Dr. Know: Calling for Time, What’s in Skyline Chili’s Skyline, and Parallel Bridges

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

When I was a kid, everybody called 721-1700 for the current time. It was “Shillito’s Time,” and included a short ad. I recently tried the number just for fun, and couldn’t believe it: It’s still there! Cincinnati Bell does the ad now. Why? Who needs this anymore? How many people even use it? —TIME’S UP

Dear Up:
Gather ye round, children, and hear tell of the misty days of yore, when cave dwellers determined the time by carefully rotating a 10-holed dial that was tethered to a wall. Ye Olde Shillito’s, an entity once affectionately known as a “store,” began this correct-time service in 1939 (“Just dial PArkway 1700!”). Cincinnati Bell took it over around 1986. Shillito’s was later consumed by a mysterious creature called a “Lazarus-Macy’s.”

The Doctor contacted Cincinnati Bell by means of another antiquated system known as “e-mail.” His direct question, “How many calls does this line receive?” elicited this response: “We won’t be able to tell how many calls does the line receives.” One hopes that this was an automated response (or a response from a customer service rep in a different part of the world whose first language isn’t English—thanks, corporate outsourcing!); otherwise it means that Cincinnati Bell has been bribed by rich parents to give jobs to their poorly educated children.

I’m a Skyline Chili fan. When I look at the silhouetted buildings in the Skyline logo, I see the Carew Tower, PNC Tower, and Times-Star building. I’ve always wondered whether the rest of the eight images represent real buildings. Do they? If so, which ones? —I’LL HAVE AN EIGHT-WAY

Dear Eight-Way:
Restaurant questions are best when they require an expensed meal, in places reviewed on Zagat rather than Yelp. But the Doctor accepts your challenge. Skyline Chili’s logo has long reflected the Cincinnati skyline. The Lambrinides family, noting the ceiling of their original Glenway Avenue restaurant in 1949, had first considered Skylight Chili, but were ultimately inspired by their view of downtown from Price Hill. Whew, that was close. Skylight Chili would have been comparable to P&G coming up with a name like Floating Tusk Soap.

Skyline Chili has restaurants in several states, plus wide supermarket distribution of their products. This is probably why their official response to the Doctor’s inquiry was that the logo “depicts a generic cityscape,” meaning none of those buildings represent anything. Oh, please. That’s absolutely the PNC Tower above the capital S, Carew Tower above the K, and the old Post-Times-Star building up to the right of the E. You’ll have to use your imagination for the rest, and don’t give the truth away next time you stop in for a three-way at Skyline in Ft. Lauderdale.

In Walnut Hills, McMillan Street has a bridge over Reading Road. But the other way along Taft Road, there’s no bridge; it slopes down to a stoplight, then back up. It’s clumsy and slow. Why didn’t they build a bridge on both streets while they were at it? —NO SPAN DO

Dear Span:
There are some excellent reasons why a companion bridge to McMillan’s was not built on Taft Road. The best reason was that there was no Taft Road. McMillan had no lengthy parallel street when the bridge was first proposed in 1880. After the required decade of unproductive arguing (it’s in Cincinnati’s charter), the bridge was completed in 1889, but then immediately closed for several months to address two large cracks. Thus began 50 years of structural and traffic headaches. Who needs double of that?

The problematic bridge finally got a replacement in 1937, but McMillan still had no parallel through street, so there was little support for a sister bridge to and from nowhere. Two years later the city did connect several short parallel streets extending from Clifton to Columbia Parkway, and a big ceremony heralded the new Taft “highway” (cough, cough). But still, no bridge over Reading.

Some guesses as to why: McMillan and Taft were two-way streets. They weren’t linked in anyone’s mind until 1968, when they became sister one-ways. By then, I-71 was about to plow underneath both streets, requiring two additional bridges. However, I-71 was subsequently delayed by Cincinnati’s charter-required decade of unproductive arguing, so everyone probably just gave up on the damn Taft bridge. There’s your reason.

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