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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Glencoe Place

Photograph of Glencoe Place today, by Zach Fein Glencoe Place: Mt. Auburn Row Houses

The following is a concise history of the row houses and hotel in Mt. Auburn known as Glencoe Place. Such a unique set of buildings for a city like Cincinnati, their history and potential should not be forgotten. Over 20 sources were used in the compilation of this information, and I thank the authors of those books and websites. The sources are cited at the end of the post:

Glencoe Place is often forgotten. As a side street tucked between the undulating hillsides of Mt. Auburn, it’s rarely visited by anyone. Formerly known as Little Bethlehem, the Standish Apartments, the Glencoe Place Redevelopment Project, and now “The Hole,” the buildings wait in disrepair, with windows boarded up, doors chained shut, and nature slowly reclaiming the surrounding lands (Radel). It’s not rare to see Cincinnati’s older residential building stock abandoned and in disrepair, but the character of the buildings lining Glencoe Place and the adjoining streets exemplifies local urban decay on a unique level. Only here will one find such an overpowering complex of buildings, where a monotonous, cavernous allotment of facades ascend a steep hillside. While the colors have changed over the years the original exteriors are almost completely in tact, only a few of the complex’s buildings have been removed since construction. The scene of these houses is one unique in Cincinnati. While other row houses do exist, and records show that at one time an even greater amount existed, they are most often limited to sets of three, four, or five – not over fifty (Langsam). It is the sheer size of the complex, combined with the unique reaction to site topography that the original designer must have had some training in the field of architecture or building, although records make no indication as to who it may have been – one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the Glencoe Place complex. The builders/developers are often listed as being either Truman B. Handy or Jethro Mitchell. Both were prominent figures of the time, and Mitchell was Handy’s son in law (having married his daughter despite being 42 years older) (Kull).

Glencoe Place Map, CAGISWhile identifying the architect may be the greatest mystery, there are many other unknowns concerning the buildings. For example, historians have also never agreed upon the exact date of construction. The various buildings are listed on tax records as being constructed in 1870 and 1875, however other sources list the building known as the Hotel and Standish Apartments as being built in 1899. (Giglierano, also Langsam, and several others). In the report issued to achieve recognized historic status, the date of construction was concluded to be some time between 1884 and 1891 (Radel). The 1891 date correlates to the first appearance of the entire complex on a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map.1891 Sanborn Map, Glencoe Place

Another set of oddities observed on Sanborn maps of the time are the street names. Originally Glencoe Place was listed as Mitchell Avenue. Both of these names are clues as to who the final developer of the site was. It seems likely that Mitchell Avenue was named for Jethro Mitchell, and the eventual name of Glencoe Place also leaves hints that Mitchell was the developer; although he was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, his family was originally from Glencoe, Scotland (Kull). The names of the other streets that make up the complex also have strange surroundings. What is now Leroy Court was originally listed as Erie Avenue, and the short connecting streets originally had no names, but sometime between 1891 and 1904 they became known as Deronda Court and Secrist Court. After 1904 Secrist Court was changed to Adnored Court (Deronda spelled backwards) (Sanborn).

With the date of construction narrowed to the seven year period following 1884, it is apparent that it was indeed Jethro Mitchell who oversaw the development of the complex, for Handy died in November of 1884 in a carriage accident at the corner of McMillan and Vine Streets while returning to his home in Clifton (Fatal). Handy led a very prosperous life, with records showing him owning a construction company (Kull), being involved with stock market analysis (Chicago), and being a prominent entrepreneur (Smiddy). One source even notes that Handy was well known as being an architect as well as a builder, however this may be a misinterpretation, for most of the projects Handy was involved with had listed architects (Langsam). It is interesting to note, however, that a vast majority of these projects listed James W. McLaughlin as the architect, including Handy’s personal residence on Lafayette Avenue in Clifton. It seems clear that the two men had a close business relationship. It is still a possibility that Handy may have been the architect of some of the less ornate and grand buildings he built over the years, it wasn’t uncommon for builders of the day to undertake projects they designed themselves. Although McLaughlin’s personal notes do not make any mention of the Glencoe project (Langsam), it’s not impossible that he assisted Handy on a more personal level with some of the design situations. Whomever it was that was responsible for the original design, it was Jethro Mitchell who carried out the final construction, possibly with the help of the remnants of Handy’s construction company after his death. Mitchell himself was the president of a lumber company in downtown Cincinnati (Williams), and lived on Auburn Avenue in what is now known as the Doane House. Mitchell sold this home in 1879, just a few years before building the massive Glencoe complex in its back yard (Endangered, Nelson).

1970's Glencoe Place existing conditions

A story that is commonly associated with the Glencoe Place Hotel and Row Houses is that Handy and Mitchell planned to build a hotel on Mt. Auburn after seeing its growing prosperity. The prominent landowners, however, feared another hotel and the middle and low-income occupants that could inhabit it. Being able to acquire no land on Auburn Avenue, Mitchell and Handy felt spited. Mitchell sold his home, and together with Handy developed plans to flood the area with middle and low class residents out of spite (both Kull and Smiddy). Seemingly, the only benefit of building so many residences in such close proximity is achieving maximum density. While the hotel portion of the complex may have seen prominent residents temporarily at times, the homes themselves would have definitely been occupied by people of a lower income bracket than most of those in Mt. Auburn. It is also unclear as to how the units were originally divided up. Currently, there are well over 200 apartments composing Glencoe Place. Each of the fifty plus row houses is divided up with one unit per floor, rather than one four-floor unit. While this could be a product of the 1970’s renovation, the report done prior to this renovation already listed 217 units existing, and there are no mentions anywhere of a major renovation taking place before this. The report mentions: “Within the confines of this otherwise useless property more than 200 flats were built in five story walk-ups, stepped to fit the heavily slanting terrain,” (Kull). Carl Westmoreland, one of the organizers of the renovation is quoted as describing, “Glencoe, like Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem in New York City housed Cincinnati’s German, Irish, Jews, and blacks in dark, dank, poorly heated (if at all) overcrowded tenements,” (Clubbe).

Glencoe wasn’t the only row house complex built in Mt. Auburn and the surrounding area, however as previously mentioned it was the only one of this scale. This style, seen more commonly in places like Baltimore and Philadelphia, remains an oddity in Cincinnati. Walter E. Langsam’s personal database of Cincinnati architects lists dozens of row houses, some still standing. These include row houses such as the Huntington Block, which housed rather prominent residents (Langsam). The buildings themselves are more ornate, and in more prominent locations. The Chester Block, designed by McLaughlin and located on the corner of Auburn and McMillan, appears to have been designed for a higher income level occupant than that of Glencoe Place; the ornamentation of the façade and the location on this street corner are signs of this. It seems the geography of Glencoe Place, when compared to the geographic location of some of the other Mt. Auburn row houses, led to the inevitable low income occupancy, and the eventual downfall of the entire complex. There were other complex’s that did more closely resemble Glencoe Place. They were sets of three, four, or five attached row houses, with similar two, three, or four story walkup layouts. The houses on Salutaris Avenue in Walnut Hills, for example, closely resembled those along Glencoe Place architecturally, but geographically they have a different value. A set of row houses just a block north of the intersection of Glencoe Place and Auburn Avenue also has a similar layout and façade, but the location on Auburn would have undoubtedly led to a higher social status for the residents.

Comparison: 1970's Renovation sketch, modern PhotoIn 1895, Jethro Mitchell died, and left the four acres composing Glencoe Place to his wife, Helen. Her social standing allowed the hotel to prosper for years, and it is believed that the final downward trend began after World War One, and was further assisted with the death of Helen Mitchell in 1926 (Kull). The site became a hotbed for crime, drugs, and social unrest. The occupancy remained high in the row houses, but constant repairs to the buildings cut profits to a break-even point. The first major renovation attempt came in the 1970’s, after residents staged a rent strike in 1964. Most of the strikers were evicted, leaving a nearly vacant set of apartments. The Good Housing Foundation took on the case of Glencoe. After a review, it was found to have 90% of the structure intact, and the cost of renovation would be cheaper than demolition and new construction – for there really was no better way to develop the steep ravine hillside. The Glencoe Place Redevelopment Plan introduces the concept:

“The decision to rehabilitate Glencoe is based on a combination of practicality, historical value, and sentiment. Study of the requirements for re-design indicated the need to open up and enlarge individual units to accommodate modern living. Review of the treatment requirements showed the need to define entrances, exits, and pathways with walls, barriers, recognition devices, and amenities for useful and esthetic reasons.”

Comparison: 1970's sketch, photo, modern photo

The redevelopment plan went through, and saw initial promise. Of the nearly 250 to 500 existing units in 1964 (sources disagree on the actual number, either way there were a large number of small units), renovations led to 99 units of a more comfortable size. The success was great, The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati, published in 1988, still described the area as being successful almost 15 years after the renovation, stating that “the Glencoe Place Redevelopment has been honored by local, state, and national urban development organizations,” (Giglierano).

Sometime during the 1990’s, however, the site fell into disrepair and poverty, and once again became known for it’s drugs and crime rather than it’s redevelopment success. When area developer Pauline Van der Haer of Dorian Development purchased the property in 2004, the buildings had been vacant and boarded up for two years (Radel). Initial plans were to renovate the structures into 68 medium- and high-class condominiums (priced between $200,000 and $300,000), and add a parking garage – almost a necessity for the occupant target market. Since its inception, the project has stalled due to funding problems and disagreements between the developer and city council (Lemaster). The city has agreed to fund site improvements to city owned land, which include all common areas between the buildings themselves; these were the areas planned and redesigned during the 1970’s that retain a bland, cold, modern style that was popular during the time. Hope still remains for Glencoe Place, however. It’s possible that it may soon be a more prominent area than it was ever originally conceived to be.

Comparison: 1970's, photo, modern photo

The true origins of Glencoe Place still remain a mystery. Is it possible that Truman B. Handy was the sole designer of the entire complex? It has been proven that he was a successful businessman in several fields – from the stock market to construction – and he’s mentioned as an entrepreneur a number of times (Smiddy). His close business relationship with James W. McLaughlin could either mean he was assisted on a personal level (which would be the reason McLaughlin never noted the project), or that he simply picked up on the basics of architecture – enough so to design the Glencoe Place complex. There may also be political or responsibility reasons for the lack of an architect of record; with no one claiming the design, all responsibility was left upon the builder. It appears that Handy was heavily involved with the concept and the design of the row houses, however. It also appears that Jethro Mitchell, his son-in-law, was the eventual builder of the complex some time before 1891, rather than the 1899 date that is so commonly associated with the Glencoe Hotel. While these mysteries may always remain, so to will the aura of Glencoe Place. The unique quality of being the largest row house complex in Cincinnati, combined with the unique topographical situation of the area creates a one of a kind experience. While quite possibly never used as true row houses in their history, the chance exists that Glencoe Place may one day become a middle class community of quaint walk-up condominiums.


  • CAGIS Internet Map Server. Hamilton County. Apr. 2008 .
  • “Cincinnati, Ohio.” 1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. Sanborn Map Company, Sanborn Library, LLC. June 2008 .
  • “CityKin - Glencoe Place.” CityKin Blog. Feb. 2008. June 2008 .
  • Clubbe, John. Cincinnati Observed. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State UP, 1992. 280-282.
  • “Endangered Places.” Cincinnati Preservation. 29 Jan. 2008. June 2008 .
  • “Fatal Runaway Accident.” New York Times 15 Nov. 1884. June 2008 .
  • Giglierano, Geoffrey J., Deborah A. Overmyer, and Frederic L. Propas. The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati: a Portrait of Two Hundred Years. Cincinnati, Ohio: The Cincinnati Historical Society, 1988. 200.
  • “Glencoe Distric.” Ohio Urbex. 14 Oct. 2007. June 2008 .
  • Kull, Ronald B., and Frank W. Taylor. Glencoe Place. Department of Urban Development of the City of Cincinnati. Cincinnati, 1972.
  • Lamgsam, Walter E. Walter Langsam Personal Database.
  • Lemaster, Kevin. “Inwood Village Project Seeking Preservation Tax Credits.” Building Cincinnati. 26 Sept. 2007. June 2008 .
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  • Radel, Cliff. “Glencoe ‘Hole’ Now Historic.” Cincinnati Enquirer 26 Jan. 2004. June 2008 .
  • Smiddy, Betty A. Cincinnati’s Golden Age. Arcadia, 2005. 109.
  • “The Chicago Pork Ring.” New York Times 18 Aug. 1880. June 2008 .
  • Williams’ Cincinnati Directory. Cincinnati, Ohio: Williams & Company, 1875.
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1 comment:

NH said...

Love this place!


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