Tuesday, March 14, 2017

C. C. Weber: The Man Who Designed Fort Thomas

St. Andrew's designed by C. C. "Doc" Weber.
If Samuel Bigsatff was the heart of development in Fort Thomas then Christian Clay (C. C.) Weber created the city’s face in the early part of the Twentieth Century. Weber, nicknamed “Doc”, and his brother Edward owned the Weber, Weber, and Adkins architectural firm in Cincinnati which they later moved to central Fort Thomas. They designed and/or built around 130 buildings in several neighborhoods in Fort Thomas. And like Bigstaff, he is a name we should know.

Weber was more than a designer of homes. He designed churches, civic buildings, schools, but he is perhaps most famous for designing the Governor’s mansion in Frankfort. It is a stunning Renaissance design built in 1914. He also designed about a dozen buildings for eastern Kentucky University between 1909 and 1940.

He designed many of the iconic buildings in Fort Thomas like Highlands High School, the old Woodfill Elementary School and its twin building at Johnson Elementary School, Ruth Moyer Elementary School, the Masonic Lodge, the First Baptist Church, Christ Church, Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, the Hiland Theater, and the 915 (formerly Enslen’s Grocery), a few apartment/business buildings at Inverness, as well as a few more business buildings. These are among the most recognizable structures in town. The schools and churches carry about them a stateliness or grandeur that elevates the spirit. He clearly understood the influence of architecture on the human spirit.

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Weber saw opportunity in the developing city and acquired land on the Riverside Parkway, Miami Parkway, Sunset, Oak Ridge area. He named his subdivision Briarcliff and then designed and built the most distinctive homes there. There is something that you probably won’t notice as you walk through the neighborhood and that is that the power poles run behind the houses because that would interrupt the overall visual impact of the neighborhood. This was an innovation for the time. Ann Ellison is Weber’s granddaughter and she says,“That was a remarkable idea at the time.” The streets are lines with mature shade trees and there is small park, named Weber Park, in the middle of an intersection that add a charm to the neighborhood.
Weber Park on Riverside Drive.
Now a drive through a modern subdivision reveals a certain sameness of design.  Garages dominate the entries. Porches have shrunk or disappeared. They are a collection of buildings that will probably not age well. Think what they will look like in 50 years. But that is not visible in Briarcliff. Entries are welcoming. Garages are, of the most part, hidden in Weber homes. There is a timeless classic and comfortable feel. Ellison says, “He never saved his plans, you know. Those belonged to the customer. The custom was to either put plans in the newel post or in the floor joists in the basement.” 

Many of the early residents of the Briarcliff subdivision were lawyers and doctors, but things took an interesting twist during the gangster era of the first half of the Twentieth Century. “Sleepout" Louis Levinson moved to the area from Chicago and first lived at 115 Riverside and then later moved next door to 119. Charles Lester, a lawyer who represented a handful of crime figures, lived on Lester Lane in a Weber home.  Pete Schmidt, a local casino operator in Newport lived at 53 Oak Ridge. In 1937, Weber designed the Beverly Hills Country Club for Schmidt.
Weber home in the Braircliff subdivision. 
Ann Ellison says of her grandfather’s influence, “I am very proud of him. There is nowhere I can go where I don’t see something that he did.  He was a great guy and grandfather.” She chuckles and says, “He taught me how to play cards.” 

She and her brothers Nick and Peter wrote a book about C. C. Weber. But her research never ends. Ellison says, “We have found, since the book was published, more that he did like … the courthouse in Wilmington, OH. The inside was the most remarkable thing he ever did. Just beautiful. Besides the interior of the courthouse, the Governor’s home is his best.” There wasn’t enough money to complete the gardens at the time but First Lady Phyllis George Brown, wife of Governor John Y. Brown Jr, found the plans and completed the gardens along with the renovation of the mansion. She says of her grandfather, “He was a great gardener.” So his design was finally complete.
Inverness building designed by Weber.
C.C. Weber created a distinctive look for Fort Thomas. Nick Ellison, along with Ann Ellison and Peter Ellison, published a beautiful book in 2010 about the life and architecture of C. C. Weber as an homage to the man who gave the city a distinct and timeless look. The book is available at the city museum in Tower Park. No one is surprised that a few of Weber’s descendants are working architects today and are making their marks on the world.

1 comment:

  1. My grandparents lived at 83 Miami Pkwy from 1953 until 1999. According to family lore, the house was built for a mayor of Fort Thomas in 1912. You could see the remnants of the gardens in the back yard. Too bad my grandfather hated yard work, they could've been stunning. The house sat on an acre of land, in Fort Thomas!

    Anyway, it'd be interesting to know if C.C. Weber designed it. I believe the original owners last name was Wheat.

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