The Fate of 1314 Vine Street and Mercer Commons

Yesterday, OTR-resident and blogger CityKin wrote a post about 1314 Vine Street titled “Does this building stay or go“. The post and its comments are an informative read and a good introduction to the subject of this post.

The Current Mercer Commons Plan

The time is now to discuss the fate of 1314 Vine Street and the current design of the planned Mercer Commons development by the public-private Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) in the Gateway Quarter.

1314 Vine Street; photo credit:

Mercer Commons is a planned development of new construction urban infill and historic restorations in the area surrounding Mercer Street in Over-the-Rhine. The development is bounded by Vine Street to the west, Walnut Street to the east, 14th Street to the north and the northern half of the 1300 blocks of Vine and Walnut Streets. It is an exciting opportunity to turn another corner (excuse the cliché) in OTR’s revitalization.

Footprint of Mercer Commons showing position of 1314 Vine Street in yellow box

In the footprint rendering above, one can see the position of 1314 Vine Street highlighted by the yellow square. If you look closely, you can see the driveway entrance to the parking garage (gray boxes in the middle of that block) lines up directly with 1314 Vine Street.

Other renderings (perhaps older or newer?) shows the following:

Mercer Commons looking east with Vine Street in foreground. Fate of 1314 Vine Street unknown.

It looks like 3CDC is not planning to save 1314 Vine Street.

The History of 1314 Vine Street

According to the Hamilton County Auditor’s website, 1314 Vine St. was built in 1880 though the date is probably a best guess. The property was transferred from Cincinnati Public Schools to OTR Holdings Inc, a subsidiary of 3CDC, on August 11, 2008. It is a two story structure with what appears to be a cast iron storefront and a beautiful cornice. The original brick exterior has been covered in dryvit or stucco and painted an odious shade of mauve, which apparently manifested itself during the structures days as a dance club in the recent past. The current configuration of front windows is not original as will be explained later with an examination of the 1904 Sanborn insurance maps.

The peaked roof is topped by raised glass skylights that run the length of the building, see image from Bing Maps below.


The Sanborn Map Company’s insurance maps of Cincinnati from 1904 show this building. They reveal some interesting facts:

Overview of the east side of the 1300 block of Vine and the west side of the 1300 block of Walnut

A closer view

1314 Vine Street according to 1904 Sanborn Insurance Map with illustration of raised glass roof

In the last Sanborn Map image, you can see the bay windows on the front of the building facing Vine Street.

The inclusion of the “CITY MISSION” label is puzzling, but may point some ardent historian toward another chapter of this building’s history.

In 1919, volume 31 of The Machinists’ Monthly Journal, Official Organ of the International Association of Machinists shows 1314 Vine Street as the “District Lodge of the Grand Lodge of the International Association of Machinists”.

The Issues

There are two issues at play in the fate of 1314 Vine Street. The first, of course, is the fate of 1314 Vine Street. The second issue is larger and concerns the role historic preservation plays in the redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine. How important is each stitch in OTR’s historic fabric? It’d be enlightening to hear the opinions on these issues from 3CDC, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, the Cincinnati Preservation Association, individual citizens, and other.

3CDC is to be lauded for its successes, and Mercer Commons could be a true triumph for OTR. However, if 3CDC chooses to demolish 1314 Vine Street by way of a “special exemption“, it will become in no small measure a part of the problem it purportedly seeks to remedy. Every historic building in OTR matters, not only to preservationists but also in determimig the historic registry status of the neighborhood which determines eligibilty for grants and other funding resources. It would be wise for those considering demolition in OTR to recall the words of Shelley’s Frankenstein, “Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?”

Determining the fate of 1314 Vine Street would be better addressed sooner rather than later.

Now is the time to start the conversation.

27 Responses to “The Fate of 1314 Vine Street and Mercer Commons”
  1. wholtone says:

    Excellent post!! I’ve wondered this my self.

    1314 Vine should be SAVED!

    Not in its current state, of course. The hideous stucco should be removed, and the bay windows restored. Obviously this building was the victim of several horrendous hack jobs and it should not be punished for it. Underneath that odious purple husk is a diamond waiting to shine!! We can see a glimmer of hope in the columns and roof. If 3CDC demolishes this I will seriously lose some respect for them.

    Restore, not Destroy.

    • savehistoric says:

      I am not a believer that all buildings can be saved, but surprised with the character of this building that there are plans to tear down. 3CDC has done a great job of saving so many. Also surprised that at the very least the facades of these buildings cannot be saved (if there is nothing historic remaining on interior). I am well aware that rehabbing is more costly than building new, but saving at the very least the facade could be a compromise. Why isn’t more of this done?

      AND the design of the proposed new building is ugly! Hope it’s not the final one.

  2. Neil says:

    Being a “District Lodge of the Grand Lodge of the International Association of Machinists” is actually pretty important to Cincinnati’s history too. Cincinnati was the global center for the Machine Tool industry and this organization probably would have been pretty important in its heyday. I know because my grandfather was a Machinist and ran a Machine shop – Cincinnati was a big deal for them.

    Maybe even historic plaque worthy…

    The Building itself really doesn’t look like much, one would hope that 3CDC could restore the bay windows etc. Nice job on researching this article btw.

    • Thanks Neil…the historic plauqe idea reminds me of a dormant idea I had awhile ago…

    • Dieter Schmied says:

      Your grabbing at straws kid.
      I will bet that your grandfather was not in the union and never wanted to be in the union. While for a time Cincinnati was called by some as the machine tool capital of the world, unions were not welcome in most of the companies, especially those that contributed to the aforementioned title.

      There was no machine shop at this location only a meeting hall. If you want something historic to save in machine tools, you missed the boat. You can go shopping at Rookwood or stare at the vacant Milling Machine Company that they tried to get Jungle Jim to occupy. The machine tool leaders and workers were actually and accurately reflective of Cincinnati’s narrow minded mentality. And that mentality is not something we need to talk about. What is interesting is why thye picked that location as the concentration of machine shop was originally in the bottoms, like 2nd Street then out Spring Grove Avenue. Geier and LeBlond went east to be closer to Indian Hill.

  3. Citykin says:

    Thanks for starting the discussion. Likely more history here to be discovered with some research.

  4. Paul says:

    For what it is worth… I was in the building when it housed a sound company in the 80s and the interior certainly had nothing of any interest in it. If it had been there it was long gone. The exterior has been extensively altered to the point that renovation would be needed not just preservation.
    I love the historical nature of OTR and it’s buildings and applaud the efforts, sometimes herculean to preserve the treasures…but there does come a point in the life of a structure where it is so far from original that even massive renovation doesn’t constitute preservation. Perhaps the salvageable elements could be incorporated into a future, complimentary structure. (Hopefully more elegantly than the poor Albee facade at The Convention Center.)

  5. wholtone says:

    I doubt the “salvageable parts” would look right on a new structure. The more buildings we lose the less of OTR’s original character we can save. Let’s save this building and set OTR as the national standard for historic preservation. There’s nothing historically accurate about preservation. It’s about recapturing the ambience, not about using all period-correct materials. At least to me.

  6. anon says:

    Wonderful post by Over-the-Rhine! Thank you for starting this dialogue. Indeed every building lost irreparably damages the fabric and uniqueness of OTR. It isn’t always about the interior, it’s the unique public realm knit together by the exteriors of these noble brick buildings. 1314 Vine could become a model for the integration of an historic structure into a modern infill project. Or, we could take the easy way out, tear it down and have an entire block of Vine be represented by a parking garage on the street wall.

    A few features that make this building special: the pedimented cornice, the size of which is not seen very often in the neighborhood; the italianate brackets along the cornice, representative of the styling which has made OTR famous; the iron storefront columns, manufactured by Schreiber and Sons here in Cincinnati; the long and narrow “shotgun” shape of the building, again representative of OTR; and the many thousands of historic bricks that must lie buried just beneath the purple surface.

    It’s up to us and others passionate about OTR to ensure this building is preserved and reutilized.

  7. oldroses says:

    Thanks for the excellent research. Will help make the case for saving the building.

  8. Joe says:

    Great article! I agree that the loss of every historic building takes away from fabric of the neighborhood but I feel that we have to prioritize our efforts since resources are so scarce and there a so many historically significant buildings in this area need renovation. There needs to be a more comprehensive debate on what buildings cannot be lost and make them high priority for renovation. In my opinion this building is too far gone and saving it would compromise the whole Mercer Commons plan. The parking garage behind it needs a taller structure parallel to the street for buffering. Possible some of the architectural elements could be incorporated into the new structure.

    • wholtone says:

      People also made the argument that 12th and Vine was too far gone to be saved. By tearing down this building you are basically making it OK for anyone to tear down a historic structure just because it’s in bad shape. That isn’t an option. This building may have been more modified than some of the others, but it is NOT beyond repair. Also, since when are resources so scarce that we can only save some buildings and not others? Remove the stucco, touch up the brick, and put bay windows on the front. We are not talking about major cracks in the building’s foundation. It’s not as far gone as some people who like to believe it is just because they don’t have the foresight to see the finished product.

      • Joe says:

        It is unfortunate that every structure cannot be saved but that is just the reality of the current economic situation. If we seek to preserve every historic building we are setting ourselves up for failure because there is not enough funding to go around evenly and the majority of buildings will continue to decline. We should prioritize our efforts to save buildings of high historical significance or of exceptional architectural quality. Highly targeted preservations efforts for landmark buildings are shown to enhance the image of the district and may promote tourism. This growth will lead to positive spillovers and more renovations. A policy of stopping all demolitions without looking at the context is reckless and will lead to further decline.

  9. Jeremy says:

    This Building should be saved, If we let them tear down this one what will stop them from Tearing down the next one, the Demo’s in OTR and the West End are getting out of Control and have been out of control for years. NOW is the time to Stop the Demos Before all the Buildings are Gone and Cincinnati has no character Left

    • Joe says:

      There are many “more significant” buildings than this that are rotting away in OTR, we should focus our attentions on these buildings instead of spending money on a building that has little future. The neighborhood fabric is gone around this building making it a prime target for redevelopment. Scare resources should help buildings in intact area such as Pendlelton. Also I do not see what makes this particular building special except the fact that it would take a small fortune to renovate properly. Try to get the best deal for the renovation buck by working with structures that are more or less intact and have not been butchered by previous “modifications.”

  10. Dieter Schmied says:

    Convictions are a greater threat to truth than ignorance.

    I wonder what some of you are smoking. We claim to have a democracy although I think this is an attempt ,by a few that have nothing to invest in the renovation of these building, in mob rule. You want everyone to pay for your fantasy.

    Why don’t you get on the ballot a scheme where the state (that is the people) will pay the cost of restoration of every building’s exterior in the area. Only the exterior because that is what the public sees and according to some of you that is the part of the building that the public will enjoy and draw satisfaction from. It seems only fair that we not make any owner pay for the majority’s satisfaction. The owner should pay no more than what he would have to pay normally in taxes just like the general public.

    Not only would the majority of the voters shoot the issue down, but also many, if not most, of your friends and fellow zealots and fellow closet socialists.

    This is a country where seldom do they repair damaged buildings that actually have some significance. How many churches have been razed after a fire in the area? Recently St. George burned its steeples in Corryville and where are the hysterical historical hyperventilates that should be raising funds to restore the building. Go on down to the historical archives and view the many significant building photos that record what was.

    Germany spends so much more than the USA on the restoration of their practical buildings that , by comparison, makes us look like we haven’t even heard of the word: restoration. Even there, they take a more reasonable approach to preserving the past on buildings that are no longer practical. The will take a small area, the length of a block for instance, and the state will restore it accurately and completely on the exterior and in a proper setting. I know Germans are noted for being hard heads, but unlike some of you, they don’t need block after block of what you refer to as historic buildings, which in most cases are nothing more than common housing that was needed at a reasonable cost for some common people trying to eke out an existence.

  11. Marshal says:

    This building is ugly. Tear it down.

    That’s my opinion, anyhow, and as the eligibility date to put a building into historic protection inches closer to the mid 20th century, this will become more of an issue than people are aware of. In Charlotte we had to work delicately around a parcel that had just received historic status. It was a gas station.

    We have enjoyed a bit of consensus in protecting historic buildings because they embodied a beauty and craftsmanship that we no longer provide. 1314 Vine challenges our conviction to protect everything with a broad brush, but it’s a good idea to start getting comfortable with the practice of making tough decisions, or else we’re going to have quite the collection of ugly ducklings under protection from eras that nobody considers architecturally significant.

  12. Daniel says:

    not every old building is worth saving. every single buiding over 100 years old has a story… and sure, its unfortunate when an old building with lots of character is torn down, but honestly I feel that many (usually historic preservationists, themselves) fail to see the forest for the trees. The project saves something like 15 (i think more) existing historic structures, which fit more accurately into the evolving character of the neighborhood when considering building heights and historic usage. I agree that there are already too many vacant lots in otr, but when considering what this project accomplishes, the loss of this building is more than acceptable to me. the idea that the appearance of city should be frozen in a period of time, is completely absurd. I understand that a neighborhood is historically significant, and as such should be preserved to the extent that its reasonably prudent. neighborhoods evolve, architecture evolves, people evolve. the needs of the people of over the rhine 130 years ago are not the same as the needs of its inhabitants today, and will not be those of its inhabitants in another 130 years. to suggest that the built forms of old should always be sufficient for our current needs and that nothing new need to be built, in the style of the day, reflecting the values of the day, is simply untrue. 3cdc has really been a saint to the neighborhood, and i am no 3cdc apologist, i promise. As an architect though, i really feel the size, scope and aesthetic (yes, something can fit in to a neighborhood as a result of its standing out) of what will be replacing 1314 is much more appropriate than what could be accomplished as a result of saving the existing.

    i would also note that the cost of saving the existing, in terms of not being able to build the garage, having to build less new apartments to save a facade, that in my oppinion is not historically significant is ridiculous. (a cornice and some deteriorated woodwork does not a building make.)

  13. Dan says:

    It looks like I’m late to the game since this building is now gone, but apparently there was a riot here after WWI.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Mercer Commons and 1314 Vine Street are in the news again thanks to the attention of Lisa Bernard-Kuhn at the Enquirer. […]

  2. […] 2010, 3CDC has been releasing renderings of Mercer Commons that do not include 1329 Walnut and 1314 Vine. Permission to demolish 1329 Walnut has not yet been granted and there must be a public hearing […]

  3. […] OTR Work Group Report. Read more about Mercer Commons, the two buildings that may be demolished (1314 Vine and 1329 Walnut), and older renderings here. See all the renderings in this flickr set. #gallery-1 […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: