Cincinnati's Architectural Nuance


Cincinnati enjoys a long tradition of innovative architectural design as well as a long list of nationally recognized significant buildings from both local and out-of-town architects. Through the help of organizations such as the Cincinnati Preservation Association, the Queen City is seeing its share of Architectural tourists. In 2006, The New York Times hailed Cincinnati as “a must-see stop on the contemporary architecture circuit” with highlights including Zaha Hadid’s Contemporary Arts Center and Daniel Liebskind’s The Ascent as well as University of Cincinnati’s important recent contributions.

And yet some lifelongers have been living, working and playing among Cincinnati's more than 21 local historic districts without even knowing it. So with the help of CPA’s widely popular Architreks walking tours, Soapbox invites you take a walk among some of the city’s 10 best surprises and local historic treasures.

10) Post-Times Star Building (8th and Broadway)
Starting at the old Post-Times Star Building at 8th and Broadway, you will first notice the plethora of symbols outlining this Art Deco edifice designed in 1933 by Samuel Hannaford & Sons. Constructed as a “literal” building that proudly declares its original purpose—newspaper office and printing plant—in metal and stone. Take special note of the ornate, stylized entrance and featuring Ben Franklin and Gutenberg at work.

9) Nathaniel Pendleton’s Home (444 Reading Road)
Tucked away beside the former St. Paul’s Church (now the Verdin Bell Event Center) is the 1803 Federal-style home of local landowner, Nathaniel Pendleton whose claim to fame was serving as Alexander Hamilton’s second in his deadly duel with Aaron Burr in 1804. Because building materials were scarce in a booming young city, in 1848 the house was carefully moved from three blocks away to serve as the church rectory.

8)  The Samuel Burdsall Home (1342 Broadway)
Perched above Broadway at 14th Street, is one of the city’s oldest buildings. A restored Federal Style home that has served as a residence continuously since it was built in 1829 by Samuel Burdsall, the home was often visited by William Henry Harrison, who enjoyed visiting Burdsall’s downtown residence and apothecary to discuss medicine. 

7) Old St. Mary’s Church (123 E. 13th St)
Old St. Mary’s is the oldest house of worship still in use in the city. Built in 1847 to serve the burgeoning German Catholic population of OTR, it is a dignified Greek revival edifice with a 170- foot spire.  Beside the church stands the rectory and school buildings, also constructed in the Greek revival mode. Astute observers will note that the rectory has a Leaning Tower of Pisa appearance achieved after the building settled.  In an ancient tradition, the relics of a saint, in this case the martyr St. Mauritius, are buried beneath the altar. 

6)  St. Francis Seraph Church (1600 Vine St.)
Liberty and Vine streets serve as the cradle of Catholicism in Cincinnati. An ordinance forbidding the erection of a Catholic church within city limits prompted the building of the first Catholic Church in this area which, at the time, was just outside city limits in 1819. Throughout its history, church members were buried in the parish cemetery next door which is now a walled garden. The present Romanesque Revival church, designed by master architect James W. McLaughlin, celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.  The orange glazed-brick façade was added in 1925. 

5) Music Hall (NW Corner of Elm and 14th Streets)
Samuel Hannaford won the competition to design Cincinnati’s magnificent Music Hall which is said to be a “masterpiece of High Victorian Gothic Revival architecture, with an appropriately Germanic flavor,” says Walter E. Langsam in his book Architecture Cincinnati: A Guide to Nationally Significant Buildings and Their Architects in the Greater Cincinnati Area. The massive building’s round arches, seen on many other Over-the-Rhine structures, reflects the architectural influences of the German-speaking migrants who populated the neighborhood.  The building was rushed to completion in time for the 1877 May Festival, and for its first two decades served as both a concert hall and exposition center.  The rush caused an ‘out-of-synch’ condition at the peak which can be seen today if one looks closely.

4)  Memorial Hall (1225 Elm Street)
A fitting companion for Music Hall is Memorial Hall, also designed by Hannaford & Sons. One of 14 memorial halls built across Ohio between 1876 and 1925, the stately Beaux Arts Classical edifice commemorates the veterans and pioneers of Hamilton County and celebrates its centennial this year. Original frescoes and stencil work were painted by Francis Pedretti & Sons, Cincinnati muralists. Six statues over the front entrance were sculpted by Clement Barnhorn, instructor at the Cincinnati Art Academy. The source of much curiosity, observers often ask who these statues represent. They are:

  •   Pioneer  c.1700
  •   Minuteman  American Revolution, 1776
  •   Sailor   War of 1812
  •   Artillery Soldier Mexican War
  •   Infantry Soldier Civil War, 1865
  •   Cavalry Soldier Spanish American War, 1896

3)  Barlow Motors (28 W. Central Pkwy.)
At the NE corner of Race Street and Central Parkway are two adjoining Commercial Style buildings built in 1915 and 1917 by Harry Hake and recently restored by Bruce D. Robinson Design Group.  Peer in the double-door entry and look up:  the lobby ceiling is the floor of a huge elevator that lifted automobiles to the second level for service. On the building’s back wall is a poignant reminder of an earlier era: The stucco outline recalls the small canal-era house that once stood there. (The Miami-Erie Canal was filled in to create Central Parkway.)

2)  The Fechheimer Mansion (north side of Garfield Place between Vine and Race)
When the Fechheimer House was built in 1862, downtown was still a largely residential neighborhood. The oldest surviving work of Samuel Hannaford, it is an elegant Renaissance Revival townhouse with ornate sandstone façade. The original owner was wholesale clothier Marcus Fechheimer. The building later housed the Cuvier Press Club, then the Butterfield Senior Center, and now LPK Design. The Brutalist wing (from a French term for rough concrete, concrete brut) was added in the 1970s.  

1) St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, Isaac M. Wise Temple, and Cincinnati City Hall
Quite possibly one of Cincinnati’s most stunning and historically significant architectural corners is the collection of three “church and state” masterpieces that anchor the corner of 8th and Plum Street. St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, built in 1845, was the second Catholic cathedral built in the United States.  Because the Cincinnati diocese included all of Ohio at the time, every Catholic in the state was expected to pay at least 12-1/2 cents per month to support the building project. Designed by architect Henry Walter, the church was styled as a Greek temple, with a hexastyle Corinthian portico.

Across Plum Street is the Isaac M. Wise Temple (1866; James K. Wilson, architect), one of the finest examples of Moorish Byzantine Victorian architecture in the Western world. It was named for the rabbi who founded Reformed Judaism and established the Hebrew Union College in Clifton in 1875. Don’t miss an opportunity to see the spectacular interior. The 1990s restoration cost two million dollars, took five months, and involved fourteen artists, 65 colors and 135 stencils. 

Finally, to the north across 8th Street is City Hall, built in 1893 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Samuel Hannaford again served as the architect. On the stair landing is a huge allegorical stained-glass window inscribed with the line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Catawba Wine”—To the Queen City of the West, in her garlands dressed, On the banks of the Beautiful River.

This is but a taste of some of the impressive architectural statements found throughout the city. At least thirty additional surprises are available through the ARCHITREKS guided walking tours sponsored by the Cincinnati Preservation Association. 

 Photography by Scott Beseler

St. Peter in Chains Cathedral

Post-Times Star Building

The Samuel Burdsall Home

Isaac M. Wise Temple

St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, Isaac M. Wise Temple, and Cincinnati City Hall

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