Cincinnati City Council Approves Historic Designation for Walnut Hills' Manse Hotel

The designation will help protect the buildings from demolition and could aid a developer in securing tax credits for affordable senior housing

Jan 9, 2019 at 4:33 pm
The Manse Hotel - Cincinnati Planning Commission
Cincinnati Planning Commission
The Manse Hotel

A refuge from segregation for black visitors to and residents of Cincinnati is now a local historic landmark. Cincinnati City Council today gave final approval of that designation the Manse Hotel and an annex building in Walnut Hills on Chapel Street near Gilbert Avenue.

The designation of the two buildings so highly significant to Cincinnati’s black history will protect the properties from demolition and help a local developer rehabilitate the structures as part of an affordable housing development for seniors.

The Cincinnati Planning Commission approved the designation for the Manse Hotel and its annex back in November. The city’s planning department recommended passage of the historic designation, which would include conservation guidelines for its restoration.

The historic status could help property owners Model Group secure Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits for its plan to rehab the buildings as part of a development that would have 60 units of housing for seniors affordable at 60 percent of the area median income. AMI is about $75,000 for a family of four in Hamilton County. Model would also use Low Income Housing Tax Credits for that project.

According to documents presented to the planning commission, the original building, first constructed in 1876 as a single-family house, became a vital gathering place for black Cincinnatians and a 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.

Sudduth converted what was then a boarding house into a full-fledged hotel, adding what he called the Moderne Wing not long after he purchased it.

It’s hard to overstate the cultural significance Sudduth’s new hotel would come to have for Cincinnati’s black community.

In 1950, the Manse was the site of Ezzard Charles’ post-match press conference after his victory over Joe Louis to claim the boxing’s world heavyweight title. Earlier that year, Sudduth added another wing to the hotel and a bigger, better ballroom. He also purchased an apartment building west of the original building, which he set up as apartments for long-term guests of the hotel.

Among those guests was Cincinnati Reds first baseman Frank Robinson, who 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. Other famous musicians, including Duke Ellington, also stayed there. Some historians believe Hank Ballard wrote “The Twist” in the hotel before recording his version at King Records. A more widely-promoted version by Chubby Checker eclipsed Ballard’s version, becoming a pop culture icon.

Though his hotel had a big role in the city’s black community, Sudduth wasn’t always treated well in Cincinnati. He was arrested in 1955 because a building he owned downtown had code violations. Police, saying he slammed the door on them during an earlier arrest attempt, smashed through his kitchen door and took him into custody.

Sudduth poured a lot of time and money into the 108-room hotel, which continued to serve a significant role for black Cincinnati in the years after his death in 1957.

But by 1972, the end of segregation, demolition in the neighborhood associated with the construction of I-71 and other factors had taken a big toll on Walnut Hills’ black businesses, including the Manse. Sudduth’s family sold the property that year for $90,000. Its new owners converted it into affordable housing.