Toby’s Touches Inspire “Letters Home”

“The details are not the details, they make the design.”

Charles Eames was correct. The right setting is everything.

Take the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Enter I.M. Pei’s modernist creation from the street, and you begin your visit in a dramatic triangular skylit atrium. Or take the underground concourse to the wing from the museum’s West Building, guided by an artistic installation of thousands of LED lights running along the dark, 200-foot-long walls, ending with a sensational waterwall at the entrance to the Cascade Café. 

I recalled how effective details can be when I discovered striking features in an impressive space much closer to home, at the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.

Founded in 1981, the society collects and preserves stories, documents, photographs and artifacts from Jewish central Ohio. To complement its extensive research archive — located in a building that also houses the Jewish Federation of Columbus and the Columbus Jewish Foundation — the society opened a permanent exhibit space on the ground floor of the building in December 2015.

Our friend Toby Brief, curator of the society’s historical collection, gave us a tour of this appealing, detail-oriented space recently. There are Toby touches everywhere, from her self-designed tidy corner cubbies to the peddler’s cart logo she developed for a previous exhibit, recalling the profession of choice for early Jewish immigrants.

A photographic timeline at the gallery entrance going back to 1830 is the space’s only permanent installation. And it’s a striking one, thanks to three-dimensional features, shades of grey, and the teal accent color the society chose for its branding.

The timeline presents the story of the earliest Jewish settlers in central Ohio, beginning with the first wave of Jewish immigration to the United States from Germany between 1830 and 1880, followed by Jews from Russia and eastern Europe from 1880 to the 1920s, and continuing through the recent past.

Meet Max and Sam Gundersheimer, twin boys born in 1864, who were among the earliest Jewish children in Columbus. As adults, they owned a clothing store at the corner of Rich and High Streets.

Recall Glick’s Furniture, one of central Ohio’s Jewish-owned businesses. And discover Jewish landmarks, such as the Schonthal Center, a mansion at 555 E. Rich St. that was converted to a community center. The 571 Shop, located at 571 E. Rich St., helped immigrant women adjust to life in the United States and provided business training and experience. A project of the National Council of Jewish Women during the 1930s and 1940s, the shop sold pastries, bread, clothing and other items, all made by the women.

Follow the vertically oriented tile flooring (another Toby touch) into the gallery space, which presents temporary rotating exhibits. For example, a recent exhibit employed the society’s large collection of hats, hat boxes and photographs of women wearing hats to illustrate the philanthropic work of Jewish women in central Ohio.

“1918 – Central Ohio Jews and the World War” is currently on view, through December 15, 2018. You can imagine my excitement when I learned about this unique look at one of my favorite fascinations!

Toby shared several special things with us, but the three pristine uniforms on display are rightly the stars of the show. This winter Army uniform and wool campaign hat were worn by Private Harry Kurchik of Lancaster, Ohio, who served in Cl. L. 311th Infantry Regiment of the 78th Infantry Division in France. Nicknamed the “Lightning Division” by the French, who said they came in like a bolt of lightning, leaving the field blood red, the division adopted a lightning bolt as their shoulder insignia.

Kurchik’s summer Army uniform jacket is paired with wool pants, a backpack, a gas mask pouch, and an ammunition belt, all on loan from another society supporter. A handwritten description of the troop’s movements was found in Kurchik’s uniform pocket.  A representation of it is displayed next to an artifact I hadn’t seen before — a gas attack alarm rattle.

The exhibit also includes a Navy uniform worn by Julius Cohen, who trained in Norfolk, Virginia, then served on training ships in Boston. Cohen served in the Navy from January 1917 to January 1920.

Every exhibit benefits from a mascot, and this one is perfect! This little doughboy is Toby’s father, Dr. B.J. Brief.

There were at least 261 local Jewish men serving in the United States military during World War I. More than 100 Jewish soldiers from central Ohio were sent to fight in Europe. Some saw action in France, Belgium, Italy and Russia. Others served closer to home, at Chillicothe’s Camp Sherman. Their names are strikingly presented on a wall at the end of the gallery.

While at war, Jewish soldiers practiced their religion with the aid of the Jewish Welfare Board, as books of Psalms on display attest. Other unique artifacts on display include items from Lt. Louis Herskowitz, who was the coroner of Franklin County, Ohio when he was called to serve as a physician at Camp Oglethorpe, Georgia. On Sunday, July 1 at 2:00 pm, Dr. Ian Valerio of The Ohio State University will present “Wounded Warriors – 1918 and 2018” at the society.

Here at home, Jewish women participated in relief work, supporting soldiers in training camps by writing letters and providing entertainment for them; helping new Jewish immigrants; and raising money for poor Palestinians through organizations like Hadassah and the Columbus Council of Jewish Women. They also raised funds for the war effort through Liberty Bond drives, prepared bandages for soldiers, and knit them socks. “Support Your Boys: How Knitters Helped the Army,” a program led by Andrea Panzica of 614 Knit Studio, is planned.

One of the most memorable parts of the exhibit are the letters David Pastor wrote to his cousin and sweetheart, Anna Pastor, during his time at Camp Sherman. Besides describing life at camp, the letters document a family casualty from the 1918 influenza epidemic. Over 350 of the Pastors’ letters were discovered in a yard sale; they were donated to the society to be preserved because of their valuable Jewish content. The couple later married and lived in Bexley. David owned Standard Dry Cleaning Company until his death in 1955; Anna passed away in 1985.

Next Wednesday, May 30, the society is presenting “Letters Home,” a theatrical production telling the story of Jewish central Ohio World War I veterans in their own words, from letters they wrote to their families and friends. The 8:00 p.m. performance will take place in the Roth-Resler Theater of the Jewish Center, located at 1125 College Avenue in Columbus. Click here for tickets.

Watch Toby talk more about these letters on this recent episode of WOSU’s “Columbus Neighborhoods.”

For more on the history of Jews in central Ohio, read Jews and Judaism in a Midwestern Community: Columbus, Ohio, 1840-1975, by Marc Lee Raphael.

Located at 1175 College Avenue, the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Historical Collection is open Monday through Friday from 10 to 3:30, the first Sunday of each month (except holidays), and by appointment. Archives offices are open Tuesday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. The society welcomes new acquisitions documenting central Ohio Jews.

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Sailing On The QE2 With Speed, [Seasickness] And Style

Pigging out on midnight buffets, line-dancing during sailaway parties, and watching fruits and vegetables being carved into edible art at lightning speed: They’re all familiar moments to enjoy aboard a cruise ship.

However, only a small minority have experienced the grande descente, when fashionable women in beautiful dresses paraded down a sweeping staircase on an ocean liner. That’s one of the reasons why London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is presenting Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, a glamorous exhibition of over 200 objects exploring the architecture, engineering, interiors and cultural impact of ocean liners.

Transatlantic travel on an ocean liner was a grand affair. Seen from the outside, the vessel was utilitarian and functional. Inside, however, it was a floating palace that reflected its modern times. Life on board was like a spectacular Busby Berkeley musical production.

My parents and I had a front-row seat for some of those spectacular productions at sea during our five-day voyage in June 1976 on the Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth 2.

In 1964, Cunard, a leader of the transatlantic travel industry, started designing a smaller ship that would bring the ocean liner experience to the swinging Baby Boomers. It retained an industrial design consultant and several prominent interior designers to deliver a sturdy, striking vessel with a charcoal grey and white exterior, with “Cunard” emblazoned on it in red. Representing the very best of modern British design, the Queen Elizabeth 2 was completed in 1969.

After vacationing in London, England, we met the QE2 in Southampton, where it would set sail for New York City via Cherbourg, France. Before we walked up the gangplank to board the ship, a stewardess thoroughly checked all of my pockets, even my hair and my plush raccoon, Robin.

After we cleared security, I printed tags for all of my bags, boxes and suitcases so that they would find their way to our cabin.

Thoroughly modern graphics guided us as we boarded the ship and made our way to the circular embarkation lobby. This space-age place had molded white fiberglass trumpet columns and a series of radiating concentric rings on the ceiling.

After the lifeboat drill,..

…we made our first visit to the tourist-class Britannia restaurant, where the dining steward put a pin on a map of the dining room to mark each table as he made seating arrangements for the voyage. We were seated at table 434, with another American family with a little girl who was also six years old. Britannia was decorated in the colors of the Union Jack; its chairs were an upholstered plywood shell laminated with Formica on an aluminum base.

As the ship set sail, we learned that the clocks on the ship would be stopped for one hour at 4:00 each morning. We could spend time relaxing in two swimming pools; playing table tennis, Scrabble and Bingo; or testing our luck in the Sportsman Club casino. Each morning, our room steward would slip the day’s news under our cabin door, along with a daily activity program that included offerings like watching a cartooning demonstration and participating in instructional sessions in bridge, ballroom dancing, backgammon, arts and crafts, and even golf. Illustrated lectures on using the options market for increasing your income, spending leisure time in New York City, and exploring the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Minoan art of Crete, and the art of Naples and Mexico were presented for our edification. Cabaret entertainers like pianists Alan Singleton, Nina Tichman and Margot Courtright, as well as the band “Gina and Romany Rye,” performed throughout the voyage. Films like “Winterhawk,” “The Railway Children,” “Mayerling,” with Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve; and “Shout at the Devil,” starring Roger Moore, were shown in the ship’s movie theater.

It’s said that a transatlantic voyage goes through five distinct phases, and we experienced all of them. As we set sail, we stayed close to the shore, enjoying the pleasant weather and gentle waters. 

Then, as we set out to sea off the coast of Ireland, the ship noticeably rose and fell, pitched and rolled, and the adventure began. The captain told us the sea had “swells” and was rough. Britannia’s waiters placed guards at the edges of the tables to keep the placesettings from sliding away. Cabin stewards encouraged us to hold on to hallway ropes for balance.  Elevators were outfitted with nausea bags.  We got shots for seasickness and rested out on the deck, where the fresh air and the hot tea the deck steward brought made us feel better. We went to the theater to see Richard Chamberlain in “The Slipper and the Rose,” but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the swaying curtains.

The sea got rougher and rougher. To counteract rolling from side to side in rough seas and ensure a smoother, more comfortable passage, fin stabilizers held the ship steady. During our voyage, the stabilizers broke. (Now I read  that QE2 was beset with mechanical problems.) Only two passengers showed up at Britannia for dinner that evening. My dad was one of them.

The next morning, the sea was much calmer. After breakfast, I went to the Steiner of London beauty salon to have my hair washed and styled. A lady gave me a pink-and-white striped smock to wear and a small bag with a comb, brush and pink cotton balls for my ears.

I rested on deck in the afternoon, all wrapped up in a blue deck blanket.

Seasickness having lifted, we settled into a daily routine of sitting on deck, staring at the passing ocean, then going inside for tea time to watch a style show. I spent the last of my traveler’s cheques in QE2′s shops, selecting a pen with a QE2 that moved and two Beatrix Potter figures, Tom Kitten and Johnny Townmouse, all of which I still have.

Our last evening on board, we watched a “Roaring Twenties” show, with dancers in coral-colored costumes and feather headdresses, from the balcony of the Double Room. A dramatic spiral staircase with red chevron carpeting, red banisters and smoke-tinted glazed balustrades linked the levels of this two-deck-high tourist-class public area. Brushed aluminum ceiling finishes contrasted with red lounge chairs and brown leatherette booths.

Just as the slightest feeling of boredom set in, QE2 approached land. As we sailed into the New York harbor, under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, it was too foggy and misty to see the Statue of Liberty. When the ship came to Ellis Island, a small boat brought two immigration officials on board. As we disembarked and took a taxi to the airport for our flight home, we could see that painters were already painting QE2’s side with long-handled rollers.

QE2 ended her career in 2008 in Dubai, where she remains today after having been sold to the Dubai government for $100 million. Her original furniture and fittings are still on board.

Ocean Liners: Speed and Style continues at the V&A until June 19. For those of us who can’t make it to London before then, check out Ocean Liners: Glamour, Speed and Style, edited by Daniel Finamore and Ghislaine Wood. Transatlantic: Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships, by Stephen Fox, traces the evolution of the Atlantic steamer from 1838 to 1907.

Posted in England, History, Museums, Travel | Leave a comment

Don’t Throw It Away! It Tells A Story!

Hair, short, feathered and layered, with a high-collared pie-crust blouse, both just like Princess Diana wore. Monogrammed pendant and pleated wool skirt, straight from the pages of The Official Preppy Handbook. Meet the Betsy of 1984.

Lots of us looked like this back then. But there’s one very distinctive difference: My Illustrated London News sweater.

Hand-knit just for me, the sweater featured the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and other landmarks of the London skyline, as depicted in the masthead of The Illustrated London News, the world’s first illustrated weekly news magazine, published from 1842 until 2003. Our trip to England the previous year included a visit to the editorial office of that marvelous magazine, where we learned how it was produced and bought back issues of its Royal commemorative publications. 

The magazine ran ads offering a free pattern to knit the sweater.  My mother got the pattern, found a knitter, and arranged to give me the best Christmas present ever.

I wore that sweater for years, constantly, until it literally fell apart and I did something dumb. I parted company with it.

“What was I thinking? Why didn’t I keep it anyway? I just have to find a copy of that pattern somewhere and make myself a new one!” 

Those were my thoughts as I chastised myself on March 6, sitting in the Canzani Center Screening Room at the Columbus College of Art & Design, listening to visiting artist Emily Spivack.  She was talking about the memorable stories we can derive from our clothes, and how important it is to capture those stories so the don’t disappear.

Curiousity about the histories of our garments — like who had worn the garment before and what they were like — made her want to create a place to record and preserve those stories. She began a project known as Worn Stories, which was published first as a website and then as a book in 2014.

Interviewing people she admired, from the famous to the obscure, Spivack recorded their experiences, adventures and memories made while wearing a piece of clothing that they haven’t worn in years, but just can’t part with. Fashion designer Cynthia Rowley shared how her Girl Scout sash, loaded with badges, still makes her feel proud of herself. English professor Catherine Pierce described how she wore an Ann Taylor pencil skirt during her first teaching days to convince her students – and herself – that she was an authority figure. And Debbie Millman recalled how a marked-down luxurious yellow cashmere Hermés coat made her feel glamorous and beautiful, even during two memorable meetings with the person who said, “Eternal nothingness is fine if you happen to be dressed for it.”

Worn in New York: 68 Sartorial Memoirs of the City, Spivack’s latest book, captures a cultural history of New York City — stories of significant moments or experiences in the city told through well-loved clothes by the people who wore them there. Here’s the ultimate conversation piece: Elizabeth Taylor’s yellow and hot pink Givenchy jumpsuit. Canadian model Coco Rocha bought it at Christie’s 2011 auction of the actress’s clothing and wore to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala the next year. “Even if it had extra space in the bust, even if it was cropped in the legs, even if it was cinched in at the waist, it was her body shape, and I wore it just the way it was,” Rocha recalled.

Spivack described other related projects, like her contributions to Threaded, the Smithsonian’s blog about the history of clothing, and howtodresslike.com, an online archive of nearly 1,000 step-by-step dressing instructions culled from WikiHow. She also collected stories about clothing from eBay posts through her Sentimental Value website and related exhibitions in Philadelphia, Portland and Brooklyn.

As Artist-in-Residence at the Museum of Modern Art, Spivack invited visitors to contribute to “An archive of everything worn to MoMA from November 1, 2017 to January 28, 2018,” a project that will become a permanent part of the museum’s archives. “Little black dress with my eyeglass print blouse underneath. I like to dress like a Japanese school girl. I’m 48,” one reads.

Sounds like my twin was at MoMA on November 14, 2017.

To hear more from Spivack, click here to listen to her March 5 All Sides with Ann Fisher interview.

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An Aerial Lighthouse That Serves Tarte Au Poulet? That’s A Keeper!

I’m not skilled in speaking actuarial psychobabble or creating Woo Factors, but I certainly shine in my role as the Analytics and Research Office’s concierge.

Asked to recommend a destination for a recent birthday lunch, I looked out our windows, pointed out the LeVeque Tower, and suggested The Keep, the restaurant that recently opened on the tower’s mezzanine level.

This Art Deco jewel has been a landmark of the downtown Columbus skyline since 1927. At that time, the 46-story skyscraper at the corner of Broad and Front Streets was the tallest building in Ohio and the fifth tallest in the world. A six-year, $27 million renovation project ended last year, transforming the tower into a luxury hotel, office space, apartments and condominiums. I’ve been curious to see the results.

Named by Architectural Digest as one of the ten most beautiful Art Deco buildings in the world, the tower was first known as the AIU Citadel. It was built as the new headquarters of the American Insurance Union, then the world‘s largest insurance company that also promoted progressive social reforms. A version of the AIU company seal can still be found in a bronze disc embedded in the lobby floor. “Safety First” was its motto.

The Citadel was designed by Charles Howard Crane, a specialist in theater design who was also innovative in his use of electric heat, central air conditioning, elevators, and especially the special effect achieved by using terra cotta on a building’s exterior. Because the Citadel was situated on the sandy banks of the Scioto River, a special gridwork bedrock foundation was required to keep it from toppling over.

The building’s steel skeleton was covered with terra cotta that was rolled and stamped to achieve the effect of white oak bark. The fired clay was also fashioned into decorative garlands, laurel wreaths, shields and statues of guardian angels. Four 18-foot eagles were designed for corner niches at its 35th story. Four 26-foot-tall giants flanked by children, symbolizing the protection of insurance, were installed, but were removed for safety reasons in 1947. Weather-damaged terra cotta was carefully patched and replaced during this recent renovation.

Marble from Belgium and Italy, custom-cut glass from Czechoslovakia, oak and walnut paneling from England and wall tiles from Spain gave the Citadel its elegant look. Street-level entrance lanterns were modeled after lamps in an Italian palace. Hand-painted murals adorned the walls.  An auditorium was equipped with a pipe organ, a ceiling fresco of painted clouds, and a scale reproduction of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.  

Zodiac signs were placed on the bronze doors of the lobby’s three elevators, topped with the words HEALTH, HAPPINESS and PROSPERITY.

The tower was also home to the Deshler-Wallick Hotel, as well as WAIU, Columbus’s first radio station. Other tenants have included law and accounting firms, a Borden test kitchen, restaurants, and state and federal offices.

An observation deck was on the 44th floor. Four turret-mounted beacons were fitted with filters to change the color of the lights on special occasions, a tradition which is still honored today. It’s bathed in pink lights each May for the Komen Columbus Race for the Cure, to raise awareness of breast cancer. It takes on a patriotic red, white and blue glow for the Red, White and Boom fireworks display to celebrate Independence Day. And it has taken on a blue cast in March, in recognition of Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

After AIU folded during the Great Depression, the building was foreclosed upon. Columbus developer Leslie LeVeque, and John Lincoln, founder of a Cleveland electric company, bought the tower in 1945 and renamed it the LeVeque-Lincoln Tower. After LeVeque and his wife died in a plane crash, their son, Fred, assumed ownership. When Fred also perished in a 1975 plane crash, his wife, Katherine, bought the tower, renamed it the LeVeque Tower, and lived in a 41st-floor apartment there until 2011. She sold the building to an investment group in 2004; a local investment group purchased it in 2011. Mrs. LeVeque passed away in 2014.

Named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the landmark property also included the Palace Theatre. Mrs. LeVeque invested $3 million in restoring the Palace. It reopened as a performing-arts hall in 1980; she sold it to the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts in 1989.

Walking over, I described what happened on July 9, 1986, when old brick sewers gave way and caused a 40-by-30-foot section of W. Broad St. in front of the LeVeque-Lincoln and the Palace to collapse, sending a Columbus lawyer and his Mercedes down into a 26-feet-deep hole. ” The world’s largest potholebecame a sensational attraction during the 13 days it took to fix.

When we arrived, we headed straight for The Keep. Named after a speakeasy expression, it offers a full-service bar patterned after a classic 1920s unlicensed saloon.  The dining room features an exhibition kitchen with a brushed-steel countertop for dining. Traditional seating is also available under flickering gas lanterns on bronze-flecked walls.

Menu items are prepared with French cooking techniques. Braised beef hash with potatoes, caramelized onions and peppers, topped with an egg, was one choice we tried.

The other was a puff pastry-topped pot of local chicken and mirepoix veloute accompanied by “Verte,” a salad of mixed greens, dried fruits, crisp apples and candied walnuts tossed in a honey balsamic vinaigrette.

The Keep is operated separately from the Hotel LeVeque, part of the Marriott Autograph Collection of hotels noted for their unique decor. The hotel’s interior design has a celestial theme, recalling how the tower was once known as an “aerial lighthouse” visible from 50 miles away that guided aviators in the early days of passenger air travel.

That fascination with the sky can be seen in the dramatic chandelier in the two-story lobby, as well as in the small telescopes placed in each of the 149 guest rooms.

For more on the LeVeque tower, read LeVeque: The First Complete Story of Columbus’ Greatest Skyscraper, by Michael A. Perkins.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Columbus, Food/Restaurants, History | Leave a comment

What Was I Afraid Of? I Can Do Anything!

After Karen Schultz of Silver Spring, Maryland spent five hours at the Art Institute of Chicago, she was taken with the sheer breadth of everything she had seen. “What are you afraid of?,” she asked herself. “Look at what people have done,” the answer came back. “You can do anything.”

“I decided then and there to embrace the whole of myself, the poet and the skeptic,” she recalled. 

She created …and the Skeptic, a hand-dyed, machine-pieced, free-motion machine-made quilt made from cotton fabric, thread and yarn. She entered it in the 20th biennial international juried art quilt competition known as Quilt National 2017. And she won the Jurors’ Award for it.

Produced by the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio, Quilt National promotes the contemporary art quilt through visual presenting innovative trends in the medium of layered and stitched fabric. Three of its jurors selected over 30 quilts entered by over 30 artists in the most recent competition for an exhibition at the Riffe Gallery in downtown Columbus.

Artistic expression runs rampant in these striking pieces. Denise L. Roberts of Albright, West Virginia created Finding Connections #8 using just two curvilinear shapes of hand-dyed cotton fabric she joined together.  This is a detail of her work, which won the Quilts Japan Award.

When Al Krueger of Lake Villa, Illinois received an album filled with old family snapshots for his birthday one year, he marveled at how he looked in them. He decided to celebrate the awkward moments the photos captured through quilting. Self Portrait as a Young Dork resulted. He transferred the photos to pima cotton and linen, then embellished them with hand-embroidery using silk ribbon, cotton and silk embroidery floss and thread.

The endless number of colors in the leaves, grasses, tree trunks and mosses of the Brown County, Indiana landscape constantly inspires Daren Redman. Indiana Flowers is an example of the abstract quilted wall hangings she makes from silks and cottons she hand-dyes in her Nashville, Indiana studio.

Several events and programs were planned in conjunction with the exhibition, which runs through April 14. Kate Gorman, a Westerville, Ohio artist, gave a lunchtime talk in February about how her work as an illustrator-for-hire and her love of textiles led her to make contemporary narrative art quilts.

While family photos, travels and birds often provide material for her projects, she was attracted by the oscillating buzz of cicadas, then focused on their visually complex nature, to create A Chorus of Cicadas, the piece on display in the exhibition.

She dyed linen, drew and painted likenesses of actual cicadas on it with thickened dyes, hand-stitched them to suggest the filigree of their exoskeleton and wings, then sewed them onto industrial felt with embroidery thread. Using entomology pins, she mounted each individual piece on wool, pinning them in a cradled wood panel fashioned from plywood, nuts and bolts to reference scientific specimen cases. 

On March 8, Mrs. Gorman led a free two-hour visual storytelling workshop in which almost 20 participants experimented with fabric, paper collage and stitching to create narrative textiles. She encouraged those of us who love textiles, but aren’t talented illustrators, to use geometric shapes as our preferred form of expression. She shared examples of her work, like this, to illustrate what she meant:

Thinking about a sketch Mrs. Gorman shared from her visit to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, I set out to create my version of William Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage. Using text from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and a variety of fabrics backed with “Wonder Under” Pellon 805, I cut dozens of geometric shapes and adhered them to a sheet of card stock. Here’s the result:

What was I afraid of? I can do anything!

Posted in Art, Museums, Needlework | Leave a comment

First, Fly Spray And Herd Oil, Now Gin, Served Here

Heading for home after work, I pass this massive building on the northern edge of downtown Columbus. Topped by its distinctive water tower and emblazoned with seven-foot-tall white-painted letters spelling out, “The Smith Brothers Hardware Co.” on all but its north side, it’s become a familiar sight in our city.

For years, I’ve wondered what it looks like inside. Maybe you have too.

I wonder no more, thanks to Stacy Miller of Capitol Equities, the commercial real estate firm that redeveloped this historic property at 580 N. Fourth St. Just before Todd Kemmerer, the firm’s founding principal, talked about the building’s renovation and led a special tour of it for the Columbus Historical Society on February 21, I stopped by, hoping for a quick look-around, and Stacy gladly obliged. 

The Smith Brothers Hardware Company was founded by brothers John H. and Thomas F. Smith in 1878 in Delaware, Ohio. In 1891, they incorporated their business and moved it to Columbus, where it was first located at 39-41 E. Spring St. As the supplier to small, independent hardware stores grew, it first moved to larger quarters at 48-50 W. Spring in 1896, then to W. Chestnut St. in 1905. Soon, it became the largest distributor of hardware products in the Midwest, with 50 salesmen serving customers in Ohio, as well as Indiana, West Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. In 1926, it arrived at a much bigger and finer location on the southeast corner of N. Fourth St. and Poplar Ave., with a frontage of 150 feet on N. Fourth St. and extending 493 feet to the Big Four Railroad. A 200,000-square-foot brick building was erected to house nails, tools and other hardware supplies. Constructed of poured concrete, steel and brick, the building was like a fortress, with 18-inch-thick walls and reinforced concrete floors.

The brothers died and a new owner took over the business in 1932, retaining the name. Subsequent owners sold the business in 1981, but held onto the property until it went bankrupt in 1983. The building sat abandoned and neglected.

Vandals and vagrants living inside the vacant building left their mark. Three-fourths of the windows were broken. Spray-painted graffiti and discarded spray paint cans made it an eyesore. Most sobering of all were the smoke scars from various fires there. The worst happened in December 1994, when four juveniles committed arson. The blaze gutted the top three floors, resulting in an estimated $300,000 in damage, but the building was still structurally sound.

At the time, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, along with the city and private developers, began cleaning up abandoned industrial sites, known as brownfields, years after the presence of poisonous chemicals and other hazardous wastes. Those rescued sites encouraged development in Downtown areas. The Smith Brothers Hardware building was particularly appealing, with its proximity to the expanded Port Columbus International Airport and the recently completed I-670, the freeway which takes thousands into Downtown daily.

Developers had great visions to rescue the decrepit old building. It was put on the market and considered for several uses, including a hotel with a restaurant on the top floor, a warehouse for the state of Ohio, a garage, a high-rise retail establishment, loft space for artists, condominiums, an apartment complex and an office building.

In 1997, Capitol Equities (then known as Ohio Equities Reality) oversaw the building’s renovation and redevelopment. To maintain the building’s structural integrity, Moody-Nolan architects designed its $16.1 million face lift, and Elford construction carried it out. At the completion of the project, the city of Columbus improved the surrounding streetscape by adding street lighting, trees and sidewalks with decorative pavers, as well as installing a traffic signal at Goodale Avenue and N. Fourth Street. The first tenant arrived in 1998, and the building has been fully occupied ever since.

Many of the building’s original features were retained, including the water tower, the exterior lettering, and rows of wooden shelving, once used to hold hardware fixtures, that escaped damage in the 1994 fire. These decisions led it to become a finalist for the Columbus Landmarks Foundation’s 1999 James B. Recchie Design Award, supporting preservation and high-quality urban design.

Massive concrete columns supporting thick slab floors built to hold tons of hardware remain as distinctive accents. Old elevator shafts were repurposed as ducts for heating, cooling, and electrical wiring and computer lines. An original wooden conveyor belt on wooden “bricks” completed the eight-inch flooring on the main level.

Original features abound. In the Capitol Equities office, large bound volumes of Smith Brothers Hardware catalogues are there for the browsing.

A spiral chute spanning all seven floors once conveyed crates of goods from the upper floors to the loading docks below.

Steps away from the entrance, there’s an original trestle table and a spring scale.

A large portion of the building’s annex was also preserved. The loading dock area became a courtyard for workers to enjoy.

There are also some distinctive new features to notice. Opposite an original boiler…

fish made from garbage can lids and stainless steel are suspended over common areas on two floors.

Elevator interiors feature pop art-inspired renditions of product images from Smith Brothers Hardware catalogues, such as Sohio fly spray and herd oil…

and Smith Brothers-branded charcoal.

Juniper, the new rooftop bar, restaurant and event space on the building’s seventh floor, has retractable walls and ceiling panels, along with glass walls along its entire west side. Mosaic tiles, a railroad-tie footrest at the bar, and Eero Saarinen-designed tables accent the spare interior of the establishment named to recall its specialty: Gin, which it offers in 46 different varieties.

Juniper presents a terrific view of downtown Columbus, the Short North, and nearby neighborhoods.

Glance up for a closer look at the original water tower, the iconic structure…

that’s now depicted in the building’s logo, on everything from floor mats to elevator interiors.

Posted in Architecture, Columbus, Food/Restaurants, History | Leave a comment

The Next Time You Dodge Another Asphalt-Patched Pothole, Think Of George Bartholomew

Mark Twain may have learned about a man’s character from the adjectives he uses in conversation, but I ascertained one particular gentleman’s before I ever heard him say one word.

Worshiping week after week alongside his friendly wife and their family, he’s a reassuring reminder that people like that actually do exist in real life, and right here in Columbus at that.   

As I watched the February 15 episode of WOSU’s “Columbus Neighborhoods,” I suddenly recognized the man on the screen as the very same one who sits in the church pew ahead of me every Sunday morning.  I stopped what I was doing and listened to Mark Pardi talk about the first concrete street in America.  (You can see the segment here.)

Mr. Pardi, a professional field engineer with the Ohio chapter of the American Concrete Paving Association, was interviewed about George Bartholomew and the historic attraction he created in Bellefontaine, Ohio.  “Rustic” was the only memorable adjective I heard him use throughout the entire piece, but Mr. Pardi’s descriptive abilities convinced me to go see Bartholomew’s creation for myself.

In Bartholomew’s day, road conditions were very different. Dusty during dry spells and thick with mud when it rained, dirt streets were difficult for horses and carriages to navigate. Brick paver alternatives were expensive and could be noisy. Bartholomew came up with a better solution: Concrete.

The former drug store at 124 South Main Street, opposite Court Avenue, where Bartholomew developed his formula for durable paving concrete.

After learning about cement production in Germany and in Texas, Bartholomew discovered that the best pits of marl — a muddy mixture of clay, sand, limestone and shell fragments that is one of cement’s main ingredients — were right here in the middle section of Ohio, near Bellefontaine. After starting his own company, Buckeye Portland Cement Co. in 1887, he set up shop in the rear of a friend’s drug store and perfected a new process for making concrete that was both durable and affordable.

Bartholomew’s patented process to create Portland cement first pulverized and blended the marl to extract the limestone, then burned the resulting product at a high temperature in German kilns, and finally ground it into a fine dust using flint stones imported from Iceland.

Bartholomew encouraged Bellefontaine’s reluctant city council to try his “artificial stone.” In 1891, he was authorized to pave an eight-foot section near the center of town. He was required to post a $5,000 bond guaranteeing that his concrete street would last five years.

Its success allowed him to pave the square around the Logan County Courthouse. He laid out the pavement of Court Avenue in five-foot squares, about six inches thick and without any reinforcement. A grid indentation pattern provided traction for horses when it rained or snowed.

Bartholomew’s paving materials were exhibited at the Chicago International Exposition of 1893. He received a first-prize award for advancement in engineering technology. Later that year, hundreds of kilns around Ohio were producing nearly millions of concrete paving bricks a year to create smooth, durable streets.

Time proved Bartholomew right. Concrete pavement usually lasts 20 to 30 years without needing major repairs; asphalt needs to be resurfaced in just eight to 12 years. Over the years, Bartholomew’s first concrete street has been patched in several places, but original portions of it still exist today. To preserve it, it has been closed to vehicles.

The street was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1976. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bartholomew’s achievement in 1991, the Concrete Industries of Ohio and the United States presented the citizens of Bellefontaine with a six-foot statue honoring Bartholomew and placed it near the original eight-foot section of road, now a pedestrian walkway.

There’s another street in Bellefontaine worth seeing, if you can find it. McKinley Street, said to be the shortest in the world, is a 30-foot-long street located at the intersection of Garfield and Columbus Avenues, just west of the railroad tracks downtown. I drove around the block several times, but I never did see it.

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