#CM50: When We Were Very Young

In 1967, Cincinnati had two daily newspapers and no riverfront stadiums, school kids wrote essays in longhand, their parents could name every council member, and racial inequality stubbornly held sway. Ten notable Cincinnatians look through the lens of their own experiences to reflect on the city’s transformation—for better or worse.
Robert Probst at the Central Parkway Frisch's in 1978

Photograph courtesy Robert Probst

Robert Probst

Arriving as a visiting professor in 1978, German-born Robert Probst, now Dean of University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, has seen the city transformed by dramatic architecture. Some of the changes in the built environment—from wayfinding signs on Newport’s Riverwalk to neighborhood redevelopment plans—have their roots in DAAP student and faculty projects.

My wife and I felt immediately comfortable. I didn’t know about the city’s German history until I got here, but I could sense it architecturally and culturally.

I experienced first-hand so many changes. The first was the riverfront development that started in the late ’70s, early ’80s. It changed the city’s image, changed the entire brand, if you will. Then, while I was here, we immediately started a bold master plan for the university. This [DAAP] building set the stage for a new attitude on campus, and in the city, really. This campus redevelopment inspired bigger thinking in the community. It was a ripple effect in the whole city in the last 40 years.

The city has always used DAAP as a think tank, and that’s how it should be. That’s what we are here for. Helping neighborhoods think about creating a better environment and a better tomorrow.

Our students were some of the first to establish new businesses in Over-the-Rhine. Now it’s booming. We’ve had a lot of impact and a lot of influence in the city.

We are now a contemporary city with a lot of avant-garde architecture. What I admired 40 years ago were historic structures like the fountain on Fountain Square, the Roebling bridge, Carew Tower, Music Hall, Union Terminal: fascinating. Then the revival with the Aronoff Center for the Arts downtown, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Michael Graves’s Riverbend, Zaha Hadid’s Contemporary Arts Center, Covington with the Libeskind building, and the Great American Tower. I just think it is fantastic.

I am so glad that we have a streetcar now. I think if Cincinnati wouldn’t be so unbelievably shy, conservative, humble, and in a way introverted, it would be so much better for the community. There is so much potential here; the city has got it all. But it moves so damn slow. The streetcar should come up here. It needs to stop in front of the university. It would be so fantastic.

Mel Grier

Readers of the Cincinnati Post saw the city—and the world—through the lens of Mel Grier. The Cincinnati native joined the Post in 1974 and retired December 31, 2007—the day the evening newspaper ceased publication.

Melvin Grier (center) covering a Price Hill fire with Bruce Crippen and Karl Kuntz.

Photograph courtesy of Grier.

When I began, the photography department was more of a service department than a photojournalism department. Then Bill Burleigh came in as editor and he brought in a new graphics director. His thing was, you go out and make the best photograph you can, and he would run it as big as he could run it. That made all the difference in the world: You could be more creative.

The Post sent me to El Salvador with a writer from the Washington bureau. I went to Africa, Cuba, Vietnam, Puerto Rico. It just got to the point where the editor would say, “Is there any hell-hole where we haven’t sent you yet?”

One of the busiest photographers in town today is somebody named “Provided.” It’s a handout! When I first started at the Post, you could walk into 800 Broadway and smell the ink. Around 10 in the morning, the presses would start up and the floor in my darkroom would shake. And I thought, This is exciting; this is where I want to be.

I remember the day they took the presses out of the building. That was one of the saddest days of my career, because we were going to print our paper on the same presses as the Enquirer. There was just something wrong about that, you know? But we had the joint operating agreement, and it was a fact of business.

Our writing staff got smaller and smaller, and reporters had to do more of their reporting over the phone. One advantage photographers had is, we had to meet face to face with the subjects. That’s what I really miss. People are interesting. And people—despite some of the things that are going on now—people are decent, they really are. And you learn this by talking to them.

Paul Daugherty

Sports columnist Paul Daugherty looks back on 29 years of games, fans, and riverfront redevelopment.

Retouched by: Brian York – www.brnyrk.com

Photograph by Jonathan Willis

I got here in 1988; my first year, the Bengals went to the Super Bowl. And like a rookie, I thought, Hey, we’ll be back to do this every year.

I came from New York, where they have a lot of fans who do a lot of yelling who have no idea what they’re talking about. I found the fans here, especially when it came to baseball, knew what they were talking about. They were smart, they understood the game, they appreciated the game. I appreciated them right off the bat.

The big moments, that’s easy. The Bengals go to the Super Bowl. That was as excited as I’ve ever seen this city. The 1990 World Series was second, and a distant third was UC going to the Final 4 in ’92. One, two, three: there you go.

The Reds, because they’re the Reds, have had a tremendous influence on the city as a whole. The city’s identity, how the city feels about itself. But I think that has diminished somewhat. It’s an old person’s game, baseball. As your fan base ages, some of that “My dad took me to Crosley Field” stuff becomes a distant memory. We are Cincinnati: We love baseball in the summertime. But it’s a football world. You see it at the grassroots level—at the high school and even at the Pee Wee level. Nationally, no matter what the NFL does, we come back for more.

Paul Brown Stadium—aesthetically, I’m not a fan. But we have a damn nice riverfront that wouldn’t have happened without the two new stadiums. I was a big Broadway Commons fan, but we never would have had that riverfront if Broadway Commons had happened. The parks, GE, the restaurants—it’s all because of those two stadiums down there.

I think FC Cincinnati makes it a better sports town. I think the arena drags us down. Tennis [the Western & Southern Open] has grown. It is a better sports town than when I started. But human nature is the same. When teams are good, people will go.

Marjorie B. Parham

When her husband, Gerald Porter, died in 1963, Marjorie B. Parham became the publisher of the Cincinnati Herald, the weekly newspaper serving the African American community. Now at 99 years old, she takes the long view of an era.

African Americans were ignored [by media]. None of our accomplishments were ever reported. If you wanted to get in the newspaper, you’d have to steal a pack of cigarettes!

I knew very little about the Herald at the time my husband died. But he’d put too much hard work into it and was making too much progress with it for me to see it die. So I jumped in and decided to make it work.

I got some resistance, but I also had a lot of friends, and a lot of friends who were businessmen. I don’t really have a hard luck story to tell.

The young people who were rioting in Avondale in 1967 were very nice to me. I never had a broken window or anything of the sort. They knew that I did not necessarily approve of the way they were going about it, but I was sympathetic to their cause.

We were firebombed in the 1990s. I think it was a student who wrote a very comprehensive article—it wasn’t critical, it was just factual—about the black Muslims. They didn’t like it, and they firebombed me. It didn’t surprise me, because they called and said they were going to do it. I can’t think of another threat I got.

Where civil rights are concerned, things have changed very slowly and very painfully. Cincinnati doesn’t respond to change very well.

As far as politics are concerned, I tried to operate in a manner so that the Republicans said I was a Democrat and the Democrats said I was a Republican. And I wanted it just that way.

Donna Covrett

As a teenager in the 1970s, Donna Covrett sold homemade bread to her friends’ parents. The former dining editor of Cincinnati Magazine is now executive director of the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic.

Dining out is no longer a special occasion. That’s one of the biggest changes: how frequently we dine out. We had four- and five-star restaurants back then, and it wasn’t “Hey, where do you want to go tonight?” You planned.

The demographics of dining out have changed. You see a lot younger generation now dining out frequently. Twentysomethings rather than fortysomethings. In some ways, I think they’ve taken over.

Our palates are more educated now. Our borders have shrunk. Salsa’s a condiment everywhere; salsa was not something you ate in the early ’70s.

The speed of technology also changed dining. You can review a restaurant online immediately, and everybody does. I think that has changed how restaurants operate. Everybody has to be on their toes a lot more.

The revitalization of the urban core certainly accelerated the dining scene. It’s now moving into other neighborhoods.

Craft beer—that’s everywhere. Because of our German heritage, I think it has had a lot of meaning for us.

There’s been this entrepreneurial explosion around food, and Findlay Market is a hub of that. There are accelerated programs and incubator programs for food products and restaurants that are really thriving.

We are also more affordable. It’s much harder to open a restaurant in New York than in Cincinnati. Jean-Robert de Cavel could have gone anywhere, but he took a chance here, and he was one of the architects of the city’s culinary renewal. He groomed all this culinary talent, and in doing that he helped boost the culinary profile and helped raise the bar for every restaurant in town.

Sharon Draper

Acclaimed educator, awarding-winning author, and 1997 National Teacher of the Year, Sharon Draper began her teaching career in Cincinnati in the 1970s. A tumultuous time for education? That’s not how she recalls it.

Sharon Draper with President Bill Clinton in 1997

Photograph by STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images

I started teaching in the Princeton school system. The big deal back then was we were merging with Lincoln Heights. Oh, there was all kinds of hyperventilation about the integration of the rather suburban Princeton schools with Lincoln Heights. And none of the bad things that they said would happen, happened. When you look back at it historically, I think everybody anticipates more problems than actually develop. [Cincinnati Public Schools’s magnet school plan] wasn’t that much of a change. But they started these schools to keep their population in the city and not lose them to the suburbs. And I guess you have to give them credit for having enough vision to say we have to make the city schools of a high enough quality so that people will be satisfied to let their children go there.

I think the biggest change has been the switch to computers. At the beginning, it was pencil and paper, and you got to know your students by their handwriting. You could see things going on in their lives by changes in their handwriting. I miss that. Now they can barely write coherent sentences by hand. I don’t think that’s good.

I don’t think kids have changed; the world they live in has changed. We just have to figure out how to get to that little person who is 13 and sweaty and pimply and worried about ever reaching 14.

I loved being an English teacher because no matter what happened in the world, in the city, in a family, we could talk about it, we could write about it. If there’s unrest, if there’s a shooting, if there’s a national crisis, the math teacher has to continue to do math. But I can have them write about it. The English teacher can plug into what is going on in a person’s life. Regardless of what was going on, we responded by talking, and then by writing. And then by writing some more. I hope we don’t lose that.

D. Lynn Meyers

Ensemble Theatre’s D. Lynn Meyers has had a ringside seat for the unfolding drama of Over-the-Rhine as well as the city’s growing theater scene.

D. Lynn Meyers in 1978

Photograph courtesy D. Lynn Meyers

When I started at Playhouse in the Park in 1977, there was the Playhouse, touring shows at the Taft, and community theater. Now there’s the Aronoff, ETC, Children’s Theatre, Know Theatre, dance companies. This has deeply impacted the city. It has attracted great artists who have chosen to make Cincinnati their home.

I do believe the fact that ETC stood its ground here for 32 years has made a difference by being authentically part of the community, not imposed on it. Years ago, kids in the neighborhood would come to our lobby and do homework, because they knew it was safe. To see the neighborhood go from abandonment has been amazing.

People trusted that OTR could come back. Now the new goal is to ensure that it remains inclusive. I hope more neighborhoods can take our lead. You see wonderful new energy and people rediscovering [Price Hill] because of Incline Theater.

The 2001 unrest was terrible. We were forced to leave the property because the city didn’t feel it was safe for us to be here. It came at the exact time that [ETC had an offer] to move over the river to Covington. We lost half of our board over that. We had to rebuild.

The cast sometimes outnumbered the people in the audience. We just kept finding programs that people needed to see, to force them to come downtown.

Today I see the magnificent Washington Park, which is glorious, and it’s filled with all kinds of people all the time. But a lot of people still sit on the benches outside the park, [people] who don’t feel welcome. It’s hard to make sure people feel welcome. That’s going to take time.

Scott Knox

Attorney Scott Knox planned to have a practice in industrial safety; the HIV crisis changed that. He reflects on the legal issues that have impacted the city’s LGBTQ community.

Scott Knox (left) at the New York Gay Pride Parade

Photograph courtesy Scott Knox

I came out right around the same time that HIV did. With the lack of concern by a lot of the government, there was very much a feeling that we had to address this ourselves.

There were a lot more police arrests. The Steven O’Banion case was in 1991: a guy arrested at 3 in the morning for jaywalking. When he got to the justice center he was drunk and bleeding and they said that he spit blood on them, so he was charged with attempted murder and felonious assault. That kind of took over what the case was about. But if you look at where it started, he was arrested for jaywalking at 3 in the morning. Outside a gay bar. Come on. So there was a lot of harassment.

That’s been a sweeping change. I can’t remember the last time I heard about someone being arrested in a men’s room or a park where, if it wasn’t entrapment, it was one step away from it. I don’t think it will ever be perfect because it’s always individuals. But we have a wonderful gay liaison with the Cincinnati Police Department and with the county sheriff’s department. That’s huge.

You know what’s funny? Much of the progress was because of Ellen and Will & Grace. Suddenly the public knew gay people because they knew Will on Will & Grace. The media was showing stories about gay people that people could identify with—the same thing that breaks down all kinds of discrimination.

Another thing that catapulted a sea of change was the fight over Issue 3 and Article XII. That forced a lot of conversations about LGBTQ issues, and it really organized the community. And I think it made it safer for people who really were OK with gay people to say it.

One thing that has stayed the same is employment discrimination. If you work for a small employer and you just got married and you go to your employer and say, “I want to add my same-sex spouse to my medical coverage,” they can fire you. “Oh, we didn’t know you were a lesbian! You’re fired.” There’s no statewide or national protection for that.

Jerry Springer

Councilmember, mayor, news anchor—Jerry Springer spent decades observing the political life of Cincinnati before becoming an American television icon.

Ken Blackwell and Jerry Springer shake hands after Jerry is sworn in as mayor on December 1, 1977.

Photograph courtesy Jerry Springer

I came to town June 11, 1967. I had a summer job at Frost and Jacobs. It was a Sunday night and everything I owned was in the Studebaker that I drove from Chicago to Cincinnati. I went into a bar and everyone was staring at the television because the mayor was declaring a curfew. It was the night of the riots.

So this is my 50th anniversary, too. I’ve always said, if you didn’t want me, just say so. Don’t start a riot.

In 1969, a date took me to a meeting for Vote 19—a ballot initiative to lower the voting age to 19. I was the oldest person at the meeting—a 25-year-old lawyer—and they asked if I would be the chairman of the campaign in Hamilton County. I thought it would be a great idea to get young people involved. In Hamilton County the issue won, but it lost statewide. But it was a great time; everyone was in politics for the right reasons.

When I started on city council, I was serving with the son of a president, Charlie Taft. And there was Ted Berry, Bill Gradison, Tom Luken, Bobbie Sterne, Bill Keating. Regardless of politics, these were leaders of the community. Then there was Guy Guckenberger and me: the two kids. There was a deep respect for the elders on council and the traditions of the city. I was the crazy person—the liberal—and I thought they were wrong on some social issues, but there was never a question of respect. These were people I could learn from.

Back then, there were three TV stations and two newspapers, and everyone was focused on the same nine people. Now the whole media landscape has changed. Today you could walk down the street and ask someone to name the councilmembers, and no one would know. I’m not talking about their abilities or how smart they are. They just don’t have the prominence in the community because of the way media and social media have changed the landscape.

Napoleon Maddox

Hip-hop artist and front man for the socially conscious performance group ISWHAT?!, Napoleon Maddox entered the music scene here in the 1990s. He reflects on the opportunities and influences for today’s young talents.

I grew up singing with my sisters in church. I didn’t know what the music business was like; I didn’t have anyone who could tell me how to become a professional. About the time I graduated from high school, I started listening to WAIF and developing friends and mentors in the jazz scene.

WAIF and the Arts Consortium were the epicenter of local music for me. The Arts Consortium was where I met guys that I ended up playing music with—Ken Leslie, Jack Walker, and Tom Phelps. Tom was a visual artist and Ken was a visual artist, trumpet player, and poet—a conceptual artist. And Jimi Jones, another visual artist. They had a collective called the Neo-Ancestralists, and they would invite me to play at their openings. They were some of the first guys that said, “You really have something: Keep doing what you’re doing.”

So now, we don’t have the Arts Consortium. But we have Elementz hip-hop youth center; I’m really proud it’s in the city. And there’s MYCincinnati in Price Hill, a youth orchestra program for underserved young people.

When I came up, there were lines between genres. There were the activists and revolutionaries, and then there were the partygoers and the rockers. Now you have rock guys and rock women who are holding up their fists and saying no to discrimination. They’re organizing protests on behalf of their brothers and sisters, regardless of their ethnicity. They’re saying, I didn’t grow up with hip-hop, but these are my friends and my allies.

I think Cincinnati is a good place to be a musical artist. I would say that if you need to leave, go ahead. But whatever you think is going to happen in New York, you better be working extra hard to use all the resources you can here before you get there.

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