HISTORY OF AVONDALE
Avondale was originally a distinctive suburban village. In 1795, Samuel Robinson purchased most of this land from John Cleves Symmes. Later, a number of men bought tracts of Robinson's property, primarily for speculation. In the 1830s, a few Cincinnati businessmen built homes here and began commuting to their jobs in the city. Avondale landholders began dividing their large holdings for purchase by wealthy Cincinnatians who wanted suburban residences.
Within a few years, Cincinnati merchants and manufactures were moving into large houses on spacious Avondale lots, just as others of their class were doing in Clifton, Mt. Auburn and Walnut Hills. Among those who chose to live here were ironworks owners Miles Greenwood (1807-1885) and Stephen Burton (1816-1884). The Burton family claims that in 1853, Mrs. Burton saw a resemblance between the stream behind her house and the Avon River in England and began to call the district Avondale. When the village became incorporated in 1864, that name became permanent for the entire community.
The Village of Avondale was incorporated primarily in an unsuccessful effort to control problems which disturbed its wealthy citizens. Between the 1870s and 1890s, the community was plagued by burglaries, vagrants, public drunkenness, and brawling.
Annexation occurred in 1896 and brought some benefits to Avondale residents. Within a few years, the improved police and fire protection that Cincinnati provided significantly reduced Avondale's crime problem and made the suburb a safer, more pleasant place to live.
For most of the nineteenth century, Avondale was populated by Protestants of the merchant class and of English or German ancestry. A small number were middle or lower-income, including the 8 to 10% who were black. After streetcar lines were laid to Avondale in 1903, less affluent Cincinnatians gained access to the village. From the 1920s until the end of World War II, 60% of the suburb's population was Jewish. It was the home of a variety of Jewish institutions and business.
After World War II, the character of Avondale again changed. Many younger residents took advantage of reasonable mortgage rates to buy more modern homes in newer suburbs. Older people also began to move away as the large homes became too difficult for them to maintain. Middle-income black families often replaced the departing residents. They were willing to pay the inflated prices asked of non-white buyers because Avondale was one of the few "decent" neighborhoods open to them. According to the practices followed by Cincinnati realtors at that time, blacks were only "permitted" to move into neighborhoods which already had a black population. Avondale had had black residents since the mid-nineteenth century.
As the number of black residents grew, some white homeowners panicked and fled, a process that opportunistic realtors encouraged by block busting-buying one house on an all white street at an often excessive price and then selling it to a black family. Some realtors also engaged in a campaign of anonymous letters and phone calls to white residents, warning them that blacks were about to move onto their block and advising them to sell their homes quickly.
Property values soon fell, making Avondale housing accessible to the less affluent, including many black families displaced by urban renewal in the West End. At the same time, the Cincinnati Department of Relocation settled almost 220 black families in Avondale. Large houses were divided-usually illegally-into multi-family dwellings. By 1959, the southern portion of Avondale, once mostly Jewish, had become predominantly black. As Jewish institutions followed their constituents to the newer suburbs, empty schools and temples were turned over to the recently-arrived residents.
North and South Avondale became increasingly distinct and separate neighborhoods. While the residents of North Avondale were able to maintain the value of their property and the character of their streets, South Avondale became known for its rising crime rate, falling land values, and deteriorating housing. Absentee landlords neglected their properties; tenants often abused the buildings. By 1956 city planners had identified South Avondale as blighted and in need of rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation did little for South Avondale. Work done between 1965 and 1975 benefited institutions such as the University of Cincinnati and nearby hospitals, not the residents. The city had promised improved housing. In fact, widespread demolition for street improvements, parking, and institutional expansion reduced housing stock.
The frustration caused by the massive West End clearance and the city's failure to fulfill its promises fueled anger and resentment among South Avondale's black residents. Between 1967-1970, a series of riots and fire bombings damaged many of South Avondale's commercial and institutional buildings and drove out most of the remaining white business. The city responded with a second renewal plan which emphasized the creation of a "town center" business area with a shopping mall at Reading Road and Rockdale Avenue where the riots had done the most damage. This plan was periodically revised and scaled down until basketball star turned developer Oscar Robertson completed a more modest form of the project in 1983.
Rejuvenation was extremely slow and uneven, and much of the responsibility for further improvement passed largely into the hands of community groups, private developers, and individual residents.
The Avondale Redevelopment Corporation (ARC) was established in 1980 from the Avondale Community Council's Housing Development Committee. ARC is charged with revitalizing the Avondale community's residential and commercial base by stabilizing and upgrading the existing business districts and housing stock.
ARC was instrumental in the development of the Avondale Town Center, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League Office Building and Truth Hardware (currently Lexington Market). ARC increased the quality of housing stock in Avondale by building Reading Green Condo's (Reading and Prospect), Harvey Point Townhomes (Glenwood and Harvey Avenues), Cedar Meadows, and Avonview Apartments (a 50 unit senior building located on Reading Road).
In autumn 2003, representatives of LISC and the Avondale Community Council approached Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, The Health Alliance, and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens to request their support for a redevelopment initiative along Burnet Avenue. Later that fall, representatives from the three institutions held a meeting with members of the community to discuss the role institutional stakeholders could play in revitalization effort.
At a subsequent meeting, the community and institutions began considering how to move the effort from idea to reality. The acknowledgement that several past revitalization efforts had failed led the participants to conclude that a successful effort would require a more inclusive and integrated process than had been tried before, and that it would need to be led by a broad based entity. The "Revitalization Team" would need a structure that gave institutional and non-institutional stakeholders equal voices in shaping a plan and strategy. The goal would be to seat Uptown Institutions, the Avondale Community Council, Avondale Business Association, homeowners, and the City of Cincinnati at one table to work collaboratively and comprehensively on revitalizing Burnet Avenue.