Newport’s Cote Brilliante (Shining Hill) Historic District Thrives with New Generation

by Margo Warminski, CPA Preservation Director
originally published in the Northern Kentucky Tribune

The Cote Brilliante Historic District in Newport, whose name means “shining hill” in French, honors a physically cohesive, largely middle-class residential community with a strong sense of place. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, it was the fifth district to achieve this status in Newport.

Comprised of approximately 135 principal buildings on 29 acres in the southeast corner of the city, the neighborhood has three main streets: East Tenth Street, Vine Street and Park Avenue. It was developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with most buildings dating from 1890 to 1920.
While the neighborhood originally was much larger, its eastern half was demolished in the early 21st century to build the Newport Pavilion shopping center. “By 2004, Newport had bought and torn down some 90 homes in the southern part of the area” (Michael R. Sweeney, “Cote Brilliante,” in Paul A. Tenkotte and James A. Claypool, eds., The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009, p. 253). Also excluded from the district is recently constructed high-end housing at the top of the hill.

The Cote Brilliante neighborhood was built on a steep hillside. Locations on the highest points offer panoramic views of the city and the Cincinnati riverfront. Like the largely level “basin” area of Newport, Cote Brilliante was for the most part laid out in narrow lots to allow for the construction of more homes. Accommodations to the terrain include tall flights of steps, stone or concrete retaining walls, and small garages dug into steep banks. Most buildings contribute to the district’s character.

Vine Street, Cote Brilliante, Newport. (Photo by Margo Warminski, 2020)

Predominant building types in Cote Brilliante are those suited to the dense cityscape. Many of its residences do not reflect any particular style, achieving distinction by form alone. Both brick and frame construction are widely used. Frequently seen in the district are two- or two-and-a-half-story townhouses with front- or side-gabled, shed or mansard roofs, as well as modest frame cottages.

“Several examples of repetitive house types occur in the district, suggestive of a healthy tradition of speculative building early in the district’s history” (David L. Taylor, “Cote Brilliante Historic District,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination, 2004). For example, six similar examples of an early-20th-century house form can be seen on Tenth and Vine streets. All are built in brick to two stories, with a front-gabled roof and the main entrance offset to one side (Taylor, Section 7, p. 4).

Some of the district’s earliest surviving houses feature modest bracketed cornices in the Italianate style. “An earlier repetitive house type in the district is vaguely Italianate in character, with a flat façade of two bays, and a modest bracketed cornice” (Taylor, Section 8, p. 61). Seven examples are found in the district. They include the simple frame residence at 618 East Tenth Street, which features a gently pitched shed roof and a full-width porch with replacement iron posts.

“The Eastlake style, noted for its use of profuse turned and scroll-sawn architectural embellishment, appears on several relatively elaborate wood porches” (Taylor, Section 7, p. 5). Nine residences in the district exhibit the “intact and highly detailed Eastlake ornament” characteristic of the style. Notable is the modest frame house at 1033 Park Avenue, which retains an ornate, full-width, exceptionally intact Eastlake porch.

The Colonial Revival gained popularity in the early-20th century, and four Cote Brilliante houses were built in the new style. “This style is typified by a formality and symmetry of massing, and may incorporate a Palladian window in the pediment of [sic] gable ends” (Taylor, Section 7, p. 6). The well-detailed Colonial Revival brick residence at 734 East Tenth Street features a full-width porch with concrete block posts, alternating quoins, a focal window with transom, and a Palladian gable window.

Miller Street, Cote Brilliante, Newport. (Photo by Margo Warminski, 2020)

By the 1920s, bungalows and American Foursquares had become very popular in Newport, and examples of both can be seen in Cote Brilliante (five Foursquares and four bungalows respectively) (Taylor, Section 7, p. 10). Largely distinguished by variations in height, both exhibit detailing strongly influenced by the Craftsman style, including blocky massing, broad, deep porches, and dormered gabled or hipped roofs. The wood-shingled bungalow at 741 East Tenth Street features an almost-full-width gabled porch with tapered wood posts on shingled piers. It rests on a foundation of split-face concrete block.

The crowning glory of the district, literally and figuratively speaking, is the home of brewer George Wiedemann’s widow and sons at 1102 Park Avenue, built in 1895 (National Register, 1984). This splendid 15-room mansion, built on a six-acre lot overlooking the neighborhood (only one acre now remains with the property; by far the largest individual property in the district), was designed by Cincinnati master architect Samuel Hannaford. In its day the Wiedemann house was considered the most impressive structure in Cote Brilliante, and the Wiedemanns were its most affluent and influential residents. After some changes of ownership, the house is now a wedding venue and event center called the Wiedemann Hill Mansion. See also Our Rich History’s story on George Weidemann and his brewery.

During the late 20th century, some houses on Vine Street were demolished for blight removal or speculative development, leaving vacant, grassy lots. Numerous others were renovated and restored as a new generation rediscovered urban living in Newport, sharing in the revival of Northern Kentucky’s river cities.