With the exception of one vacation in Miami Beach and another in New York City, my childhood travels consisted of train trips from my home in Indianapolis to Cincinnati, where my mother was raised as the youngest of the three Bilker daughters and where her family remained. We boarded the James Whitcomb Riley at Union Station and gathered around the passenger car window to watch my father wave good-bye from an abandoned train trestle a few minutes from town.
I came to Cincinnati in 1969. I’d just passed the bar in Ohio and the firm was Frost & Jacobs. When Bobby died [he’d been working on Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign] they said, “Whenever you’re ready to practice law we’d like to have you.”
I went to Kenyon College, where senior year, I was the cartoonist for the school newspaper. At Christmas time, I came home very naively with these dozen cartoons under my arm and got an appointment at the Enquirer to show them. Lo and behold, they were looking for a cartoonist. They liked the fact that I was local, and they mistakenly thought that I would therefore understand local politics, which I didn’t have a clue about. And God, they hired me.
“On that huge old stage, looking out into the theater with its chandeliers, tiers, and boxes, I decided that I wanted to dance.”
Frank Wood: In the early in the days of ’EBN we had a lot of phony commercials for a fictitious company called Brute Force Cybernetics, which invented lots of strange products: The three-dimensional television, which was a TV mounted on a rail that went back and forth really fast. Or the portable hole.
My mother forced me to listen to Stan Matlock on 55 KRC against my will and wishes. My mother loved Stan. She ruled the roost and she wanted to listen to Stan Matlock so that was what I listened to. And I learned that Stan was one hell of a radio personality, but I rebelled. I wanted rebellious characters, so I began listening to Jim Scott and Dusty Rhoads on 1360 WSAI. Those were the rebellious revolutionaries. When I came home from school, 1360 had on Jim Scott, Dusty Rhoads, and a guy named Ron Britain. Teenagers in the 1960s and early 1970s considered that to be cutting edge, serious radio. 1360 was the heartbeat of the teenager at the time. When you would go to a Frisch’s restaurant and drive around on a Friday night, every car had on the same station, so you didn’t miss a beat.—Bill Cunningham, host of The Big Show on WLW
Before I ever ate masaman curry at Bangkok Bistro, or chicken tikka masala at Baba, or dolsot bibimbap at Riverside Korean Restaurant, there was the Szechwan Wok—my introduction not just to Chinese food, or even to Asian food, but to pretty much all non-American food. For years and years, through the ’80s and ’90s, my parents and siblings and I piled into our minivan and drove to Silverton to feast on the Szechwan Wok’s sesame noodles and potstickers, their egg foo young, shrimp in black bean sauce, moo shu pork, and spicy eggplant. We’d pass the tropical fish tank on the left as we entered the red-accented dining room and sat at a booth, or, as our family expanded, at round tables with lazy Susans, the better to lunge toward the food. My father would order for all of us. He and my mother started with the hot and sour soup—which I still think of as the soup for adults—and my sister Tiernan and I would have the egg drop. Just as at Skyline you must sometimes restrain yourself from wolfing down all the oyster crackers before the arrival of your chili, at the Szechwan Wok it was necessary to exercise willpower with those delicious fried twigs—Crackers? Chips? I’m still not sure—meant to be sprinkled in the soup. If my beloved paternal grandmother was in town visiting us, she’d order a scotch, and the waiter would bring it to her with a brightly-colored paper umbrella.
To look at it now, moving into a yoga commune in 1974 was the act of an 18-year-old girl seeking a whole family. My own had splintered dramatically; both my parents had left the city, and I was on my own. My objective was similar: to leave Cincinnati and its stodgy, soporific temperament for art school and adventure and the bright lights of a big city. Anything to get away from my buttoned-down hometown.
I first lived in Wyoming; we were renting there. Then we bought a home in Lincoln Heights on Jackson Street and we moved there for a long time, and then we bought a house on Congress Street. Lincoln Heights to me was a lovely place. When I was growing up it was a working-class community. I went to St. Simon’s and I walked to school every day, which I liked. We had Neal’s Grocery Store—he was a veteran—when we lived on Jackson Street. Directly facing our home was Green’s. It was a juke joint. They actually had a jukebox. They sold Cokes. Some other things that I didn’t understand were probably going on inside.
In the 1970s, Cincinnati was second only to New York in its concentration of fine dining restaurants. There were three five-star restaurants, nine four-star, and 11 three-star restaurants. There was a couple that lived in Boston that used to fly into Cincinnati regularly, stay for seven days and nights and dine out every night. Imagine that! They came here just to dine!
From 1961 to 1965, Melvin Grier was a medic in the U.S. Air Force. He was serving in a maternity ward on a base in England when he picked up a copy of the military newspaper Stars and Stripes and discovered that he’d won a photo contest. It was the first time the West End native felt encouraged that there might be a future for him behind a camera.
A turquoise 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air small-block V8 twitched forward. Two glasspack mufflers coming off headers rumbled and popped as the driver struggled to hold the engine’s revolutions up while clutching and inching to a white line just feet away. Next to it, the driver of a 1952 250 horsepower Oldsmobile Super Rocket 88 Hydramatic accelerated against the brake as he crawled along.
The early days of television in Cincinnati were filled with programs created by folks who were learning on the job.
At any given time, guitar wizard Adrian Belew is juggling approximately a million projects. We asked Belew about growing up on both sides of the river and returning in the ’80s to lend a hand to the Raisins.
This 1904 Colonial Revival manse, now on the market for $1,575,000, originally served as a single family home for railroad executive William C. Greene, but its history holds more than just generations of genteel Cincinnati families. Between 1935 and 1988, it was known as McNicholas Hall, part of the Institutum Divi Thomae (St. Thomas Institute)—a research facility and partnership between inventor George Sperti and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Here—our hand to God—Sperti is said to have developed Preparation H, and possibly even Aspercreme. The Archdiocese supported the Institute by selling many of Sperti’s patents; legend has it that the formula for Preparation H fetched $1 million, says current homeowner Frank McWilliams.
The house didn’t fare as well. Sperti grew ill and in 1988 the institute disbanded. The abandoned building eventually fell into disrepair. By the time Frank and his wife Janna purchased it in 1990, the living room floor had caved into the basement. Undaunted, the McWilliamses set out to reconvert the Institute’s science labs back into bedrooms, and restore and update everything from the living room floor (it’s now solid hardwood) to the woodwork, bathrooms, fireplaces, ceilings, copper gutters, windows, roof, and even the third-floor skylight. There’s also a fully functional dumbwaiter in the back stair hall.
Buyers craving a modicum of tranquility will be pleased to know that the 1.86-acre lot affords plenty of distance between the house and busy Madison Road. There’s even more local history out back: The property abuts the Scarborough Woods nature preserve, which gets its name from the property’s original owner, W.W. Scarborough, once the president of the Cincinnati Gas Company.
Wrap up your golf season with a trip to the basket country.
We live in fractious times. Endless war, economic stagnation, and political stalemate are the watchwords now. But no matter how frustrated, de-spondent, and angry all of this may make us, it is important to keep in mind that we are still a young country, that we’ve seen harder times and been through worse, and that our brainpower even more than our brawn is what has enabled us to leap over whatever hurdles history—or our own hubris—has set in our path.