By: Kevin Grace
For the past few weeks, Mr. Dennis Christine (CCM, Class of 1969), has corresponded with Sue Reller, Mark Palkovic, and me about an old bronze plaque he had. He wished to donate it to us as a piece of University of Cincinnati heritage that he strongly felt should be preserved, and we’re very fortunate that he thought of us because the plaque that reads “Shillito Hall” is a reminder of CCM’s past and its merger with the University of Cincinnati in the 1960s. Yesterday I met him at the gatehouse on Clifton and hauled it in to the Archives & Rare Books Library.
The plaque comes from the last home of CCM before it became a part of the University of Cincinnati in 1962. As many know, CCM represents what were originally two separate music schools. The Conservatory of Music was founded in 1867 by German immigrant Clara Baur, who began the institution in rented rooms and provided advanced schooling in instrument mastery and in singing. A little more than a decade later, in 1878, the Cincinnati College of
Music was created. For the next several decades, the two conservatories would remain separate entities, both establishing Cincinnati’s international reputation for musical training. In 1955, they merged and became the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, remaining that way until CCM was brought under the UC unbrella.
At the turn of the 20th century as Clara Baur searched for a more appropriate home for the Conservatory, she obtained the mansion in Walnut Hills formerly the home of the Shillito family, which had founded one of Cincinnati’s iconic department stores. The mansion had been built by the city’s most notable architect, Samuel Hannaford, and the spacious grounds and beautiful rooms were perfect for Baur’s purposes. After her death in 1912, Baur’s niece, Bertha, fully took over the administration of the conservatory and it remained in its Oak and Highland Streets location until the UC era.
As Mr. Christine told the story, his was the last class to take their courses at the mansion before it was demolished. He began at CCM in 1964 and recalled that in the next couple of years, even while they were in their classrooms and studios, the students heard the sounds of jackhammers and wrecking balls all around them. By 1967, the CCM buildings on the main UC campus were ready for occupancy. As he remembers it, there was another plaque at the CCM entrance that had already disappeared as part of the demolition. He went to Dean Jack Watson and asked about the remaining one, “Shillito Hall.” When Watson said that in a few days it would be part of the rubble as well, Christine asked if he could have it and was told that if he could get it off the wall, it was his. With the help of a couple of friends along with tire irons, wrenches and whatever they could use, Christine saved the plaque, and for the past fifty years, he has kept it safe. Now a resident of Indianapolis and close to Cincinnati, Dennis Christine has always wanted it to be in a safe and permanent home. After half a century, it is.
Inside the CCM Library’s doors on the 6th floor of Blegen Library and hanging on a wall is a beautiful framed photograph of a CCM class on the front lawn of their college, the old Shillito mansion. The plaque would be a wonderfully historical addition to that photo. To learn more about CCM’s and UC’s history, please email us at email@example.com, call us at 513.55.1959, or visit us on the web at http://www.libraries.uc.edu/arb.html. And to see some early views of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music when it was located on the Shillito estate, please see our scanned book of views at http://www.libraries.uc.edu/content/dam/libraries/arb/docs/university-archives/cincinnati-conservatory-book-of-views.pdf.