New Urban Attitudes
© Becky Linhardt 2012
First let me explain the name “Over the Rhine” – OTR to most Cincinnatians. In the 19th century the Miami & Erie Canal came south through the Mill Creek Valley and made a sharp turn east just north of the major downtown businesses. A residential neighborhood inhabited mainly by German workers developed north of the canal so that it was said that you were going “over the Rhine” when you entered the ethnic German neighborhood that was also home to many internationally known German style breweries.
The neighborhood prospered. Cincinnati’s Music Hall was built between Elm Street and the canal, and Washington Park was developed as an urban green space – all before 1900. The neighborhood changed as many German families moved to the suburbs during the 20th century. The canal was filled in and became Central Parkway. The Over the Rhine name remained as did many of the historic buildings.
After years of decline, young urban professionals became interested in OTR – its unique buildings and convenient location near downtown. An arts and entertainment area began to develop on the commercial section of Main Street in OTR. Final Fridays became the place to see new art in the galleries along OTR Main Street and in artists’ studios at the nearby Pendleton Arts Center. Theaters and music venues appeared. A series of Second Sunday events became part of the summer scene. Entrepreneurs and start-up companies staked a claim and many of their employees moved into the neighborhood. Writers of the TV program Harry’s Law based their stories in the OTR neighborhood and in this last season used a set based on the very real, historic Arnold’s Bar – famous for its bathtub room in which gin was made during Prohibition. The bathtub is still there on the second floor.
Beloved Cincinnati Pops conductor, Erich Kunzel promoted the idea of an arts hub around Washington Park. The Cincinnati Art Academy moved to Over the Rhine from the Cincinnati Art Museum. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s home, Music Hall faces the park and Kunzel championed a new building for the School for the Creative and Performing Arts High School just south, on Central Parkway at Elm. The new building is a contemporary beauty and was one of the main venues for the recent World Choir Games (July 4-14, 2012).
A BIG part of the planned changes for the OTR area was a redevelopment of Washington Park. Many of us were skeptical about the feasibility but the opening in early July revealed a well thought out plan. Mature trees were saved and they provide a shaded southern portion of the park. The historic bandstand remains at the center, now gussied up and looking pretty as well as being more functional.
Where buildings and recreational facilities existed at the north end of the park, the designers dug in to provided underground parking (one of the most spacious I have experienced) and over that structure created a “Civic Lawn” in front of a new stage on the northern edge that is a focal point for music performances and free movie nights during warm weather. One of the surprises for visitors is the impressive view of Music Hall as you sit on the Civic Lawn for performances on the stage.
Citizens of the city and the neighborhood worked together to make Washington Park a “people’s park” open to the diverse populations of the area – and with wonderful family interaction. There are fountains, a series of cooling sprays for kids to play in, and a fenced play area that includes unique swings, a stone “play” castle, and more. There is even a fenced Dog Park.
Watch for more developments in OTR as a juried flea market, City Flea, moves to Washington Park for their August market. A series of music and free movies are planned for the Civic Lawn throughout the summer. A Kickball League is forming and more events are being scheduled.
Over The Rhine and Washington Park