Dr. Know: An Empty Alcove, Greenacres, and Union Terminal’s Woes

This month’s questions for Dr. Know touch on what that Trader Joe’s bench is for, why an estate seems to be named for a TV show, and the fate of Union Terminal.

Social distancing had me standing in line outside Trader Joe’s in Kenwood. As I moved, I noticed a recessed alcove near the entrance, its brick awning covering a park bench. This makes no sense. The nook clearly had some other purpose, but I didn’t want to bother the very-busy staff about it. Can you? —SAY WHAT’S SO, JOE

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

The slower pace of our post-quarantine lives has made many trivialities spark into significance—a perfect stimulus for the Doctor’s inbox! Your hunch was correct: The staff at Trader Joe’s, while courteous, did not regard this topic as the best possible use of their uncertain time during these uncertain times. Our own research, however, provides an almost-certain answer.

Back in the olden days of the 20th century, customers often paid for things with quaint, bacteria-covered pieces of paper called “cash.” These disgusting green sheaths regularly depleted themselves, requiring a resupply from the nearest Automated Teller Machine. In 1995, the new OfficeMax in Kenwood put an ATM outside its entrance, secured in the very alcove you observed. The machine vanished when OfficeMax folded, and by the time Trader Joe’s arrived in 2004 the PNC Bank next door was providing its own repulsive-sheath dispenser for the area. Even though PNC has now also left, don’t expect an ATM to reappear in your alcove. Cash is going the way of OfficeMax.

Before gatherings stopped, I went to a wedding in Indian Hill at an estate called Greenacres. I’m fairly new to Cincinnati, so forgive me, but why are such lush and beautiful grounds named after a tacky, stupid old TV show? Did one of the writers retire there? None of the guests seemed to know. —GREEN ACHE

Being a non-Cincinnatian is no excuse here. If you were born anywhere in America, odds are good that you were not far from a farm, manor, or bedroom community called Green Acres (sometimes two words, sometimes one). The name long precedes the plebian comedy dating from the era inexplicably described as “the golden age of television.” (Seriously, have you seen My Little Margie?)

Greater Cincinnati itself features multiple versions of Greenacres/Green Acres. It was once a country home near Florence, and it’s been a Bridgetown-Cheviot subdivision since the 1950s. Unlike the TV show, the Greenacres you visited has a connection to an actual family named Green. In 1949, their generations-old Indian Hill farm began to merge with other nearby properties, starting a process that’s evolved into today’s Greenacres Foundation. Besides hosting events like weddings, the vast acreage supports a wide variety of activities around farming, conservation, and the arts. In other words, the worst TV sitcom ever.

No word on how other residents of Indian Hill feel about having a “commoner moniker” in their midst. Would Hyde Park ever tolerate a stately manor named Mayberry?

I’m happy to see the Museum Center at Union Terminal reopen, but sad that so much of it is hobbled by the economic disruptions of late. That magnificent building has faced the wrecking ball so many times. Is its very existence in danger once again? —TERMINATED TERMINAL?

Cincinnati’s beloved Union Terminal has suffered many rounds of bad timing, bad management, and bad luck. Bad timing hit first: Nobody seemed to notice that maybe 1933 wasn’t the best year for a railroad palace. Then, bad management: The 1980s at­tempt to make a shopping mall out of a defunct train station became a train wreck. (At this point, let us pause and be thankful that the next rescue idea never happened: moving Cincinnati City Council to the Terminal’s rotunda. Imagine Council’s sniping mixed with those acoustics.)

The 1990s finally brought a vision that worked. Cincinnati Museum Center’s popularity helped support the grand renovations of recent years, restoring the building’s Art Deco look while simultaneously modernizing its innards. But then came this year’s bad luck of our economic crisis and its layoffs. Will this finally kill off Union Terminal? Here is the Doctor’s opinion: The first crisis came from changing times, the second from a stupid idea. This time, a gut-punch from external forces has injured a well-established and popular venue fresh from a gorgeous makeover. Our town adores this place, and we will recover together. All aboard!

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