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Our Rich History: Appreciating those fascinating skyscrapers, offering treasure trove of views, history

Covington's Coppin Building

Covington’s Coppin Building

By Paul A. Tenkotte
Special to the NKYTribune

It’s Saturday, July 18, and my friend and colleague, Chris Smith of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and I just finished leading a 2-hour walking tour of Downtown Cincinnati skyscrapers for the Taft Museum.

The tour was limited to 25, and despite the 90 degree weather (and a heat index of 101), everyone survived intact and seemed to enjoy themselves.

The PNC building.

The PNC building.

We began at the venerable Taft Museum, built circa 1820 for Martin Baum, and then enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Lytle Park area, home of the very beginnings of Cincinnati. Next, we proceeded down “Fashionable Fourth Street” and eventually worked our way up to Sixth Street.

For architecture, art, and history lovers, Cincinnati is a treasure trove of intact skyscrapers, both historic and modern. You would have to visit Chicago or New York City to experience anything comparable to the range of styles and periods of skyscraper construction Cincinnati has to offer, as well as the number of buildings designed by nationally and internationally known architects.

Let’s start with one of my personal favorites, the PNC Building on the southwest corner of Fourth and Vine Streets. When it was constructed in 1913, it was the 5th tallest building in the world and the tallest skyscraper outside of New York City. Designed by Cass Gilbert, along with the Cincinnati firm of Garber and Woodward, it was built as the home of the Union Central Life Insurance Company. An addition to the south, by Garber and Woodward, followed in 1927. Cass Gilbert was a famous American architect, known for his design of the Woolworth Building in New York City, which was the world’s tallest skyscraper when completed in 1913.



On the northeast corner of Fourth and Vine is the Ingalls Building, built in 1902-04, and designed by the architectural firm of Elzner and Anderson. It was the world’s first reinforced-concrete skyscraper. The contractor was the Ferro Concrete Company, which also built the new home of Coppin’s Department Store in Covington. Designed by James Gilmore and completed in 1910, Coppin’s became the first reinforced-concrete skyscraper in Kentucky.

The corner of Fourth and Walnut is an historic skyscraper destination. On the northwest corner is the old Bartlett Building, once the home of the Cincinnati Stock Exchange and recently beautifully restored as the Renaissance Hotel. Built in 1901 as the headquarters of the Union Savings Bank and Trust, it was designed by the famous American architect Daniel Burnham. Burnham was the major site planner of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and was well known as a premier city planner and skyscraper architect. Burnham’s firm also designed the building’s west addition, completed in 1914.



Cincinnati is blessed with four downtown Burnham skyscrapers. The other three are the Fourth and Walnut Centre on the southeast corner of Fourth and Walnut, built in 1904 for the First National Bank, the old Fourth National Bank Building (built 1905; next door to the Bartlett Building on Fourth St.), and the Tri-State Building on the southeast corner of Fifth and Walnut, built in 1902 for the Cincinnati Traction Company.

Next to the Tri-State Building, on Walnut St., is the venerable Mercantile Library Building, designed by local architect Joseph Steinkamp and built in 1902. Interestingly, the Mercantile Library, one of the oldest subscription libraries in the nation, holds a 10,000-year lease on the building, for $1 per year.

On the southwest corner of Fourth and Main is the Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company building, constructed in 1930 and designed by Garber and Woodward, with the assistance of John Russell Pope. Pope is known for his design of a number of Washington, DC landmarks, including the Jefferson Memorial, the National Archives, and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.


Tri-State’s Traction Building

Another of my personal favorites is the Gwynne Building, on the northeast corner of Sixth and Main Streets. Completed in 1914, it was designed by the famous American architect Ernest Flagg. Flagg was the architect of the Singer Building in New York City (demolished), as well as the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Next week: From the Carew Tower to the Great American Tower

Paul A. Tenkotte is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Public History at NKU. With other well-known regional historians, James C. Claypool and David E. Schroeder, he is a co-editor of the new 450-page Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015, now available at your local booksellers, the Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington and online sellers. Our Rich History is a regular feature of the NKyTribune.


Gwynne Building

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