Have you ever been to Cincinnati? I simply love the place, specifically the "Over The Rhine" area, also know as OTR. It's were my dad was born, and was our family's summer road trip destination for many of my early years.
For decades Cincinnati's perch on the Ohio river made it the Gateway to the West for immigrants using water highways to make their way from the east coast to lands beyond the Mississippi. Its frontier port town identity is reflected in dense concentrations of 1800's architecture. Seriously detailed and colorfully painted residential and commercial brick buildings cling to steep hills overlooking downtown and the beautiful bridges spanning the Ohio river.
Yes, this bridge should look familiar. The John A. Roebling Bridge, 1867, was the practice run for the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883.
The steep grades of many Cincinnati streets puts the fear of God into any flatlander driving a stick shift. My aunt loved to ride her (1 speed!) bike on those hilly streets as a kid, and cried because her over-developed calves inspired some schoolmates to tease her for having boy's legs.
When I'm trying to sum up Cincy's look and feel to someone in just a few words, "San Francisco of the Midwest" is my default phrase. The photo I show is this view from our friend's house, in the heart of OTR:
Considering all the contributing factors, my love for the Queen City is unavoidable: besides the great combination of landscape and architecture, it's also home to a large number of both my mom and dad's ancestors, who I have researched back to the 1830's. The pleasantly particular accent of its denizens is a spin on "Southern" unlike anywhere else in the South. The influx of skilled craftsmen during its heyday, along with plenty of the required natural resources, enabled art to flourish in Cincinnati. Its museums are spectacular, showcasing local murals and ceramic works of international prominence, including Rookwood pottery, which points to the prominent role women had in Cincy's nascent art scene. Cincy was also an early incubator of the Arts and Crafts movement, and has some stunning examples of Art Deco themed buildings.
Then there's Cincinnati's singular food and drink: Skyline chili, Goeta, Graeter's ice cream, and, mmm - beer. OTR was the original center of the lager beer universe, and is making a spectacular comeback due in no small measure to - you guessed it - beer! (See my link page and praise for the book When Beer Was King).
Yeah, so there's all those things that are great about Cincinnati. Ultimately though, what really motivates my wife Kathleen and me to finally pack up and drive the 5 hours isn't beer, architecture, or cute little hot dogs with chili and cheese - really really tasty hot dogs, chili and cheese - oh they are so good. No, actually, it's our love for our friends Steve and Denise.
Denise's smile would light up the darkest vault in a mausoleum at midnight, and her singing would bring the inhabitants back to life. Steve is a master restoration builder, passionate about preserving the genius of Cincy's old world craftsmanship. Much of what he's seen throughout town he's distilled inside their home, with brilliant color choices that makes it a four story religious experience. Steve's hand-made hinges, rounded plaster corners, high, sculpted baseboards and other details all attest to his skill, knowledge, and reverence for the artisan craftsmen that rendered Cincinnati into a unique and rich collection of architectural treasures.
So I guess that it's really no surprise that it was in Cincinnati, in Denise and Steve's home, back around 1998, that we first laid eyes on a Chambers stove, their baby blue Model C.
It was awe and lust at first sight. Besides the sheer beauty of the dang thing, part of the draw was the mystery of it: where did it come from? How did it work? No one really knew. Supposedly it was made out of cast iron and had a brick-lined oven that let it cook at 1000 degrees, and it could even cook without the gas on.
All that we knew for sure was that we loved those tear drop handles, the sensuous curves, the deep golden glow of the timer and oven dials, and the chromium blue pattern of the cooktop flames against the deep black porcelain drip pans and burners.
A few years later, when our post-infant son started crawling around the sticky floors of our decrepit kitchen, we coughed up a fur ball of dough to start remodeling. We weren't really considering a Chambers: for all we knew, Steve and Denise's was the only one in the world (note to digital natives: This was before the internet). So we started looking at new stoves, and were immediately, thoroughly underwhelmed by bland looks, shoddy construction, and a weirdly slimy feel of touchpad controls. Although it may have something to do with the fact that Steve designed the layout of our kitchen, my wife and I decided that no way would the shadow of a new stove ever darken our front door. We asked our Cincinnati friends to keep their eyes peeled for an old stove, and if it were a Chambers like theirs, well, it wouldn't exactly hurt our feelings.
Turns out Steve recalled that he had helped a friend move into a house 20 years previous, and he was pretty sure there was a Chambers in the basement. He called the friend and the stove was still there, unused since the move, and it was indeed a Chambers, an older, white model B.
In a blink of an eye Kathleen and I were in Cincy with the minivan, to pick up some Coneys and the stove, er, the stove and some Coneys. Soon afterwards, the Model B was in a heap of parts in my basement shop. More about that later.
I tell this story practically every time I do a Chambers service call, so why not just put it in my blog for the whole world to see? Denise and Steve, thanks for welcoming me into your "neighborhood", and for introducing me to the world of Chambers stoves. I know that I am but one of the hundreds of people who have been inspired by the love and creativity you two surround yourself with, and radiate from every pore.