Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 8)

Preservation in the Park

Join Cincinnati Preservation Association at the Porch in Washington Park to hear about the stories that the historic buildings of Cincinnati tell in our new series called Preservation in the Park.

Grab a drink from the bar, sit back and let us tell you a story. 

First Tuesday of the month at 7pm on the Porch at 1230 Elm Street 

à     August 2, 2022- “The Little Theater That Saved Memorial Hall” by William Bauman

à     September 6, 2022- “Cincinnati Music Hall: Why Details Matter” by Thea Tjepkema

à     October 4, 2022- “Findlay Market: 170 Years” by Corporation for Findlay Market


             Presented by Cincinnati Preservation Association

              Sponsored by 3CDC


Ben Dombar House and Studio: A Story of a National Register Listing

by Beth Johnson

“A large 4-story yellow hexagon on the side of a hill on a wooded lot overlooking a creek” is how I provide a quick description of my house when I first describe it to someone. After I get a look marked with confusion and intrigue, I often explain that this was the house and studio of Benjamin Dombar, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright. He designed the home in the organic architecture style that he was taught from his time with Wright.

exterior of the Ben Dombar House and Studio

Throughout the house there are elements and influences from the midcentury modern style that was the prominent style of his practice. Buildings such as the Runnels House, Leiter House, and the Specklin House embody Dombar’s grasp of the mid-century Modern ideal, while remaining true to his foundations in organic architecture. (Modernnati has more examples of Ben Dombar’s work.) However, his own personal house was a celebration and an experiment in the values that Frank Lloyd Wright instilled in him during his apprenticeship.

When I first set eyes on the Dombar House and Studio and walked through the threshold, I didn’t yet know the history of the house, or of Ben Dombar, but I knew there was something amazingly special about this house. Upon deciding to pursue purchasing and rehabbing the house, I did what any good architectural historian and preservationist would do: I researched everything I could about Ben, his work and the house. I quickly discovered how important the house was to the Dombar legacy, and also to the community. The house embodied Dombar’s creativity, his devotion to his education under Wright, his inventive spirit, and his dedication to making his buildings functionally beautiful. While just looking at the house, I knew that it was architecturally unique, once the history behind the house was revealed to me, I also knew that the entirety of the house needed to be celebrated and honored.

The National Register of Historic Places was largely created for this exact purpose. The National Register is the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. It was authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and archeological resources.

Ben Dombar House and Studio drawing

I knew as soon as I began planning for the rehabilitation of the property, that I would want to list this on the National Register of Historic Places and wanted to do as sympathetic of a rehabilitation as possible to maintain the integrity of the building, in order to help facilitate this listing.

The rehabilitation was completed in early 2018, the year the building turned 50 years old and could finally qualify for the designation. (You can see some interior photos in a story about the home in Cincinnati Magazine.) I started the process by sending in a National Register Questionnaire, a 2-page form that asks some basic and preliminary questions about the building to vet its potential eligibility for listing, to the Ohio History Connection, the State of Ohio’s Historic Preservation Office, to get a determination on the potential eligibility of the house.

After the review and confirmation that the Benjamin Dombar House and Studio was eligible, I began my deep dive into research. Using the National Register Bulletins and examples of other recently nominated modern era buildings, I built a framework for discussing and analyzing the history and significance of the house.

As each nomination is tailored to the history and significance of the individual building, each nomination needs to be tailored to the topics that support the significance of the building. For the Benjamin Dombar House and Studio, that included writing a detailed architectural description of the house, the history of the development of the Organic Architectural style and the style specifically in Cincinnati, as well as a discussion of Benjamin Dombar, his practice and specifically how this house fits into the context of the Organic Style and his overall practice.

Ben Dombar House and Studio blueprint

As this was a personal project, I worked on it over weekends and evenings outside of my job as a historic preservationist. It took me about 3 months to fully research and write the nomination. Once I had the nomination submitted to the SHPO, it took approximately a year for it to go through the process to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

There is no fee to submit the nomination, but costs that may be incurred would be to contract with a consultant to write the nomination, as well as mapping and photography. These fees can vary depending on the site size, number of resources (buildings, structures, objects, etc.), the available research existing on the house and topics of significance, and location.

For example, with the Benjamin Dombar House and Studio, one of the main elements of significance were its association with Ben Dombar and its unique organic architecture. As there are no other organic architecture buildings listed in Cincinnati and no other Ben Dombar Houses listed in the National Register of Historic Places to reference, I was tasked with researching and writing the context and history of both of those topics to provide a basis to evaluate the significance.

This burden of research would not be required for someone who owns a house by Samuel Hannaford, for example, as his practice has been well studied and documented within the National Register, so a new nomination for a building designed by Samuel Hannaford would have the privilege of using the extant research for a justification of significance.

Ben Dombar in his studio

As the Benjamin Dombar House and Studio nomination involved a building in a style that is not common and by an architect whose work is just coming of age for eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places, the need for a greater basis of justification, research and documentation made the nomination open for more detailed evaluation. Luckily, as there had been very few alterations to the property except for some interior material changes, and the floor plans had remained unchanged, the property retained the high level of architectural and material integrity that is often needed for a building being nominated under the “architecture” category. Again, as each nomination focuses on the specifics of why that property or district is significant, the level of integrity is evaluated with a balance of other considerations, including its history, sense of place, and rarity.

As a professional Historic Preservationist, my life has been about saving and honoring historic buildings. With this particular building, I was able to save it from vacancy and foreclosure, and to rehabilitate and restore it to the intentions and designs of the architect and homeowner, Ben Dombar. While this building doesn’t have any local protections or designation on it, being able to list it in the National Register was a step I could take to recognize and celebrate the history of the building and its architect once it was saved from the immediate threat that vacancy and foreclosure had put on the house.

As this was also the first building by Ben Dombar to be listed, this specific nomination also helps to provide a basis and context for other Ben Dombar-designed buildings to be apply to be listed. Another important aspect of the property being listed is its protection, and the consideration of any future projects or expansions of the transportation network that surrounds this property. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires that, anytime Federal funds are used, that the effect of historic resources is taken into account, and that there should be an attempt to avoid adverse impacts on those historic resources. As the Ben Dombar House and Studio is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the building has been established to be historic. This review is referred to as the Section 106 review process.

The documentation, celebration, recognition and protection through the Section 106 process are all important aspects and reasons to list a property in the National Register of Historic Places. However, through this whole process, I have realized that perhaps the most important reason has been the greater appreciation, pride and connection with my house and with the work of Ben Dombar that has rooted me in calling this house my home.

interior of the Ben Dombar House and Studio

Beth Johnson is the incoming Executive Director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association. Read more about her appointment here.

Spring Grove: A Museum Without Walls

by Karli Wood
photos courtesy of Spring Grove Cemetery image archive

When you’re hosting an out-of-town visitor and want to impress them, where do you go? A Reds game? Union Terminal? The Cincinnati Art Museum?

The first place that always comes to my mind is Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum. The most common reaction I get is a raised eyebrow with the response, “A cemetery?!”

But Spring Grove is so much more. This veritable “museum without walls,” tells the story of Cincinnati – and is where many of its most influential citizens reside.

drawing of Spring Grove Cemetery

In the mid-1800s, Cincinnati experienced an aggressive cholera outbreak. Local cemeteries were unequipped to handle the influx of deaths, leaving them crowded and unkempt.

Spring Grove was founded as the antithesis of this. The rolling, picturesque landscape became a destination for residents wanting to get away from bustling city life. With walking paths, stone bridges, islands, and wooded areas, Spring Grove was – and still is – its own Elysian Fields within Cincinnati.

historic photo of Spring Grove Cemetery

Famed landscape architect Adolph Strauch had a huge part in making Spring Grove a peaceful haven. Strauch implemented a principle called the “lawn plan,” encouraging families to have one central large memorial, surrounded by footstones.

As mentioned, many of Cincinnati’s elite rest at Spring Grove – and as you walk through the cemetery, you can gain a sense of funerary history and customs. It’s like a journey back in time, giving you a glimpse into the lives of these extraordinary people.

main entrance to Spring Grove Cemetery

Let’s explore a few iconic monuments and traditions that you can use as a scavenger hunt on your next visit:


Fleischmann Temple

Fleischmann Temple – Modeled after the Parthenon in Greece, this Doric temple is best-viewed from across the lake, where you can see it against the trees. It was built for the Fleischmann family – of Fleischmann yeast. The temple features a stained-glass portrayal of the Three Fates.

Dexter Mausoleum

Dexter Mausoleum – The most iconic memorial in Spring Grove, the Dexter Mausoleum is often compared to Notre Dame, even though it’s modeled after Paris’ Sainte-Chapelle. The Dexter family were “bourbon barons,” in their time. The mausoleum features flying buttresses, spires, and 36 marble catacombs. Its construction would cost approximately $1.7 million in today’s money. Despite its grandeur, the mausoleum was never finished due to financial reasons. It was originally meant to feature an elevator and stained glass, which were never installed.

Charles West monument

Charles West – An important figure in the founding of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Charles West is one of only a few life size statues in Spring Grove. The striking memorial shows West sitting in repose. The foundation of his memorial is flanked by caryatids of the four major aspects of the arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, and music.

Robinson Mausoleum

Robinson Mausoleum – The Robinson family-owned Robinson’s Circus and made a lasting impact on the city. It was said that you could see their famed elephant Tillie plowing the field near their Terrace Park home. The Robinson’s have a number of circus family and staff buried in Spring Grove. This rough-hewn mausoleum features statues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.


Burnet Mausoleum

Use of Marble – It’s rare that marble is used today in monuments and headstones due to its tendency to erode over time. A beautiful example of a marble monument is the Burnet Mausoleum. Senator Jacob Burnet and his family are interred in this unique monument. It is built into a hillside and the facade is Italian marble. Over time, it settled, sealing the doors permanently. The mausoleum originally had three steps, but only two are now visible.

McDonald Mausoleum

Iconography – Iconography has evolved in cemeteries over time. A wonderful and pristine example of iconography is the McDonald mausoleum. It was built for Alexander McDonald, who was an investor in oil, banking and also served as the director of the Big Four Railroad. The doors of the mausoleum feature multiple bas relief symbols, including a winged heart and flame, a dove, a lamp, and an open book.

Gerrard Mausoleum

Statues – On a walk-through Spring Grove, you will see a large array of statues – everything from angels, busts, lions, a sphinx, and even a mermaid. It wasn’t uncommon to feature a statue of a woman in mourning: leaning on headstones or sitting on top of monuments. A fantastic hidden treasure of sculpture is the Gerrard mausoleum. Stephen Gerrard was an inventor known for creating the first refrigerated produce truck. If you walk up to the doors of this mausoleum and peer inside, you will find four marble statues depicting the four seasons.

Huenefeld Mausoleum

Perpetual Care – An interesting and often unknown aspect of the cemetery is the idea of perpetual care. When a burial right is purchased, it is considered private property. This means that many of the mausoleums and monuments at Spring Grove are expected to be maintained by the families. The Huenefeld mausoleum is an example of perpetual care, a former option where the family purchased the ability for Spring Grove to maintain the mausoleum over time. This included pressure washing and resealing. The Huenefeld mausoleum remains in outstanding condition. There are rare exceptions where Spring Grove will intervene in the care of a monument. An extreme example was when the cemetery shored up the Dexter mausoleum when it began sliding backward toward the lake.

While the historic sections of Spring Grove serve as a time capsule starting in 1845, this cemetery is still very much an evolving landscape. It features over 700 acres and is still active and serving the local community.

The next time you’re itching to discover a unique locale with a friend, choose Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum. Despite its evolution of 177 years, it has maintained its status as a destination for reflection, escape, and relaxation. It’s far more than a cemetery – it’s a place of connection and a celebration of life.

historic photo of Spring Grove Cemetery

Karli Wood is a volunteer with the Spring Grove Cemetery Docent Program. The mission of the Docent Program is to provide tours and programs focusing on art, history, architecture and horticulture. Through increasing the knowledge, excitement, and understanding of our visitors, the docents can enable the continued stewardship and cultural contributions of Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum.

Spring Grove’s tour season runs April through October. All public tours can be found in the events section of the website, and registration opens 30 days before each tour/event. Private tours are also offered, and those can be walking or tram, historical or horticultural. Please direct all tour queries to Ruth Reck at 513-853-4941 or

Spring Grove also offers a free walking tour app! These self-guided tours start at the Customer Service Center near the entrance at 4521 Spring Grove Ave. and offer 3 options: History and Heritage (3-hour moderate 4-mile hike), Iconography (1.5-hour moderate 1-mile hike) and Stately Trees of the Grove (1-hour light 1.2-mile hike). Available for iPhone or Android.

CPA Welcomes Shannon Tubb as New Office Manager

Cincinnati Preservation Association is pleased to welcome Shannon Tubb as the new CPA Office Manager. Tubb joins CPA from Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati where she worked for seven years as an office administrator and receptionist. Prior to working for Habitat, Tubb worked at the Michigan Theater Foundation in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“During my time in Ann Arbor I worked as a manager and volunteer coordinator,” Tubb notes. “I got to see daily the beauty of a restored art house and the joy it brings to the patrons. Working at Michigan Theater inspired me to tour art houses in Los Angeles while traveling, learning about projects that have thrived and seeing evidence of those that hadn’t survived.”

In addition to her work at Habitat and the Michigan Theater, she was an AmeriCorps member focusing on affordable housing preservation and development as well as crime prevention and safety.

Tubb has a love of history and learning.

“My interest has been shaped by my brother Shawn’s experience as a world traveler and architect,” she says. “I’m interested in collaborations among private citizens, neighborhoods, membership organizations, and governmental agencies to create better solutions.” 

Tubb is looking forward to learning about local history and the process of selecting sites and the work it takes to protect them.

“I am committed to serving excellent non-profits as an administrative professional,” she says. “This position will provide me with an opportunity to learn new skills and support preservation of historic sites and structures.”

Tubb currently lives in Finneytown, but grew up in West Virginia, Iowa, and Ohio. She attended Milford High School and graduated from The Ohio State University with a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Spanish. She also has completed masters work in the field of public administration at Eastern Michigan University.

When not working, Tubb enjoys reading, hiking and being outdoors. She cites Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum as one of her favorite locations to walk.

Cincinnati Preservation Welcomes New Board Members

Cincinnati Preservation Association is pleased to welcome four new members to its Board of Trustees: Dr. Eric Jackson, Jeffrey Rush, Thea Tjepkema and Will Yokel. Each new board member brings with them a unique background and set of skills as they join the current CPA Board of Trustees to promote the appreciation, protection and appropriate use and development of the Cincinnati region’s historic buildings, communities and landscapes.

Dr. Eric R. Jackson is a professor of history with nearly 30 years of university-level academic experience, primarily in American and African American history, race relations and peace studies. He earned his doctorate degrees at the University of Cincinnati and has published a wide array of books, book reviews, and articles in numerous journals. He teaches at Northern Kentucky University and is director of its Black World Studies program.  Among his more than fifty publications, those of special local interest are his recent online book/website on African Americans in Cincinnati, and a book he co-authored: “Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad.” Dr. Jackson has served on the Boone County Historic Preservation Review Board, is a member of the Kentucky Historic Preservation Review Board and is board vice president of the Boone County Public Library.

Jeffery Rush is a recently retired partner at Frost Brown Todd LLC where he served as head of the firm’s commercial transaction and real estate department and was a member of its executive committee. He earned his JD degree at Vanderbilt University and his bachelor’s in economics/finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.  Rush’s local historic preservation involvement includes representing the financing lender for recent major renovations to Music Hall and Cincinnati Union Terminal. On a more personal level, he donated an easement for the historic home he formerly owned in East Walnut Hills.  His past community involvement includes serving on the boards of Seven Hills School and the Beechwood Home.

Thea Tjepkema is an ardent preservationist who holds a BFA in historic preservation from the Savannah College of Art and Design and a master’s in arts administration from the University of Akron. She and her husband, John Morris Russell, conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, are passionate advocates of Cincinnati history as told through its buildings. Tjepkema has worked at several historic sites and museums across the country and in Canada. More recently, she served on the board of the Friends of Music Hall for six years. In this role, she identified, researched, and guided major restoration projects such as the restoration of the building’s missing roof ornamentation. She also developed an outdoor architectural walking tour and two major presentations about the building’s history. In 2020, she presented “Muses: The Women of Music Hall” at Cincinnati Preservation’s Fall Forum. Tjepkema was recently named historian and archivist for the Friends of Music Hall and will continue to explore new historical topics in her blogs at

Will Yokel holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from the University of Cincinnati as well as a certificate in historic preservation. Since 2016, he has been the in-house architect at Urban Sites where he manages the predevelopment and design of mix-use renovation projects in Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods. His projects often utilize state and federal historic tax credits. Prior to joining Urban Sites, Yokel worked at Bloomfield/Schon + Partners and Jose Garcia Design in Cincinnati, and held co-op positions at Hartmax-Cox Architects in Washington DC and Architectural Resources Group in San Francisco. He currently serves on the boards of the American Sign Museum and Northsiders Engaged in Sustainable Transformation (NEST) and is a past member of Covington’s Urban Design Review Board. He and his wife recently restored their 1890 Victorian home in Northside.

CPA also thanks Eric Landen, Danny Lipson and Jim Gibbs for their service and dedication to preservation as they leave the CPA board.

Preservation Awards 2021

Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) honored 10 local preservation projects for outstanding accomplishments at it’s annual meeting on December 5th, 2021. The projects were recognized in the areas of education, restoration, sustainability and more. The awards were presented at the Glendale Lyceum in historic Glendale to recognize and honor the members of the Eckstein Cultural Arts Center. Below are brief descriptions of the projects that received preservation awards. We want to thank everyone who attended online and in person.

Education Award

Urban Roots and Invest in Neighborhoods

Season 1: “Lost Voices of Cincinnati”.

Urban Roots podcast tells little known stories of urban history, highlighting the stories of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups in an effort to preserve, remember, and hear their important perspectives, contributions, and lessons. Urban Roots is a collaboration between Deqah Hussein-Wetzel, a Somali-American historic preservationist based in Cincinnati, and Vanessa Quirk, a cities journalist and podcaster based in New York City. The series, titled, “Lost Voices of Cincinnati” combines oral histories from long-time Black residents and seeks to uncover patterns of wrongdoing, preserve memory, and give voice to those whose stories have been forgotten or ignored. 

Urban Roots partnered with Invest in Neighborhoods to help connect with community leaders, neighborhood organizations, and long-term residents whose voices, stories, and memories have been captured by this series.

Preservation Leadership Award

John Paul McEwan McEwan worked at Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity for 13 years overseeing the organization’s new home renovation program and managing the completion of more than 200 homes, many of them historic properties. He brought a craftsmanship to those homes that they otherwise would not have had. Working closely with a staff architect, his construction staff, and other local contractors, McEwan worked hard to preserve or rebuild as much of the historic character of these homes as possible on a very limited timeline and budget. Many times, this meant fabricating doors, windows, trim, and cornice work himself. He now owns his own construction company, specializing in fine carpentry and historic restoration.  

Restoration Awards

IMusic Hall Finials. The Friends of Music Hall and their partners worked to restore the sandstone ornamentation on the exterior of the iconic Samuel Hannaford designed Music Hall building, including ten finials atop gables, and a sandstone lyre. Low-pressure wash removed years of organic and carbon pollution from the finials and sandstone caps on the 11 gables, as well as nearby sills and ledges on the main façade. The clean sandstone was individually color-matched for the new Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) restoration pieces.

E. Cort Williams House. E. Cort Williams, a naval Civil War officer, and his wife Matilda, built the classic shingle-style house in 1885. Last renovated in the 1950s, complete with two kitchens plus dining rooms, the team had the extraordinary challenge of restoring the home back to its original, natural beauty. The work included stripping original woodwork, doors and hardware back to their natural state, bringing aspects of the exterior design by Desjardins & Hayward, most notably arches, to the interior back to life and creating a welcoming, worthy kitchen, as well as baths, that are modern in design yet still feel period appropriate. 

Sustainability Award

Sol design + consulting OfficesFounded in 2006, Sol was committed to staying downtown as their office grew so they purchased an historic building in Pendleton within the Over-the-Rhine Historic District with the intention of making it a case study in historically-sensitive and sustainable rehabilitation. The project is mixed-use, returning the Italianate corner building to its origins with the firm’s office space at street level and four apartments above. To bring light to the basement and make it part of the office, the design placed a stair at the front of the ground floor and used an existing sidewalk vault to add a window with more filtered light from above.

Adaptive Reuse Awards

The Standard In 1931 a gas station opened on the corner of Main and Fifth Streets in Covington’s Main Strasse. It closed in 2015. Now thanks to a restoration/reinvention The Standard is now a restaurant. As part of the transformation metal cladding on the sides of the building was removed revealing underlying brickwork. Metal canopies were replaced with metal-covered wood structures built to the same dimensions. Also created were several historic nods to the Standard’s former life. Those include a mural in the front entry honoring the original owner which include found material from the station’s past. 

Century Design Workshop The building was built in 1910 as the Century Theater, a three hundred seat theater for vaudeville and moving pictures. Michael Miritello and Susannah Tisue renovated it to become their ceramic studio (SKT Ceramics), woodshop, and retail storefront. As part of the process, they restored the arch window depicted in a photo from 1927, restored the main center staircase, and created a manufacturing and retail storefront for them to operate their business from. They have a few artifacts from the building’s earlier days they found during the renovation, some of which are currently on display at Century Design Workshop. 

Peters Cartridge Factory ApartmentsWhat had been a derelict brownfield site for many years along the Little Miami River and Little Miami Bike Trail in Warren County— the Peters Cartridge Company, manufacturer of gun powder and munitions for U.S. armed forces in World War I and II — has been repurposed into a community of apartments, a multi-purpose facility, and the Cartridge Brewing pub. This complex of six industrial buildings, constructed between 1916 and 1919, are what remain of what once was a much larger facility. Almost two acres of damaged glass were replaced with historically appropriate new windows. The shot tower was converted into two multi-story dwellings, plus a small commercial space. The original concrete floors remain, and the concrete ceilings are visible, showing the form marks from the construction process.  

Ingalls Building/Courtyard by Marriott HotelHGC renovated the historic Ingalls building, located at 4th & Vine into downtown Cincinnati’s first Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. The $25 million project created a new 126-room hotel across 16 stories and has been LEED Gold Certified. Floors one and two were connected through a new monumental, curved staircase. The first floor has a market, seating areas, and is the main lobby. The ornate ceilings on the first and second floor were completely restored. The original marble ceilings were restored as much as possible. The bank vault was transformed into a large fitness center, and the original intricate door was kept. 

TThe Manse Apartments The Manse Apartments in Walnut Hills, provides 60 affordable housing units for seniors ages 55 and up. The historic hotel and its annex have been renovated to offer 13 efficiencies and 29 one-bedroom apartments. A newly constructed building  was also added featuring 18 one-bedroom apartments welcoming seniors age 60 and older. The project cost was $13.5 million. Funding sources for the project include Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Federal Historic Tax Credits, State Historic Tax Credits, City of Cincinnati HOME funds, Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing Program funding, charitable donations, and deferred developer fees.

Fall Forum 2021 Focused on Power of Preservation To Tell a Fuller Story of American History

Cincinnati Preservation Association Presents:

“Preservation as Social Justice”

Keynote Speaker – Brent Leggs

We were pleased to welcome Brent Leggs as our 2021 Fall Forum Speaker. His talk focused on preserving the galaxy of Black landmarks.

Our 26th annual Fall Forum luncheon will took place in the Hall of Mirrors at the Netherland Plaza on October 22nd at 12pm and was live streamed online. You can view an interview with Mr. Leggs and Fall Forum Chair Margaret Valentine at this link to the WCET program Showcase with Barbara Keller.

About our Speaker:

Brent Leggs is the founding executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund – a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and largest preservation campaign in U.S. History on behalf of historic African American places. Through the Action Fund, he leads a broad community of leaders and activists in honor of the clarion that preserving African American cultural sites is fundamental to understanding the American story. Leggs is a Harvard University Loeb Fellow, author of Preserving African American Historic Places, and the 2018 recipient of the Robert G. Stanton National Preservation Award. His efforts to protect the A.G. Gaston Motel, Madam C.J. Walker estate, John and Alice Coltrane and Nina Simone residences, and Joe Frazier’s Gym is exemplary of his successful campaigns to preserve many cultural monuments throughout the U.S. Leggs is also an Adjunct Associate Professor and Senior Advisor to the Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites at the University of Pennsylvania’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design.

Deqah Hussein-Wetzel Joins CPA as Researcher of Sites of Black History

Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) is pleased to welcome Deqah Hussein-Wetzel as our part time historic preservation researcher.

Deqah is a first-generation Somali-American originally from Erie, PA. After receiving a degree in in urban planning from the University of Cincinnati, she joined AmeriCorps and then went on to study at the University of Oregon where she was awarded a masters in historic preservation and a certificate in nonprofit management. She also interned at CPA while in grad school. “I’m obsessed with mid-century history as it’s not commonly told,” says Deqah.

“As a preservationist and planner, I try not to get lost in the aesthetics of mid-century modern architecture without questioning the foundation in which white wealth, suburbanization, highways, and public housing were built upon. Even when I was still a student in planning, I always questioned the social implications of urban renewal and wondered how gentrification is any different. I was never beguiled by the allure of interstate highways. I firmly believe their existence overshadowed–or (more nerd-appropriately) created a Harry Potter cloak of invisibility shroud over–the neighborhoods that it cut in half.”

Deqah has worked as a cultural resource management consultant and in state government with the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office. She has also completed a myriad of National Register of Historic Places/Local Landmark nominations, Historic Tax Credit projects, surveys and inventories, as well as created interpretive panels, including historic markers, throughout Cincinnati.

“Some of the most recognizable regional and statewide projects I’ve worked include Historic Tax Credit projects for the Rabbit Hash General Store and mixed-use buildings in the Over-the-Rhine Historic District, the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office’s Ohio Modern: Preserving our Recent Past Cleveland
and Cuyahoga County historic survey and historic report, and the history interpretation panels for the Lick Run Greenway,” she says.

Within the past few years, Deqah incorporated podcasting into her historic preservation and planning work, creating an urban history podcast titled Urban Roots. She co-hosts the podcast with Vanessa
Quirk, a cities journalist and podcaster based in New York City.

What lit the spark for her to start the podcast was a combination of confusion, frustration and inspiration.

“As a preservationist, I conduct a ton of archival research, and in newspapers,” she explains. “For example, I would come across immensely horrific stories on lynchings and riots — but I would also find
impressive stories about strong black women who’ve done some super important things that some people have never even heard of. For example, during the nineteenth century, Sarah Fossett was the
reason we had streetcar integration in Cincinnati. It upset me knowing these stories of black women, black history, and black culture are not traditionally taught in schools. And, because podcasts are becoming a powerful education and public history tool, I thought, ‘what better way for preservation and planning to be more accessible and inclusive.’”

In addition to the podcast, Deqah started a preservation media nonprofit called Urbanist Media. The organization’s mission is to help modernize the field by using digital media and podcasts to facilitate oral history archival preservation.

As part of CPA’s staff, Deqah will focus on CPA’s Initiative to Preserve Sites of Black History in Cincinnati. This project seeks to increase awareness and preservation of sites and structures which tell the story of the Black experience in Cincinnati.

“I’ll be working on helping preserve and recognize historically significant African American properties and places of Black culture in Cincinnati,” Deqah says. “To start, I’ll be connecting with majority Black communities, speaking with local Black leaders, and conducting historic surveys to help prioritize the buildings, objects, structures, and sites that need National Register of Historic Places/Local Landmark nominations.”

“Simultaneously, I’ll be doing the public history groundwork to make sure the stories of these communities are accurately told, which will go beyond the traditional methods of creating historic
markers,” she continues. “Because I want to make sure that our local Black voices are heard in a publicly accessible way, collaboration with local artists and organizations will also be integral to the success of the work I do at CPA.”

Deqah lives in Fairview (part of CUF) and spends her spare time glassblowing and glass fusing. She studied glass at the Art Academy and took a work study job in the glass shop at the University of Oregon Craft Center to learn kiln-fused glass, something she now does with her basement kiln.

Deqah says she is looking forwarding to working once again with everyone at CPA and connecting with minority communities at the ground-level to understand the preservation needs of their neighborhoods.

“Driving through Cincinnati today, it’s hard to not see that majority Black communities have been ignored to such an extent that historically significant properties are being subjected to demolition by neglect, or, perhaps worse, gentrification,” she notes. “All that said, my biggest influence in continuing this work is knowing that by joining CPA, with the help of the staff, we can start preserving and recognizing African American history as we should be throughout the country.”

First Lutheran Church Bell Tower

There is Still a Chance to Save First Lutheran Bell Tower!August 26, 2021 

Two recent developments have created an opportunity to avert the planned demolition of the historic First Lutheran Church (FLC) bell tower.  The church recently submitted a second engineering approach to Cincinnati building officials to see if a non-seismic repair it would meet the building code requirements.  The answer was yes and that opened the door for a simpler repair with costs that are at or below the funds available.  The leadership of FLC considered the new option and their obligations for public safety.  They conclude that, based on the need to resolve the risks promptly, the responsible course was to continue with the demolition plan.  We respect their thoughtful consideration of their responsibilities and their long stewardship of the historic church.  With a second report in hand and city acknowledgment that it meets the building code, we urge reconsideration.

The second new development is the outpouring of public support and encouragement that First Lutheran is receiving.  It is an unprecedented response and a reflection of how much the community values the iconic bell tower.  The messages that the church is receiving show that they are not alone in their stewardship of this historic landmark.  Cincinnati Preservation Association is working with many foundations, organizations and the public to increase the funding to save the bell tower on Washington Park.   

We are optimistic that the new repair approach and outpouring of public support and funding can provide First Lutheran Church with a path forward to saving the bell tower.  What is needed is a little time to confirm the cost of the second approach. Check back  here for updates.

First Lutheran Church Bell Tower: A Request for Consideration of an Alternative Approach 08/21/2021

Despite strong community support and significant fundraising success, the cost of the original project to repair the bell tower and add seismic foundations is greater than available funding.  First Lutheran Church, faced with an emergency hazard order from the City of Cincinnati, recently and reluctantly, entered into a demolition contract for the iconic bell tower.  This was a difficult step for the church which has been a responsible steward of the 1895 Crapsey and Brown historic building.  The Church’s stewardship of the historic structure has been exceptional and includes a recent façade restoration of $1.3 million.  This was funded completely within their small congregation.

The church has received two engineering reports, an initial one by their engineering firm that includes recommendations for seismic retrofitting and a second report from a different firm which  outlines a different approach to the repairs.  At the urging of community advocates the leadership of First Lutheran Church recently submitted a both engineering reports to the City of Cincinnati building officials for evaluation. 

The response letter from Arthur Dahlberg, Director of Buildings and Inspections, acknowledged both approaches could potentially work and noted the competence and professional of both firms.  He states that:

“…it is important to recognize that both firms are highly respected and have continuously delivered code compliant solutions for various projects.    Second it is important to understand that the criteria defined by the building code should be viewed as the baseline for design. Designs that incorporate higher safety factors are not wrong, rather they are in excess of the code requirements.”

I can affirm Mr. Dahlberg’s statement that the firms are highly respected and deliver code compliant solutions based on my decades of experience.  Throughout the First Lutheran project, THP engineers have been open to dialogue.  They have been clear in pointing out that their professional opinion is based in other factors than the building code, that they have formed their recommendations that the additional bracing and deep foundation work is needed because they view these as essential to ensure public safety. It is their view that the risk factors result from conditions in the original construction.  They have considered this issue carefully, consulted with outside firms on the issue at our request.   The firm continues to hold a professional view that public safety is the driving factor for the inclusion of proposing work in their recommendations.  We respect that opinion.  However, in light of a second report that offers alternate path to achieve safety and code compliance, we respectfully request First Lutheran leadership to convene a meeting between the firms to explore the feasibility of the less expensive alternative.

The second engineering report proposed a reduced scope of repairs that could possibly be made without triggering the building code requirements for seismic retrofitting.  This is a standard practice and has been used on most historic buildings restorations in the area.  The city letter by Mr. Dahlberg acknowledged that, noting that if the damage to bell tower was not caused by seismic action, it is possible a design that did not include the seismic work could be in compliance with the code.  Mr. Dahlberg went on to note that:

repair work does need to resolve the water infiltration issues and restore the structural system to conditions equivalent to those that existed during the original construction.  This includes, but not limited to, all deteriorated connections, structural elements (even as the box girder), and successful transferring of loads generated by the bell tower to the foundation.”

Both engineering approaches appear to address these conditions.  If this approach is approved, contractors are prepared to begin promptly.  Upon review of Mr. Dahlberg’s letter the Church leadership considered the reply and decided to stand by their prior decision to proceed with demolition.  They noted the hazard orders and need to address it in “short order” contained in the letter as major factors in the decision to proceed with demolition.  That work could start any day.

Since the two reports were concept statements, detailed plans would be required for a complete review.  It is assumed that this second approach is a less costly and may be within reach of funds available for the project.  We have respectfully requested that First Lutheran consider this approach prior to the start of demolition of the iconic tower.  

The First Lutheran bell tower is an important element of the Washington Park setting.  The community has sent numerous letters of support and made pledges to fund the work.  Cincinnati Preservation Association has committed significant funding along with many other foundations. The tower deserves an 11th hour chance to remain in place for future generations to experience.

If you would like to join us in the request, please contact the church at with an encouraging message of support for First Lutheran’s efforts to save the bell tower.  They are in a difficult position and value the thoughts of the community.

Paul Muller, AIA, Executive Director

Cincinnati Preservation Association 8/21/2021

How can you help Save the Bell Tower?

  • Please contact the church at with an encouraging message of support for First Lutheran’s efforts to save the bell tower.  They value the thoughts of the community.
  • Donations can help! You can provide funds directly to First Lutheran Church at this link: (Donate here),
  • You can also support the bell tower effort at our Revolving Fund at Cincinnati Preservation Association (Donate here)

Donate To Save the Tower at CPA Revolving Fund

Donate to Save the Tower Through CPA’s Revolving Fund

If we are not able to save the bell tower, funds donated here will be used to support the Cincinnati Preservation Revolving Fund for Historic Structures.

The church and tower are part of a single design gracing Washington Park.
Rendering from Manual of Ecclesiastical Architecture, 1898,. Shown as an example of the Modern Style for churches.

About the First Lutheran Church Bell Tower

The Problem: as of August 25, 2021:  The Church submitted a second engineering approach to the city to see if it could meet the buildings code.  The answer was that it could.   Despite the potential of the second approach FLC has decided to continue with the demolition of the 18855 bell tower.  

The bell tower is an important of the historic setting of Washington Park

The impact of demolition would be disproportionate to the size of the bell tower as it contributes a great deal to the Washington Park setting.  The tower adds beauty and individuality to the heart of Over-the-Rhine and is an unparalleled gem of the city skyline.  Community investment in the Washington Park arts and cultural district has been substantial.  The response on a local and national level have affirmed that wisdom of caring for those historic resources.  We have very little time to avoid what would be one of our most regrettable historic resource losses.  

Stewardship by First Lutheran Church:First Lutheran has been a good steward of the building and a good partner in the effort to save the tower.  They paused signing the demolition contract in December to make time for additional engineering and an expanded search for funding.  Their longstanding commitment to stewardship of the historic structure  was demonstrated in the recent $1.4 million façade restoration, which was funded by the forty families of the congregation.    

Photo: FD Harper

How We Got Here: Last fall an engineering report identified damage to the tower’s steel beams and raised concern about the stability of the original tower design. The report resulted in a city building department order for immediate repair or demolition.  Public concern for the loss of the bell tower convinced First Lutheran leaders to pause the demolition plan and seek alternatives.  Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) worked with First Lutheran and committed $50,000 to the project.  Local foundations expressed support for the project and a number of individuals came forward with donations and pledges of future support.  CPA funded a more detailed engineering evaluation to seek alternatives to demolition and to establish the fundraising need.  The cost of repairs to the tower, stabilization of the structure and provision for a future elevator for ADA access was recently determined be approximately $3 million. 

The church is currently required to closed for use and, while the congregation takes its responsibility of stewardship for the historic building very seriously, there is a need to return the building to use later this year.  The design and funding teams worked to find a phased solution which could use currently available funds to reopen the facility while a longer-term fundraising effort was carried out.


History of First English Lutheran

First Lutheran was constructed in 1895. The architectural firm of Crapsey and Brown designed the church in the English Gothic style. Crapsey’s obituary in the Western Architect & Builder noted that he “made a specialty of church architecture, and as much as, perhaps more, than any other architect of the country, developed the institutional church building.”

First English Lutheran is on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing structure of the Over-the-Rhine National Register Historic District. The tower itself is a simple stone mass topped with an exuberant series of copper spire caps. The design is unique and represents a high level of architectural skill. The faith community of First Lutheran has a long history of commitment to helping others and to the cause of equality. Women were granted the right to vote on parish matters in the late 19th century. Today First Lutheran continues that commitment by providing spaces for arts and community groups and by supporting many programs for people in need. Of the 22,000 people who used the building last year, 20,000 were people attending arts programs, community meetings or accessing programs for people in need.  The church values its role  as a low cost venue supporting the Washington Park arts district.

The bell tower is an important of the historic setting of Washington Park

Community Use of the Meeting and Performance Spaces

Church Serves as an Affordable Venue for Arts and Community Groups

  • Ninety percent of the foot traffic at First is non-First Lutheran activity. Over 20,000 people in 2019 which could expand to 100,000 with completed restoration and staff increase.
  • Type of Uses That Fill the Year:
  • Recitals (many for CCM Students, SCPA cello students)
  • Rehearsal space (YPCC is biggest partner, CSO musicians)
  • Concerts (Queen City Concert Band, YPCC, Concert Nova, Saengerfest)
  • Theater (Fringe Festival)
  • Recovery support groups (Narcotics Anonymous, AA)
    Food/clothing needs support
  • Affordable meeting/event space for non-profit organizations (OTRCH, Tender Mercies, SCPA)
  • Community meeting/presentation space for events (OTR History Museum, NKY Chamber)
  • Weddings (need not be a member, open to any tradition)
  • Restrooms are always open for free public use during big Washington Park events such as BLINK, Lumenocity

The interior spaces have excellent acoustics. They host choral performances, lectures and community meetings on a regular basis. First Lutheran seeks to expand these uses with future accessibility projects.

Previous Investment in the Historic Building
The parish has spent $1.3 million on facade and interior restoration in the last few years. They received recognition for this work from the OTR Chamber of Commerce in 2019. The parish has a deep commitment to supporting disadvantaged residents of OTR and provides a number of programs as part of this mission. The building has significant accessibility challenges and as part of their commitment to welcoming the community to use the spaces, an elevator project remains a high priority. First Lutheran is open to saving the bell tower but does not have the financial means to do so nor do they have the means to do any other work. Their intent has always been to restore the tower but right now they do not have money for the tower or for the elevator project.


A major restoration of the facade and stained glass was completed in 2018 for a cost of $1.3 million.

A Convergence of Ideals and Architectural Expression


Original Rendering of First English Lutheran by Crapsey and Brown, Architects, 1895

The design represents a departure from direct replication of Gothic architecture. Its simplicity and taut surface treatments are part of a progressive movement in architecture of the late 19th century. This forward-looking approach in architecture underscores the progressive congregation that provided women with voting rights and commitment to services in English rather than German. This open-minded approach remains a defining feature of First Lutheran as it serves people of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The bell tower is a reminder to the community that, even in a prospering Over-the-Rhine, this extraordinary congregation continues its 125 years commitment to supporting and welcoming those in need.

The building expressed a point of view in 1895, it continues to articulate that message today.

The origins of First Lutheran stylistic innovations can be seen in the mid 19th century work of English architect Gilbert Scott. His High Victorian Gothic Revival buildings departed from literal reproduction of their Gothic sources. The design also has elements of Richardsonian Romanesque, a style which arrived in Cincinnati with the construction of City Hall. The tower of First Lutheran makes an enduring impression with ethereal silhouettes where his building met the sky.

The progressive nature of the design is acknowledged in the fact that it was presented as example of “Modern Styles” in the 1897 Manual of Ecclesiastical Architecture.

In noting that the design has more in common with Cincinnati’s City Hall that Gothic churches, architectural historian Walter Langsam recently called it “Richardsonian Romanesque architecture made swevlt.”


Photo Credit: Phil Armstrong


The floor plan is an example of the “Akron Plan.” An open, flexible church planing style innovation which Crapsey and Brown popularized.

The building was recognized as a progressive departure the reflected the views of the congregants. In writing about the building in 1897 William Martin said “(First Lutheran’s building) is like those small flowers by the wayside. Their modest show hides their beauty, but when they are plucked and beheld, their beauty of form and rare coloring make them rival easily the more obtrusive flower beauties which hang in our gardens.”
Manual of Ecclesiastical Architecture,
William Wallace Martin, 1897


The tower is part of a dialogue across the park with Music Hall which had been built just 17 years earlier before.


Tower at roof line showing the exposed steel beam and stone areas in need of repair or replacement.


Photo Credit: Phil Armstrong


History of First Lutheran Church

First Lutheran was constructed in 1895. The architectural firm of Crapsey and Brown designed the church in the English Gothic style. Crapsey’s obituary in the Western Architect & Builder noted that he “made a specialty of church architecture, and as much as, perhaps more, than any other architect of the country, developed the institutional church building.”

First English Lutheran is on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing structure of the Over-the-Rhine National Register Historic District. The tower itself is a simple stone mass topped with an exuberant series of copper spire caps. The design is unique and represents a high level of architectural skill. The faith community of First Lutheran has a long history of commitment to helping others and to the cause of equality. Women were granted the right to vote on parish matters in the late 19th century. Today First Lutheran continues that commitment by providing spaces for arts and community groups and by supporting many programs for people in need. Of the 22,000 people who used the building last year, 20,000 were people attending arts programs, community meetings or accessing programs for people in need.  The church values its role  as a low cost venue supporting the Washington Park arts district.

Original Rendering of First English Lutheran by Crapsey and Brown, Architects, 1895

Structural Conditions

Tower at roof line showing the exposed steel beam and stone areas in need of repair or replacement.
The tower is part of a dialogue across the park with Music Hall which had been built just 17 years earlier before.
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