the Arch Street Row Houses: Fightin' Words

Western & Southern filed for their demolition permit for the 19th-century brick row houses on Arch St. last week.


And I know we’re going to be sad when they go, the day we hear the bulldozers start up on the other side of Lytle Park and we try not to listen, can’t bring ourselves to go look at the gaping wound of bare dirt after the engines go silent again.

Now why should we be so sad?  Come on.  You know it’s true.  The only time most of us ever went to look at those little houses was when we knew they weren’t long for this world. Heck, nobody even knew where Arch St. was until we found out Western & Southern wanted to knock them down.

But those houses symbolize something that runs deep.  An idea of life we’re terrified to lose. One of Bob Castellini’s great-great-great aunts rented one of those walk-ups.  Stephen Foster lived around the corner when he wrote ‘My Old Kentucky Home.’ Those simple houses, empty for so many years, are precious because they remind us of all the talent and hard work that goes into building a great city generation after generation, that one life isn’t long enough to measure anything that really matters and that’s the kind of city where we want to live, one where citizens leave meaning in their wake, where fortunes can be born from humble circumstances, where a building’s primary reason for being has nothing to do with its internal rate of return or the availability of tax increment financing.

Yes, we’re going to lose those buildings – but we can’t afford to lose what they symbolize.  Because that’s what we’re really fighting for all over this city and we’re fighting for the same ideas in Avondale and Westwood and Price Hill and the Lytle Park Historic District and Over-the Rhine and Roselawn and Oakley.  This stronger, better community is no Pollyanna pipe dream.  It’s a fact based on the great social experiment called the internet and no corporation , no matter how big it is, can derail the new Connection Economy.  The days when an elite few who made the biggest political contributions dictated how we use city resources are over.   Believe in Cincinnati and the continuation of the streetcar construction is all the proof anybody should ever need.

Lucky for us, Cincinnati, developers have become very dependent on the public taxpayer in order to materialize their products, investments created for institutional portfolios looking for income streams higher than bonds.  And that means we can say, “No.”  No, we don’t want to pay for your garages. No, we aren’t willing to pay your share of public services while you get a 30-year free ride on property taxes.  No, we don’t want to finance any more pedestrian promenades or street-level retail that sits dark and empty year after year.  No more management fees.  No more sweet-heart purchase options where the guys with the good lawyers take all the profits.  No.  No.  No.

As they tear down those little row houses on Arch Street, it might look like Western & Southern is so big nobody can ever stop them.  But that’s not true.  This city can stand up for what we believe in, the kind of city where we want to live, and we can say, “No.”


6 thoughts on “the Arch Street Row Houses: Fightin' Words

  1. Bonnie J. Speeg

    Kathy, you needed to pay more attention to my posts. I’ve been on Arch Street for over 15 years, photographing, documenting and presenting all things regarding the history of this street. New research shows the street was named after one of the founding families that employed Stephen Foster and walked with John Quincy Adams from there to lay the corner stone for the Observatory. I did the research, it was me. My presentations on the subject of this district led to presentations in the Taft Museum and the Betts House. You’re not the only person on board about this travesty of losing Arch Street. I wish I had the money it would have taken to fight it more….and you’re now ‘leaning into’ the loss after initially finding it incredulous the politics work they way they do in this town is not comforting. Your original posts about WS were opposed to their ‘self-entitled’ redistributing of our collective heritage.

    1. Robert Burnett

      Fascinating info! A distant relative of mine, Henry Mansell, ran a boarding house on Arch Street during the 1840s and 1850s, although I have not been able to get an exact address.

  2. Bonnie J. Speeg

    Kathy, I’d love to talk with you. I’m compiling an article for the Enquirer, for a historic perspective for everyone on Arch Street and my journal writer of that district. The houses on Arch Street were not ’empty for so many years’ at all. The last resident at the one on the end was as recent as the last decade. Businesses have been in the other buildings for a very long time. Any vacancies have been in the last decade. Short time considering their longevity. thank you.

  3. executivedreamer Post author

    Bonnie, I’m afraid we have to depend on you for an accurate historical presentation of the Arch Street properties and I’m eager to read your account. My interpretation of “so many years” was based on what I observed walking past the houses since we moved-in in 2010. Of course my interest in Arch Street is now and always has been very different from your historical perspective. What I’m trying to do is lead a conversation about how to change the way we make development decisions in Cincinnati – but I never thought it was politically or legally possible to save these buildings. — Others can and do disagree and I hope they prove me way too pessimistic.

  4. Bonnie J. Speeg

    Kathy, thanks for your perspective…it’s good. I’m documenting the Irwin Alley and Arch Street next weekend (October 18), on video. Tim Jeffries is officially photographing sites/elements/architectural features this coming week. I have the guidelines and specifications as to how to ‘look’ beneath the surface during any excavation/demolition on Arch Street, from Archaeologist Bob Genheimer of the Museum Center. I’ve been in communication with him for months. Also, Ann Senefeld has helped me very much. ARCH STREET is named after the father of my journal-writer….ARCHIBALD IRWIN. He employed Stephen Foster. Is nothing else is of provenance, that surely is! I hope to hear from you as to how to know the dates on demolition hell…..please inform. I’m despair a bit…..but I own the beautiful words and journal…and nothing can take that with a bulldozer; it’s at my house. 🙂 Thank you, Kathy.

  5. Pingback: Should developers be “customers”? Comments on the Port Authority meeting, 4/8/15 | cincyopolis

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