Dr. Know: Casa Colina, Jerry or Perry Samuels, and the Benton Street Bridge

The good doctor investigates a brightly painted home in Price Hill, the home city of Jerry Samuels, and inspiration behind the Benton Street Bridge.

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

There’s a small house on Purcell Avenue in Price Hill. Every inch of it is super-brightly painted, with flowers and berries and butterflies, some of which are three-dimensional. The house looks like a cartoon frame from Yellow Submarine. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but what’s the story? —THIS HOUSE IS FLAUNTED

Unfortunately, the Doctor’s editors kept insisting that “we can’t afford photographs for your column” as they drove away in their Bentleys to their Indian Hill mansions. At noon. Fortunately, the gleaming home you describe made a brief cameo appearance on page 56 of our issue from September 2022, when this magazine published an inspiring article about community-based projects revitalizing Price Hill. A lovely photograph—affordable on Cincinnati Magazine pages other than this one, somehow—shows Purcell Avenue’s recently-rehabbed Masonic Lodge. The multicolored home that caught your attention is photobombing next door.

Officially, 821 Purcell Avenue is no longer just a home; it’s an art project entitled Casa Colina. Two community nonprofit groups, ArtWorks and Price Hill Will, collaborated to do this over-the-top makeover. About a dozen artists descended upon the humble one-story abode in the summer of 2021 and transformed it into a blindingly radiant cottage of wattage. It is probably visible from space. If it were a motel, its slogan would be “We’ll Leave the Walls on for Ya.”

Jerry Samuels has died. He was better known as Napoleon XIV, creator of the 1966 one-hit-wonder “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” More than one person has told me that Samuels was from Cincinnati or at least spent several years living here. If true, what did he do here after his brief fame? —HO HO, HEE HEE, HA HA

Jerry Samuels was famous for his musical joke, possibly because he was victimized by a joke at birth. His parents, living in New York, already had a son named Perry, and they apparently thought it would be cute to rhyme the new baby’s name to his. Poor little Jerry may have written his odd song as a cry for attention; big brother Perry always came first. It must have been cold there in his shadow (oops, wrong song).

Why is the Doctor even bringing up Jerry Samuels’s brother? Because that is whom your friends are mistakenly talking about. Perry Samuels, not Jerry, came to Cincinnati in 1969 as an executive for the Avco Corporation, then started his own company, and spent most of the rest of his life here, dying in 2016. He never had a song in the Top 10. He was not famous for even 10 minutes. Jerry (living elsewhere) kept writing songs, most notably Sammy Davis Jr.’s “The Shelter of Your Arms.” So the joke is on you—ho ho, hee hee, ha ha!

Was the Benson Street Bridge— the little span that connects Lockland to Reading—intentionally designed as a tribute to Cincinnati’s Union Terminal? It sure looks that way. When I go over the bridge I can’t help thinking how much it resembles our famous old train station. Am I right? —TRAIN OF THOUGHT

No, you are not right. Don’t bring up this subject anywhere in Lockland or Reading. If anything, the reverse could be true: That our famous old Union Terminal (now the Cincinnati Museum Center) was designed to pay homage to the Benson Street Bridge.

Decades before the city of Cincinnati had even begun its traditionally required process of bickering and obstructing plans for improving any kind of local travel, the suburbs of Reading and Lockland had already built their modest span over the Mill Creek. Union Terminal’s design wasn’t approved until the 1930s, but Benson Street’s “rainbow arch” went up in 1909. Despite various rehabs, the bridge’s original look is basically unchanged.

You can be forgiven for assuming that a cute little bridge may have copied the larger railroad palace. The resemblance is undeniable; we would love to include some photographic evidence here, but, you know, those Bentleys. Simple resemblance, however, is not proof of provenance. Just try telling Ronan Farrow he looks a lot like Frank Sinatra and see what happens.

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, radio personality and advertising prankster. Email him your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com.

Facebook Comments