"Traffic" Ten Years Later

Revisiting Traffic from Soapboxmedia.com on Vimeo.

Released ten years ago "Traffic" was a surprise box office hit, ultimately winning director Steven Soderbergh and then newcomer Benicio del Toro Oscars for their work.  Featuring major movie stars like Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, Don Cheadle, and Dennis Quaid, the film was a realistic, uncomfortable look at the supply and demand chain of illegal drugs from Mexico to the Midwest.

As our feature story on Cincinnati's burgeoning film industry notes, "Traffic" was one of the last major motion pictures filmed here after a slew of '90's era features used the Queen City as a location for all or part of their films (Little Man Tate, Eight Men Out, Rage in Harlem, Rain Man). Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, and Hyde Park were used as the backdrop for its narrative about an Ohio Appeals' Court judge played by Douglas who in an ironic twist becomes the nation's new 'Drug Czar' while his privileged young daughter sinks deep into crack addiction right under his nose.

At the time of its release, many Cincinnatians were aghast at the portrayal of Cincinnati's
neighborhoods in the film -  which painted the urban decay of Over-the-Rhine (starring as "the West End") and Downtown in a unflattering, harsh light (the privileged "Indian Hill" location of Douglas' home made out better by using the bucolic Hyde Park as a stand-in).  Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, a Louisville, Kentucky native, said he originally planned to set the storyline in his hometown but determined that Cincinnati's rougher neighborhoods "looked worse" than anything Louisville could offer at the time.

Ten years later, Soapbox and Seven/Seventy-Nine revisit some of the locations where "Traffic" was filmed and find that while some things have stayed the same, many of the grittier locations have transformed or will be transforming right before our eyes.

The infamous Ft. Washington Hotel, located in the central business district at 621 Main Street served as a setting for the drug den and flophouse of Douglas' daughter, actress Erika Christensen and her boyfriend, portrayed by actor Topher Grace.  The tarnished old building designed by famed architect Albert Nash had a notable first life as the original office space of Cincinnati Fortune 500 Western-Southern Financial Group before serving as a pay-by-the-week low budget boardinghouse at the time of the film.  A two-million dollar transformation in 2005 by Frank Fieler converted the six-story building into 10 luxury condos ranging in price from $240,000 to $400,000 with first floor commercial space (currently housing marketing and branding firm PB&J).

The film also uses OTR streets like McMicken and Vine as a backdrop for Christensen and Grace's drug buying trips (DVD owners can find much of this in Scene 29). Now, Vine Street redevelopment beginning just north of Central Parkway in the Gateway Quarter is being lead by 3CDC and quickly inching its way further north towards this corner.  Many scenes were also shot in and around Vine, Republic and Race Streets with glimpses west towards Washington Park - also about to undergo its own multi-million dollar renovation

Seven/Seventy-Nine has put together a terrific snapshot of "Traffic's" locations throughout Cincinnati as they exist now, including a peek inside some of the original locations where you can see the transformation for yourself.  Along the way they gained insight from the film's original location scout as well as some of the current occupants - a special thanks to homeowners' Trudy Backus and Sally and Mike Connelly for inviting us into their homes.

I encourage you to revisit "Traffic" today, both with the original film and perhaps by exploring the city that served as its backdrop.  You'll find that just like old photographs of each of us, some things have changed around here for the better.

Sean Rhiney
Managing Editor, Soapbox


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