Fate of North Avondale mansion in limbo as neighbors debate about nonprofit that supports teen moms

Rubel House being pursued by Rosemary's Babies
Rubel House_NorthAvondale.PNG
Posted at 8:07 AM, Dec 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-04 11:43:13-05

CINCINNATI — As a teenager, Rosemary Oglesby-Henry spent a lot of time at her grandmother's house on Holloway Street. She was raising her baby girl.

“Right before her senior year, I decided to go back and complete my education, because the goal all along was to build something that would help these teen parents one day,” Oglesby-Henry said.

Today, she is dedicated to helping teenage mothers get the resources they need for their babies through the nonprofit she started four years ago, Rosemary's Babies Company. The plans have expanded to open a home for teen mothers with their babies: the Holloway House and Resource Center.

“After doing thorough research, we learned that, unless they were a ward of the state or they were actually pregnant, there was no place for a teen under the age of 18 to go if they were housing-insecure and/or homeless,” Oglesby-Henry said. She acknowledged that many of the young teens the organization serves are couch-hopping or not living with their parents.

The Holloway House would be the first residential home for teen mothers in Cincinnati, and Oglesby-Henry has her eye on a property.

The historic Rubel House sits on Reading Road in North Avondale. It is currently owned by the Port, which went through the tedious process of stabilizing the 6,000-square-foot home last year. It has a wraparound front porch, a grand staircase, at least 10 bedrooms and several fireplaces. It's one of many stately mansions in North Avondale that date back to the 1890s. Rosemary's Babies has raised nearly $300,000 toward the purchase and renovation of the property, including $184,000 from the city of Cincinnati.

Some in North Avondale, however, have reservations about the project.

During a November virtual meeting of the North Avondale Neighborhood Association, Oglesby-Henry presented information about the project. Several residents indicated they were concerned about issues like drugs, domestic violence, noise, trash and parking.

“A lot of their concerns feed into the stereotype of why teen parents don’t ask for help. They feed into the stereotype of why, historically, this has been a very difficult plight and conversation to overcome,” said Oglesby-Henry. “These teen parents are not violent. These teen parents are not criminals by far. They just need a home and a place that they are familiar and that there’s love and support.”

Laurie Pike is Walter Rubel's step-granddaughter and one of the last remaining family members to have owned the mansion and the popular Cincinnati baking company that shares its name.

“I was surprised, and I was disappointed,” Pike said of the reaction of some neighbors. "I know for a fact my Rubel relatives would have absolutely supported what Rosemary is doing, the idea of it and also how she is executing the idea.”

She said the family hasn't owned the home for a long time, but several Rubel family members signed a letter of support for Rosemary's Babies.

“This is the first proposal that’s come along that to me makes sense and is very much needed,” said Pike, who is also the second vice president of the North Avondale Neighborhood Association. “We can’t wait another decade for someone to come in and put in an arts center. I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen.”

Ethan Perry, president of the neighborhood association, declined to comment on the issue because the community has not voted on whether to support the project.

The discussion at the meeting caused one board member to resign.

“I was appalled,” said Ilene Tucker, the now-former corresponding secretary for the neighborhood association. “I was disenchanted with what I thought was my inclusive, amazing neighborhood.”

Tucker said she learned about Rosemary's Babies and Oglesby-Henry through her husband, who also works for a nonprofit and shared his knowledge of the organization's attributes during the meeting. Tucker was impressed.

“I thought, wow, you know, instead of looking out my windows at a decrepit falling-down piece of junk, I could look out my window and see young families, young people taking care of a property, and I could look out for them,” Tucker said.

She added that she thought some of the residents attending the virtual meeting had a "not in my backyard" attitude.

"Nobody would ask this kind of question if an upscale children's boutique wanted to move into that spot," she said.

Meanwhile, Rosemary's Babies has received support from a list of other community leaders, including the Urban League, leaders in neighboring Avondale, Cradle Cincinnati and several corporate sponsors. The organization recently announced that Elaine Bobbey, president and managing director of Evenflo Feeding in West Chester, is joining the board of directors.

“In the last four years we have done a tremendous job of being a best-in-class resource for teen parents that want support and are longing for it,” Oglesby-Henry said. These resources include working with teens on developing parenting skills, education and avoiding repeat pregnancies.

“I spent two years researching how to decrease poverty and researching generational impact,” she said. “Leaders aren’t just born, they are made. And as parents that’s what we’re doing. We’re leading our families.”

The Port will have the final say on whether to sell the Rubel House to Rosemary's Babies. Community engagement is one of several factors considered.

“Any time we sell a property, particularly when it is of this size, prominence, and importance to the community, we want to vet the sale thoroughly," said Laura Brunner, CEO of the Port, in a statement to WCPO 9. "We look at a number of factors, including financing, ability to complete rehab, compatibility of a project with its surroundings, and community support. While local community councils and residents do not have veto power over who we sell properties to, we always take their input seriously and weigh that in our decision-making.”

The next virtual meeting is scheduled for Dec. 8, and Rosemary's Babies will be on the agenda. Pike hopes North Avondale will welcome the organization into the neighborhood.

“She is a superstar in terms of someone who is a leader who has both vision and follow-through," Pike said. "I feel like North Avondale needs to spend more time getting to know her and the organization.”