An Alma Mater Moment

By Kevin Grace

University BuildingOver the years, I’ve gathered a fair amount of UC ephemera from garage sales, flea markets, estate sales, and Ebay, and eventually I’ll end up giving it to the University Archives.  In the meantime, it’s always a nice little surprise when I dig around in my basement boxes and find these odds and ends.  The postcard shown here is of the original University Building, constructed on Charles McMicken’s property in 1875.  That property had been bequeathed to the City of Cincinnati in McMicken’s will when he died in 1858, and after litigation and the Civil War, the city was ready to create a university.  UC initially held classes in the old Woodward High School building in Over-the-Rhine.  With the erection of a permanent building, the university moved to the hillside below present day Clifton Avenue as it winds its way downtown.

This structure served as the home of UC until 1895 when a new campus was created in a corner of Burnet Woods, the location of the university as we now know it.  The University Building was too small and inadequate for a growing student body, and a fire had damaged part of it. However, it was not abandoned.  Over the following decades, it was used variously to house UC’s College of Law, its medical school, and as a temporary home for the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.), an ancestor of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (R.O.T.C.).  It is even said that at one time when the University Building was used by the College of Medicine, there were complaints from the passengers on the Bellevue Incline, which passed nearby, that anatomy students would lean out the windows to wave at them, the arms and legs of cadavers in hand.

Eventually, however, the building deteriorated to the point that razing it was the only reasonable thing to do.  This postcard image shows the University Building in its final hours.  The day after this picture was taken, in the middle of hours of rain, the first home of the University of Cincinnati was torn down.  But, in a way it still lives.  Before demolition, a UC alum with fond memories of his alma mater requested of a friend that some bricks be sent to him.  When he received them, Joseph Strauss placed them in a pylon of a bridge he was building.  So, there is a little bit of UC’s heart in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.