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OKI Wanna Know About The Victory Parkway Shelter

Bill Rinehart
The Victory Parkway Shelter dates back to 1935, according to Cincinnati Parks.

Our feature OKI Wanna Know is a chance for you to ask that seemingly unanswerable question. This week, WVXU's Bill Rinehart starts in Avondale and digs into a story that shapes the entire region.

Elizabeth Fugate of Mount Washington noticed a little building on Rockdale near Victory Parkway on her way to work. It's a stone building with wooden shingles, a boarded up front door, two little doors off to either side of that, and a garage door in the back. 

"It reminds me of the architecture from Eden Park or the Cincinnati Zoo, and so I was wondering if it came about during that time and stuff has been lost as the city has been built up around it." 

It's the Victory Parkway Shelter and it belongs to Cincinnati Parks, according to spokesman Rocky Merz. He says it was built as a comfort station. "Which nowadays we call restrooms," he says. "The architect's name was Charles Cellarius. He was the supervising architect for the community of Mariemont and also designed Woodward High School, and has a lot of other buildings in the area. We were happy to have his imprint put on the building."

Merz says the shelter was built as a WPA project. 

Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU
The shelter's architect, Charles Cellarius,  also designed buildings in Mariemont, at Miami University, and at the University of Cincinnati.

WPA stands for Works Progress Administration, one component of the 1930s plan to get the United States out of the Great Depression. Gray Brechin is the founder and project scholar of the Living New Deal project. That's an effort to document and interpret the public works legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt. 

Brechin says the WPA started in 1935 and was designed to put millions of Americans to work.

"Doing everything from laying sewers to composing and performing symphonies to painting murals and sculpting; building roads. They built an awful lot of roads," Brechin says. 

Locally, it was the WPA that built Columbia Parkway and the Indian Creek sewage treatment plant; post offices in Covington and Fort Thomas; and Dixie Heights High School, among others.

Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU
Columbia Parkway, a WPA project, was completed in 1941.

Brechin says the Living New Deal documents WPA projects and other New Deal programs across the country. 

"We've only scratched the surface in Cincinnati. There's a great deal. For example, we don't have the Cincinnati Zoo. The zoo, like almost all the zoos in the United States, was largely a product of the WPA."

Brechin says the New Deal and the WPA put people to work, and built much of the infrastructure that catapulted the U.S. into the 20th century. He says it also did a lot more. 

"When I looked at that park shelter, I was really impressed by how beautiful it is. It's not like the kind of Porta Potties that we have now, along with some of our more utilitarian park shelters. They went to a lot of work to make that a beautiful piece of rock work, of stone masonry. And that's not accidental."

He says the people who ran the New Deal programs were interested in more than building roads and providing jobs. "Not just bread, but roses as well, too.

"Through the federal music project, millions of Americans got to hear music performed, live music, which they'd never heard before," he says. "Through the federal theater project, millions of Americans saw theater for the first time. By the federal writers project, they got those wonderful WPA guides to the states and cities of the United States." 

The WPA created murals for schools and those at Lunken Airport. Brechin says while the work of the WPA lasts, the memory of the program is fading. 

"We all use it all the time. It's indispensable. Much of it is very beautiful, and yet we don't see it." Brechin says opponents of the New Deal, including people like William Randolph Hearst, did what they could to erase FDR's accomplishments.

Rocky Merz says Parks tries to preserve the WPA buildings, when possible.

"Actually, we just worked with a consultant that's helping us go through our backlog of maintenance needs and we're putting a plan together on how we can address them going forward."

The Victory Parkway Shelter is still in use. Merz says Parks employees work out of it every day.

If you have a question and no one else can help, ask OKI I Wanna Know by filling out the form below.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.