December 2022 update: Your input is needed! Please follow this link for current condition photos and initial design plans, as well as an opportunity to share your feedback with the Cincinnati Parks Department.
Owl’s Nest Park sits along the border of three neighborhoods: East Walnut Hills, O’Bryonville and Evanston. The location of the house - long gone - is marked by a plaque set in granite. In the 1920s more property was added to the park. Today the Park has approximately 10.5 acres.
The WPA Guide to Cincinnati described Owl’s Nest Park in 1943: “Behind the ornamental iron fence with gates like those of Harvard Yard” was an entry to the Park from Madison Road. The iron fence was dismantled and melted down during World War II as scrap for the war effort. Sixteen brick columns that supported the fencing were moved to Eden Park’s Presidential Grove. The entryway columns still adorn the Owl’s Nest Park entrance. The WPA Guide also remarked that “well-kept paths wind from the ornamental gates” north to Pogue and Fairfax Avenues in Evanston. The northern, lower part of the Park was “devoted to public recreation” with a ball field and play “apparatus.”
What is today referred to as the Owl’s Nest Park pavilion was described as follows: “Overlooking this lower level is a stone and brick fieldhouse with a wading pool…. “[T]he building, when open, affords a kind of gate between the recreation area and the rest of the park.” This pavilion/fieldhouse was designed by the locally prominent firm of Elzner & Anderson and dedicated in 1933.
The two story brick structure sits a a change in grade along a slope that creates two sections of the park. Viewed from Madison Road the shelter house provides a focal point to a grand lawn. From the north, the lower level, the former restrooms and concession open to a baseball field on the site the swimming pool once occupied.
The pool at Owl’s Nest Park figures in the life of Marian Spencer, civil rights icon and former City Vice Mayor. Spencer worked tirelessly to integrate local pools. She is famous for leading the fight to integrate Sunlite Pool at Coney Island (she filed suit in 1952; the pool was desegregated in 1961).
Spencer is less well known for her earlier work to integrate the pool at Owl’s Nest Park. Marian and her family lived near Fairfax Avenue. Her neighbors were Ted (Mayor of Cincinnati in 1972) and Johnnie May Berry. Marian Spencer and Johnnie May Berry took their children to swim in the pool.
Ted Berry, Jr. recounted this about that day: “That park had a pool back then and my sisters wanted to go swimming on a white’s only day. […] Because they had colored-only days and white-only days. Of course, the white-only days were on Labor Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July and they wanted to go swimming on a date when it was white’s-only. So Marian Spencer and my mother took their children down to Owl’s Nest Park on a white’s-only day and it was a real hostile crowd. They started throwing dogs in the water with them, started urinating in the water with them.”
Recently, the Owl’s Nest Park pavilion has been back in the news. The Cincinnati Parks Board had slated the pavilion for demolition in June 2021. Because of the work of the East Walnut Hills Assembly and Evanston Community Council, and of the O'Bryonville business group, along with other dedicated community volunteers, the Park Board has cancelled the demolition and is working with the communities to restore the pavilion.