Former Boss Cox home to become new Clifton Library Branch

The Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County will move its Clifton Branch from Ludlow Avenue to Parkview Manor nearby.  The $3.5 million project will require a full renovation of the 1895 home for notorious Cincinnati politician George Barnsdale “Boss” Cox.

Once the home of arguably Cincinnati’s most influential politician, the 10,000 square-foot Parkview Manor was designed by the famed Samuel Hannaford and is located directly across from Burnet Woods near the intersection of Brookline, Wentworth and Jefferson avenues (map).  Hannaford’s trademark use of limestone coursing and geometrically shaped rooms are visible here.  The architect’s firm, Hannaford and Sons, completed over 300 buildings in the Cincinnati area, including both Music Hall and City Hall.

Boss Cox meanwhile was known for controlling the goings on in Cincinnati through the Reform movement of the late 1800s. While his methods of governance were dictatorial and corrupt, Cox also made contributions to the city, including street cleaning and developing the plan for the ill-fated subway system.

The existing Clifton Branch of the Public Library is currently one of the busiest, and smallest, in the entire county-wide system. Its location on Ludlow Avenue does not have a dedicated meeting space, yet last year the branch presented 232 programs which were attended by 5,281 people.  The programs included a wide variety of topics including a weekly preschool story time and an English as a second language conversation group.

Circulation at the Clifton Branch has increased more than 12 percent over the past four years, which library officials believe is evidence that demand for the library is far exceeding the current capacity. The new location would be four times the size of the current building on Ludlow Avenue.  The new facility would also allow for a larger material collection space, more computer space, a dedicated children’s area, program room, teen area, and an easily accessible location with 16 parking spots in an extremely walkable neighborhood.

In order to make this dream a reality, library officials need to raise $3.5 million to renovate Parkview Manor and complete the move.  The library is actively seeking contributions for this project, and those interested in helping can contact development director John Reusing at (513) 369-4591 or through the project’s web page.

  • when this was still a fraternity i called this building “frat castle”. ha ha.

  • Drew, was this the frat that once had a sand volleyball court in the front yard along Jefferson Avenue?

  • Different frat. The one you’re thinking of is farther up on Jefferson, near Bishop and pretty close to Lighthouse Youth Services.

  • Cool. One quibble – wouldn’t it be fair to call the ill-fated subway system more of a “boondoggle” than a contribution from the Cox era?

  • I wouldn’t say so Joe, because so many things were involved in preventing the subway from being completed. Jake Mecklenborg has authored a book about this, and much more, that will be published later in the year that chronicles the whole thing.

    Had it been shear ineptitude, or a bad project scope that cause the subway to not be completed then the use of “boondoggle” would be appropriate I guess. But the reality is anything but that.

  • I look out for that book.

    It’s far enough in the past that most just consider the subway interesting history now. But, I think it’s fair to say that the project was a waste from the start due to the scope. A subway is way to capital intensive to be worthwhile in a city with the density and property values of Cincinnati. Can you point to a similar sized city that had success with a subway system? I don’t have a comprehensive list, but Buffalo, Rochester, and Cleveland come to mind. I think it’s fair to say that subway construction in those cities was a terrible waste and drain on the city budget which contributed to each’s long-run decline. …That’s part of why (hopefully!) spending a billion or so burying rail is inconsiderable now. In hindsight, it should have been so in the Boss Cox era too.

  • You can add Atlanta to that list too (btw, Pittsburgh and St. Louis also have small subway segments). Atlanta’s density and property values have only started to increase in the last two decades, and at the time of construction, MARTA was no where near positioned as well as Cincinnati’s subway when it was meant to be completed.

    Subway construction today is fairly incomprehensible due to the lack of considerable federal government contributions. Atlanta’s system was one of the last to get mega federal aid to offset the capital costs of the heavy rail system. As a result, most cities are now building less expensive light rail systems that do not require costly grade separation.

    When compared with those cities building light rail today, Cincinnati stands very well when looking at densities and property values (assuming high property values are even a requisite for a successful transit system). Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Portland, Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte all have less densely built urban environments due to the fact that they are newer cities and saw their growth occur during the automobile era. Cincinnati’s built urban environment is primarily only rivaled by the large East Coast metropolises and a few others like Chicago and San Francisco.

  • Ryan Lammi

    I don’t know about joe, but I sure wouldn’t try to argue subways with Randy. Though I’m not sure this is the place to argue about it… I will say that the library’s current location is very convenient and it is a shame it can’t stay quite as well integrated with the community… Still looking forward to the new building anyway though.

  • Consultants told Cincinnati the city had the bare minimum population needed to sustain a subway but the geography lent itself to a system. They assumed the population would increase & even without the subway it did.
    I forget if I got this out of Alan Singer’s book. I am looking forward to Mecklenborg’s book.
    I think the old house will be a good fit for the library. Better than the little storefront it’s in now.

  • Joe

    We’re driving this thread pretty far off track… I’m a little surprised I got push back on my initial snark because it seems evident to me, but I agree with Ryan that you are unmistakably knowledgeable about rail. I’ve written a bit about this, so here are my pseudo-economic arguments:

    Atlanta operates in a very different climate (literally) from Midwestern cities. Nonetheless, I think it’s telling that looking at Wikipedia their growth does not seem to correspond with the introduction of a subway in 1979 ( and isn’t the theory that growth should occur before w/ anticipated development along the route). So, it looks like it’s something other than the urban transport that’s driving growth (especially given the spread-out nature of the city, as you mention). That point is obvious when you look at those other fast growing cities cited near the end of your comment. They all relied on autos for their growth and grew at a similar if not faster clip. I think this is just because the general economic policies are better in those states (to cite my own data post

    You need to compare cities in similar regions to see the net effect of rail and the corresponding debt/taxes. I agree that the comparisons to Pittsburgh and St. Louis are relevant. I would compare Cincinnati to other cities in the region, which operate under relatively similar conditions. About half the largest Midwestern cities have made large investments in rail transport and the other half have relied on cars & buses. Two pretty perfect sample groups. To vainly cite myself again, I ran the numbers on an old post at my blog 😉 ( The data seems overwhelming. Those cities without of rail have grown at a significantly faster pace. So, rail (even when somewhat subsidized by the federal government) appears to be a drag on growth.

    With the much higher capital costs, the burden of subways is the worst – And indeed, the midsized cities of St. Louis and Pittsburgh have lost a combined 15% of their population since 1990. Maybe Cincinnati would have ended up better, but that’s doubtful. If subways were worthwhile investment for the cities, shouldn’t cities be willing totally finance the investment as they will capture all the rewards? The fact that no mid-sized cities are doing this leads to the conclusion that cities believe they are not worth it (except in a few cities like NYC and maybe Chicago).

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    This looks like it will be a terrific project, although it looks like the public will end up paying twice for it — both to build it in the 1890’s with stolen public funds and now to buy it again. Incidentally the house right next door (also vacant at present) was built by Frank Krug, who was City Engineer for about fifteen years and was central to the subway story. He was a bit of a fat cat as it appears his assistant did most of the work, took his place at meetings, etc.

    Cox and hia machine, to their credit, were not violent, at least in public. They probably got their gambling people to carry out hits and other dirty work, and were effective in denying the Ku Klux Klan a foothold in Cincinnati during their early 1900’s revival and period as a mainstream political force.

    The downfall of the subway project in the 1920’s is a very complicated story. To a large extent it was caused by changes in state law which limited Ohio cities to ridiculously low property tax rates and the shift of union station plans from the Cincinnati riverfront to the much cheaper West End site. Cox died in 1916 and his #2 and #3 men both died before 1930, meaning there was nobody left to challenge the Seasongood-led government after they were booted in January 1926.

  • ross

    Come on Randy, you should know where this house is. Shame on you.
    I may be the only one who feels this way but… This house was built as a house. It should remain a house. There are other houses this big that people actually live in in the area so it is not like there wouldn’t be someone who would want to buy it and live in it. I feel sorry for the neighbors behind it on Wentworth(?) The great house on the corner behind this one is already up for sale. The park site would have been ideal but that didn’t work out for some reason. Why couldn’t a new one level library be built over the Merchant lot? 3.5 million could get something new started. And it would be more centrally located, not shuffled down the road into someones living room, dining room and bedrooms. The house will never be the same after it is “renovated”. Yes, sometimes a round peg can be made to fit into a square hole, but it just isn’t right.
    OK, so yell at me.
    To JM: the house is being gifted to the library. The 3.5 is for converting it.