Jake Robinson on His Hometown and Its Rapidly Changing Center City

NBC Universal reached out to UrbanCincy last week asking if we would be interested in conducting an interview with Jake Robinson – a Cincinnati native now living in New York City as a professional actor.

He stars in NBC’s new television series, American Odyssey, which follows the journey of a group of three strangers navigating their way through global politics, corporate espionage, and military secrets in an effort to uncover the truth behind an international conspiracy.

While UrbanCincy does not typically cover entertainment news, we wanted to take the opportunity to gauge Robinson’s thoughts on his hometown. The following interview was conducted by email and has been published with minor editing for formatting purposes.

Randy Simes: How would you describe your upbringing in Cincinnati? Did you visit the city all that often? What were your perceptions of the city?
Jake Robinson: My upbringing was very rural. I grew up in Maineville most of my life. My parents rented a house on an old Quaker property that had been part of the Underground Railroad. I had woods, ponds, streams, and rivers all within exploring distance from my house. It was an incredible place for me to stretch my imagination. I did not go to the city very often. Occasionally we would go for Reds games or to the library, which was my favorite place to be. But the city itself always felt really big and intimidating to me.

RS: Do you have any notable memories of city life in Cincinnati that stand out from your time growing up here? If so, please explain one that really stands out to you.
JR: The one that stands out the most to me was getting to play peewee football at Paul Brown. The stadium had just opened and I remember being totally awestruck when I walked onto that field.

RS: How much do you stay engaged with what is happening in Cincinnati these days?
JR: I still listen to high school football games and follow Cincinnati sports. Also a lot of my family is still in Cincinnati. My brother and his wife are both professors at UC. Everyone that is still there is very involved with the community. So whenever I come home we are always talking about what’s happening in and around the city.

RS: A lot has changed in Cincinnati over the past several years. From when you grew up in the area, Over-the-Rhine and the central riverfront may now be entirely unrecognizable to you. What do you think about the changes that have taken place?
JR: I am so incredibly excited about the changes that Cincinnati has gone through. Downtown is now a destination for me. Whether it’s Fountain Square, The Banks or OTR, the entire city has a new life to it. I always tell my parents if I could do what I do in Cincinnati, I would move back. My two favorites are Rhinegeist and Senate.

RS: While living in NYC, is there anything specific that you miss about your hometown?
JR: I always miss the people, particularly my family. There is a way of life that’s really special in Cincinnati it’s why people keep coming back to the city. I have many friends who have returned to Cincinnati to settle down.

RS: Late last year Cincinnati business and community leaders went on a week-long trip to NYC to showcase Cincinnati’s arts and business prowess. Did you engage with anyone or any of the events at that time?
JR: I went to the May Festival concert at Carnegie Hall because my uncle was involved in the chorus, but I did not get engage with anyone else or any of the other events at the time.

RS: More and more films are selecting Cincinnati as a location for filming in recent years. There are varying reasons for this, but what would you think of being offered the opportunity to perform in something filmed locally?
JR: Cincinnati has done a great job encouraging film makers to come to the city. I think it has a wonderful history and that is a major draw for people. I would be so honored and thrilled to do a project locally. It is definitely a goal for me going forward.

RS: If there is one thing about your experience living elsewhere that you would like to see in Cincinnati, what would that be?
JR: Public transit and transportation in general. Updating and bringing more carriers to CVG, as well as improving suburb to downtown public transit and commute times. I think this is key in continuing to see growth in the downtown area.

RS: Cincinnatians are famous for their TV viewing habits. With this in mind, are you or any of your friends/family planning any special viewing parties/events?
JR: I actually threw the first episode viewing party in NYC, but I know my parents religiously watch the show. I hope everyone is tuning into the show. NBC has some really impressive programming right now and American Odyssey is a big part of it. You can catch up on the show on Hulu or NBC On Demand.

RS: What attracted you to this role in American Odyssey?
JR: The script was the single most important thing when picking this project. I loved how fast-paced and intense it was. Reading it had me on the edge of my seat and watching it has me even more engaged.

RS: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is your favorite Cincinnati-style chili?
JR: Skyline all the way.

For those interested in watching the new series, you can catch it Sunday nights at 10pm ET on NBC.

Clifton Celebrates Restoration of Community’s Historic Probasco Fountain

Yesterday afternoon, “Henry Probasco” dedicated a public fountain in Clifton for the second time in 128 years. Well…an actor playing Henry Probasco, the former businessman, philanthropist, and mayor of what was then the Village of Clifton.

“To the People of Clifton. Thirsty And Ye Gave Me Drink.”

These words adorn a plaque on the Probasco Fountain on Clifton Avenue, in front of the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, a monument of granite and bronze that has been relocated seven-and-a-half feet to the west and three feet to the north.

The City of Cincinnati, which included $400,000 in its capital budget for the project, also added lighting, a small plaza, and a number of much-needed underground fixes.

Now, it’s again available for your horse. More practically, it’s available as a legitimate source of potable water for you, your pet, and the local bird population. It is also just nice to look at and admire.

“I think we’ve come up with a great new location,” said Dick Druffel, who formerly served as president of Clifton Town Meeting (CTM), the neighborhood’s community council. “As we look at this beautiful historic monument, and its more accessible and safer location, we can truly appreciate its beauty and the generosity of Henry Probasco, one of Clifton’s most famous residents.”

Installed in 1887 and designed by Samuel Hannaford, the fountain was a gift from Probasco to his town’s residents and was placed at what was once the center of village life, a convenient stopping point for travelers leaving the congested and polluted city. In 1980, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Last cleaned in the late 1970s, the fountain had been showing its age; and its location within inches of Clifton Avenue presented clear safety and accessibility issues. In the summer of 2012, members from Clifton Community Fund raised additional concerns about its deterioration.

In response, Clifton resident and Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann (D) was able to dig into some archives suggesting the fountain’s renovation from a presentation that had come up during his time on City Council in the 1990s. This led CTM to form a fountain subcommittee to work as a liaison between City departments and local residents in December 2012.

Druffel chaired the subcommittee. He says that its members considered it a community problem that required a community solution.

“Getting agreement to restore the fountain was easy,” Druffel stated. “It was almost unanimous that the fountain should be restored. Where to put the historic fountain was quite another matter.”

Two public engagement sessions were held in 2013, during which nine possible relocation sites were suggested by residents. About a dozen presentations occurred at CTM meetings throughout early 2013, and by May 2013 CTM had made its choice of location, passed a resolution of support, and sent a letter alerting the City of its plan.

“The process was incredibly transparent and the end solution was better because of the involvement of the community,” explained Vice Mayor Mann, who was an early member of that subcommittee.

“I guess it’s a lesson that sometimes you just have to take the time to get a great result,” Druffel responded.

The Clifton Community Fund will pay for a new historic marker to be placed near the plaza in the future.

PHOTOS: Huge Crowds Turn Out for 96th Findlay Market Opening Day Parade

Everyone knows by now that Opening Day in Cincinnati is like none other. The activities start at 5am and last all day, and into the late hours of the night. Yesterday’s events were no different and were only aided by a dramatic late-inning win by the Reds over the Pirates.

It also seems that the dramatic revitalization of Downtown and Over-the-Rhine are fueling the excitement and turnout on Opening Day. In addition to Fountain Square, which has historically been the central gathering point for the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, scores of spectators now also gather at The Banks and Washington Park. In fact, all along the route crowds were regularly six to eight people deep.

As investment is only just now starting to flow to the area surrounding Findlay Market, and work on the second phase of The Banks still underway, there is no telling how much bigger the festivities and crowds can get.

PHOTOS: Take a Look Inside Northside’s Rapidly Evolving Urban Artifact Brewery

A group of four young men are quickly transforming what was a vacant, historic church into a brewery and event space called Urban Artifact. The group says they are dedicated to saving historic buildings and adding new life to the community.

While some elements of the former St. Pius X Church will be familiar, other parts of the interior will be less recognizable. The group has big plans for the space and intend to open up operations later this year.

You can click on any image to enlarge it.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 8 photographs were taken by Travis Estell on February 25, 2015.

PHOTOS: 19 Shots of Cincinnati’s Snowy Inner-City

This winter has been mild for Cincinnati, but last week we experienced two days with significant snowfall. While the accumulation may have been a pain for drivers, it turned the urban core into a winter wonderland for those able to get out and experience it on foot. Enjoy our gallery of photos taken on February 16th and 21st in the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine, Clifton Heights and Mt. Auburn.

You can click any image to enlarge. Stay warm out there.

If you have been on the look out for sneckdowns, and are interested in sharing your photos with UrbanCincy, please contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 19 photographs were taken by Travis Estell between February 16 and February 21, 2015.