A Guide to Art and Architecture Along the Streetcar Route

If you want to to do some cultural sightseeing while riding from The Banks to Findlay Market and back, keep an eye out for these 20 highlights.

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click to enlarge Cracking Art Group's bright yellow penguins are moved about 21c Museum Hotel. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
Cracking Art Group's bright yellow penguins are moved about 21c Museum Hotel.

When the new streetcar begins operating on Sept. 9, downtown and Over-the-Rhine will look a lot different than they did when the old ones stopped running on April 29, 1951.

Not all that’s changed since then has been for the better — how in the world could they have demolished all the downtown movie palaces? But much of it is. And for those riding the streetcar, there’s plenty of contemporary and historical art and architecture to see along the 3.6-mile looping route. For instance, you’ll be riding through the heart of an Over-the-Rhine transformation, much of it happening because of this $148 million investment in public-transit infrastructure and operation.

Since neither the city (the streetcar’s owner), nor the operator Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, nor Cincinnati Bell, which bought naming rights to brand it the Cincinnati Bell Connector, has yet to start its own special streetcar “art tours” (though ArtWorks is experimenting with one), here’s CityBeat’s selective guide to get you started.

Space considerations prevent listing everything, so some of the most familiar (and some of the plethora of murals along the route) have been omitted. Besides, the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati plans to release a walking tour app of the streetcar route by Sept. 9; check architecturecincy.org for info. 

But if you want to do some cultural sightseeing while riding from The Banks to Findlay Market and back, here are 20 highlights to see. We’ll begin right in the heart of downtown.

click to enlarge Werner Reiterer's large brass chandelier hangs from a white scaffold in front of 21 Museum Hotel. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
Werner Reiterer's large brass chandelier hangs from a white scaffold in front of 21 Museum Hotel.

• The “Intersection of the Arts” is a good name for the corner of Sixth and Walnut streets, an excellent destination for art lovers and New Urbanism devotees. There is 21c Museum Hotel at 609 Walnut St., part of the Louisville-based chain. From a streetcar, you might be able to see one of the Cracking Art Group’s bright yellow penguins, which are moved about the hotel. You can also see the bizarre outdoor sculpture in front of the building, Austrian artist Werner Reiterer’s large brass chandelier hanging from a white scaffold. When operated by employees inside 21c, it emits an eerie breathing noise.

click to enlarge "Metrobot," a 27-foot-high sculpture by Nam June Paik, stands tall outside of the Contemporary Arts Center. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
"Metrobot," a 27-foot-high sculpture by Nam June Paik, stands tall outside of the Contemporary Arts Center.

• Next to 21c is the late Zaha Hadid’s visionary Contemporary Arts Center at 44 E. Sixth St., with its outdoor sculpture, “Metrobot.” This 27-foot-high Nam June Paik-created robot has a video screen and a pay phone in its leg. It will be standing along Walnut greeting passersby. Maybe you can arrange with a friend to call your cellphone from its pay phone as your streetcar goes by.

click to enlarge Eduardo Kobra's mural honoring Ohio-born astronaut Neil Armstrong (also featuring Steven Spielberg's E.T.) is the largest ArtWorks has commissioned to date. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
Eduardo Kobra's mural honoring Ohio-born astronaut Neil Armstrong (also featuring Steven Spielberg's E.T.) is the largest ArtWorks has commissioned to date.

• Across Sixth from the CAC is Cincinnati’s best piece of public art by a major artist, in this writer’s opinion. Along the block-long length of a parking garage that is part of Fifth Third Bank’s Fountain Square center, Op Art pioneer Julian Stanczak has created his 3-D mural “Additional.” It consists of 522 multi-colored aluminum bars that can prompt different visual effects as you look. 

• On the Walnut side of that garage, just south of Sixth, is the brand-new, dazzlingly colorful ArtWorks mural (one of many visible on this route) by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra that honors Ohio-born astronaut Neil Armstrong. It’s the largest ArtWorks mural to date and also indirectly honors Cincinnati native Steven Spielberg — you can see the alien E.T., the star of a 1982 Spielberg movie, being pedaled “home” in a bike basket in the mural’s upper-right corner.

click to enlarge Membership organization the Mercantile Library has been in existence since 1835 and in its current location since 1902. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
Membership organization the Mercantile Library has been in existence since 1835 and in its current location since 1902.

• If you happen to look up toward the 11th floor of the old building at 414 Walnut, imagine people inside quietly reading, or listening to a visiting author discuss her book. That’s the soothing Mercantile Library, a membership organization that has been in existence since 1835 and in this location since 1902. If you miss it, there’ll be plenty of other opportunities to look as the streetcar goes by — it has a 10,000-year lease.

click to enlarge 2011 mural "The Cobbler's Apprentice Plays Ball" combines an enlarged rendering of a Frank Duveneck painting with a baseball theme. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
2011 mural "The Cobbler's Apprentice Plays Ball" combines an enlarged rendering of a Frank Duveneck painting with a baseball theme.

• For the 2011 mural “The Cobbler’s Apprentice Plays Ball” at 120 E. Freedom Way, Artworks combined an enlarged rendering of well-respected 19th century/early 20th century Cincinnati Realist painter Frank Duveneck’s “The Cobbler’s Apprentice” (the painting is at the Taft Museum of Art) with a baseball theme inspired by the site’s proximity to the Great American Ball Park.

• The late George Rickey’s 1979 public sculpture “Two Rectangles Vertical Gyratory II, Variation IV” is a substantial example of one of his trademark kinetic artworks, an engineering marvel in which seemingly heavy metal parts are able to move freely about like tree branches in a light breeze. It is outside PNC Bank headquarters at Main and Fifth streets.

• The “ghost sign” on a building’s wall at 607 Main that reads “Better Food for Better Health” is certainly still appropriate. Too bad, then, that the store that painted the sign, the venerable Spatz Natural Life Health Food, closed several years ago. Its old-fashioned juice bar was way ahead of its time.

• One of the newest and best ArtWorks murals can be seen on the west side of Main, just north of Ninth Street. It is an enlarged reproduction of a Little Nemo in Slumberland color comic strip from 1906, created by comics pioneer Winsor McCay. He lived in Cincinnati from 1891-1903, during which he developed his skills.

click to enlarge This humorous "ghost sign" can be seen on the south-facing wall of a building on Main, between Central Parkway and 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
This humorous "ghost sign" can be seen on the south-facing wall of a building on Main, between Central Parkway and 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine.

• Another painted “ghost sign,” this time on the humorous side, can be seen on the south-facing wall of a building on Main, between Central Parkway and 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine. It pictorially suggests a bowling game occurring on a mattress firm enough (yet still comfortable) to allow you to get in nine frames. There’s also a figure whose head seems to have been covered up. Davis Furniture Co., the store that had this sign, closed in 2004.


• Traveling westward on 12th toward Washington Park, look north up Jackson Street at the inspiring neon ART sign that serves as a cool, hip signifier for the Art Academy of Cincinnati, which has been in this Over-the-Rhine location, a former printing company and warehouse, for 11 years.

• Elm from E. 12th to 14th streets is shaping up as Cincinnati’s Renovation Row. On the east side is Washington Park, which has netted national attention for its 2012 redesign. And on the west side are the Transept at 1205 Elm, a recently renovated 1814 Gothic-style church that now primarily is an events center with a public bar; Memorial Hall at 1225 Elm, a 1908 Samuel Hannaford and Sons-designed building that is undergoing extensive renovation and slated to reopen in December; and at 1241 Elm is Music Hall, an 1878 Hannaford-designed icon currently closed for renovations until fall 2017.

click to enlarge This new ArtWorks mural pays homage to Rosemary Clooney, who was born and raised in Maysville, Ky. and got her start on Cincinnati radio. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
This new ArtWorks mural pays homage to Rosemary Clooney, who was born and raised in Maysville, Ky. and got her start on Cincinnati radio.

• Yet another of the new ArtWorks murals is somewhat visible to the northeast of the streetcar as it crosses Liberty Street. It’s the dynamically colorful “Swing Around Rosie” mural designed by Natalie Lanese in honor of Rosemary Clooney, who was born and raised in Maysville, Ky. and got her start on Cincinnati radio. The building hosting the mural is at Liberty and Pleasant streets.

click to enlarge An old storefront was renovated into the OTR Candy Bar, complete with a nostalgic logo. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
An old storefront was renovated into the OTR Candy Bar, complete with a nostalgic logo.

• At 1735 Elm, just south of Findlay Market, is the downright cute renovation of an old storefront into the OTR Candy Bar, with its lovely and somehow nostalgic logo. It opened in 2015, but looks older with its retro-style candies and soft drinks and it bottle-cap-like counter stools. It might just become a mandatory rest-break for streetcar conductors.

• At 1805 Elm is the People’s Liberty Globe Gallery, where three artists per year get a chance — and a $15,000 grant —– to turn the space into their own personal art installation. 

click to enlarge Food-oriented establishment Artichoke features a "curated cutware collection." - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
Food-oriented establishment Artichoke features a "curated cutware collection."

• Keep your eye on the under-construction building at 1818 Race St., just northeast of Findlay Market. On a block that long has needed renewal, this building is becoming the Epicurean Mercantile Co., owned by Meredith Trombly and Louis Snowden of Findlay Market’s outstanding Fresh Table. Once opened, it will join such other new and smartly designed food-oriented establishments as Elm Street’s Findlay Kitchen and Artichoke — with its “curated cutware collection” — as the Findlay Market-fueled neighborhood appetite for all things culinary grows. Please also note, as the streetcar travels south on Race, that Over-the-Rhine isn’t Disneyland. There are older people who have lived here a long time and deserve your respect and concerns for their well-being as things change.

click to enlarge Brewpub and restaurant Taft's Ale House is located inside a restored 1850 church. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
Brewpub and restaurant Taft's Ale House is located inside a restored 1850 church.

• The corner of 15th and Race streets is a microcosm for the swift pace of change in Over-the-Rhine — especially along the streetcar route. On one corner is Taft’s Ale House, 1429 Race, a brewpub and restaurant in a restored 1850 church. (Thank God for all these surplus churches.) Across from it is the new gourmet burger restaurant ZBGB. And diagonally across from that is a very busy corner, with one older building undergoing renovation near a series of new under-construction Towne Properties row houses on Race.

• Pay attention to the “Mr. Tarbell Tips His Hat” mural at 1109 Vine St., just north of Central Parkway. While the painted Tarbell is dressed as the late celebrity vendor Peanut Jim Shelton, thus sort of turning the mural into a semi-tribute to Shelton, Tarbell himself deserves a tip of the hat from every streetcar passenger for being such a forcefully prescient advocate of downtown and Over-the-Rhine revivals way back in the early 1970s.

click to enlarge This Contemporary sculpture by late internationally known artist Louise Nevelson sits outside of the Main Library's entrance at Eighth and Walnut streets. - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
This Contemporary sculpture by late internationally known artist Louise Nevelson sits outside of the Main Library's entrance at Eighth and Walnut streets.

• A fine piece of Contemporary sculpture by an internationally known artist, the late Louise Nevelson, is outside the Main Library’s entrance at Eighth and Walnut streets. This 20-foot-tall painted-black steel work was commissioned by Federated Department Stores in 1979 and later donated to the city. It’s been in its present location since 1993.

• At the corner of Seventh and Walnut streets, the Weston Gallery inside the Aronoff Center for the Arts uses its ground-floor atrium space — as well as its lower-level galleries — for exhibitions. So you might be able to see at least part of a show from the passing streetcar once the new season begins Sept. 23. Or, like everything else on this list, you could come back to spend more time.


For more information about the CINCINNATI STREETCAR, including safety tips and frequently asked questions, visit cincinnatibellconnector.com.

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