Monday, December 11, 2000

Cafe aims to mark its past

Owner seeks spot on U.S. historic register

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT THOMAS — When it opened in 1894, the Midway Cafe was a hangout for the soldiers stationed at the military base across the street.

        Today that military base is gone, but the tavern/restaurant is still there, catering mostly to families and neighborhood regulars.

        Midway Cafe owner Tim Gabennesch is trying to meld the building's past and its present while giving a boost to the area business district by asking the federal government to place the 106-year-old Midway building on the National Register of Historic Places.

        “If we get some attention on the Midway and on all the businesses here in the south end of town, I think everybody wins,” said Mr. Gabennesch, 39, an active member of the Fort Thomas Business Association.

        The Fort Thomas military base closed in 1964. Today the site is home to a park and a Veteran's Administration hospital.

        But for decades soldiers trained for battle and served their country while stationed at the base. When they got off duty many would visit the stores, restaurants and bars along a collection of businesses known as the Midway.

        Grainy black and white pictures along the wall at the Midway Cafe show soldiers in World War I uniforms seated at tables and at the bar. In photos from later dates in the 1940s, '50s and '60s patrons in the photographs are quaffing beers next to bar signs of area breweries that no longer exist, among them Red Top, Burger and Ba varian.

        “This has been a gathering place for people for more than a century,” Mr. Gabennesch said. “It's a big part of this community, and I just want to make sure it's appreciated and recognized.”

        Mr. Gabennesch's family has owned the Midway Cafe for 16 years; he took over two years ago.

        To have the building placed on the register Mr. Gabennesch must complete a long application and explain the local history of the Midway.

        The register lists 71,000 properties and areas across the country that are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering and culture.

        Buildings on the register are usually protected from demolition, but owners must get federal approval before a structure can be changed, remodeled or rehabbed. Also, the owner could receive federal tax breaks.

        Jay Treft, assistant city administrator for Fort Thomas, said several of the buildings in the Midway District could also qualify for the National Register.

        “I think what Tim is trying to do will help preserve the historical integrity of those buildings and keep them intact for future generations,” Mr. Treft said.


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