Monday, October 21, 1996
King Records plant touches souls in city

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

King Records is on today's agenda of the city of Cincinnati. And I'm royally pleased.

This column a week ago urged the city to do what it has never formally done: Recognize King's contributions to local history. Confer landmark status on the record label's old plant in Evanston.

James Brown made his greatest hits at the plant. Eight members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame worked there. It deserves to be listed as a historic property.

Turns out no one had taken the simple step of writing a letter of recommendation to Chris Cain, the city's Urban Conservator. So I did, in the column. Two dozen more of you followed suit by fax and the U.S. mail, and we've got a meeting.

At 3 p.m. today, Mr. Cain and the Historic Conservation Board will discuss the King plant in a seventh-floor conference room at Centennial Plaza, across from City Hall. The public is invited to come on down and speak right up.

Discussion will center on the 25 faxes and letters asking the city to place the plant - now a United Dairy Farmers warehouse - on the same landmark list as Union Terminal and Music Hall.

''The songs of James Brown,'' wrote Shira C. Karns of Delhi Township, ''are those with which my generation grew up. School dances would not have been the same without the King of Soul.''

Every time Bill Heltemes of Burlington, Ky., drives I-71 he takes a ''glance in the direction of the brown UDF buildings. . . . Many, many people were influenced by the music that was produced there.''

''King Records made records and history,'' declared Ron Esposito of Oakley. ''What they did at that plant is the stuff you read about in music history books.''

''It's about time Cincinnati did something for King Records,'' said Barbara Wittenbaum of Blue Ash. ''King's hits put this city on the map.''

King-sized dreams

Before he left for San Francisco, Ric Stewart went to Walnut Hills High School, across the interstate from the King plant. ''When I was in class, I used to daydream about what went on over there,'' he said. ''If people want to put some glide in their stride and their civic pride, they should know funk music was invented at King.''

Shirley Thorpe didn't have to daydream. She knew what went on inside the plant. As King's promotions manager, she once had a telephone thrown at her by the label's crusty founder, Syd Nathan.

''Why would the city ever want to recognize that old place?'' she wondered. ''It was a dirty old icehouse in a crummy neighborhood. All they did there was make records . . . that turned into gold.''

''They didn't just make great records by great black artists,'' noted Charlie Kehrer of Mount Adams. In the early '60s, his society big band ''recorded three albums at King's studio, which was attached to the record plant. One album, Charity Ball, was the best-selling local record in the area for six weeks in 1962.''

Howard Kessel of Deer Park helped found King Records with Syd Nathan in 1944. ''I'll be surprised,'' he said, ''if the city recognizes the building. When we were in Evanston (1944-1970), they never wanted anything to do with us. To them, we were just making records for hillbillies and black people.''

Batter up!

A recent column favoring a new Reds stadium on Broadway Commons taught me this lesson: If you write about it, they will call.

''I voted for two new stadiums to redevelop the riverfront. Not one in a crime-infested dump! You, sir, are a traitor!'' - Irv Beck, Clifton.

''What will they do if some convict escapes from the jail and 40,000 people are at the game?'' - Karl Jackson, Elsmere.

''The city will have to pass out machine guns to people so they feel safe in that area when they leave a ballgame.'' - Jim Bingham, Cleves.

''The Broadway Commons site will have the most positive effect on our city. Let's not make another mistake like we are doing at Fountain Square West.'' - George Kurz, Symmes Township.

And this one belongs to the voice of the Reds, Marty Brennaman:

''I'm something of a minority, as far as the Reds organization is concerned. But, a new baseball park at Broadway Commons would do for our city what Coors Field has done for Denver and Camden Yards has done in Baltimore.''

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.