Enhancing community connections in Cincinnati, by reclaiming alleys, sidewalks, and steps for the pedestrian.
This public alley in Over-the-Rhine is one of the few that was established as a dead end alley. Although the Plan of Cincinnati from 1843 called for the alley (then named German Alley) to connect north to East 14th Street, it (along with Brackett Alley to the west, once nearly identical in length & alignment on the block) stops short of 1331 Main Street and meets the rear of 1322 Clay Street. Most of the abutting structures extend from their frontages to the alley, making for a very dense back corridor.
According to Sanborn Fire Insurance Map sources, Coral Alley had as many as five residential buildings and one tenement along it in 1887. Most of the Clay Street structures, north of Drum appear to have been replaced or heavily modified since start of the 1900s, consisting of a furniture warehouse and electric repair facilities, contemporary homes to Clay Street Press and the former Bikehaus co-op space. French-Bauer Bakery once occupied each of these buildings along Clay that abut Coral.
Each of the former doorways that once served Coral Alley have been bricked over and sealed for decades. Two trees have even grown to a considerable height at the northern terminus.
Length: approx. 275 feet
Alley right-of-way: 10 feet
Cross streets: Drum Alley
Substrate/pavement type: Brick (vandalized with yellow paint)
Notable challenges: Lighting is nonexistent along the dead end section, north of Drum Alley; difficult to gain cooperation with owner of 124 E 13th about burnt out lights mounted to the building on the alley side; popular location for public urination/defecation at rear of 1305 Main Street
Recent activity: Spring in Our Steps crafted presentations for both Cincy Sundaes and the Cincinnati Preservation Collective Pitch Party, back in 2014, which focused on Coral & Drum Alleys as a space ripe for transformation in to a community event space. Although SiOS did not win the crowdfunded prize, it moved forward with scheduled cleanup events, including a partnership cleanup in November ’14 with Wyoming Youth Services as part of their annual Shantytown service-oriented field trip. These activities culminated with Walk This Way, an Black Friday exhibition of local artists from the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
In 2015, we continued our efforts to keep up with the space, as it remained a location where squatters would consume and dispose of glass liquor bottles in the alley space. We found that our stewardship was contagious. During lapses in our own cleanup activities, we discovered that the dead end section received cleanup treatment from other stewards. During our own casual outings, we met individuals who shared that they regularly stroll through the space to pick up trash themselves. SiOS hosted a planning charrette in summer ’15 for the Coral & Drum space, soliciting input about how it should be elevated.
To kick off Spring 2016, we organized a cleanup to address the accumulation of debris and early season growth, particularly in the dead end section. The cleanup concluded with a special mini-set from local musician and longtime SiOS supporter Margaret Darling. Excited to build upon the momentum, we met with recent People’s Liberty grantees POPP=D ART mobile gallery about a future event that would embrace the constraints of the small alley space, particularly themed upon the tiny and compact. Although SiOS hit some snags in 2016, its trajectory fortunately aligned perfectly in the penultimate week of summer with the evolution of Maya Drozdz’ Ledge Gallery for Kleingassefest: a tiny celebration of all the tiny things. SiOS named and prepared the pop-up space, as well as teamed with Drozdz on the selection of participating artists. Drozdz worked per curation magic to bring life to the building walls, including an embrace of the otherwise vandalized brick alley surface with a yellow promotional motif.
Opportunities for improvement: Coral Alley remains dark, with the exception of a Duke Energy-owned streetlight pole and lamp at Coral & Drum Alleys. The chain link fence at the entry to the dead end could be removed/replaced but only through cooperation of an adjacent property owner via request for a city Revokable Street Privilege.
We continue to envision Coral Alley as a central event space to the eastern side of Over-the-Rhine, hyperlocal to the Main Street Business District. This requires lighting enhancements, street signage identification, and investment in ornamental features that create a spectacle for passersby. SiOS is exploring purchases through its grant support to accentuate the space with future programming and improvements that create a transformed space even when there is not an event. Long-term opportunities include coordination with abutting property owners to encourage reopening window wells and doorways to the alley, in order to allow indoor light to infiltrate the space.