Columbus, Ohio USA
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Short North Memories
By Joel Knepp
September/October 2015 Issue
The Short North Tavern's original location at 660 N. High,
a favorite hangout for writer Joel Knepp at that time.
As we moved from the ‘70s into the ‘80s, things slowly began to change, and the seeds of the beautiful garden that is our neighborhood now started taking root. Creative individuals began casting their gaze on the area, noting cheap real estate prices, beautiful old houses everywhere, and storefronts on the city’s main drag begging for rehabilitation and restoration. Convenient access to OSU and downtown were also pluses.
A few pioneers started new businesses – pm gallery and Mary Catherine’s Antiques come to mind. My personal favorite was the Short North Tavern. I recall sitting at the bar with my roommate watching Airplane on the TV and laughing like crazy. This was in the bar’s original location a bit south of the current one. On one of my first dates with my future wife at that same fine establishment, we danced merrily while the irrepressible Arnett Howard strolled up and down on top of the bar playing his trumpet while his band played by the front window.
The stunning homes of Neil Avenue were some of the first dwellings to come back. Battelle, through an outfit called Renaissance Realty, initiated quickie fix-ups to its vast local real estate holdings and divested to private buyers. Government grants and low-interest mortgages for first-time home buyers helped many of us weasel our way into respectable home ownership. Our rate, a real deal for the time, was 9.98 percent! Home rehab was on a roll. Sandy Wood, the prodigiously productive real-estate mogul and major Short North benefactor, bought and tastefully fixed up buildings right and left, including the stately First Avenue School at First and Harrison avenues.
Developer Sanborn Wood was in on the ground floor of the redevelopment that started back in the early 1980s
The Victorian Village Society, the Short North Business Association, the previously noted Friends of Goodale Park, the Harrison West Society, and other groups organized and started working with city government, the police, citizens, and businesses to improve all aspects of life in the area. The North Market Quonset hut came down and the adjacent sturdy industrial structure became the market’s new spiffed-up home. Somebody came up with the name “Short North” and the area we now know and love began to emerge and attract attention.
As with many largely uncoordinated neighborhood improvement efforts, ours had a lot of false starts, and mistakes were made. Pseudo-Victorian infill homes were constructed here and there on empty lots – a good idea, but what were they thinking with those vinyl-sided chimneys? At one of its regular architectural review meetings which I attended, the Victorian Village commissioners stooped to badgering the venerable White Castle over the color of its outdoor light fixtures. Doctors Hospital tore down a slew of nice old homes to build their supposedly essential parking lot which shortly thereafter emptied when they pulled up stakes, and the lot remained that way for years. A narrow, brick Frankenstreet was constructed on Price to the east of Dennison. An entire block of Pennsylvania Avenue was razed and replaced with suburban townhouses.
But the worst transgression by far was the cowardly middle-of-the-night demolition of Union Station, which should have been the majestic Gateway to the Short North. It was destroyed to make way for… well, you know the whopper-jawed disaster which now sits in its place, recently adorned by the grotesque Arnold statue. a
A few lonely pillars and an arch in the Arena District are all that now remain of the train station’s stunning colonnade that lined the east side of High Street. I applaud the 670/High Street cap for emulating that colonnade, but there ain’t nothin’ like the real thing. Aside: Does anyone remember when we had train service? I arrived in Ohio on a train to go to college in 1968.
Despite some rough spots here and there, things got better. Streets became safer. Then came the art galleries, the chic bars and eateries, and the shops, many of which from my long-term perspective seem to come and go every other month. The Gallery Hop started up and drew hundreds and then thousands to High Street each first Saturday. The mayor presided at a frigid PR event at which the glorious new/old arches were lit… and the lights hilariously fizzled. The big-money developers came in and started the march of fancy high-rises, more restaurants, and upscale shops (check out the new Anthropologie – shades of Easton!). We now even have a fine little art museum and a boutique hotel. And the rest, as they say, is history. Who knows what wonders the future holds for the Short North? Let’s stick around and find out!
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