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Cincinnati was the first “great” city founded after American independence, and its prodigious growth reflected the rise of the new nation. Its architecture is a testament to that growth and to the importance of the city itself. Architecture in Cincinnati: An Illustrated History of Designing and Building an American City traces the city’s development from the first town plans of the 1780s to the city that it is today, renowned for its dramatic architectural achievements. It is a fascinating story of patrons, politicians, architects, engineers, and planners building a city. Bringing the city’s rich architectural history to life in luminous color photographs by noted photographer Alice Weston, Architecture in Cincinnati captures the beauty of the Queen City and the spirit of individual buildings, bridges, and urban places. Supplemented by historical images and interesting sidebars, Architecture in Cincinnati is an informative and lavishly illustrated book that will inspire renewed pride of place in residents of the city. Nonresidents and students of architectural and urban history will enjoy this authoritative introduction to a remarkable—yet typical—American city.
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Sue Ann Painter, a cultural and political historian, is director of the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati. Her historical publications have won local, state, and national awards. Her most recent book, William Henry Harrison: Father of the West, is the first in a series on Ohio presidents. Beth Sullebarger is principal of a historic preservation consulting firm in Cincinnati. She has thirty years of experience in the field, including seven years as director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association. Jayne Merkel, an architectural historian and critic, has written books about Michael Graves and Eero Saarinen. She was architecture critic for the Cincinnati Enquirer (1977–88). She is now a New York-based contributing editor for Architectural Design/AD in London and writes for numerous architectural journals in the United States.Review:
Review By Jane Durrell, Cincinnati CityBeat
A big, handsome, ambitious book, Architecture in Cincinnati is just off the press, incorporating several insights to accomplish its subtitle's aim of "An Illustrated History of Designing and Building an American City."
Principl author Sue Ann Painter is executive director of the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati, which produced the book for publication by Ohio University Press. "Our objective was to bring together the first chronological survey of Cincinnati's architecture, telling local history as the built environment reflects it," she says. "We each brought a slightly different perspective."
Beth Sullebarger, historic preservation consultant; Jayne Merkel, architectural historian and critic; and Alice Weston, environmental photographer, also contributed to the book. John E. Hancock, professor of architecture at the University of Cincinnati, served as editorial advisor.
Cincinnati's architecture lends itself to an historical approach with ease, this being a city that grew immensely in its early years. Cincinnati began to equate progress and culture with its buildings as it matured and, despite some unconsidered destruction, has preserved important portions of its heritage.
Meanwhile, new elements have come into being. More for better than worse, Cincinnati was the first major city to establish a Master Plan, in 1925, and was guided by it for 20 years, when a new plan went into place. Recognizing that a city is never independent from its surroundings, the book's scope extends to the immediate region on both sides of the river.
Painter, for more than a decade a public historian for the Cincinnati HistoricalSociety, is the author of the book's first six chapters, covering historical material into the 20th century. Chapter headings tell the story in abridged fashion, beginning with "Frontier City to Regional Capital, 1788-1829," touching on "Queen of the West, 1830-60" and continuing through to "Modernism and Reform in City Building, 1920-33."
Sullebarger then takes over with "The Depression Era, 1933-44," bringing us up to today's world in the final chapter, "Dynamic Mix of New and Old, 1989-2006." In an interesting aside relevant to a city proud of its parks, she tells us about architectural styles in park structures. Merkel augments this latter section with a lively chapter titled "Toward the Bicentennial, New Versus Old, 1964-88."
Throughout the book Weston's luminous photographs show us where we are now and are supplemented from the copious collection of the Cincinnati Historical Society. Painter thanks her former colleagues at the Society for their help in locating images not previously published, and also historian Dan Hurley and architectural historian Walter Langsam, each of whom critiqued the manuscript. Langsam's extensive research on 19th-century buildings and architects, in particular, was a prime information source.
Interestingly, the story doesn't begin with that handful of settlers who struggled up the bank at Yeatman's Cove in December of 1788 but with the Native Americans who built here hundreds of years before. Indian mounds -- there once was one where Fountain Square stands -- were endlessly fascinating to its first European-stock inhabitants.
With our generously bestowing the Genius of the Water Fountain once again in place, it is telling to discoverwe have previously and regularly carped about her surroundings and set about to correct them. "The dingy blocks" around the Fountain's first location, an esplanade in the middle of Fifth Street, were eventually spruced up, and we have since provided first one and then another civic square to set her off. This is appropriate, as the Fountain -- one of the first public fountain sculptures in the country -- was a catalyst for a new way of thinking about art and architecture for the city, Painter writes, and has always provided a distinguishing focal point for civic life.
The book reflects our shared environment, with housing represented mostly in the aggregate. Even for those familiar with the city's architectural history, the approach here gives new insight to our surroundings.
Architecture in Cincinnati is readable and well illustrated, with appropriate scholarly accoutrements of notes, bibliography and good index supporting its generally upbeat look at the city. Cincinnati bashers should steer clear. They might end up liking the place after all. Grade: A
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