Ernest Octavius Birch
Ernest Octavius Birch was one of the first major Black architects in Cincinnati. The peak of his career was in the late 1920’s. One of his best projects was the twelve-unit apartment building, with retail on the first floor, at 1989 Madison Road in O’Bryonville.
Ernest Birch was born in Winchester, Kentucky, in 1885. He graduated from the carpentry program at the Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute for Colored Persons (now Kentucky State University, at Frankfort).
Ernest Birch and his younger brother Edward both came to Cincinnati. Both became architects. Sometimes they worked together. More often, they worked separately. Ernest Birch did his best work in the late 1920’s, while Edward had a longer career, extending into the 1960’s. (For more information about the brothers as a duo, see the article “Birch Brothers Architectural Firm” on this site.)
Ernest Birch designed residential additions and garages, along with occasional commercial projects, including a dance hall, an eight-car garage, and renovation of a contractor’s office. He also designed at least five small apartment buildings.
Birch’s twelve-family apartment building on Wehrman Avenue in Avondale is now gone; so is his four-family on Forest Avenue. But others remain, including his four-family at 3428 Harvey Avenue in Avondale, and his four-family addition at the rear of 3871 Vine Street in Clifton.
Of special note is the building at 1989 Madison Road in O’Bryonville. It’s a twelve-family apartment with retail on the first floor, designed in 1928 for real estate investor Joseph Levitch.
The building was complete by February 1929. The owners advertised “modern 3-room apartments, just completed… including Frigidaire, stoves, in-a-door bed, incinerator, steam heat, janitor service, dryers, etc.”
The building cost $50,000 in 1928, an amount that would be far more today. It is Ernest Birch’s largest-known commission (at least until further information comes to light).
Ernest Birch worked out of his home, a two-story house at 3146 Gaff Avenue (now sadly gone) that he purchased in 1919. He practiced until at least 1934, and then he took a job as an industrial maintenance engineer for the Rubel Baking Company. (The company, founded by Russian-Jewish immigrant Elias F. Rubel, was best known for its Heidelberg rye bread and was an innovator in the automation of bread production.)
Ernest Birch lived in the Gaff Avenue home with his wife Carrena Carroll Birch until her death in 1947. They never had children. He later married Emma Bates.
Ernest Octavius Birch died suddenly in 1951. His death notice describes him as an architect, “beloved husband of Emma Birch,” brother of Edward E. Birch and Arthur Birch, and uncle of Augustine Birch. He was buried in Union Baptist Cemetery.