Dr. Know: Fashion by the New York Times, City Hall Crosses, and Central Cincinnati


My mother says that during the 1970s, The New York Times operated a chain of clothing stores in Cincinnati. Newspapers were once big and diversified, I know, but this seems really wrong. Should I worry about my mom’s memory? —CHANGING TIMES


Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Dear Changing:
The Doctor is emphatically, profoundly, and overwhelmingly unqualified to evaluate your mother. But she is correct about this: The New York Times, Inc., had numerous clothing store locations in Cincinnati between 1969 and 1977. Columbus and Louisville also had stores for a time. It’s no surprise that even back then, the company openly flaunted an anti-American attitude by featuring European-style fashions.

Special bulletin to Mom: the stores were fake news. The New York Times, Inc., was based in Walnut Hills and had absolutely no connection to the famous newspaper. For reasons unknown, it wasn’t until 1976 that the newspaper brought legal action against their stolen namesake. Perhaps the preceding years were so filled with relentless crises like the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, the Nixon resignation, fall of Saigon, and the deeply disturbing success of Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs,” that they just couldn’t find the time.

When the newspaper finally cried foul, a federal judge ordered the stores to change their name, and the world soon had its first “failing New York Times.” Good riddance: the place didn’t even have a decent crossword puzzle.

I am new to Cincinnati and I love the town’s architecture. This includes City Hall, but something about that building puzzles me. It’s covered with crosses! Doesn’t that conflict with America’s church-state thing? Has there ever been a protest about it?

Dear Hung:
Protest? City Hall is a protest magnet. Since its dedication in 1893, our magnificent edifice has seen demonstrations against every imaginable issue. Nobody, though, has ever protested the crosses perched atop and around the building itself, and for good reason: those are not crosses. Granted, they can look that way from the ground as you glance up while repeatedly circling the place, slowly deciding to mount a protest about parking.
Those things are called finials. Since antiquity, they have capped off towers, turrets, helmets, curtain rods, bedposts, lampshades, etc. Their beauty is only surpassed by their uselessness, and in the case of City Hall, their expense. It cost about $50,000 in 1974 to remove and repair several of them. A minor earthquake in 1980 sent another crashing to
the sidewalk. The largest finial was the original iron one atop the bell tower, which was removed in the 1960s for fear of falling. Its fiberglass replacement, installed in 1989, weighs 1,000 pounds. That was almost 30 years ago, so cross yourself when circling nearby. It is your own finial to bear.

Would you be able to clarify where the west and east sides of town start, and if there is any part that could be considered central Cincinnati? This would settle a never-ending debate in my family. —WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON

Dear Which:
The settling of family debates is, like evaluating mothers (see above), stratospherically beyond the Doctor’s pay grade. Besides, everyone knows the exact place where Cincinnati’s east becomes west. Let’s all say it together, one two, three: Main Street! What? Yes, that was the city’s original dividing line for our east-to-west downtown streets. But 1895’s local government, in a spasm of let’s-look-busy, arrogantly shoved it over to Vine Street, simultaneously assigning new address numbers to every single property in the city. This was great news for the stationery/business card industry; not so much for everyone else.

Aside from the hard borders of municipalities such as Delhi or Norwood, our neighborhood boundaries are eternally fluid and subjective. For example: The corner of Audubon and Hoff, whose history the Doctor researched in his August 2017 column, was described over the decades as being in Walnut Hills, O’Bryonville, Pendleton, and the East End. Did the corner somehow move, or did people’s perceptions?

And so, if you decide to convene a “Central Cincinnati Club,” expect that its members will eventually come to blows over where and what that means. Also expect your family squabbles—this is just a hunch—to continue.

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

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