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Students Step in to Help Preserve Historic Dance Hall

University of Cincinnati design students are seeking partners to help them bring new life to a historic Over-the-Rhine gem, a 19th-century German dance hall. Meanwhile, they’re having a ball, brainstorming ideas for the interior space at 1313 Vine Street.

Date: 3/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Heather Farrell-Lipp

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The one-time Cosmopolitan Hall in Over-the-Rhine is a building with a storied past, and a group of University of Cincinnati students are now working to see that it has a future that follows suit.

The 1885 Italian Renaissance Revival building was constructed after the Civil War as part of an entertainment district for the area’s German, Hungarian, Slavic and Italian  residents, and it was specifically built for dances (with a still-functional sprung floor), concerts, athletic contests (like boxing), weddings and, yes, drinking.  From its birth amid cosmopolitan gaiety, it’s had many uses since, including housing a Prohibition-era speakeasy and later – an indoor-golf complex, insurance offices and wallpaper retail store as well as serving as a movie set.  The building’s enormous dance hall was the setting for scenes from the movie, “A Rage in Harlem.”

Soon, the building – now housing The Warehouse night club – will stand empty, and that’s where the UC architecture and planning students come in.  Twelve students  – all working in Over-the-Rhine as part of their classroom participation in the university’s six-year-long project known as The Niehoff Studio – are designing new uses for the building alongside of faculty from UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

The building's fourth-floor interior

Leading the effort is Jeff Tilman, assistant professor of the school’s top-ranked architecture and interior design programs, recently ranked as the nation’s best.  He explained, “In many ways, the students are creating interior design concepts that return the building to its original use.  They’re conceptualizing an urban music and recording center, restaurants and bars, dance floor and pub, children’s resource center, and even things like a police substation.”  Tilman added that the 12 students would devise 10 concepts in all, and almost any of them are feasible due to the building’s flexibility:  It’s four stories high in the front and two stories in back, with two sub-basements.  In addition, its basic structure is sound.

The students took on the project after hearing that The Warehouse night club would be moving to Main Street in early March, leaving the Cosmopolitan Hall empty.  “Then, when the architecture students saw 1313, they wouldn’t consider working on any other project in Over-the-Rhine.  They want to see the building with new life and new uses rather than torn down,” stated Tilman.

Dance hall ceiling

Master’s architecture student Heather Farrell-Lipp said that her efforts and those of her fellow students – photographing, measuring and researching the building’s spaces – are  not taking place in a vacuum.  The students are working in their Over-the-Rhine studio classroom three days a week, and they’ve each had to interview and gain the perspective of different groups in the neighborhood, including parents, long-term residents, empty nesters, Bohemian artists, the elderly and those who work in the vicinity. 

The project on behalf of 1313 Vine St. is only one of several efforts by students in Over-the-Rhine as part of The Niehoff Studio.  In all, 35 architecture, planning and geography students are currently lending their academic skills to the community as part of the studio class.  They will publicly present their ideas during an open house from 5-7 p.m., Wednesday, March 17 in their studio space at The Emery Center, 110 E. Central Parkway at Walnut Street.  Afterward, the students’ ideas in relation to the Cosmopolitan Hall will be passed along to the Vine Street Pride Center and will be available to other non-profit groups in Over-the-Rhine.

View of Music Hall from building's rear

Faculty leading The Niehoff Studio this quarter are, in addition to Tilman, Frank Russell, director of UC’s Community Design Center; Mahyer Arefi, assistant professor of planning; Colleen McTague, adjunct instructor of geography; and Menelaos Triantafillou, visiting associate professor of planning. 

The Niehoff Studio – with its goal of building a better city – was launched by UC in the fall of 2002 with a $150,000 gift from UC alumnus and Board of Trustee member H.C. “Buck” Niehoff as well as additional support from the Kroger Company, UC’s Community Design Center, UC’s Institute for Community Partnerships, UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences and UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services.

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