In Over-the-Rhine, my roots go
back a century. Henry Schmidt, my great-great
uncle, like so many other German immigrants, started
my family’s Cincinnati story there in the
late 1800s (and was soon joined by my grandfather
and great uncle). He became a successful masonry
contractor, with enough money to build his own
house in what is now Norwood. He and his wife
were childless, so they sent word back to the
village of Klosterholte, Germany for their niece—my
grandmother, Elizabeth Schmidt—to come care
for them in their old age. Elizabeth married and
had three children—one of whom is my father.
As I grew up in Cincinnati, my first memories
of Over-the-Rhine were in the 1970s. I remember
the beauty and the decay, the boarded-up facades
and the rich smells of Findlay Market. For me,
the neighborhood embodied the most authentic strains
of Cincinnati culture, from old-world traditions
and architecture to African-American sounds and
tastes. As I grew older, walking through Over-the-Rhine
increasingly left me with feelings of melancholy
and loss. It was a bittersweet feeling –
one of the most remarkable and unique places in
my city, a neighborhood that truly makes Cincinnati
both historic and contemporary, was avoided by
most and forgotten by many.
Over-the-Rhine hit rock bottom sometime in the
past decade. Maybe it was during the riots of
2001, accented by issues of race and class. Or
the depopulation that left it with about 7,000
people not long ago. Or its designation as one
of the 11-most endangered places in the country
by The National Trust for Historic Preservation.
But have you walked Over-the-Rhine’s streets
lately? There’s a buzz, an energy: improved
safety and security, renovated Italianate facades,
new construction, new people, and new businesses.
There is a widespread optimism and intent that
I have never sensed before.
Yet change often brings challenges and fear.
Long-time residents of the neighborhood worry
that they do not fit into plans for a new Over-the-Rhine.
And the efforts of others who have committed decades
to helping the neighborhood wonder if their contributions
and experiences will be taken into account.
That is precisely why my co-producer,
Steve Dorst, and I are making this documentary
film—to chronicle this ambitious effort
to revitalize Over-the-Rhine. By following a number
of innovative people who are breathing new life
into the community, we’ll reveal the tides
of change. Some are daring to do the unprecedented,
while others are looking back to Over-the-Rhine’s
distinctive roots to find a way forward. Surrounding
them is a colorful cast of longtime residents,
as well as members of the political, religious,
social, and arts communities whose engagement
is crucial for the neighborhood’s success.
Each of these groups has its own distinct vision
of the future, yet all want to see a better Over-the-Rhine.
Can they work together to achieve a common success?
Most of all, Over-the-Rhine’s journey is
an American story, and I believe it will resonate
on a national scale. Our production partners share
this vision: CET, Cincinnati’s PBS affiliate,
has teamed up with us. The California-based Catticus
Corporation has signed on to help support a national
distribution plan and enable the film’s
nonprofit status. During its 26-year history,
Catticus Corporation has sponsored more than two-dozen
film projects with cumulative budgets of more
than $10 million.
Rebirth of Over-the-Rhine will show
how a broad spectrum of Cincinnati’s citizens
is uniting to create a new Over-the-Rhine. Thank
you for your support as we document this exciting
Co-producer, Rebirth of Over-the-Rhine
(From left) Co-producers Joe Brinker and
Steve Dorst after a 4-way and a coney at Skyline
Chili on 10th & Vine. Cincinnati, OH.
-- April, 2007.