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Glendale's Eckstein School Will Become A Cultural Arts Center, Preserving Building's Black History

Jolene Almendarez
Bill Parrish, executive director of the Eckstein Community Arts Center, hugs Glendale resident Brenda Daniels at the official announcement that the once-segregated Eckstein School won't be demolished.

A once-segregated school for Black children in Glendale was on the brink of being partially demolished and turned into a nursing home. But a group of community activists and the Cincinnati Preservation Association managed to work with the owner to save it. Officials announced Tuesday the currently vacant Eckstein School will be renovated into the Eckstein Cultural Arts Center.

Executive Director at the Cincinnati Preservation Association Paul Muller says about two-thirds of the building was slated for demolition.

"The community beautifully articulated the importance of this building to their history. It was much more than just a school. It was a center of community life because during segregation, there weren't other options available," he said.

The historic preservation group purchased the building from the owner and transferred it to the Hamilton County Landbank, which will turn it over to become the Cultural Art Center by the end of the year.

Muller says renovations are expected to cost around $1 million and national and local foundations are expressing interest in funding the expenses.

"So I don't really see the renovation cost as being very difficult," he says. "It's a really important site. It basically covers a huge swath of American history. Glendale, which is a National Historic Landmark village, the highest designation there is, was founded by people with an interest in abolitionism. And many African Americans settled here before the Civil War."

Jolene Almendarez
The once-segregated Eckstein School in Glendale will be renovated into the Eckstein Cultural Arts Center.

The school opened in 1915 and remained segregated until three years after segregation ended nationally in 1954.

Resident Dianna Turan was the first to sound the alarm when news of the proposed changes were announced.

"I was like, no, you can't demo any of it. This is our heritage. This is our history. And so I thought about it. And I'm like, 'I don't know if there's anything I can do, but I'm going to try to think about it.' And I did and I said 'Ah! A petition.' So I went around, I knocked on everybody's doors all around here," she said.

She says she got over a hundred signatures for the petition and not a single person she spoke to refused to sign it.

The Glendale community then showed up to city council meetings demanding zoning modifications for the site not to be changed — it was an effort she said would help preserve the school.

She was notified Monday night about the cultural arts center and raised the "bat signal" to get about two dozen people gathered at the school for the official announcement Tuesday afternoon.

Jolene Almendarez
Resident Brenda Daniels (forefront) stands alongside her neighbors at the official announcement of the creation of the Eckstein Cultural Arts Center.

'It Was The Right Thing'

Resident Brenda Daniels has lived in the neighborhood for decades and remembers hearing stories about the school from her family growing up.

"Civic-minded activities that happened here were when they were trying to desegregate schools. Those meetings were held in this building at Eckstein elementary school," she said. "So I was just excited to be a part of this and to see how the community came together. It was no Black thing, it was no white thing. It was the right thing. And people came together to do the right thing to preserve this building in Glendale."

She says segregation at the school is an essential part of Glendale history, and it's important to remember the past in order to move forward. Demolishing parts of the school, she said, would erase that.

"So this building says somebody saw fit to educate African American children when we did not have that avenue," she said. "And that's a great thing because they were abolitionists right here in Glendale."

Jolene Almendarez
The once-segregated Eckstein School served Black children in Glendale from 1915-1958.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.