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A Crying Shame!


In the summer of 2005, I got a desperate call from an elderly sounding woman from St. Louis who identified herself as Emily Pulitzer.  She told me that she heard her childhood home in Woodlawn had just been sold to a developer and she was not sure if it was still standing, but could I please see if it was and possibly try to save it from destruction?  She saw my name in Dwell Magazine, listed as Cincinnati’s Modern Realtor, and she knew I would understand.  You see, this house was one of the first modern houses built in Cincinnati.  It was designed by John Becker in 1938 and built for Emily’s parents, Harriet and Frederick Rauh.   

 What was she talking about?  How could I not know of this house?  A modern house in Woodlawn?  All those Nancy Drew books I read as a child had prepared me for the sleuthing that lay ahead….I immediately started my investigation.  The good news was that the house was still there – yes, a developer had bought the house and the entire 8.75 acre parcel had been platted to maximize the land.  The incredible 4466 sq. ft. international style modern home was simply in the way of this guys get rich quick scheme of selling 6 one acre lots for $190,000 each.

 So sure was he that his $750,000 investment in the house and land would pay back big time that he even let someone come on the property and deforest the trees.  By the time Arlen and I found the house and went trespassing for a look in September 2005, the entire area looked like it had been attacked by giant beavers.  There were wood chips everywhere.  But in the midst of all the destruction was a modern beacon capped with a gleaming strip of stainless steel.  The house was beautiful!

 We were so excited!  Surely we could talk the owner into preserving the house and developing around it?  And why didn’t anyone know about this place?  I called my friend Margo Warminski at Cincinnati Preservation Association.  She did not know about the house.  The state preservation folks did not know about it either.  Margo immediately put out a preservation SOS to raise awareness to this fantastic example of early modernism in Cincinnati.  John Becker’s own house in Anderson had already met an unfortunate fate when his family sold it for development.  What a wonderful opportunity to be able to save this one!

 The owner, however, did not share our vision or our passion for what he had. I tried pleading with his agent (who had the lots listed) to let me show the house and find a buyer who would preserve it.  The owner refused to let the agent show the house since some sort of ‘preservation’ movement would really interfere with his plan!

So the years passed.  Margo did not give up, but she did not have much success, either.  The market dropped and the owner’s dream of selling 1 acre lots in Woodlawn for $190,000 evaporated (although a couple of the lots are still on the market!).  The house, abandoned and uncared for, fell into decay.  Cincinnati Magazine ran a story about the house in September 2009(http://www.cincinnatimagazine.com/article.aspx?id=80413 ).  Then a couple of weeks ago, I saw a foreclosure listing pop up on Leacrest.  Could it be??  It was!  Somehow, the house and 2.5 of the original 8.75 acres ended up back in the hands of the bank and was now on the market for $149,000 (it has since been reduced to $119,900)!!  So Arlen and I headed back out to take a look.  Could this gem be saved at long last? 

NOTHING could have prepared us for what we found.  To say the house was stripped was an understatement.  It was devastated!  Everything was torn out of the house and it was open to the elements.  Someone ripped out both stairways, the entire kitchen, the bathrooms……paint was peeling everywhere, the ceilings were crumbling.  The carpet was still in place in the living room.  The stench was indescribable.  In spite of all that, the actual structure seemed sound, most of the windows (which had been replaced with nice quality wood casements) were pretty decent and unbelievably, the curved plaster walls were in pretty good shape (they don’t build them like that any more!).  Some of the original art moderne light fixtures, imbedded in the stucco exterior, are still intact, and are beautiful. 

Can the house be saved?  Sure, with unlimited funds.  I can’t even imagine what it would cost to make this house livable, but I’m sure it could be done.   But it would be a lot easier to hop in the DeLorean, fire up the flux capcitor, and stop the guy from buying the house in the first place.

So here is my last plea for the Rauh house – if anyone out there has really deep pockets and wants to be a hero to all modern and architecture fans, I know a fixer upper I can sell you.  It’s a real ‘handyman special!’

-Susan Rissover

exterior September 2005exterior December 2009living room December 2009dining room December 2009kitchen (I think!) December 2009


Click here for a link to the mls listing from 2004 when the ‘developer’ bought the house (check this out to see some before pics):

Click here to see the current mls listing:



The MODERN Blogs

I wanted to reinvent my blogging ‘career' by introducing you to two of my much younger and more energetic blogging friends, Chris Magee and Stephanie Labbe.  Chris and Stephanie are both Cincinnati modern architects with interesting perspectives, and they are generously journaling their experiences for all to learn from – or commiserate with!  

Chris is renovating a 1957 Ben Dombar classic MCM with a lot of ‘baggage.’  You see, Chris and his wife Wendy bought one of the first MCM houses I sold after becoming an agent.  The house was not even on the market at the time, but I knew of the house because I used to live in the neighborhood and I knew the owner wanted to sell.  But the well meaning (I think) owner had done some dastardly things to the house and only someone young and with boundless energy and optimism – and a great eye for design -  could see the potential.  It also helped that the house was reasonably priced (at the height of the market) and could be lived in as is.  So Chris and Wendy jumped in with two feet and embarked on an incredible journey that has been part renovation, part restoration, and part reinvention.  Now they are a family of 4 living the modern dream, Cincinnati style, one roof leak at a time!  Check out Chris’ blog @ www.cincinnatimodernation.blogspot.com 

Stephanie and her husband Cliff are lucky enough to be living any architect’s ultimate dream – building their own modern house.  After successfully renovating a small starter home and pocketing the equity, Stephanie set forth drawing her dream – a new modern home on a budget.  They bought a piece of land that another builder had shelved in the economic downturn, and went at it.  Now a year and a half later, they have moved in to their dream, and Stephanie is hoping to use all the knowledge gained on her journey to build more modern homes for Cincinnati families.  Check out Stephanie’s blog @ www.thelabbehouseproject.wordpress.com

-Susan Rissover 


welcome to the NEW cincinnatimodern.com

Our first house purchased 6 months after we got married in 1985 - a 1949 Abe Dombar in Paddock Hills.  Little did we know it was just a step along the way on our lifelong modern adventure!  Vintage photo courtesy of Abe Dombar.

 A hearty THANK YOU to those who have stuck with me through this transition.  Change is good, right?  I have SO many changes going on right now.  First, as you may notice, I have changed brokers.  I am very happy to now be affiliated with Keller Williams Advisors, Cincinnati's fastest growing (and the nation's 3rd largest) real estate company!  Along with that change, I am very happy to announce the association of my partner in life, my husband Arlen, as my partner in business as well.  Arlen is now my licensed associate, and honestly knows my business as well as I do.  He shares my passion for modern architecture (we have been on a modern adventure together for the past 25 years!) and has 15 years experience in the mortgage industry.  It is a perfect marriage - in more ways than one!  Arlen will bring his strengths to the CincinnatiModern business as we continue to grow and spread the modern word.

I hope you enjoy this new website and find it easy to navigate.  I have a lot more content that I will be adding in the next few weeks - I was just anxious to get it back out there so buyers can find the modern properties they are looking for.  Please feel free to send us any feedback - you can always contact me at susan@cincinnatimodern.com or Arlen at arlen@cincinnatimodern.com.  My old website was built on the Huff website builder, so when I left the brokerage, I left the web builder.  This new website is built with an online resource called squarespace.com.  If anyone out there has experience working with squarespace, I would love to hear from you, too.   One of the interesting features of this new website is that the 'homepage' is now my journal, or blog, and will be updated frequently.  So please, check back frequently and see what is going on in the modern world.   

-Susan Rissover


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