The Gamble House was located at 2918 Werk Road in the Westwood neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. The imposing 2 1/2-story, 13-room residence, was constructed in the Queen Anne style by James Norris Gamble on the site of his father’s earlier dwelling in 1875.1 3 5 The house was assembled at a time when country estates scattered the region’s west side, and the original lot measured out to 60 acres.1 The dwelling was named Ratonagh after the Gamble clan’s ancestral hometown in Northern Ireland.3

The inventor, humanitarian and son of Proctor & Gamble’s co-founder resided in the vast 2,644-square-foot house for 57 years until his death in the house in 1932.3 5 10 His daughter, Olivia, lived in the house until she died in the 1960s. The house was then transferred to the Greenacres Foundation of Indian Hill, founded and headed by philanthropist Louise Nippert.4 Louise’s late husband, Louis Nippert, was Gamble’s grandson.3 4

In 1978, the Gamble house was listed on a citywide survey of historic buildings.23

By 2010, the size of the Gamble estate had been reduced down to 15 acres,2 having been subdivided for smaller housing tracts. On February 18,25 Greenacres informed the city that it was soliciting bids for demolition of the Gamble House.2 The non-profit organization, which promoted “conservation and music appreciation” through its center, stated that it would use the property to begin an outdoor education program “for underprivileged children.”

Preservation activists requested that the city declare the house a local historic landmark.2 The city cited Greenacres for “having peeling paint and a broken sidewalk.”3 According to the citation, the roof appeared “unsound,” and parts of the intricate wooden trim were broken. Liz Kissel, president of the Westwood Historical Society, noted a leaking roof in a 2008 visit, but that it was “a home that could be saved.”

Carter Randolph, Greenacre’s vice president, affirmed to reporters on February 11 that demolition plans were proceeding as the residence continued to deteriorate. While he suggested that demolition wasn’t imminent, Randolph added that they were no closer to demolition than they were three months ago.3 He cited costs of maintaining and repairing the property but did not disclose any figures. But according to city records, Greenacres had solicited bids to demolish the building as early as February 3.3

“To lose this house would be a sin. The Gamble house is not only woven into the fabric of Westwood. It’s in the fabric of the entire city because of the many things James Gamble did. This is too historic of a home to lose.”
-Bob Prokop of Westwood Concern, a grassroots neighborhood advocacy group3

Randolph stated that the house was on private property and that he was not sure “why people (were) so interested in what happens to it,”3 adding that if people were so concerned, they should “write a check” and implied that the organization was short of money. But Nippert had recently donated $85 million to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and $100 million to the Greenacres Foundation and ranked fifth on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of top ten charitable contributors for 2009. In addition, the foundation has spent at least $3 million since 2005 to restore the Julius Fleischmann estate in Indian Hill.3 Fleischmann was a yeast manufacturer.

The preservation advocates affirmed that they were not seeking to direct the foundation or Nippert to spend their own money.3 Greenacre’s later stated that the Gamble House was not for sale, that it could not be used for any commercial enterprise and could not be used as a museum. The land would be preserved as a nature center instead, and Greenacres pledged to give the Cincinnati park board an endowment to take care of the park;4 the city never received any proposal or plan for the park.7

What infuriated some is that the Gamble Place, James Gamble’s winter retreat in Florida, was owned by the Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Sciences. The residence was donated to the museum by the Nature Conservancy, with thanks to the Nippert family who donated money for the effort.3 In addition, the Gamble Place was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Plans were made to list the Gamble House as a Historic Landmark with the city Historic Conservation Board.3

On February 22, two parts of a demolition application were approved.4 A large protest attended by 105 preservationists was held on February 24 along Werk Road.5 Singing songs and carrying signs, they protested the planned demolition of the Gamble residence. That did not stop Greenacres for filing a lawsuit against the city just hours before, who sought expedited approval of the demolition permit.

The lawsuit stated that the house was “not economically feasible to repair, restore, and maintain,” and cited a proposed restoration cost at over $1 million.5 At 2,644 square feet, the cost of the work would be around $400 per square foot. But Edward Cunningham, manager for the Cincinnati Department of Community Development, stated that it would cost between $80 to $120 per square foot for proper renovations.

“If the Gamble house goes, Louise Nippert’s legacy will be forever tainted west of I-75. West Siders have long memories. We will never forget how she was a champion of the arts with her millions, but gave nothing to save this historic house.”
-Reg Goolsby, who lives across the street from the Gamble estate5

Over the next few months, seven complaints were filed with Ohio’s Atorney General that questioned the foundation’s actions.8

The Gamble House was given a historic overlay district status on May 12 in a unanimous vote of 8-0.10 17 18 The vote placed the house on the Historic Landmarks list, which made the possibility of demolition more difficult. A “Certificate of Appropriateness” would need to be filed with any demolition order, which would state that no other alternative exists other than a tear-down.18

Greenacres filed additional claims eight days later, challenging the constitutionality of the status, and the case was moved to federal court after Assistant City Solicitor Richard Ganulin filed a notice of removal, citing the piling of claims by Greenacres.17 The Zoning Board of Appeals stated on June 21 that the city was correct in refusing to issue a demolition permit to Greenacres for the Gamble House.16 The ruling, which was unanimous, denied two appeals by Greenacres. Three hours of testimony followed, which included discussions from preservationist Greg Kissel, who validated that various organizations had been making attempts to restore the Gamble estate as early as 1978. Citing numerous local and state documents, Kissel showed that the residence had been on the radar as a historic structure, and was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places long before a demolition permit was applied. One of those attempts, made by the Miami Purchase Association in 1978, was partially guided by Louis Nippert. Nippert, however, never appeared at any hearing regarding the house.

On August 13, Greenacres rejected the Cincinnati Preservation Association’s long-standing offer of $150,000 and then fair market value to purchase and restore the Gamble House.15 27 In a letter dropped to the Association anonymously, the letter stated that the proposal was “simply not realistic” and that any historic preservation would be useless.

In mid-September, neighborhood activist Mary Kuhl testified before council that neighbors had been present when workers were dismantling the house’s interior.6 Bob Prokop noted leaded glass windows being removed, and that there were “plenty of witnesses.”8 One witness was Larry Harris, Cincinnati’s urban conservator, who stated that contractors had been removing woodwork, windows and doors, and had begun digging trenches for utility cuts in preparation for demolition.7 Harris stated that he was working with the City Solicitor’s office and the Director of City Planning and Buildings to cite Greenacres for violations of the zoning and housing code.8

In response, Greenacres stated that “non-structural items on the inside were secured in the barn” and that if windows and doors were “inadvertently removed,” they would be put back and maintained.8

On September 25, Councilman Charlie Winburn introduced a motion that requested a report on whether eminent domain would be possible in the case of the Gamble House.6 The process would involve stopping the dismantling, taking the house by eminent domain, paying Greenacres fair market value and giving the house to the park board to maintain.8

Winburn later decided that day to skip to motion after conferring with City Solicitor John Curp, and introduced an ordinance that ordered the residence be taken. Curp stated that historic preservation was a legitimate legal reason to take property by eminent domain, but warned that it would be a time-consuming and expensive process for both sides. Some council members were split on the idea by the following day, and the city solicitor suggested the process shouldn’t begin unless there is money set aside for the maintenance of the property.

Federal Judge Susan J. Dlott ordered Greenacres to stop dismantling the Gamble House on September 28, and to put parts of the house that were removed back together.7 Dlott had heard one of two cases concerning the estate. The order directed that “nothing else be removed from the house without prior approval of this Court.” In addition, all structural items that were removed from the house, including windows and doors, must be returned by October 1 and restored to the condition in which they were found prior to their removal. Non-structural items must either be restored to their original condition or maintained in good condition in the barn on site. Later, Dlott ordered Greenacres until December 17 to product an inventory of “all structural and non-structural items that have been removed” from the residence.10

On November 10, Winburn discovered that funding that was to go to a high-tech industrial center in Bond Hill, which never materialized, could be used for the Gamble House.14 The funding, which was to come from the state of Ohio for the center, was frozen by Winburn, who is chairman of the Council’s Job Creation Committee. The money would not be derived from the deficit-riddled operating fund. Winburn presented to the city’s Livable Communities Committee on November 23 a reduced purchase price of the Gamble House, at $300,000 instead of $750,000, because the amount of land that would be seized under the eminent domain proposal shrank from 15 acres to 2.28 acres.13 The acreage encompassed the historic designation set by the city.

The Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board denied an application for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the residence on December 6.10 11 The application was filed by Greenacres, whose lawyer noted that he did not know of “anyone who would have tried to be more diligent to preserve (the) house.” In a split vote of the Cincinnati Livable Communities Committee on the following day, the city voted to set aside $300,000 to purchase the Gamble House.11 12

Greenacres rejected a third bid of $250,000 from the Cincinnati Preservation Association to purchase the Gamble House on January 26, 2011.26 27 Greenacres stated that the issue was not selling the residence, but securing restoration and maintenance money.

On February 28, the city Zoning Board of Appeals voted 4-0 to uphold a decision denying a request by Greenacres for a demolition permit.24 The city Board of Housing Appeals voted 5-1 on March 2 to deny an appeal by Greenacres to avoid obtaining a Vacant Building Maintenance License. The license requires the owner to comply with 13 points, such as correcting roof leaks.25

In July, Hamilton County Common Pleas Magistrate Michael L. Bachman declared that a demolition permit be awarded to Greenacres for the Gamble House.23 Bachman noted that the house was declared historic only after Greenacres filed for a demolition permit. The ruling was appealed by the city.

On January 20, 2012, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler ruled that the demolition proceedings of the Gamble House should continue.22 City council, in an unanimous decision, ordered Curp to appeal a judge’s decision that permitted the demolition of the Gamble House on February 15.22 The decision from council ignored Curp’s advise that they should not appeal Winkler’s ruling, who noted that the “city had a low likelihood of success on appeal.” Curp hired an independent counsel to handle the appeal. But a three-judge panel of the Ohio’s First District Court of Appeals ruled on October 17 that the city could not refuse to issue a demolition permit for the Gamble House based on the urban conservator’s determination that the structure had historical significance.21

On January 23, 2013, a demolition permit was issued for the Gamble House 20 and was demolished on April 1.19