Dr. Know: Sitwell’s Records, Lost Buildings, and a San Diego Slogan

The good doctor investigates serious issues, like records the near the ceiling at Sitwell’s, what used to be on a Clifton block, and a sign comparing Cincinnati to San Diego.

Sitwell’s Café next to the Esquire Theatre has many old movie posters and records displayed on the walls. I like checking out that stuff, but there are some 45 rpm records way up near the ceiling, and I can’t make out what they are without bothering the customers nearby. Can you find out? —PLAY MY REQUEST

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Here is the Doctor’s secret to conducting this kind of fearless investigative journalism: Visit Sitwell’s on a Sunday morning. Ah, yes, we see the years 1956 to 1985 covered, with many Top 10 hits alongside deeply obscure rarities. Example: Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way” is right next to “Royal Fever,” a song about the 1982 Maysville High School basketball team. Sorry, there isn’t enough space here to explain the little-known Peter Frampton.

We see “Dancing With Myself” from Billy Idol, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” from The Shirelles, and “Fame” from the movie. There are also some big hits from Blondie, Kool and the Gang, and more, but they’re hiding under the unknown “B side” songs that are facing out. If you’re familiar with the charming quirkiness of Sitwell’s, you know that this could be intentional.

Other singles include Dion’s “The Wanderer,” Joey Dee’s “Peppermint Twist,” and “Mickey’s Monkey” by The Miracles. Then there are the album covers, featuring juxtapositions like Miles Davis next to Rowan & Martin. Sorry, not enough space; look them up.

I’ve seen Cincinnati get complimented (and slammed) a thousand different ways. But not until I was driving near UC recently had I ever seen our city called “The San Diego of the Midwest”! It’s a big sign painted on a building at Vine and McMillan. Who put that up there? What does that even mean? —DON’T SIGN HERE

You obviously have not received your membership card from the Cincinnati Is Exactly Like San Diego Society. This group was founded in the year 3, when the two cities at least had similar real estate values. The Doctor kids. “San Diego of the Midwest” and its accompanying artwork is an actual trademark, which you can get on T-shirts, hoodies, and more.

It is the promotional brainchild of ES Properties, owner of the Clifton Heights building whose artwork almost caused your fender bender. The company owns and manages properties throughout the city and has a nonprofit division that donates to NewPath child services (formerly St. Joseph Orphanage). One way they fund-raise is by selling merchandise (shirts, hoodies, etc.) displaying their admittedly debatable slogan. Well, let’s see…Cincinnati and San Diego both have famous zoos, legendary beer-brewing histories, and perfect weather, right?

The slogan’s purpose is to get attention, smiles, and dollars. It clearly succeeded with you in the first category. Let’s see how it does in the other two.

Last year you wrote about a popular Clifton Heights club on the now-empty block bordered by McMillan, Vine, and Calhoun streets. I’m more curious about some stone-wall fragments there. They’re much older than the demolished club. They look like ancient foundations. What buildings were on that block originally? —GHOST CORNER

First, let us all celebrate this, the Doctor’s first all-Clifton column. In ancient times, of course, there was no block there at all—just some wild animals, foliage, and The Cupboard selling bongs nearby. But you are correct that by the early 20th century several buildings occupied that block. We can only guess which ones survive in the stone fragments you observe, because the widening of Vine Street in the 1940s may or may not have sacrificed a structure on the corner.

Those foundations could therefore be the remains of 4 West McMillan, or 6, and/or 8. Over the years, city directories show a grocery store, bakery, dentist, tailor, apartments, savings and loan, and “smoke shop,” which again suggests subtle influences from The Cupboard.

Yes, the block’s other side facing Calhoun Street is just a slab now. It once was a popular music venue that changed its name several times during the 1970s and ’80s. In our February 2021 issue, the Doctor recalled those names for any UC alumni who could not, perhaps thanks to subtle influences from The Cupboard.

Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, weekday afternoon deejay on 92.5 FM The Fox. Email him your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnatimagazine.com.

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