By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MOUNT AUBURN - "The Hole" of Mount Auburn is officially "historic."
Six late-19th century buildings - with no occupants and a checkered past in Cincinnati's first suburb - have landed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Boarded up and awaiting development, the Glencoe-Auburn Hotel and Glencoe-Auburn Place Row Houses are tucked into a hillside dubbed, "The Hole."
The pastel-hued painted brick row houses crawl up the hill like their more brightly colored frame counterparts in San Francisco.
The hotel, with its limestone fa┴ade, turret and "Glencoe" set in stone over its entrance, resembles a castle. Or a haunted house. It dominates a concrete courtyard littered with broken bottles, one trashed TV and two abandoned Christmas trees.
The historic district has been known by various names and aliases. The Glencoe Hotel. Little Bethlehem. The Standish Apartments. The Glencoe Place Redevelopment Project. And, The Hole.
During its century-plus life, the district has been a study in contrasts. It's been home to all classes of people. In the last quarter century, it's been an award-winning model for urban renewal and a snake's nest of drug dealers.
Now, it's a historic place.
That status resulted from a report prepared by Cincinnati architect Tom Hefley at the request of developer Pauline Van der Haer.
The district did not receive its special designation because it was home to a well-known person. "We didn't find anyone famous in our research," said Hefley.
No architect of renown designed the buildings. "There's no record of the architect," he said.
There's also no record of when the structures were built. After examining period maps, Hefley deduced the hotel and the row houses were built from 1884 to 1891.
The buildings received their historic designation because they offer a fine example of a vintage architectural style conforming to Cincinnati's hilly topography.
The district has had a contentious history. Wealthy owners of the mansions along Auburn Avenue did not approve of the hotel or the row houses. Multifamily dwellings were not welcome.
Mount Auburn's fortunes declined in the 1900s. Residents of the hotel and row houses went from upper to middle to lower class. The name of the district went from Little Bethlehem, because it's in the shadow of the cross atop the Christ Hospital, to The Hole.
The district's residents staged Cincinnati's first rent strike in 1964, protesting filthy conditions.
The hotel and row houses were renovated in the 1970s. They became a model for reclaiming a neighborhood, winning local, state and national awards.
The area experienced another decline in the 1990s.
"The buildings have been boarded up for two years," said developer Van der Haer. She intends to turn them into 68 condos with model units to open in the spring.
Condos won't be eligible for the tax credits provided by National Register status.
"We didn't go after the historic designation for the tax credits," Van der Haer said. "We did it because the district's history deserves it."
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