Dr. Know: March 2014

Loveland is such a cute name for a town. Is there a charming story behind it?
—Hopeless Romantic

Dear Hopeless:
How charming you find the story behind the name Loveland really depends on your emotional ties to America’s postal system. The Doctor himself has deep emotional ties to the postal system from the days when the men and women of the service, resplendent in their more-gray-than-blue-but-definitely-bluish Bermuda shorts and tropical topees would, depending on how industrious the Doctor had recently been, deliver desperately needed checks to his mail slot. The very sound of the mail slot flapping in the heavily mortgaged front door would send a frisson of fiscal pleasure through his fragile frame. Now, of course, all payments for the Doctor’s labors are made by wireless bookkeeping entries originating somewhere in charmless Utah or one of the Dakotas. But what does the postal system have to do with the little suburb that has provided lazy feature editors with a ready-made story like clockwork every February (America’s Most Romantic Postmark!)? There is no romance at all. Just politics and commerce. Enterprising merchant James Loveland was the first postmaster of the little settlement at the buckle of what is now the Boehner Belt. According to the Greater Loveland Historical Society Museum site, parcels delivered to the settlement were marked to be dropped at Loveland’s store. Had it been our present era, the city would, perhaps, be named Electronic Fund Transfer—or perhaps Automated Clearing House—leaving those editors grasping for new clichés.

My dad says that George Reeves, the guy who played Superman on TV when he was a kid, is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery. How’d that happen? Did he grow up here? —A Fan

Dear Fan:
Your dad is mistaken. Mr. Reeves, who was not a kid but a full-grown man with glamorous lady friends, is not buried in Spring Grove. Oh. You mean when your dad was a kid. Sorry. Mr. Reeves’s earthly remains were parked here by his mother, Helen Lescher Brewer Bessolo, after his death by gunshot—possibly self-inflicted—at the age of 45 in Los Angeles. Mrs. Bessolo, who wasn’t having the suicide story, brought his body to Cincinnati where her own parents are buried and where an autopsy failed to settle the death issues. There not being enough room in the family crypt for the famous corpse, the late actor was cremated, and the cremains were returned to California, to be parked permanently in Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, a Los Angeles suburb.

The real estate listing for the Gwynne Building at Sixth and Main says that Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt built it in 1913. I can’t believe that it was common for a woman to be a developer in Cincinnati back then. Was she one of “the” Vanderbilts? And what’s the purpose of the little structure on the roof? It looks like a Roman temple. —V. Curious

Dear Curious:
Alice Claypoole Gwynne was a Cincinnatienne who married well. Very, very well. Her only husband was Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the New York plutocrat. And you are quite right: It was not common for a woman to be a developer in Cincinnati in 1913, but neither was it common to be as rich as the Vanderbilts. The Gwynne Building was just one of Alice’s projects, which included landmark mansions in Manhattan and that cozy Newport cottage The Breakers.

One of the things one can do when one marries as well as Alice did is to throw a bit of business to the family. Alice’s architect for the building—for a number of years the site of Procter & Gamble headquarters—was her cousin Ernest Flagg (Alice’s mother was a Flagg), whose talents impressed Cornelius enough to bankroll his professional training, which led to such commissions as the Corcoran Gallery of Art in our nation’s capitol and Bancroft Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy.

The purpose of the little structure on the roof is to look pretty. Sort of like the tea strainer thing on the Great American erection a few blocks downhill on Third Street. There are many pretty touches on the Gwynne Building. Pretty metal railings. Pretty screens. Pretty windows. As is the case when your client is a plump insurance mogul, when your client is your very, very rich cousin you may employ the prettiness skills acquired at (in the case of Flagg) École des Beaux-Arts in pretty Paris.

You are quite right about that resemblance to a Roman Temple. Every time the Doctor sees it he has an urge to scale the building, enter the tempietto, and begin sacrificing pigeons (endless supply up there), whose entrails might possibly augur the price of P&G common stock.

Originally published in the March 2014 issue.

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