Step Back in Time

Historic homes in two neighborhoods open their doors this weekend

May 6, 2009 at 2:06 pm

This weekend, the owners of several historic homes in the area are flinging their doors open to visitors. Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) and Clifton Town Meeting are offering rare opportunities to see the interiors of some of Cincinnati’s most regal homes in two of the area’s grandest neighborhoods.

On Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m., CPA presents “Upstairs, Downstairs,” a series of self-guided tours of architectural gems in the Beechcrest- Madison Road area of East Walnut Hills.

“The tour is one of our major fundraisers, and proceeds help us carry The Lehmer House, part of the CPA’s “Upstairs/Downstairs” tour of East Walnut Hills historic homes, was built in 1917 for three widows who were major patrons of the Cincinnati Art Museum. out our work of preserving historic buildings and neighborhoods in Greater Cincinnati,” says Margo Warminski, CPA’s preservation director. “It also highlights Cincinnati’s wonderful historic residential neighborhoods.”

As a matter of fact, Cincinnati holds more than 21 local historic districts and 28 National Register historic districts.

CPA advocates for historic preservation, offers educational programs and provides technical support for preservation projects. The organization believes that preservation not only contributes to quality of life, adding unique character to our community and connecting citizens to their history and culture, but also fosters economic development. According to its Web site, preserving historic buildings creates 10 to 20 percent more jobs than new construction; attracts other development, especially small businesses; offers an attractive environment for recruiting businesses; and encourages cultural heritage tourism.

The association offers the tours each spring, and past programs have featured Hyde Park, North Avondale and Prospect Hill. The six homes on this year’s tour include a brick-and-half-timbered Tudor Revival house that resembles an Elizabethan manor, a Cotswold-style cottage and an Arts and Crafts home influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.

If you‘re a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, you’ll want to get a ticket to the Clifton House Tour on Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. While Clifton Town Meeting is being secretive about the specific homes on the tour, it has confirmed that a home designed by Wright will be open. Other highlighted styles begin in the 19th century and include Victorian, American Four-Square and Tudor. The Clifton tours take place every third year on Mother’s Day and proceeds benefit projects throughout the community.

Clifton Town Meeting, a residents’ group founded in 1961, has been a catalyst for the preservation of the unique charms of Clifton, one of Cincinnati’s first suburbs. Its efforts include preserving the neighborhood’s historic gaslights and helping save the Esquire Theatre.

Parking and shuttle buses for the Clifton tour will be available at several locations, including the Clifton Cultural Arts Center (, where you can learn about several additional historic residences in “Great Cincinnati Families at Home.” The exhibit, on view through May 15, was created by the Betts House Research Center (the 1804 Betts House is the oldest brick building in Cincinnati).

Nine panels feature homes built by four of the most prominent Cincinnati families throughout the city’s history. These citizens made their fortunes in the burgeoning industries of the 19th century, such as banking and brewing, and shared their wealth by building hospitals, founding cultural institutions and hiring talented local craftspeople to decorate their homes. Another four families are featured in a display at the Betts House.

While “Great Cincinnati Families at Home” is small, the panels are nicely designed and informative, with text written by architectural historian Walter Langsam and historic preservation consultant Beth Sullebarger. The panels feature the homes of families you might expect — the Probasco-Rowe family, for example, whose patriarch Henry Probasco commissioned the fountain in downtown’s Fountain Square — but also some surprises.

For instance, most of us are familiar with the Greek Revival birthplace of William Howard Taft on Auburn Avenue, but few probably know that as a young lawyer Taft lived in one of the first fashionable apartment buildings in downtown, the Lombardy Flats on West Fourth Street. Or that the Hauck family of banking and brewing fame built a summer home in Sharonville, along with a barn that offered much needed respite for the horses that pulled their beer wagons throughout the hot Cincinnati summers.

The Saturday Cincinnati Preservation Association Tour of East Walnut Hills homes costs $25 for CPA members and $30 for the public. For more information, visit For information on Sunday’s Clifton House Tour, which costs $15 in advance and $20 that day, visit