Three Reasons to #SavetheDennison

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(photo courtesy Noel Prows)

The Dennison Hotel, built in 1892, is in danger of demolition.  The city’s Historic Conservation Board will have a hearing on the matter at their 4/18/2016 meeting.  Here are three reasons to #SavetheDennison.

It’s our heritage

The depth and richness of Cincinnati’s history is quite surprising.  It is filled with colorful characters and happenings, as Greg Hand’s excellent blog demonstrates.  When one walks our streets surrounded by historic buildings, it’s impossible not to feel a connection to these past events.  Our history is also marketable, and differentiates us from competitor cities whose growth spurt occurred much closer to the present day.

The Dennsion also has a rich history,  starting with the fact that it was designed by Samuel Hannaford & Sons.  Samuel Hannaford was Cincinnati’s master builder at a time in our history when the city had unbridled self-confidence in ourselves and in our future. Samuel Hannaford’s works most famously include Music Hall and City Hall, but also include Elsinore Castle, Cincinnati Observatory, and a host of churches, apartment buildings, and homes scattered across Cincinnati’s neighborhoods.  Hannaford’s legacy is imprinted onto Cincinnati’s subconscious.

They don’t build ’em like they used to (and they couldn’t if they tried!)

“They don’t build ’em like they used to” isn’t just nostalgia in the case of a building like the Dennison.  Due to legal regulations and financial constraints, building a new structure that is the same size, shape, and scale of the Dennison would be difficult and unlikely in the present day and current environment, let alone a row of buildings like the Dennison forms with its historic neighbors. The Dennison has a narrow width fronting the street, a deep length into the middle of the block, and a tall height. In contrast, a new building designed today would most likely be “scaled up” into a much larger, more square footprint, one reason being because it would probably be required to include parking spaces. (Even if the city waived their minimum parking requirements, financial institutions often won’t lend to a project that doesn’t include parking, irregardless of the amount of parking present in the garages and lots in the surrounding blocks.)

Why does that matter?  In order to create a street that will draw pedestrians, narrower building frontage is important. It holds the pedestrians’ attention, and gives them something new to look at every few seconds (like the Dennison’s beautifully detailed facade.)  This “fine-grained” configuration also favors small businesses.

Historic Conservation Districts should mean something

Fortunately we have already recognized the value in preserving our history, and that’s why we have historic conservation districts.   The current owners of the Dennison, Columbia REI LLC, bought the building in 2013 knowing that it was protected by a historic conservation district.  (An aside: the current owners have owned the building for two and a half years out the Dennison’s 124 years, or just around 2% of its total lifespan.)  They are claiming the numbers don’t work financially to renovate the building, but it’s not clear what historic tax credits have been pursued (virtually standard for a project like this,) and the property has not been listed for sale for another owner to give it a try. Instead they’ve enlisted one of Cincinnati’s most connected lawyers to pursue the path to demolition.  There are no firm plans in place for the redevelopment of the property, so it’s likely the it will end up another surface parking lot and tear in our urban fabric for years to come.

The historic conservation board should reject this application to demolish the Dennison, both to save this building and to show that it takes its mission to protect historic buildings seriously for future cases.

You can click here to join the Facebook group Save the Dennison.

!!!UPDATE!!! The Cincinnati Preservation Collective is raising funds for legal representation to help #SavetheDennison.  You can click here to donate.

!!!UPDATE!!! There is now a petition that you can sign.

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