The Gamble House was located at 2918 Werk Road in the Westwood neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. It was the home of James Norris Gamble, an inventor, humanitarian and son of Proctor & Gamble’s co-founder.
The imposing 2½-story Queen Anne residence was constructed by Gamble on the site of his father’s earlier dwelling in 1875. 1 3 5 The 60-acre plot was named Ratonagh after the Gamble clan’s ancestral hometown in Northern Ireland. 3
Gamble resided in the vast 2,644-square-foot, 13 room house for 57 years until his death in 1932. 3 5 10 His daughter, Olivia, lived in the house until she died in the 1960’s. 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
The Gamble house was listed on a citywide survey of historic buildings in 1978. 23
Neglect and Demolition
By 2010, the size of the Gamble estate had been reduced down to 15 acres, 2 having been subdivided years ago for a subdivision. On February 18, 25 Greenacres informed the city that it was soliciting bids for demolition of the Gamble House. 2 Greenacres, which promoted “conservation and music appreciation” through its center, wanted to use the property for 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, cited costs of maintaining and repairing the property as reasons for demolition. 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 group 3
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.
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 or 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
Additionally, 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 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. 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.
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, 10 17 18 placing the house on the Historic Landmarks list.
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. 16 The ruling 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. 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 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
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 The order directed that “nothing else be removed from the house without prior approval of this Court.” Later, Dlott ordered Greenacres until December 17 to produce an inventory of “all structural and non-structural items that have been removed” from the residence. 10
The Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board denied an application for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the residence on December 6. 10 11 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 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.
In July, 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.
On January 20, 2012, 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. 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 it was demolished on April 1. 19