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West Fourth Street Historic District

Cincinnati City, Hamilton County, OH

Known in the first half of the 19th-century as the "principal thoroughfare of the city," Fourth Street has long been considered the heart of downtown Cincinnati. The buildings in the Fourth Street Historic District survive as an intact remnant of Cincinnati's 19th and early-20th-century downtown streetscape and skyline. The district conveys the character and feeling typical of the city's turn-of-the-20th-century downtown commercial district: density, harmonious scale, pedestrian orientation, and consistent setback, or "street wall."

The original West Fourth Street Historic District [†] was listed in the National Register in 1976. It included 39 buildings bounded by West Fifth Street, Plum Street, McFarland Street and Central Avenue. The nomination focused on a two-block area on the periphery of the Central Business District that had remained largely intact since the 1900s. It consisted of masonry bearing wall buildings in a variety of styles, from three to seven stories in height. As the 20th-century progressed, the block's peripheral location marginalized it and, by default, helped to preserve its Late Victorian character.

The district was nominated as an example of cohesive, high-quality commercial and multi-family residential architecture of the mid-to-late-19th-century. Therefore, the boundaries were chosen to reflect these qualities. In the process, three blocks to the east with equally significant mercantile buildings were excluded from the district.

The district was expanded in 1979 to take in additional blocks, between Plum and Race streets, whose period of significance is largely early-20th-century. This expansion moved the boundary farther east, closer to the downtown core. In the process, it took in eleven additional buildings. These included Italianate and Renaissance Revival structures architecturally consistent with the original district, as well as Romanesque Revival and Gothic Revival edifices. It broadened the district's range of architectural expression by encompassing Commercial Style and Second Renaissance Revival buildings of the 1900s through the 1920s. While a number of low-scale, masonry bearing wall buildings were included in the expansion area, the expanded boundary also took in larger, bulkier structures, some of steel-frame construction, including a thirteen-story office tower. In addition to mercantile buildings similar to those found in the 1976 boundary, some warehouse and industrial loft buildings were included. The district's period of significance was extended to 1930 to recognize the architectural merit of these early-20th- century buildings.

One of the predominant styles of the West Fourth Street Historic District is the Italianate style, which enjoyed great popularity in Ohio from c. 1850-1880. Italianate commercial buildings emphasize height with their tall windows and vertical proportions. They are distinguished by bracketed comices, generally of pressed metal. and decorative projecting window heads. Masonry examples may be faced with stone and feature quoins, and window decoration that varies from floor to floor.

Adapted from: Margaret Warminski, Preservation Director, Cincinnati Preservation Association, West Fourth Street Historic District, Boundary Increase, nomination document, 2006, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
4th Street West • Elm Street • Plum Street

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