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Over-the-Rhine, sometimes shortened to OTR, is a neighborhood in Cincinnatimarker, Ohiomarker. It is believed to be the largest, most intact urban historic district in the United States. Over-the-Rhine was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 17, 1983 with 943 contributing buildings. Besides being a historic district the neighborhood's arts scene is unparalleled in size and caliber within Cincinnati.

Once the home of nineteenth century German immigrants, by the end of the twentieth century Over-the-Rhine had become known as Cincinnati's most infamous ghetto. Since the late 1970s historic preservationists and low-income housing advocates have been battling over whether the neighborhood should be a "chic" historic district or a sanctuary for the poor. In the 1980s preservationists got Over-the-Rhine listed as a historic district while social activists expanded the number of federally subsidized low-income housing units by the thousands. In the late 1990s Over-the-Rhine's Main Street briefly became the city's premier nightlife destination, but race riots in 2001 and escalating violent crime drove visitors away. In 2006, Over-the-Rhine was listed as one of America's Most Endangered Places because of the alarming rate at which its historic architecture was being destroyed.

The high concentration of low-income housing in Over-the-Rhine exacerbated disinvestment, poverty, and high crime. Large numbers of people left the neighborhood, leaving roughly two out of every three homes vacant or used by squatters. The bankruptcy of the largest low-income housing landlord in the city allowed mix-income development to take off, and in 2008 a local news agency reported a "revival in Over-the-Rhine" due to reinvestment as well as crime reduction in all categories. Today young urban professionals are moving into high-end condos along Vine Street as developers continue to renovate and sell off remodeled historic buildings. The redeveloped areas enjoy low crime while the undeveloped areas still battle with higher crime—largely in the form of illegal drug trade, violence, and prostitution.

Over-the-Rhine has been reputed as Cincinnati's most dangerous neighborhood and, according to one controversial study, the most dangerous neighborhood in the United States. It has polarized Cincinnatians into those who are "wildly enthusiastic" about the redevelopment there, and those who believe the land and its denizens are completely unsalvageable. Since 2004 hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested into revitalization projects, and since 2006 the number of crimes have continuously decreased each year. Over-the-Rhine is bordered by the neighborhoods of Downtown, CUF, Mount Auburnmarker, Pendleton, and the West End.


The neighborhood's distinctive name comes from its builders and early residents, German immigrants, many of whom made a daily trek across bridges over the Miami and Erie Canal which separated the area from downtown Cincinnati. The canal was referred to as "the Rhine" in reference to the Rhine Rivermarker in Germanymarker. So if one needed to go to the German part of town they would need to cross "Over the Rhine."

An early reference to the canal as the "Rhine" appears in an 1852 letter by writer and traveler Theresa Pulszky, in which she wrote, "the Germans live all together across the Miami Canal, which is, therefore, here jocosely called the 'Rhine.'" In his 1875 book Daniel J. Kenny referred to the area exclusively as "Over the Rhine," and noted "Germans and Americans alike love to call the district 'Over the Rhine.'"


German neighborhood

From the first days of Cincinnati there were German immigrants, but they immigrated in large numbers during the 1840s due to revolutionary troubles in Germany and settled north of the recently built Miami and Erie Canal. In 1850 approximately 60 percent of Over-the-Rhine's population consisted of immigrants from various Germanmarker states including Prussia, Bavariamarker, and Saxonymarker. The neighborhood was diverse but took on a "German" character. The new immigrants brought with them a variety of customs, habits, attitudes, and dialects of the German language. They also displayed a range of religions, occupations, and classes, and this diversity characterized the Over-the-Rhine German community for the rest of the century. The community was served by several German newspapers, including the Volksfreund, Volksblatt, and the Freie Presse.

German entrepreneurs gradually built up a profitable brewing industry that became identified with Over-the-Rhine. The brewing industry tended to concentrate along McMicken Avenue and the Miami and Erie canal with the Jackson Brewery, J. G. John & Sons Brewery, Christian Moerlein Brewing Company, and John Kauffman Brewing Company in this area and John Hauck and Windisch-Mulhauser Brewing Companies across the canal in the West End. By 1880 Cincinnati was recognized as the "Beer Capitol of the World," with Over-the-Rhine its center of brewing.

Christian Moerlein Brewery around the turn of the 20th century.
During the nineteenth century most Cincinnatians regarded Over-the-Rhine as the city's premier entertainment district. An 1875 book called Illustrated Cincinnati reads, "Londonmarker has its Greenwichmarker, Parismarker its Boismarker, Viennamarker its Pratermarker, Brusselsmarker its Arcade and Cincinnati its 'Over the Rhine.'" The author writes Over-the-Rhine is where a visitor would go if "he is bent on pleasure and a holiday." He continues, "there is nothing like it in Europe—no transition so sudden, so pleasant, and so easily effected. ... There is nothing comparable to the completeness of the change brought about by stepping across the canal. The visitor leaves behind him at almost a single step the rigidity of the American, the everlasting hurry and worry of the insatiate race for wealth, the inappeasable thirst of Dives, and enters at once into the borders of people more readily happy, more readily contented, more easily pleased, far more closely wedded to music and the dance, to the song, and life in the bright, open air."

Before Cincinnati's incline system was built in the 1870s the city's population density was a staggering 32,000 people per square mile. By contrast, in 2000 Cincinnati's population density was 3,879.8 people per square mile. At the time horsecars were the main form of transportation, but were inadequate for climbing hills because the animals would fatigue and the hills were impossible to climb in bad weather. For the first time Cincinnati's new incline system opened the surrounding hills for settlement, but only for those who could afford the highly demanded land.

Throughout the nineteenth century there were various cholera, small pox, and typhoid fever epidemics that killed thousands and caused much hysteria. Before it was understood how diseases were spread many people believed vapor from the canal caused malaria. (Later this was used as an argument for turning the canal into a subway system and parkway.) In addition to overcrowding and disease those who lived in the basin suffered through floods, open sewers and thick industrial smoke. Unsurprisingly, those who could relocate to the new suburbs in the surrounding hills did so.

The neighborhood, and upper Vine Street in particular, consisted of a large number of saloons, restaurants, shooting galleries, arcades, gambling dens, dance halls, burlesque halls, and theaters. Starting in the 1840s the number of saloons in the area grew steadily. By 1890 Court Street had 34 saloons, Liberty Street 41, Walnut Street and Main Street 55, Central Avenue 100, and Vine Street a remarkable 136 saloons. In 1893 the author of Illustrated Cincinnati recanted his earlier enthusiasm, writing, "All or nearly all the leading characteristics [of Over-the-Rhine] which won for it the appellation have passed away. ... The only thing this section of the city is now noted for besides noisy concert and drinking halls and cheap theaters is the great breweries, for which Cincinnati has become so renowned."

At the turn of the 20th century, the population of the neighborhood reached its height at 45,000 residents and the percentage of German-Americans in Over-the-Rhine also peaked at an estimated 75% of the population. By 1915 all the prosperous people had left for the suburbs, and new immigrants were being drawn to the rapidly growing cities around the Great Lakesmarker region instead of Cincinnati. Over-the-Rhine had become one of several old and declining neighborhoods that formed a ring of slums around the central business district. Many people thought Over-the-Rhine would eventually disappear, swallowed up by the city's growing business district.

Anti-German hysteria

Many German-Americans felt a sense of pride and nationalism for their homeland, and early victories by Germany during World War I were openly celebrated—particularly by Cincinnati's German language newspapers, the Volksblatt and the Freie Presse. Cincinnatians extended their support for Germany with $140,000 raised for German war victims. As the likelihood of the United States entering the war increased, the pro-German rhetoric of Cincinnati's German-American population infuriated xenophobic "nativists." This distrust would later boil over into anti-German hysteria. (It's worth noting that antisemitism was virtually non-existent in Cincinnati as in 1914 Frederick S. Spiegel, a Prussian-born Jew, was elected as Cincinnati's mayor.)

In 1917, the year the United States declared war on Germany, half of all Cincinnatians spoke the German language, and many citizens spoke only German. In 1918, as unnaturalized German men were forced to register as alien enemies, the New York Times wrote, "when one spoke of going 'over the Rhine,' as the canal was called, he meant that he was disappearing into a realm where all English was left behind." An ordinance was passed to change all German street names in the city, so in Over-the-Rhine Bremen Street became Republic Street and Hanover Street became Yukon Street. German schools were closed, German teachers were dismissed and teaching German was banned in all Ohio public schools. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton Countymarker withdrew all German books from its shelves. Many German-Americans changed their names out of fear of persecution, and businesses with German names changed them to stay alive. Cincinnati's German heritage would continue being suppressed until after World War II.

The coup de grâce came in 1919 when Prohibition deemed it illegal to own or brew alcohol. During the war with Germany prohibitionists used the political climate of the day to paint those who opposed prohibition as being "pro-German." With the war still raging Cincinnatians voted in favor of prohibition, as it was common knowledge that Cincinnati's world-class breweries were owned and operated by German-American families. Virtually over night all of the neighborhood's saloons, as well as Over-the-Rhine's nearly 30 breweries were closed. Most businesses tried to limp along by serving or brewing "near beer" and soft drinks, but few survived. By the end of the 1920s the demise of the Cincinnati brewing industry was virtually complete. The three most prominent Cincinnati breweries all fell causality to Prohibition—Moerlein, Hauck, and Windisch-Muhlhauser. In the 1920s a city report noted that the remaining German population had begun migrating to "a hilltop district between Eden Park and Avondale."

Slum clearance attempts

Aerial view of the neighborhood.
The Miami and Erie canal had long become obsolete as a means of transportation, and had been officially abandoned by the city in 1877. For the rest of its life the canal served mostly as an open sewer. In 1920 the canal was drained and construction began on the Cincinnati Subway in the canal bed. Central Parkway, which follows the path of the canal, runs over top of the failed subway system's tunnels, which still exist today.

Starting in the 1920s the city government decided to take drastic, and expensive, efforts to revitalize Cincinnati through slum clearance campaigns. Slums were viewed as cancerous entities that if remained unchecked would infect and destroy nearby neighborhoods. A 1925 master plan called for razing residential buildings in the West End and Over-the-Rhine and rezoning the basin for commercial, industrial, and civic uses only. However, the stock market crash and Great Depression convinced the Planning Commission to delay the elimination of residential housing from the basin.

In the 1930s there were several attempts to secure loans for the clearance of the West End and Over-the-Rhine, but all failed due to lack of local financing. By the 1950s slum clearance was ruled out because it too closely resembled the social engineering practices committed by the Nazi and Sovietmarker governments against their own people. Instead, civic theories evolved and Over-the-Rhine was rethought as a historic area worth preserving and converting into a "chic" downtown neighborhood.

Appalachian neighborhood

In the 1940s a booming war-stimulated economy drew hundreds of thousands of migrants from Appalachia to cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. In the 1950s, the automation of mining and the popularity of oil made the demand for coal sharply drop. In search of work coal miners from Kentuckymarker and West Virginiamarker flocked to the inner cities and settled in neighborhoods like Lower Price Hill and Over-the-Rhine. Both neighborhood's were adjacent to the highly industrialized Mill Creek Valley, where work was literally within walking distance.

In the 1960s the "mountaineers" were so prevalent in the neighborhood that there were plans to use Over-the-Rhine as a "port of entry" for all white Appalachian migrants. Appalachians were seen as a unique ethnic group with special needs that suffered from prejudices and negative stereotypes just as other minority groups. Some Appalachians struggled in the inner-city due to indifference towards formal education, suspicion of modern medical pactices, pride in poverty as a religious virtue, and racial prejudices. To showcase mountain culture and handicrafts the first Cincinnati Appalachian Festival was held at Music Hallmarker in 1971. The festival is still held annually, although it moved to Coney Island due to its growth in size.

African-American neighborhood

African-American Population Growth in Over-the-Rhine
Year Total Pop. Black Pop. Black %
1960 30,000 2,720 9%
1970 16,363 6,783 42%
1980 12,355 7,869 63%
1990 9,572 6,835 71%
2000 7,638 5,974 78%
Construction of the Mill Creek Expressway wiped out portions of the historically black West End neighborhood, displacing over 50,000 predominantly black and low-income residents. Some of those filled vacancies among the poor and working-class Appalachians in Over-the-Rhine, resulting in turf wars between blacks and young Appalachians that occurred so often police worried a race riot would erupt.

Rioting by blacks in the late 1960s contributed to the 50% drop in Over-the-Rhine's population between 1960 and 1970. By the 1970s African-American influence in Over-the-Rhine was growing and the likelihood of an ethnic "Appalachian Over-the-Rhine" faded. Appalachians and blacks both lobbied city hall for the future of Over-the-Rhine, but Appalachians lacked the long history of racial oppression in Cincinnati that the local African-Americans had. Public programs would place control of Over-the-Rhine in the hands of its poor and increasingly black population.

Rival factions emerge

In the 1950s and 1960s many social service facilities were built in Over-the-Rhine while the city government focused on redevelopment projects in the central business district. By the late 1970s the city was ready to reinvest in Over-the-Rhine through historic preservation and bring back more affluent residents. However, this plan was met by stiff opposition from community organizers who saw it as a way to involuntarily uproot the poor and push them out of their homes and neighborhood. They believed mixed-income neighborhoods and gentrification would eventually displace the poor due to higher rents and would inflict "psychological, social, and economic stress and family strains."

Buddy Gray, the Drop Inn Center homeless shelter owner known in City Hall for an "in-your-face, shout-them-down style of confrontation," emerged as the leader of the anti-displacement faction and the dominant voice in the neighborhood. Gray greatly desired the expansion of low-income housing in Over-the-Rhine as a way to combat involuntary displacement. His allies saw him as a "charitable humanitarian friend of the homeless," but his enemies saw "a poverty pimp" who wanted to turn Over-the-Rhine into a "super ghetto." Allies of Gray's faction included the Over-the-Rhine Community Council, the Drop Inn Center, ReSTOC, the Coalition for the Homeless, and the Peaslee Neighborhood Coalition.

Historical preservationists, the other faction, saw Over-the-Rhine as an "irreplaceable architectural and historic resource" and wanted it added to the National Register of Historic Places to help protect it. Preservationists argued that displacement was caused by disinvestment (not reinvestment), that displacement did not automatically follow a National Register listing as Gray's faction claimed, and that with a 24% vacancy rate in Over-the-Rhine there was room for middle and upper-income housing. Additionally, they showed the National Register listing provided one of the few sources of funds for subsidizing low-income housing. Furthermore, retaining Over-the-Rhine as a racial and low-income enclave violates federal law, and a city council resolution favored racial and class balance in all neighborhoods. Allies of this faction included the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, businesses, and real-estate developers.

National register controversy

In 1980, at the public hearing for Over-the-Rhine's nomination into the National Register of Historic Places, Buddy Gray rallied some 250 protesters to the event where he blasted urban renewal as "negro removal." There Gray and his allies were able to force a three year delay on the Register's decision. In 1983 Gray used powerful political allies to lobby the National Register's board members, which resulted in Over-the-Rhine being rejected from the Register by a narrow 8 to 7 vote. However, supporters of historic designation appealed the board's decision to the keeper of the National Register, Carol Shull, who favored adding Over-the-Rhine to the Register. Despite several last-minute derailment attempts by Gray, Over-the-Rhine was added to the National Register in May 1983. Poverty, crime, and demolitions escalated while the neighborhood's factions battled over historical designation status.

1985 low-income housing plan

An abandoned and blighted building at 1527 Elm Street.
Buddy Gray, having lost the National Register battle, vowed to make the expansion of low-income housing in Over-the-Rhine his top priority. In 1985 Gray pushed an "urban renewal plan" through city council that he presented as "a compromise" that would allow some upper-income residents to settle in the neighborhood. Out of Over-the-Rhine's 11,000 possible housing units, the plan guaranteed "a minimum of 5,520 units" of low-income housing created to prevent the displacement of the poor. That figure was almost identical to the number of occupied units. Public money would not be spent on upper income housing until the "5,520" goal was met, and a housing retention ordinance meant low-income housing could not be torn down unless it was replaced.

By this time the idea of poverty as a problem in Over-the-Rhine was ironically no longer debated, and the corrosive effect on race-relations and morale of the mostly African-American poor was virtually ignored. Jim Tarbell, "the most adamant and voluble opponent" of Gray's plan, had warned that it guaranteed the persistence of Over-the-Rhine as "a predominantly black enclave of poverty and despair," but City Council ignored him because they believed Gray's assertion that the plan was a compromise. Over the next seven years the plan failed to produce balance in its residential population, nor did it attract commercial or industrial initiatives. By 1990 Over-the-Rhine contained 2,500 government-subsidized low-income housing units (compared to virtually none in 1970) and had become one of the most economically distressed areas in the United States. The neighborhood had an extremely high poverty and unemployment rate, with the median household income of about $5,000 a year. An estimated 84-percent of its residents were classified as low income, and over 95% of all housing units were rentals.

No one seriously challenged the 1985 plan until 1992, when Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) denounced Over-the-Rhine as being on a path towards a "permanent low income, one-race ghetto—a stagnant, decaying 'reservation' for the poor at the doorstep to downtown." Furthermore, HOME strongly challenged Gray's assertion that the poor had chosen their lifestyle, arguing that some wanted to move up the socioeconomic ladder. In 1993 Over-the-Rhine's housing policy was changed after several small-business owners filed a lawsuit, calling the policy "racial and economic segregation." The city settled out of court and agreed to eliminate low-income housing asOver-the-Rhine's top priority. Gray's faction responded with hostility, and unsuccessfully argued that integration of Over-the-Rhine by class and race was a violation of their civil rights.

Main Street and Digital Rhine

In the 1980s struggling, predominately white artists discovered Main Street's vacant buildings and cheap rents. A bar and nightclub called "Neon's" opened on Main Street in 1984, which would grow in popularity and serve as the catalyst for the Main Street Entertainment District that "blossomed" in the 1990s. One by one coffee shops, galleries, breweries, and bars began opening on the six blocks between Central Parkway and Liberty Street. Main Street was full of artists and had a thriving arts scene, but they were eventually displaced to Northsidemarker after the street's growing popularity enticed landlords to raise rents. At its height Main Street's numerous clubs, restaurants, and bars attracted nearly a million visitors a year. Locals had mixed reactions to the change with some complaining that the young, primarily white bar hoppers from the suburbs trashed, abused, and disrespected the street while others saw the 1990s as Main Street's "Golden Era." By the late 1990s there were about 19 clubs and bars on Main Street.

In 1996 the city was stunned by the murder-robbery of a popular, young white musician in a parking lot after his performance. Locals acted quickly to protect Main Street's image as a safe destination, although the highly publicized shooting has been cited as the beginning of Main Street's decline. Annually, the street hosted Jammin' on Main, which featured nationally known bands. During a Seven Mary Three show in 1996 a rowdy crowd of mosh-pitters tore down a "flimsy" barrier in front of the stage. Cincinnati police in riot gear stopped the show and "pepper-gassed anyone who seemed reluctant to leave." Also in 1996, Buddy Gray was shot to death by a mentally-ill homeless man whom he had helped. After Gray's death the city formed the bi-partisan Over-the-Rhine Coalition, which would work to mitigate between the warring neighborhood factions.

During the late 1990s Main Street became the center of Cincinnati's dot-com boom, mostly due to its cheap rents and proximity to Main Street's non-tech businesses. Nicknamed "Digital Rhine," the area had at least ten Internet startups, and one startup sold to eBay in 1999 for $85 million. Digital Rhine slowly disappeared after the dot-com bubble burst in 2001. One by one most of Main Street's businesses closed or relocated following the 2001 riots and the economic downturn that followed the September 11 attacks.

2001 race riots and aftermath

The influx of wealthier residents onto "the city's most crime-ridden turf" and growing drug activity led to a dramatic increase in police presence. Critics accused police of harassing the neighborhood's black youths, and being more concerned about the white club-hoppers and house-renovators than Over-the-Rhine's poor black residents. Over-policing, a racial profiling lawsuit, and the killing of four black suspects since November 2000 led to a high level of distrust between the black community and police.

On April 7, 2001, at approximately 2 a.m. a white Cincinnati police officer chased a wanted 19-year-old African-American into an "extremely dark" breezeway. The officer thought the man had reached for a weapon so he shot him in the chest, killing him, although no weapon was found. This was the fifteenth time a black man had been killed by police in six years, although police argue in most of those cases officers were protecting themselves or others from attack.

A few days later 200 outraged African-Americans took over a meeting in City Hall and threatened to bar the doors. For three hours they pummeled City Council with angry accusations, threats, claims of a police cover-up, and physically pushed and shoved a member of Council until they moved to the District 1 police station. For an hour they threw stones and bottles at police in riot gear and smashed in the station's front door before police opened fire with bean bags, rubber bullets, and tear gas.

Over the next three days violent protesters rampaged through Over-the-Rhine and Downtown. They threw bricks through car windows, targeted and beat white motorists, smashed storefronts and looted businesses, set dozens of fires throughout the city, shot at police, and more. Main Street was targeted by rioters, according to some of the businesses there. Of those who were arrested for rioting, 70% were not residents of Over-the-Rhine, and 86% were African-American males. The total cost of damage to the city was at least $13.7 million.

The riots, the largest urban disorder in the United States since the Los Angeles riots of 1992, effectively killed the Over-the-Rhine renaissance of the late 1990s and set the neighborhood back a decade. Police, who felt scapegoated as the cause of the riots, began an unofficial "work slowdown" where they made far fewer arrests and some began looking for jobs in the suburbs. Crime increased by double digits and within months of the unrest nearly 20% of Section 8 voucher holders left Over-the-Rhine. The following year a crowd of "300 black people," which had initially formed to watch a fight, blocked Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine while there were "attacks on cars driven by white people." Businesses moved to other neighborhoods because customers were too frightened to visit Over-the-Rhine, and Main Street lost much of its nightlife to places like Newportmarker, Northsidemarker, and Hyde Parkmarker.

Vine Street and urban renewal

After the 2001 riots "a huge number of people" left Over-the-Rhine, leaving 500 of the neighborhood's 1,200 buildings vacant and property values extremely low. In 2003 a key impediment to market-rate housing was removed when a recently bankrupt Tom Denhart auctioned off his "empire" of 1,600 low-income apartments. Cincinnati's corporate and philanthropic elite began buying and rehabbing entire blocks at a time, with the largest player being the nonprofit Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). Since 2004, 3CDC has invested $84 million in 152 seriously deteriorated buildings and 165 vacant parcels. As of April 2009, 70% of the 100 condos in 3CDC's Gateway Quarter have been sold, with 80% of the buyers being 35 years old or younger.

In 2004 the Art Academy of Cincinnati moved from its Mount Adamsmarker location to 12th and Jackson streets in Over-the-Rhine. A new building for the School for Creative and Performing Artsmarker has been built at Elm street and Central Parkway with plans to open in 2010. Upon its completion, the $80 million facility will be the only K-12 arts school in the United States. The Emery Theatremarker, which hosted many of the greatest performing artists of the early twentieth century, is undergoing a $3 million renovation and is expected to reopen in 2011. The first Cincinnati streetcar line since the 1950s has been approved and will run through downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Based on the Portland model, it is estimated that this streetcar line would generate $1.9 billion in benefits for the city. A $14 million expansion and renovation of Washington Park is also planned, including an $18 million underground parking garage. Cincinnati Public Schools is renovating the historic Rothenburg School at East Clifton Avenue and Main Street to replace the school that was razed at Washington Park.


The amount of serious crime in Over-the-Rhine (blue) has decreased since 2006, but crime still remains higher than the citywide neighborhood average (red).
In February 2006 the city reported that Over-the-Rhine had the highest crime rate out of all the city's neighborhoods. Between 2001 and 2006 Over-the-Rhine had the highest number of calls for police service—more than twice the next highest neighborhood. It experienced 606 violent crimes in 2005 whereas no other Cincinnati neighborhood exceeded 243—the average for all other neighborhoods was 65 violent crimes. Also in 2005 Over-the-Rhine experienced 350 robberies, whereas the average for all other neighborhoods was 38. According to Cincinnati Police, 80% of the suspects arrested in Over-the-Rhine do not live in the community, and the majority of violent crimes in Over-the-Rhine are drug-related.

The number of serious crimes plateaued from 2002 to 2005, after which crime began decreasing at a rapid pace. In 2006 sheriff's deputies were brought in to help patrol the neighborhood. The decrease has been credited to the redevelopment of the area, the increase in population, and the intense presence of the police and sheriff's deputies. Operation Vortex and Ceasefire, a program that reaches out to gang members, were also credited with helping decrease crime. In the summer of 2006 police assembled an élite sixty-man crimefighting squad code-named Vortex. The Vortex unit made "zero tolerance" sweeps of high-crime areas arresting people not just for serious crimes but also for misdemeanors, like jaywalking and loitering. In its first 25 days the unit made 1,000 arrests. At 12th and Vine streets, sometimes called the Gateway Quarter, there were once five-hundred calls to 9-1-1, but in the first six months of 2009 there were no calls for emergency. A business owner reported that pan handling and shoplifting in his store dropped 90 percent after he moved from the Central Business District to Over-the-Rhine. Through July 29 of 2009 crime in Over-the-Rhine was down 22% when compared to the same period in 2008.

In 2009 a website, using data collected from 2005 to 2007, ranked a section of Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street as, statistically, the "most dangerous neighborhood in the United States." Critics, however, argue that the statistic is "intellectually dishonest" because the data selected to represent Over-the-Rhine focused on a "mostly vacant industrialized strip," and the data used by the website was "old." In July 2009 a rise in prostitution was reported along McMicken Avenue, although police believe real-estate development is pushing the women out of other parts of Over-the-Rhine into a smaller area. Playing off the neighborhood's reputation for high crime, a television crime series was independently filmed by local Cincinnatians in Over-the-Rhine with plans to release the series on DVD.


Most of Over-the-Rhine's ornate brick buildings were built by German immigrants from 1865 to the 1880s. The architecture of Over-the-Rhine reflects the diverse styles of the late nineteenth century—simple vernacular, muted Greek Revival, Italianate and Queen Anne. Most of the buildings in Over-the-Rhine are one of these styles, but there are other odd balls as well. Art Deco is represented by the American Building on Central Parkway, the Germania Building at Twelfth and Walnut streets is ironically one of the few examples of German ornamentation in the neighborhood, Music Hall's mixture of styles is best described as Venetian Gothic, there are a handful of buildings with Gothic architecture, and the new SCPAmarker on Central Parkway is the most notable example of Modern architecture in the neighborhood.

File:Germania-Building-front.jpg|The Germania Building (German architecture)File:Cincinnati-Music-Hall-entrance.jpg|Music Hall (Venetian Gothic)File:HamiltonCountyMemorial.jpg|Memorial Hall (Greek Revival)File:OTR-1207-Elm-Street-Building.jpg|Elaborate ornamentation of an Elm Street building.File:OTR-Rounded-Window-Cornices.jpg|Rounded window cornices are a common feature of Italianate architecture.File:OTR-Italianate-brownstone.jpg|Italianate brownstone at Clay and 13th Streets.File:American-Building-entrance.jpg|Entrance to the American Building (Art Deco)File:OTR-Hanke-Building.jpg|Hanke Building on Main Street detail (Beaux-Arts architecture)


Empty buildings on Vine Street.
Since 1930, approximately half of Over-the-Rhine's historic buildings have been destroyed with more to follow if nothing is done to repair currently deteriorating buildings. For example, the theater where Buffalo Bill met his wife fell into disrepair, so it was turned into a parking lot. Between 2001 and 2006 there were over 50 avoidable "emergency demolitions," which were caused by absentee landlords allowing their buildings to become so critically dilapidated that the city declared them a danger to the public. This led the National Trust for Historic Preservation to declare Over-the-Rhine as one of Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places in 2006. As of 2009, approximately 66% of the buildings in Over-the-Rhine are vacant and sporadically house vagrants, prostitutes, addicts and drug dealers. Many buildings are on the verge of collapse, so investors and real-estate developers are racing to restore these buildings before they decay to the point that they must be demolished.

Many people today still consider Over the Rhine as a scary area of town. The reputaion of this area has not been retrieved since the race riots of 2001.


Most of Over-the-Rhine's landmarks are related to the arts and are clustered in one area near Downtown.

Map of Over-the-Rhine


In 2001 there were an estimated 500 vacant buildings in Over-the-Rhine with 2,500 residential units. Of those residential units 278 were condemned as uninhabitable. Also in 2001 the owner-occupancy rate was between 3 and 4 percent compared to the city-wide rate of 39 percent. According to the "Drilldown", a comprehensive analysis of the city's actual population and demographics conducted in 2007, OTR's current population is just 4,900 people in an area of 0.64 square miles.

As of the census of 2000, the racial makeup of Over-the-Rhine was 19.4% Caucasian, 76.9% African American, and less than 4% of other races. 0.6% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

The neighborhood's residents compose roughly 1.2% of the population of the City of Cincinnati, but bear the costs and social burdens of housing a clear majority of Hamilton County's homeless population.

Community organizations

Historic churches



  1. Over-the-Rhine Foundation. Guide to OTR Architecture. Accessed on 2009-08-13.
  2. Over the Rhine :: Arts & Play. Accessed on 2009-08-19.
  3. Over-the-Rhine Foundation. OTR History. Accessed on June 13, 2009.
  4. National Trust for Historic Preservation, 11 Most Endangered: Over-the-Rhine Neighborhood. Accessed on June 13, 2009.
  5. Kenny (1875), pg. 130.
  6. Greve 1904, pg. 728.
  7. Kenny (1875), pg. 129.
  8. Goss 1912, pg. 9.
  9. Greve 1904, pg. 686
  10. Gieck (1992) pg. 125
  11. Miller and Tucker 1999, pg. 1
  12. History of the Brewery District. Accessed on 5/24/2009.
  13. Greve 1904, pg. 879.
  14. Grace and White 2003, pg. 29.
  15. NKU History and Geography Department. Historical Atlas of Cincinnati: The Relationship Between Transportation and Urban Growth in Cincinnati. Accessed on 2009-04-05.
  16. Greve (1904), pg. 587
  17. Greve (1904), pg. 721
  18. Greve (1904), pg. 849
  19. Greve (1904), pg. 876
  20. Greve (1904), pg. 951
  21. Grace and White 2003, pg. 40.
  22. Singer 2003, p.18.
  23. Miller and Tucker 1999, pg. 5
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