CINCINNATI -- A 170-year-old house that the inventor of Ivory Soap lived in for 57 years was torn down Monday in less than three hours.
The 13-room Victorian mansion on Cincinnati's west side was owned by James N. Gamble, son of the founder of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, from 1875 until his death in the house at age 95 in 1932. He had named the 2644-square-foot house Ratonagh, for his ancestral hometown in present-day Northern Ireland.
"The time and energy that went into not having this thing demolished, if that could have gone into its preservation, it could have been an asset going into the future," said Lu Ann Zeszut, who lives down the street from what was the historic clapboard home.
A small crowd watched forlornly as a member the demolition crew handed out bricks from the rubble stamped with "Westwood," the Cincinnati neighborhood that used to be a suburb where the house stood. A member of the demolition crew told neighbor Jan Peak that a Rookwood fountain, likely prized by collectors of the Cincinnati ceramics manufacturer, had remained inside.
Another neighbor, Julie Vogt, along with her 10-year-old son participated in protests, attended meetings and badgered politicians to help save the structure.
"When he learned that Ivory Soap was created in that kitchen, he thought that was so cool," Vogt said.
The Queen Anne-style house was in relatively good shape as recently as 2008 but largely had been vacant since 1964, according to the Cincinnati Preservation Association. Gamble's grandson, Louis Nippert, inherited the home in 1961 and in 1991 received an award from the historic preservation group along with his wife, Louise, for their stewardship of the home. Louis Nippert died the next year.
The fight to save the Gamble house started March 9, 2009, when a citation was issued after Cincinnati City Hall received anonymous email about the house's crumbling walkway. Ironically, Gamble had installed his neighborhood's first sidewalks outside his house.
In August 2009 Louise Nippert's wife, then 98, transferred ownership of the house to the Greenacres Foundation, which owns and manages the non-profit 605-acre Greenacres Farm that the couple purchased in 1949 east of Cincinnati in Indian Hill, Ohio.
But the foundation did not take immediate steps to maintain the Gamble house and instead began to remove a number of stained-glass windows from the home, the Cincinnati Preservation Association said.
Eleven months after the first citation was issued and a month after the city designated the house a landmark, Greenacres applied for its first demolition permit. In a November 2010 demolition permit application, Greenacres' lawyer, C. Francis Barrett, called restoration for the Gamble house "not economically feasible."
Neighbors and preservationists joined forces against the demolition. Countless protests, lawsuits, board hearings, City Council sessions, neighborhood-uniting meetings and court cases ensued.
"I'm sorry these people are upset. But it was the Nipperts' property, so we carried out what they made clear was their intention," Greenacres President Carter Randolph said Monday.
Louis Nippert was afraid it would fall into ruin and demanded it torn down, Randolph said.
After Louis Nippert died, Louise Nippert, a fourth-generation Cincinnatian who along with her husband donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the city's arts and medical institutions, echoed the demand, he said.
She died July 23.
"I don't feel bad," Randolph said. "I fulfilled their mission." He did not mention plans for the property.
In March 2011, Greenacres Foundation transferred an 11.6-acre parcel that forms an "L" shape around the Gamble House to another entity, Greenacres Westwood LLC that had been formed and registered with the Ohio Secretary of State earlier that month. Greenacres Foundation remains the owner of the 2.9-acre parcel on which the demolished house sat.
The foundation's estimates to restore the ranged from $1.3 million to $3 million, Barrett said. City estimates placed the figure at $350,000. Greenacres' tax return for 2010 listed its total assets at $277 million.
By Carrie Blackmore Smith
The Cincinnati Enquirer
(Contributing Cliff Radel, The Cincinnati Enquirer)