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Cincinnati Then & Now: Queen City Streetscapes from a Century Ago and Today

Cincinnati Then & Now

Cincinnati has embraced several nicknames over the years. There was the “City of Seven Hills,” an allusion to Rome when the city first began having aspirations of becoming the first great metropolis of the American Heartland in the early 1800s. Then it was “Porkopolis” when Cincinnati was dressing more hogs than anyplace on earth. By the middle of the 19th century it was the “Queen City” of the Ohio River because it enchanted so many visitors.

The streets of Cincinnati have always attracted America’s best architects and their work is still on display, harmoniously inspiring new downtown ornaments in their midst. We have dipped back to the turn of the 20th century to see Cincinnati in the days of horse-drawn buggies and trollies and ridden with Google Street View to see this interplay of old and new.

Join RENTCafe for a stroll down memory lane – to see what today’s Cincinnati looked like in the olden days. Drag the arrows back-and-forth to witness the changes:

1. Isaac M. Wise Temple — 720 Plum St.

This Byzantine and Moorish-styled show-stopper was dedicated on August 24, 1866 by the members of the Lodge Street Synagogue. It is the creation of architect James Wilson Keys who tapped a style that may be familiar to many Queen City residents with Germanic roots.

Photo Credit ~1970: Library of Congress; Photo Credit 2015: Google Maps

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2. 400 Block — Walnut St.

The transformation of this block began in 1903 with the construction of the Tri-State Building at 432, the last of four Cincinnati towers designed by skyscraper pioneer Daniel Burnham. The Classical Revival Mercantile Library Building in the center arrived in 1910, the fourth building erected on the site. The Formica Building in the foreground completed the skyscraper wall in 1970.

Photo Credit ~1910: Library of Congress; Photo Credit 2016: Google Maps

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3. Tri-State Building — 432 Walnut St. at the southeast corner of 5th St.

Here’s a closer look at Burnham’s 15-story masterwork for the Cincinnati Street Railway Company. It demonstrates textbook turn-of-the-20th century wisdom that created skyscrapers in the form of a classical Greek column with a base (oversized lower levels), shaft (unadorned center stories), and capital (ornate white stone upper floors with a decorative cornice).

Photo Credit ~1900: Library of Congress; Photo Credit 2016: Google Maps

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4. 4th & Vine Tower — 100 Block of West 4th St.

Anchoring this block since 1913 is the 4th & Vine Tower, replacing the old federal building. Cass Gilbert, who had just built the world’s tallest building, the Woolworth Building, designed this Neoclassical icon. The then-named 495-foot Union Central Tower was the world’s fifth tallest building. As Ohio’s Sky King the skyscraper was brown—it was whitewashed in the 1940s.

Photo Credit ~1900: Library of Congress; Photo Credit 2016: Google Maps

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5. Netherland Plaza/Carew Tower — 5th & Race

Canadian transplant Joseph Carew started his clothing empire on this block and his department store on the corner was the city’s go-to shopping destination. In 1930 one of America’s best French Art Deco skyscrapers took over the block; it was the city’s tallest building for eight decades. The hotel portion of the one-million square foot complex is now a Hilton.

Photo Credit ~1900: Georgia State University Library; Photo Credit 2016: Google Maps

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6. Corner of West 4th St. and Race St.

George McAlpin opened his first store in Cincinnati in 1852 – eventually his company expanded down the south side of this block, culminating in the Renaissance Revival showplace on the corner. The Tower Place Mall (once Pogue’s Department Store) across the street was converted into the stylish 775-space Mabley Place parking garage in 2014; mall entrances became auto ramps.

Photo Credit ~1900: Library of Congress; Photo Credit 2016: Google Maps

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7. East 4th St. and Main St.

The northwest side of this intersection was cleared for the Cincinnati Gas & Electric Building in 1929, a Neoclassical tour-de-force designed by Jefferson Memorial architect John Russell Pope. The obelisk crown is illuminated at night. Complementing the old school landmark is the modernistic Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland that was added to the cityscape in 1971.

Photo Credit ~1907: Library of Congress; Photo Credit 2015: Google Maps

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8. John Weld Peck Federal Building — 550 Main Street

This block-swallowing limestone and glass monolith arrived in 1964, providing 220,000 square feet of office space on 10 stories for six government agencies. The Peck Federal Building (John Weld Peck was an Ohio Supreme Court Justice) has recently been modernized with $43 million in Obama Administration Recovery Act funds. The stylized 21-foot aluminum American Eagle sculpture is by Marshall Maynard Fredericks.

Photo Credit ~1910: Library of Congress Photo Credit 2015: Google Maps

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9. Garfield Suites Hotel / 2 Garfield Place — Corner of Garfield Place and Vine St.

The Garfield has always been a pioneer in Cincinnati. When it was raised in 1981 it was the first project in the city to blend commercial tenants and rental apartments. In the 1990s it became the first all-suites hotel downtown. As five new hotels have opened downtown since 2011 the 153-unit Garfield reinvented itself as apartments in 2016.

Photo Credit ~1970: Library of Congress; Photo Credit 2016: Google Maps

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10. The Public Library of Cincinnati — 800 Vine Street

The Main Library moved here in 1955 with a highly lauded contemporary design by local architect Woodie Garber. A 1982 expansion made the facility one of the largest libraries in America, still adhering to Garber’s innovative use of open space. A new North Building, linked by a dramatic four-story bridge across Ninth Street, came online in 1997.

Photo Credit ~1970: Library of Congress; Photo Credit 2015: Google Maps

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The classic architecture of downtown Cincinnati has inspired designers of more recent vintage to continually up their games as new office towers, apartments and hotels join the streetscape. The new blends seamlessly with the timeless in continuing to earn Cincinnati the moniker of “Queen City.”

What else is there in Cincinnati that you wish you could go back in time and see? Let us know in the comment section below!

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About the author

Balazs Szekely

Balazs is a qualified journalist with a thing for real estate. This obsession comes in handy in his work as an online content developer and creative writer for RENTCafe. When he’s not thrashing his keyboard, he takes pleasure in photography, aquascaping and all kinds of DIY projects. Feel free to get in touch with Balazs via email or Twitter.

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