Tensions in Glendale rise as uncertain future of Eckstein School drags on

'This is a village that prides itself on being historic-minded...What is clear now is that that means white history, not Black history.'
Eckstein School
Posted at 7:07 PM, Aug 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-09 09:03:59-04

GLENDALE, Ohio — Members of the Glendale community have reached a new level of frustration over the uncertain future of the beloved Eckstein School.

The owner of the building, once a segregated school for Black children, is appealing to the village government to turn the property into a convalescent home.

However, that effort hit a major snag this week when the council delayed a scheduled vote on whether to grant the owner a conditional use permit needed to move forward with the project.

The delay was a result of the uproar and various concerns voiced by residents attached to the building’s historical significance who shot down the proposal at a hearing on Monday night.

Denny Dellinger is the owner of the Eckstein School property and an architect based in Over-the-Rhine. He first presented Glendale officials with his idea to convert Eckstein into a convalescent home earlier this year. His previous efforts to repurpose and, most recently, sell the building were unsuccessful. As a result, he thought converting it into a convalescent home could be a viable solution to finally make use of the property.

“A lot of the rest of the village, I think, would support the project,” Dellinger said.

But his idea had been met with serious opposition at Monday night’s hearing.

“If you come up and down our street, we have signs that say, ‘Save Eckstein School,’” said Brenda Daniels, a Glendale resident who lives on the same street as the schoolhouse, Washington Avenue.

“This is a village that prides itself on being historic-minded,” said Libby Hamrick, another Glendale resident. “But I think what is clear now is that that means white history, not Black history.”

In addition to expressing their fury at the proposal to turn Eckstein into a convalescent home, residents also blamed the property’s arrested development on the Glendale government. They charged the village with letting the cherished, historic building come to this fate after years of contentious battles for ownership, as well as floated ideas to convert the space into a cultural arts center.

Bill Parrish is the executive director of the Eckstein Cultural Arts Center, a separate entity located on East Sharon Road. He once led his own unsuccessful fight to buy the property and has been trying to realize the idea of converting the schoolhouse into a cultural arts center for years.

He challenges the idea that Dellinger can do something productive with the space now after not having done so in his two years of ownership of the building.

“I think that this decision is a no-brainer," Parrish said. "There hasn't been anything that's really been presented that preserves that history.”

Village Administrator David Lumsden says it’s unknown when Glendale’s village council will vote on the issue. The item is on the agenda for the next meeting on Aug. 30.

Raymond Terrell, 86, attended Eckstein in the 1940s.

“My memories of being an Eckstein student are very precious,” he said.

Terrell said the Eckstein School wasn’t just a segregated schoolhouse. It was the center of Black cultural life in Glendale. He feels those who are in favor of turning the schoolhouse into a convalescent home are out of touch with the historical importance of the building.

“I think the major problem is that the new Glendale residents who are white and say they are concerned have no sense of the history that was there. And it was just, as far as they were concerned, it was just an old building. And they have no reality about what it was and...what it meant to the African American community.”

Dellinger doesn’t know what he will do with the property if he isn’t granted the permit for his convalescent home project. But even if he is, he’s concerned he still might not get very far with his plans.

“I don't feel very welcome in Glendale anymore,” Dellinger said.

Time will reveal if the schoolhouse continues to sit unused and dilapidated or become a symbol of progress and recognition of the village’s Black history.

Residents attached to Eckstein’s past as a haven for Black education and communal gatherings hope such an event will actualize calls for racial equity from last year’s nationwide social reckoning.

They say finding a way to appropriately commemorate and repurpose the building will be a welcome departure from how Black history has been slighted and overlooked in the past.

Monique John covers gentrification for WCPO 9. She is part of our Report For America donor-supported journalism program. Read more about RFA here.

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