Cincy Obscura: The Renaissance Hotel’s Hidden Safety Deposit Boxes

Safety deposit boxes may feel like relics of the past, but they’re still a pretty secure option if you’re looking to stash family heirlooms, the deed to your home, or a secret marriage license or two. Turn-of-the-century Cincinnatians who frequented downtown’s Union Savings Bank and Trust relied on its 5,576 safety deposit boxes, which still sit (empty, unfortunately) in the basement of the 1901 building.

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

In our era of ATMs and apps, the boxes are a glimpse into an old world of in-person banking—and of local manufacturing: They were made by the city’s own Hall’s Safe Company, baby versions of the large vault door in the next room, made by the (also local) Mosler Safe Company. The building is now the swishy Renaissance Hotel, and the site’s chief engineer Russell Wilson loves investigating its disused spaces and dreaming of their potential second lives. For now, the underground rooms with the vault and safety deposit boxes are off limits to the public—and in need of a little cleaning up. Says Wilson: “I would love to do something with the space, like a cocktail bar. All it needs is updated lighting, some elbow grease, and liquor.”

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