History of CHSC
Clinton Hills Swim Club atop a verdant, wooded aerie in the heart of the city, is a popular summer retreat for residents and families in North Avondale, as well as the surrounding communities stretching out to Northside and beyond. Along with tennis courts and volleyball facilities, the club may not offer the types of bells and whistles and cart wheeling clowns seen in suburban water parks, but the success, durability and colorful, free wheeling membership ranks more than make up for a lack of water slides.
How Clinton Hills got its start, however, is an interesting story of grass roots activism and neighborhood pride in what was then an era of shrinking cities and suburban flight. Beginning in the late 1950’s, according to Peggy Solonick, one of the founding members, unscrupulous real estate agents were canvassing the neighborhood and encouraging families to sell their houses and “get out of North Avondale as fast as they could.” The agents painted a rosy picture of suburban post-war “Leave it to Beaver” bliss as contrasted to the creeping urban decay they claimed was at the doorstep. Many North Avondale residents disregarded such tactics, recognizing that the history and beauty of their city neighborhood could not be replicated in a suburban cul-de-sac.
At this time, swim clubs had opened in Clifton, Wyoming and Anderson. Solonick contacted the recently opened Clifton Meadows swim club, but was informed that residents of Avondale were “not allowed.” Shortly thereafter, she and her husband Jim, a real estate lawyer for Federated Department Stores, hatched a plan with neighbors Bob and Mimi Katz to launch their own swim club. As Jim Solonick noted “This was a time when many people were fleeing the close-in suburbs for places farther away from the city. Part of our motivation for building a swim club was to give those who lived in Avondale another very good reason not to leave.” As a real estate attorney, Solonick negotiated a deal for a tree covered parcel of 14 acres on Clinton Springs…seemingly rural, but just a block or so east of Vine Street, and four or so miles from Fountain Square.
The organizing families then went door to door seeking buy-in from neighborhood families, a stark contrast to the fear being peddled by the real estate agents. The responses were overwhelming, as 250 families paid $400 each to help fund the acquisition and construction costs. There were even donors who had no interest in being part of the pool, but just wanted to see the neighborhood preserved, and recognized that providing these types of amenities was a solid way to accomplish that goal. As Jim Solonick noted, one of the great joys was in “returning those $400 checks every one of the non-swimmers, because we didn’t need the money.”
While raising funds for the pool proved to be relatively simple, navigating the turbulent social and cultural currents of the early 1960’s provided to be somewhat trickier. In particular, the issue of integration was first and foremost on many people’s minds, and North Avondale, as a middle to upper class neighborhood undergoing integration, was clearly a crucible for the issue. While the Clinton Hills by-laws contained no such restrictions, there were no African American families on the opening membership roster in 1960. Children in the neighborhood may have played and gone to school together, but some residents did not want them swimming together. According to Peggy Solonick, at the time funds were raised to build the pool, “half the people said they would leave if [the pool] was integrated and half said they would leave if it wasn’t.” But this type of thinking was rapidly evolving, and after a series of sometimes contentious meetings, the club determined that, ultimately, twice as many members were in favor of integration as opposed it. As a result, the club became the first privately integrated swim club in the region.
All distant history, perhaps. But not so distant that it cannot still inform the present. Clinton Hills now provides a distinct, yet inclusive urban oasis for all families in the heart of the city. This is notable, as commentators have observed recent demographic trends indicating that the suburban flight directions have reversed. In the wake of the “Great Recession,” educated young professionals, the “creative class,” as well as families, are eschewing the opportunity to live in a converted corn field in the sprawl burbs in favor of more close-in urban settings.
Clinton Hills, which was founded almost 60 years ago in response to the original suburban flight, remains ready and willing to accept the offspring of the former residents who fled the city in the first place….and, ironically enough, lead to the club’s creation.
The circle is complete. Now jump in the pool.
Written by CASEY COSTON for SOAPBOX CINCINNATI in 2010 (link to original article) with minor edits to dates/etc for this website.