrist Edgar P. Nash, J.B. Schroeder Co. hardware store, Beck Wm & Sons Co. costume shop, tailor Reuben Caplan, United Radio Inc. and Poley's Clothes. Carew Tower can be seen in the distance.

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