From "Kenny's Illustrated Cincinnati" publication. Photo courtesy College Hill Historical Society
The Hammond North a High Spot in Cincinnati's Profile for 50 Years
Pate de foie gras and chicken cordon bleu being served on white linen tablecloths in the room where maintenance employees currently store paints and fix broken objects. Just to the south of the building, split-level homes from which teenagers sneak out at night to steal unauthorized visits to our pool. A group of architects working in what's now the lounge, board and card rooms -- where bridges aren't designed, but bridge often is played.
All of that and more might have happened, had the early residents of The Hammond North not cared so much about where we now live to elect and support directors who have worked hard to make sure this singularly exceptional building gets better each year.
This year, 2019 marks the 56th anniversary of the start of construction on the building that is our home. Many of us know little about what happened to make it the wonderful place it is today. With the help of a 1995 building history and the invaluable assistance of Bill Frankenstein and Ed Detzel (who have not only served on the board of directors for many years but have lived here since 1966 and 1973, respectively), we now can update and add to the half-century of Hammond North history that has passed since ground was broken here.
College Hill Landmark Razed
The roomy old house has not been occupied recently, and workmen and demolition crews working there found several "secret" panels behind closets and many examples of hand-carving and fine interior woodwork.
According to Kenneth Hammond, president of Hammond Corp., "While we dislike tearing down such a historic old house, we feel that the addition of Hammond North to the skyline will help make up for it."
Construction has begun on the high-rise apartment, the land is being cleared and interior roads are being built. Hammond North is scheduled for completion, ready for occupancy, by late 1964.
Local historians seem agreed that General Anthony Wayne crossed the ridge of what was to become LaBoiteaux Woods land on his way to the Indian Wars of 1790-1795, going to and from Fort Washington (present-day Cincinnati). Later, this same piece of land was part of the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton turnpike, built in 1834-36, although the area still retained the name of "General Wayne's trace."
Mr. Hammond envisioned that a twin Hammond South subsequently would be built farther south on the property. Its start was predicated on the successful completion and renting of the first building. Like the French restaurant, Hammond South never happened. The plus side of that is we enjoy a wonderful wooded area and million-dollar views to the south that wouldn't have been possible with another building in the way.
(An Enquirer story that was written shortly after the ceremonial groundbreaking mentions plans for a third building, guest cottages and putting greens and a "pitch and putt" golf course. No mention of such amenities was made in any official Hammond promotional materials.)
There was plenty to make Hammond's new building a magnet for people who sought a better place to live: A park-like setting, with views hard to find anywhere else in the city; 24-hour door and security service; maid service; live-in maintenance personnel; six free round-trip limo trips daily between here and downtown Cincinnati (a service that continued until 2001); a tenant's right to request an entire unit be repainted every two years -- and many more features that set living here apart. And Realtor Ed Detzel recalls the rent wasn't overwhelming: $300 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.
Impressive though it was, rental of The Hammond North set no records. Cincinnatians are slow to move on big, new ideas -- reflecting the statement attributed to Mark Twain:
When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it's always 20 years behind the times.
There was renter reluctance early on, even though some pretty inventive marketing methods were employed along the way.
Ruth and Hubert Shearin were the building's first occupants. In January 1965 they moved in, months before construction was completed. They decided to sell their Kenwood home and make a new one at The Hammond North after visiting two furnished model apartments that had been built for the public to tour on the sixth floor of the H&S Pogue flagship department store downtown.
By the time the Shearin's moved in, the Pogue's models had closed and the model visited by the curious, possible renters had been moved to Hammond North unit 1104, which also housed Mr. Hammond's business office. His son Jerry made his office in 207, from which he oversaw much of the construction. Construction was completed in 1965, though there was no roof on the second floor of the garage -- leading some to think it would become the Hammond North tennis courts. All tenants parked on the lower level, Mr. Frankenstein remembers, because every occupant's car could be accommodated there. He remembers Mr. Hammond mentioning more than once that when higher occupancy meant more cars, the roof would be built:
"He said he didn't want anyone who lived here to have to look down on a lot full of parked cars."
Dedication to high standards started to take its toll, though, when the final construction cost of $7.5 million was far above (by '60s standards) the planned $5 million budget. Adding to the financial problems was that the building was leasing more slowly than hoped for. In 1969 the lenders took over the property and eventually sold it to an East Coast investor, the Albert List Foundation. Ownership remained the same until 1981, when a Chicago-based group, Shell Development, bought the fully rented building and announced it would convert it to condominiums.
A rumor at the time claimed the Twin Towers was actively investigating buying the building and using it as expanded retirement facilities. But, if the speculation was true, the decision-makers deliberated too deeply and were beaten by the more decisive Chicago investors. (Twin Towers subsequently purchased and demolished the Glenwood Apartments that once stood on Hamilton near Belmont Avenue, though plans changed and the land wasn't used for expansion.)
Three-fourths of the current residents agreed to buy their units. But by 1984, 18 units still were unsold. Mr. Frankenstein and Mr. Detzel said most of those were either the one-bedroom homes or the penthouses. A public auction was conducted and those remaining units were sold.
One problem solved, but another still remained. When the Chicago group sold out to the buyers of the condominiums in 1982, the new board discovered that the sellers misrepresented the property by not disclosing that the assessments they advertised weren't adequate to meet monthly expenses. They also learned of repairs and necessary improvements that would cost at least $1 million hadn't been revealed by the sellers. A third previously undisclosed fact was that 18.9 acres south of the building had not been included in the sale. After two years of litigation, a settlement was reached that returned the land and included monetary compensation.
It seems the Chicago group wanted to develop the land south of the swimming pool into single-family homes and/or multi-unit dwellings. Owners had to absorb the cost of many of the needed repairs through higher and special assessments.
The former owners also had kept the title to unit 106 -- the current lounge, board, and card rooms. They planned to lease it as a commercial property, a prospective tenant being an architectural firm. The board at the time saw the problems with mixing commercial and residential and found the funds to buy the unit.
These were some of the many obstacles at the beginning of The Hammond North's conversion to condominiums. It's not difficult to imagine how differently things might have turned out, had the early leadership not acted decisively and made sound decisions. Since the early days, however, strong leadership by the owner-directors has kept this 50-year-old building in a near-flawless state of repair, while building cash reserves and keeping assessment increases at a minimum.
With that kind of record as a precedent for continued strong leadership, The Hammond North's next 51 years should be just as bright.
The College Hill Historical Society has shared with us some photos of this property before it became The Hammond North.
Said to be the same path Hammond North driveway follows today.
Hamilton Ave. Toll Cottage
Opposite driveway to LaBoiteaux property, leading to site of current-day Hammond North.