Threatened: Cincinnati's Gamble House
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Mar. 5, 2010
On a cold winter day in Cincinnati last month, more than 100 people picketed in front of an 1870s Victorian house to protest its potential demolition.
The owner, the Ohio-based nonprofit Greenacres Foundation wants to use the 21-acre property for its nature and arts programs. The foundation applied for a demolition permit last month and six days later filed a lawsuit before the city could complete its 30-day permit process. Greenacres' Feb. 23 suit claims that it is "not economically feasible to repair, restore, and maintain" the Gamble House, built by James N. Gamble, the son of the co-founder of Proctor & Gamble.
Carter Randolph, executive vice president of the Greenacres Foundation, declined to comment for this article, citing pending litigation. A Hamilton County judge has given the city until Mar. 26 to either issue a demolition permit or provide a reason for withholding one.
The 2,644-square-foot Gamble House was last used as a private home in 1961 but was well maintained until 1992. Although the grounds are still occupied by a caretaker, last year the city cited the foundation for peeling paint and broken sidewalks.
Neighbors fear that the house could be razed as early as this month. "It looks like [the Greenacres Foundation] is already prepared for it," says Cincinnati resident Ann Senefeld, noting that members of the Facebook group Save the Historic Gamble Estate Now have noticed telltale signs of imminent demolition, such as marked gas and electric lines.
"To see it being neglected now is sad. It's so beautiful," Senefeld says. "It's been a little contentious in the city."
Letter from the National Trust
"The Gamble House is an exceptionally well-preserved Italianate villa with a wealth of original detailing, including porches, roof brackets, and a mansard-roofed tower," Royce Yeater, director of the Midwest Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, wrote in a letter to Cincinnati's historic conservation board on Feb. 24. "Its location on a partially wooded site evokes the original grounds of the Gamble estate, a rarity in the city today."
More than 1,000 people have signed a petition in favor of saving the house. A local preservation group has offered its help to Greenacres as "an advisor and to assist in rendering a deliverable development assessment for future reuse of the Gamble House," according to a statement from the Cincinnati Preservation Association. "We would be happy to assist the Foundation in finding a use of the house compatible with their vision of outdoor education at the site and their utilization of the other historic outbuildings [a barn and a carriage house] on the property."
Meanwhile, the Westwood Historical Society has filed a report to the city to designate the Gamble House a local historic landmark. "We want the landmark status so that if the community is asked to provide funding resources, that will open us up to state tax credits," says society trustee Greg Kissel, who prepared the report. "If the building is indeed declared a local historic landmark, that gives us some credibility."
Although the designation won't save the house, it could stall demolition, Kissel says. "It's far from over."
For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.