Over the weekend I had a cousin’s meetup to plan our upcoming family reunion. The restaurant where we chose to meet was near my father’s childhood home. So, for a bit of personal reminiscence, I drove by what I knew of as Grandma’s house and explored her North College Hill neighborhood. The neighborhood has undergone some changes in the 25 years since we sold her house. But, there are still a lot of architectural remnants of the past. Interestingly enough, a lot of them are food related.
As a fan of preservation, and adaptive reuse, it’s fun to explore old neighborhoods to discover original uses of adapted buildings. There are a lot of those adapted buildings in the old neighborhood, many hidden in plain sight.
My paternal grandparents built their house on Betts Avenue in North College Hill in 1928, just before the Great Depression, with three young kids under the age of 5. It was a modest, but modern house – indoor plumbing, a modern coal furnace, two bedrooms, and a phone line. With the help of a brother-in-law who needed a job, my grandfather built another modern convenience, a garage, for their Model A Ford.
Businesses quickly popped up around them to service this new influx of young, aspiring, middle class families. But a lot of those business are now gone. Even the old Catholic school, St. Margaret Mary, where habited nuns tormented my father and his siblings, is now consolidated with three other parish schools.
The oldest surviving business is the North College Hill Bakery, built and opened in 1933. The growing neighborhood needed a good source of bread. And, when my young father and his classmates were let out of daily morning mass, it was where they got a pastry to break their fast before running back to their first class. The bakery is still going gangbusters – with longtime customers and young new arrivals lining up to buy their sweet delicacies. Its architecture harkens back to the art deco era, with streamlined, polished metallic flashing, and a sign with a portly cartoon baker holding a cake. What looks like the original sign, with a loaf of bread logo, still hangs from the original front facade. When I stepped in to observe and smell, I was shoulder to shoulder with customers, all getting their large bakery orders for the weekend. A special on Butter Krust bread had brought in a lot of customers. I bought a half loaf of their onion rye, which was fantastic – there’s nothing better than bakery bread.
On the corner a block away from Grandma’s house was Wilson’s corner grocery and meat market. This was where Dad would stop on his walk home from school to pick up the dinner meat order for my Grandma. It was where Grandpa got his Hamilton and Leona metts, and his favorite Fresca soft drink. Before large refrigerators were common, most folks went to the meat market on a daily basis. Now it’s a two family rental, but its architecture stands out in a street of one and a half story family houses. It’s clear that the first floor aluminum siding is covering up an original storefront. The centered door and flanking showcase windows also point out at one time a sign with the store name hung over it.
The old corner grocery store on Betts Avenue.
As the children of the 1930s home builders grew into high school and dating age, the fast food burger craze hit North College Hill. There’s an architectural clue to one of these long gone burger joints around the corner on Goodman and Hamilton Avenue. On that corner a very prominent barn like structure now houses a drive-up dry cleaners. But during the fifties and sixties it housed a fast food burger joint called Red Barn, that had a couple of locations throughout Cincinnati. For a quarter in the fifties you could get their Big Barney double decker burger, a Big Boy knockoff, and eat it in your car there at the carhop.
One historic sign from a long operating business, Budna Bar and Grill, no longer lights West Galbraith Road. The neon sign that once greeted patrons is now preserved as part of the display of local businesses at the Sign Museum in Camp Washington. Built in 1928 as a car dealership, it became the Budna Bar & Grill in 1939, under the ownership of Bud Schlewinsky, the name a combo of he and his wife Edna’s names. It had a good run and became Van Zandt’s Restaurant in 2008, and then became Swad Indian Restaurant in 2014. Grandma would certainly not recognize vindaloo or tandoori.
I also remember the sign of a long gone local pizza joint, Germantown Pizza, that was also on West Galbraith. Grandma used to stop there on Sundays after mass for a coffee and a piece of their fantastic cheesecake. Their St. Bernard location, also gone, was a high school haunt for me.
The Angry Kraut logo of Germantown Pizza.
Many old Cincinnati neighborhoods have similar hidden food architecture like North College Hill, that house the stories of restaurants gone by.