May 22, 2013

Historic Preservation Unites Students, Neighborhood at University of Cincinnati

  • By: Lauren Walser
Residence of Hon. John Goetz Jr. c. 1890. Credit: Save Clifton Heights
Residence of Hon. John Goetz Jr., c. 1890

A 19th-century mansion in Cincinnati’s Clifton Heights neighborhood faces possible demolition, and local residents and university students have banded together in an effort to save it.

The alliance formed after the longtime owners of the c. 1892 Goetz House, citing the increasingly expensive cost of upkeep and maintenance, announced their interest in selling the property to a developer, who proposed leveling the mansion and several other buildings to make way for a new housing development for University of Cincinnati students.

Shortly after these plans were announced, students Diana Tisue and Charles Marxen, co-founders of the university’s Preservation Action Network, along with a number of other students, attended a meeting of the CUF Neighborhood Association, the group representing the city’s Clifton Heights, University Heights, and Fairview neighborhoods, to learn more about the threats to the historic business district.

“There was such a great reaction from the neighborhood and the university once we found out this plan [to demolish the Goetz House] was on the table,” says Tisue, who studies historic preservation at the university.

Days after that meeting, dozens of students, residents, business owners, and other concerned citizens gathered at a local coffee shop to discuss the situation further, and the Save Clifton Heights group was born.

It’s perhaps an unlikely partnership between town and gown, but, Marxen says, he and his fellow students are, like the residents, dedicated to the neighborhood.

Exterior of Goetz House today. Credit: Save Clifton Heights
Exterior of Goetz House today

“We offered something different,” he says, noting residents’ complaints of excessive noise and disorderliness from the area’s student population. “I think the community saw that there actually are young adults, students, who are interested in and passionate about historic architecture and saving this historic community.”

The members of Save Clifton Heights have been working together to research the history of the threatened buildings and meet with city council to discuss their concerns. The group meets regularly to discuss their progress and craft their next steps.

“The two of us have been essentially leading the meetings, which is interesting from our angle, because we’re just students,” says Marxen, a chemical engineering student who came to the University of Cincinnati from Columbus, Ohio. “We have professionals and long-time residents sitting there, listening to us, and letting us students lead.”

Currently, the group is campaigning to get the Goetz House named a historic landmark, and are conducting research to effectively make their case.

“We’re trying to build the story of this house and show why it’s important to the community,” Tisue says.

The city’s Historic Conservation Board has voted to recommend a historic designation for the house, but the city’s Planning Commission recently voted against such a designation. The issue will ultimately be decided by the city council.

Marxen and Tisue, both in their final year at the University of Cincinnati, are hopeful that the house -- and the neighborhood’s character -- can be saved.

“We’ve watched the area surrounding the university get taken over by student housing developments,” says Tisue, who grew up in Cincinnati’s historic Prospect Hill neighborhood. “It’s not good architecture, and it’s not smart development. And it’s taking away a lot of what makes Clifton Heights unique. This mansion is something we all see as needing to be protected. It means a lot to the students and to the people of the community.”

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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