• Historic Columbus

How it started vs. How it's going

Hello everyone!

We are now less than five days away from Historic Columbus' 55th Annual Meeting and Preservation Awards. The video will be released on Facebook and YouTube at 5:30 PM on Monday, October 25th. I also don't want you to miss the announcement of this year's winner of the $100,000 Public Participation Grant - that will be made live on Facebook on Tuesday, October 26th at 11:30 AM. There were over 3,800 votes cast! Thank you to everyone who voted!

For this week's Preservation Spotlight, I wanted to share a little of what we have been up over the past year beginning with a not-so-subtle reminder of why Historic Columbus was started 55 years ago.

Next week, we will showcase several great preservation projects that are receiving awards on Monday night. Thank you all for your love of our history, our places, and our people. You make preservation happen.

Elizabeth B. Walden

Executive Director

 

The Redd House, c. 1859, was located in Rose Hill.

It was demolished in 1955 for a parking lot.


Columbus, like many cities across the country, lost older buildings during the 1940s through the 1960s for many reasons, including economic hardships, suburban flight, commercial encroachment, road construction, Mother Nature, and the sentiment that simply - newer was better. This is just a small sampling of some of the great Columbus buildings that have been lost over the years.

Above Left: The Dragon House, c. 1889 (SW corner 2nd Avenue and 14th Street), artwork by Rick Spitzmiller Above Right: John Fontaine House, c. 1836 (Front Avenue and 10th Street) Below: The Waverly Hotel, c. 1914 (northwest corner of 13th Street and 1st Avenue)


Above Left: 9th Street Branch YMCA, c. 1907 (9th Street and 5th Avenue) Above Right: Carnegie Library, c. 1907 (Broadway and 15th Street) Below: The Racine Hotel, c. 1845 (northeast corner of 13th Street and 1st Avenue)


Above Left: Charles Woolfolk House, c.1850 (Wynnton Road near AFLAC),

artwork by Rick Spitzmiller Above Right: c. 1896 Courthouse with Government Center being built behind it Below: Spencer High School, c. 1930 (10th Avenue and 8th Street)


As most know, it all began with a small group determined to save the Springer Opera House, but they didn’t stop there. Their vision became bigger and Historic Columbus was born in 1966. As a part of the opening chapter to our most recent publication, This Place Matters, a part of a presentation that was made by John M. Sheftall in 2016 was included. I think it's relevant to use here to transition this spotlight into where Historic Columbus is now. "Economic revitalization may often be the argument we make to the rest of the world, but it’s not the reason we do it. Or at least it shouldn’t be. We work to preserve because we want the world we pass on to contain buildings and places of beauty, places where truths can be distilled about our history, and places with great spirit. If this philosophy guides us, consciously and unconsciously in the way we set our goals as preservationists, then I submit that when we preserve it, economic revitalization will come. Perhaps not overnight. But definitely in the long run. The preservation movement, in all of its manifestations, which arrived in Columbus 50 years ago and incarnate in Janice Biggers and Clason Kyle, who we are so blessed to still have with us, goading us, challenging us, evolving with us – remains I think the best hope for our town. When we fight to save a special place, whether it is a building or a park or a neighborhood, if our purpose remains to create beauty, facilitate truth, and preserve the spirit of this place, and we can do it collectively, then we have a better chance of winning, and our efforts will never be in vain."

City Mills, photographed for the Historic American Engineering Record in 1978.


During the lockdown of COVID, I took that opportunity to have phone conversations with the HCF Board of Directors to get their thoughts on our future preservation priorities. Historic Columbus was, at the time, four years out of its first ever capital campaign where $6 million was raised. We had accomplished much of what we set out to do in the campaign, so it was time to begin planning our next priorities. The board developed three priority areas that are to be the focus of specific projects and new strategies - The Mill District, High Uptown, and Heritage Park. HCF's Director of Planning and Programs Justin Krieg began administering the City Village master planning project in 2014. When that grew into a larger vision for the entire Second Avenue corridor (from High Uptown and the TSYS Campus to JR Allen Parkway), we were definitely on board to help out. For the past five years, Justin has served as the administrator of what has now become known as The Mill District. This past summer, The Mill District announced their new CEO, Lauren Chambers. Lauren's previous work was highly community-involvement driven and that has placed her perfectly to guide the Mill District in developing a strategy and plan for making positive change within those four neighborhoods. Justin remains on that board to continue the partnership of our organizations. Our work within City Village and Bradley Circle has only amped up over the past year, thanks in large part to the tireless work of Past President Jack Jenkins. Historic Columbus has also received over $200,000 in restricted donations for projects specifically in Bradley Circle. You want to see transformation in progress, I encourage you to take a drive around Bradley Circle.


Left: aerial of Bradley Circle. The red dots represent projects Historic Columbus or its members have been involved with in Bradley Circle. Middle: Historic Columbus project at 2901 First Avenue. Right: New image of City Mills.

There is one property that has become perhaps the largest catalyst for redevelopment that we’ve seen in a while – City Mills. When Historic Columbus partnered with Ken Henson in 2015, our mission was not only to put our money ($1.2 Million) where our mouth is, but also to stand in the gap between imminent demolition and making stabilization and a future possible for the last endangered National Historic Landmark property. This was the first investment, the pioneering step. And now, six years and a global pandemic later, the $34 million Mercer University School of Medicine is under construction, Pezold Management and Ken Henson have recently opened one of the two City Mills buildings with hotel rooms and a yoga studio, Chase Homes is being completely redeveloped, 70 new apartments in High Uptown are under construction and almost complete right across from the TSYS campus, and the High Side Market and Mid City Yards among other projects are underway. In total, nearly $100 million in new investment is coming out of the ground along 2nd Avenue between 13th Street and 29th Street. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe not, but what all that new investment does tell is a compelling story in how it’s possible for a run-down vacant and abandoned mill building to give developers, investors, community advocates, and residents a reason to think about an area differently.

While Historic Columbus has been much more active with projects in High Uptown and Bradley Circle, Heritage Park (Broadway and 7th Street) has also remained a top priority. Heritage Park was developed in the late 1990s through a partnership of HCF, Uptown Columbus, and many private donors to celebrate the city’s industrial history. Upon completion in 1999, the park was deeded to the Columbus Consolidated Government. In 2009, Historic Columbus funded new signage, repaired water issues, provided sculpture repair, cleaned the pools, and repaired the railings throughout the property. Those repairs kept the park in fairly good shape until 2016. By that time, the park's large water feature was no longer working, and it has been dry since that time. Historic Columbus has worked with Parks and Rec and city officials to secure funds through the city's budgeting process but have been ultimately unsuccessful. While replacing the entire pump system and fixing the design issues would be the simplest thing to do, would it the best long-term solution? One main concern expressed by both Historic Columbus and city staff in early conversations was future maintenance. When HCF staff started thinking about alternative solutions for the future of Heritage Park, we recognized we needed to remain mindful to our obligation to the original park donors, HCF members, and the neighborhood. It was also important that any future plan stay true to our mission.

Justin and I shared with the Executive and the Preservation Committees our out-of-the-box ideas earlier this year. We also expressed that it was necessary to include the Chattahoochee Promenade (the greenspace south of the Coca-Cola Space Science Center) in any visioning process due to its proximity, its own maintenance struggles, and the need for expanded interpretation with its educational elements. We felt this should be a comprehensive look of the area and how our community shares its history within the public realm. The Executive Committee approved hiring Neil Clark with Hecht Burdeshaw to put some creative vision to paper. In August, the Historic Columbus Board of Directors approved providing HCF staff with the ability to move forward with conversations - with city administration, City Council, Heritage Park donors, and the residents of the historic district about conceptual revitalization plans. This is an exciting opportunity to re-imagine these public spaces and make them more engaging to the neighborhood, our community's residents, and our visitors. We need to tell our history better, and we need to find creative ways to maintain these community assets. It is more conversation that is our next step over the next couple of months.

Enriching our city’s character through preservation, expanding the way we tell our city’s stories through education, elevating our historic assets through revitalization strategies, and promoting those benefits through advocacy efforts. This is the work we do together. The bottom line is and has always been about your passion for our places, your passion for our history, and your passion to improve our community. That is what we are celebrating at this year’s Annual Meeting as we honor the incredible private investment by our 2021 Preservation Award recipients. I hope you will join us!


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