King of the Queen City

Fox, John Hartley. King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records.  Urbana, Illinois; University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Somewhat overlooked along the great early independent labels – Sun, Chess, Dot, etc. – King Records from Cincinnati  has a long list of recognizable artists from the 1940s and 1950s in its catalog of “roots of rock” artists.  King was one of the few labels that released both “hillbilly” (county and bluegrass) and “race records” (blues, R&B, and gospel).  In the 1940s, Nashville and Memphis had not evolved into hubs of the music industry that they became, and there were mid-size labels in many cities, such as Cincinnati.  King Records success spread well beyond the Queen City.

Fox’s King of the Queen City attempts to capture the story of King Records from the its inception through the late 1960’s roughly following the time founder Syd Nathan ran the label.  One advantage Cincinnati had in developing such a prominent label, especially in its early years where it focused more on country music, was the presence of the 50,000 watts WLW radio station, open from coast to coast.  Continue reading

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Red Legs and Black Sox

Dellinger, Susan. Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series.  Cincinnati, Ohio; Emmis Books, 2006.

The Cincinnati Reds have won five World Series Championships.  For most modern fans, the Big Red Machine (1975, 1976) and the Nasty Boys (1990) probably come to mind first among the championship teams.  The 1940 team (notable players include Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi and back-to-back no-hitter tosser Johnny Vander Meer – who didn’t play much in 1940) would be the one I would forget.  Prewar/Depression baseball is not a heavily chronicled era outside of St. Louis and New York.  But, hands down, the most famous of their World Series was the 1919 championship, where the Reds defeated a White Sox team that included eight players who would later be banned from baseball for throwing the same series.  While there is a taint on this championship, the banner flies with the other four at Great American.

The 1919 series lives on in popular culture and was a turning point in baseball history.  The dead ball era, of great pitching stats and no home runs, “officially” ended in 1919 with the Jazz Age Babe Ruth long ball era starting in 1920.  While popular nonfiction titles are occasionally based on the dead ball era such as biographies of Christy Matthewson, the story of the last Chicago Cubs team to win a championship (1908), or a new look on just how bad of a person Ty Cobb was, these will never overtake Joe Jackson (who had some of his best years playing with Cleveland prior to getting traded in 1915).  Jackson, an outfielder with the White Sox in 1919, was found to have taken cash, but also had probably the best offensive numbers of any player during the series. It is this contradiction that helped make him an anti-hero type that fills up American History and why there is still a movement to get him into the Hall of Fame.  Continue reading

The Cincinnati Subway and When Cleveland Had a Subway

Singer, Allen J.  The Cincinnati Subway: The History of Rapid Transit. Charleston, SC; Arcadia Publishing, 2003.

Toman, James A, Bruce E. Young, James R. Spangler, Blaine S. Hays.  When Cleveland Had a Subway. Cleveland; Cleveland Landmark Press, 1999.

I would like to think this review is a guide to all you need to know about subways in Ohio.  Two books that could be read in one sitting.  A lifetime of conversation pieces.  (“Did you know there were subways in Ohio?”)

Yes, the electric underground has a history in Ohio.  Sort of.  From 1917 until 1954, Cleveland had underground trolley lines running under the Detroit-Superior Bridge (now known as the Veterans Memorial Bridge).  And there were two actual subway stations that looked just like real subway stations (because they were real stations).  Cincinnati’s story is more grand, in that an actual subway system was planned but never completed.

When Cleveland Had a Subway is a great little publication (48 pages) that tells the story of the bridges over the Cuyahoga and the trolley and Interubrans that ran under one of the bridges.  The text is brief but to the point, with a great description of an east-bound trolley turning right unto the bridge.  The authors do a good job of detailing where everything was located, from where the train entered the underground tunnels to where passengers entered and boarded the trains.  What should get this book on coffee tables is the great collection of old Cleveland photographs.  “See, there was a subway station!”

The Cincinnati Subway is also full of amazing photos of early trains/trolleys of the Queen City of the West’s past.  There are also maps, documents, and construction photos, along with a surprisingly detailed narrative.  The font used in this Arcadia publication is some of the smallest font I have come across in my readings.  Three page chapters could fill up 10 pages of text in average books.

The subway was, for the most part, going to replace the Ohio and Erie Canal, with a grand boulevard (Central Parkway) above.  The planning and construction of the subway occurred for about 20 years up until 1927, when new administrations had new ideas.  While there is plenty of information on the planning and construction of the subway, Singer’s main focus is on the politics of the construction.

In the afterword, Singer and a photographer, Suzanne Fleming, detail a tour taken of the subway line with several engineers.  The end result is some post-apocalyptic looking tunnels, sure to be of interest in Cincinnati residents.

As with skyscrapers, there were very few completed subways in America between 1930 and 1980–the age of cars and office parks.  The Cleveland subway closed with the end of electric trolley lines in 1954.  Covered in detail in The Cincinnati Subway, there were numerous attempts to repurpose the tunnel or revive the subway dream.  Of note, there has been a water line running through the tunnels since the 1950s.

Both forgotten architectural gems can be viewed by the public.  The Cuyahoga County Engineers Office opens the lower level (subway station) of the Veterans Bridge on various holiday weekends.  Likewise, the Cincinnati Museum Heritage Program and the Over-the-Rhine Foundation offer tours.  In looking at the  schedules, it looks like these tours have all passed for this year.  But don’t fret, next year, when you go on the tours, you can come prepared with the knowledge found in these two texts.

The 1976 Cincinnati Reds

Feldmann, Doug.  The 1976 Cincinnati Reds: Last Hurrah for the Big Red Machine.  Jefferson, North Carolina; McFarland & Company, 2009.

There is a fine tradition in sports writing of telling the story of a baseball season.  In particular, this usually covers one team.  While the framework of a baseball season is rather structured (Offseason transactions, spring training, opening day, All-Star game break, trading deadlines, and possibly a post-season), there is an art to telling a compelling story.

This definitely involves going beyond the daily box score and covering the transaction page.  A recount of 144 to 162+ games is hard to take in (pleasurably).  As a reader of several of these tales, there are several story elements I look for:

1.) You should walk away with a pretty good knowledge the team’s history for the prior couple of years, and if you are lucky, a recap that discusses what happened with the team after this document year. Continue reading

The Urban Frontier

Wade, Richard C. The Urban Frontier: The Rise of Western Cities, 1790-1830. Urbana, Illinois; University of Illinois Press, 1996. [Originally published 1959].

Transmontane is a word you will learn from reading The Urban Frontier, as it is used on every other page. It means what is on the other side of the mountain. Wade’s history of five “Western” cities at first glance looks like a well researched history of the early West, in the time immediately after America pushed the native population from this part of the country. The West being ‘west of the Appalachian Mountains’ with early settlement along the Ohio River Valley.

But in the 1950s, when The Urban Frontier was published, the conclusions were quite groundbreaking. As outlined in the wonderful introduction by Zane Miller, prior to Wade’s work, most scholars viewed western urban development as pioneers settling the wilderness. When reaching a critical mass of people, the pioneers started developing cities and creating economies. It was a multi-step process. Wade’s major breakthrough was that the new settlers brought their old lives with them, which included living and working in cities. Western cities developed from the beginning of settlement. This has become integral in the study of urban history in America.

The Urban Frontier tells the history of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville, and St. Louis. To keep with the prime directive of this blog, I am going to discuss the Cincinnati aspects, but if you have the time, I would recommend reading the whole text. Continue reading

John Nolen and Mariemont

Rogers, Millard F. John Nolen and Mariemont: Building a New Town in Ohio. Baltimore; The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

As the title suggests, John Nolen an Mariemont tells the story of the planning and development of one of Cincinnati’s premier suburbs by one of the grand masters of planning.  I recently completed Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America by Witold Rybczynski, where the author follows the creation of a housing development in suburban Philadelphia.  Though their back-stories differed greatly, I wanted to see how development differed in early 20th Century in comparison to today.  Though arguably similar to other exurban developments, New Daleville was planned as a ‘new urban’ community.  Mariemont is often cited as an inspiration for New Urbanists.  It made perfect sense to read John Nolen and Mariemont.

My first mistake was thinking that Mariemont, usually referred to as a Garden suburb, was a typical development.  Mariemont was meant to be a study in how America could house its people.  The money came from Mary Emery and the project was the brain child of Charles J. Livingood, a longtime associate of Thomas J. and Mary Emery.  John Nolen and Mariemont follows Livingood’s years of travel and research of Garden cities in America (think Forest Hills Gardens in Queens) to Europe (think or google Letchworth), his acquisition of the land along the Little Miami River, to his business relationship with John Nolen.  Be foreworne, most of the ‘action’ in this book is the correspondence between Nolen and Livingood (they only met a few times) from 1920 through the end of ‘planned’ construction in 1927.  The professional Nolen continously puts out fires, while the Livingood is portaiyed as idealistic and somewhat flighty.  Many letters are written about housing allotment, grading, street naming, and promoting this model community.  (Mariemont was designed with the idea of repeating it elsewhere.)  Planning buffs will not be disappointed.

It is a little thing, but I found the title slightly misleading.  Though the book is clearly about the planning and development of Mariemont, it is as if the marketing department decided afterwards to promote this as a John Nolen biography.  Nolen is one of several main characters in the development of Mariemont, as described by this book, but this is not his story alone.  Livingood is not even mentioned on the book flap.  As I said, it is a little thing, but I found it distracting.  I will not dwell on it anymore.

I have only been through Mariemont a few times and I find it a charming town.  What you learn in John Nolen and Mariemont is that much of Nolen’s original city plan was never completed (mainly because of financial constraints).  The town center, which I find to be one of Mariemonts strongest attributes was planned to be much more.  Think commercial and population density downtown.  Now that would made it even more New Urban.

I’ll give away the ending.  Mariemonts did not spread across the country.  As with Nolen’s professional career, the Depression pretty much ended Garden city developments in America.  But, maybe Mariemonts time has come again.  People are writing books.