It was summer in June when we moved to Over-the-Rhine. That’s when I first noticed her. Like a pinprick in a darkroom photograph, the first crack of day had appeared in her window and reflected back on my face. She was not one to go unnoticed. She hadn’t gone undetected for well over a hundred years.
She was Over-the-Rhine’s Music Hall, the soaring edifice that would soon greet me every day. Whether I was on foot exploring the dark, quirky side of the city on my morning walks, stepping onto my terrace to take a break from writing, or climbing the narrow, steep rise of steps toward the third floor at night’s end and looking out my French door to where Music Hall’s rose window revealed her secrets. Her windows were my stars whenever they were set against a glorious, nighttime sky.
As my feet found their footing on the cobblestones of Over-the-Rhine’s alleys, Music Hall offered me gravitas — the weightiness of the centuries, the concept of not becoming too haughty about anything I had accomplished in my life, for many someone else’s had built such an imposing structure with creativity and care. And it had survived a century and a half. Soon I saw, in the rise of Music’s Hall main tower and her two exposition halls, the outline of another icon my life — the Three Arch Rocks.
Long before moving to Over-the-Rhine, I had become a place person. I absorbed a sense of place, knowing if my soul felt rooted and my person connected, I was home. It had been twenty years since a figure similar to Music Hall had grounded me. That embodiment was a rock formation located 2000 miles away. It existed several hundred yards offshore of the Pacific Ocean as one of our nation’s smallest National Wildlife Refuge. Three arched sea stacks of lava flows turned basalt rock known as Finley, Middle and Shag, or Three Arch Rocks. The sea stacks held my heart and my imagination captive. The three rocks were as reliable and inexhaustible as a rock formation could be.
The three’s. The three’s in my life were magical. That notion had begun when I married my first husband and birthed a son along the Oregon Coast. The three arched rocks stood for us. But I learned the arches could fall away due to erosion. Their sides and tops could collapse into themselves or the sea. And life could too. We lost one of our three. And perhaps I had been searching for a replacement to hold me in its grip ever since I left the coast.
On that second day of June, Music Hall unwittingly would become its successor.
Early morning waiting for the moving van, I took the first of what would become a long run of photos of Music Hall. The photos in themselves were nothing to submit to any contest. I used the camera on my old phone. The pictures appeared grainy, taken only as a record of when I first noticed the presence of Music Hall looming over Washington Park.
I was awed by her soaring heights, the detailed architecture, imagining ghosts floating past the rose window or an operatic singer calling out to me from the balcony. I had yet to realize how she would loom over my life.
For weeks, months and now years after, wherever I was in the city, Music Hall was like a magnet that drew me into her embrace. First in the morning to greet me, to challenge me to grow as her shadows grew, daily and without fail. Later after coffee, writing, and walking the dog, the building acted as a creative inspiration break as the midday sun shone on the detailed finials and etchings. And as I returned home at night, I hustled off the streetcar or trudged along brick roads with aching feet from heels I shouldn’t have worn. Before turning the corner up the alley, I threw a last look behind me at the lit countenance of Music Hall, like a lover who aches from parting but knows her obsession will be there in the morning after she wakes.
Maybe we all have spirit buildings that we connect to in some passionate fashion difficult to put into words. A structure, natural or built, that forces us to open up and see the better part of who we are. A place where we go missing, and only we are brave enough to search for ourselves inside.
That is Music Hall. She has never budged, though my days and those of my four children who eventually moved out town, spun around me. She never wavered, though the life and death decisions I made in my time in the city had been numerous. Other than during construction times, she never closed her windows to the possibilities of what a neighborhood could mean to her, and how her steadfast presence could uplift a neighborhood.
Every six hours, during high and low tides, the sea sweeps in and out of Three Arch Rocks while sea lions frolic around their roost, tufted puffins take flight from the deck of the rocks, and mussels and anemones hold on and let go. But the sea stacks stay anchored in place.
Music Hall has done the same throughout the course of centuries, surviving build after build, helping to purpose and repurpose the lives that have swept in around her, acting as a landing place, a nook or cranny for those who desire a small claim on personal space in the largesse of the city. And she remains — to bear witness to the past, present and future of someone like me.