June 2018 will mark the 30th anniversary of the dedication of Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point.
You've more than likely been there before. The tree-lined, 22-acre park just east of the Purple People Bridge is known for having P&G Pavilion, Schott Amphitheater, playgrounds, tennis & volleyball courts, and the city's celebrated statue of Cincinnatus himself.
While other inner-city parks such as Smale and Washington have taken the spotlight in recent years, Bicentennial Commons was a vital achievement in overhauling a huge portion of Cincinnati's riverfront.
The spot where Bicentennial Commons sits today was forest when settlers arrived in 1788. Over the years, it slowly evolved into steamboat building yards and became the site of the terminus of the Miami & Erie Canal as it emptied into the Ohio River. It seized an industrial role in the ensuing years, wallowing as an ugly scrapyard up until the 1970s.
As the 200th birthday of Cincinnati approached, a plan for a total transformation of the waterfront arose. By 1985, a committee had been established to lead the remodel of the area into a recreational site for future generations of Cincinnatians.
Contractors and thousands of volunteers worked to put the park together while hundreds of corporate sponsors pitched in to see it realized. On June 4, 1988, a ceremony was held to formally dedicate the park to the city's citizens.
A FOREMAN AND HIS GATEWAY
The front door of Bicentennial Commons, otherwise known as the Gateway Sculpture, sits directly across the street from the end of Eggleston Avenue where it meets East Pete Rose Way (the spot where the canal ended at the Ohio River). Honoring Cincy's river-centric history, it's a raised, bi-level sculpture that features riverboat smokestacks topped with flying pigs, masks that spew fountain water to a basin below, and a scaled 3D map of the beginning of the Ohio River and its end in Cairo, Illinois.
It was constructed by general contractors William Guentter & Sons Inc. from January 1988 until early June of the same year. Homer Rinckel, a 30-year carpenter from Groesbeck, was the foreman of the project and oversaw its construction.
"It was a good job. Cooperation with the electricians and the plumber and that," Homer recalls.
Together, he and his crew spent six months slowly bringing to life the vision laid out in the design for the Gateway Sculpture.
"We didn't run into any problems. We had good cooperation. Everyone was really into it."
During the dedication ceremony, a Coast Guard helicopter flew low and delivered the fourth flying pig to the top of its smokestack to symbolically finalize the park's construction. Homer digresses.
"They had lunch—bratwurst and hot dogs. I was basically scurrying around here, and by the time I got back, the pig had landed. There was still food left, so I go back and—,” he mimes eating a hot dog and grimaces, “Boy, this is awful gritty. The helicopter had stirred up so much dirt, it got on the food!” He laughs and taps the table.
30 YEARS LATER
Homer, who is now 88 years old, hasn't been back to Bicentennial Commons in well over a decade. We met there to discuss his time working on the Gateway Sculpture and how he felt about the park long after they finished building it. While he's not one to necessarily speak in superlatives, it's clear he's filled with pride about his work there. When asked what he thinks of the park today, he mentions the trees.
"They're a lot bigger." He says, looking around us.
We took a walk after our interview, specifically back to the Gateway. He smiled as he moved through and interacted with the sculpture he and the Guentter crew created decades ago. Seeing his understated pride about his work made me appreciate the park I'd come to love over the years even more.
What had once been an unsightly scrapyard for more than 100 years was transformed into a beautiful public space filled with tall trees, thoughtful art, and 30 years of memories for countless Cincinnatians. Homer and the thousands of others who gave their time and effort in 1988 reshaped the front lawn of the Queen City for its 200th birthday and ultimately paved the way for the future of fun along the banks of the Ohio River we know today.
Thank you to everyone involved with creating this generous public space. And happy pearly thirty, Bicentennial Commons.
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The Gateway Sculpture at Bicentennial Commons is located at 799 E Pete Rose Way (45202). A parking lot is located directly in front of it for easy access.