Best Of 2019

Best Historic Preservation Wins: The Manse Hotel and the Mt. Airy Water Towers

Cincinnati saw two iconic landmarks — The Manse Hotel and the Mt. Airy Water Towers — protected this year with local historic landmark designations. Walnut Hills’ Manse Hotel, first constructed in 1876 as a single-family home, became a vital stopover for black visitors to Cincinnati when a black businessman named Horace Sudduth purchased it in 1931. At the time, accommodations in the city were still segregated, and black residents of Cincinnati had few places where they could celebrate weddings, hold meetings of social and professional groups or put up distinguished out-of-town guests. It’s hard to overstate the cultural significance Sudduth’s new hotel would come to have for Cincinnati’s black community. The Manse was the site of Ezzard Charles’ post-match press conference after his victory over Joe Louis to claim boxing’s world heavyweight title. Cincinnati Reds first baseman Frank Robinson lived in the Manse in 1956, the year he won Major League Baseball’s Rookie of the Year award. James Brown stayed multiple times in the mid-1950s when he came to Cincinnati to record for King Records, and for a time considered it his second home. Some historians believe Hank Ballard wrote “The Twist” in the hotel before recording his version at King. Now, all that history is protected and the building could soon become affordable housing for seniors. Another Cincinnati landmark also got protection this year: Mt. Airy’s iconic water towers. The 90-year-old structures are a big deal for a few reasons. First, the seven six-story tanks and six seven-story towers (one of which houses a staircase) sit 962 feet above sea level on the highest point in Cincinnati. When they were built in 1927, they represented the first municipal water source for a number of West Side Cincinnati communities, including Cheviot, College Hill, Mt. Airy, North Fairmount, Price Hill and other nearby neighborhoods, which had previously gotten water from cisterns. The reliable water supply helped spur development of those areas. Then-Water Works Commissioner J.A. Hiller designed the structure. The towers are said to be a nod to another historic Cincinnati landmark — the Elsinore Arch that welcomes visitors to Eden Park, which was completed in 1883. That arch, built as part of the reservoir that used to occupy the park, was the first project by the city’s Water Works to use the distinctive castle-like architecture. The Mt. Airy Towers were the last. The towers are iconic enough that they’ve become the symbol used by the neighborhood’s community council and other civic bodies to represent Mt. Airy. Last year, it seemed like the water towers could face partial demolition. But Greater Cincinnati Water Works announced they have a plan to keep the towers intact and Cincinnati City Council has given them historic protections.