Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Clintonville icon...the Tee Jay's sign

A few weeks ago I did a short photo tour of the N. High Street corridor from about Morse Road down to about Hudson Street, a large area of the city known as Clintonville (though this is sometimes subdivided into smaller neighborhoods itself such as Beechwold, etc). The traditional start of this neighborhood is considered Morse Road, give or take a few blocks and the immediate area is often called North Clintonville, or Beechwold. While someone not familiar with Columbus history may not realize it, this is actually a pretty historic neighborhood for a city as 'new' as Columbus. It is not Boston, NYC, or Chicago, but Columbus does have some history and sad fact is, unlike those cities, most citizens of Columbus neither know nor care about it's history, which does go back almost 200 years believe it or not. Clintonville is one of the few areas of the city that has at least made some effort at historic preservation and has tried to balance that with growth and development. This dilemma came to a head in the 1950s when growth northward started to explode with the rise of the automobile and the highway systems, both state and federal, that came along with that rise. Growth was brisk though, before everyone had a car, when the Columbus streetcar line reached up to Worthington in pre-war and wartime years. Clintonville was one of few 'streetcar suburbs' to be developed around Columbus, those of which are numerous in large east coast cities. Unlike those cities, intracity rail transport ended in Columbus around 1948, when the trolley lines were discontinued in favor of diesel buses. The situation prevails today in Columbus, which is one of the largest cities in the country with no passenger rail service; neither intercity nor mass transit. What that means is that Columbus developed primarily in two directions after 1950..the two directions which eventually led to the larger cities north and east of central Ohio..easily accesible by the new automobile-oriented transportation infrastructure. This area of Clintonville knew it had to preserve it's history while accomidating the growth. The corner of Morse Road and N. High Street has been a focal point of the growth vs. preservation debate. The area that was home to the first zoo in Columbus eventually gave way to new single family homes. And another byproduct of the automobile age..the drive-in theater. At their height in the early 1960s, there were tens of thousands in suburban, rural, and even in urban areas. A listing of old drive-in theaters lists some fifteen or so, just in Columbus and the immediate area. Most started closing in the 60's and 70's and by the turn of the century only one or two remained, of which all closed by the middle of this decade. Most closed theaters have few visible remains and leave no trace that they were even there, being built upon by new development. Well Clintonville had one of these theaters, and along with it, you guessed it, a large NEON SIGN! The drive in, to the best of my knowledge, closed around 1970. As of today, like most theaters, no trace remains..except..the large neon sign. Now around the time the theater closed a couple people wanted to open a new restaurant on the property. They wanted any evidence of the theater gone, including the sign so that they could put up their own sign. Well the city of Columbus, and possibly a Clintonville neighborhood society, told the owners of the restaurant that they could locate their restaurant at this intersection provided that they preserve and keep up the old neon arrow sign. It once showed people along High Street the way into movies. Now, as it has for over thirty years, shown people various ways to eat a lot of fat..the property has changed ownership several times in the last 30 years, but it has been a Tee Jaye's Country Place now for quite a while. Tee Jaye's is one of those 24-hour places that gets crowded around 2:15AM..remember, the bars around here close at 2. Think Waffle House or Denny's, only more tailored to Columbus, Ohioans. The sign did not look so good and did not 'animate' for a while in the 90's. Well they were basically told..to keep up the sign..or say good bye. They have chosen the better of the two. The sign looks great now and animates just fine when I last took these photographs last Saturday night after work. When I have digital tape in the camera again, I will film the actual animation sequence, from bottom to top, then a flash. If anyone has any more information on the history of the sign, the old Jerry's drive-in, and even better, pictures of how it looked pre-Tee Jaye's, please please please share. All the 'history' I gathered is from second hand and by memory, so please forgive any inaccuracies! Enjoy the pictures!



8 comments:

Pete said...

Jerry's drive in was a part of history for 1950s and 60s generation. Now that part of history is dead. What a shame! It's like trying to change the TV show "good days" with the Fonz into something else. It's just not the same. There are a lot retro 1950's style restaurants but there aren't many of the authentic ones like Jerry's. It makes me angry.

Pete said...

Jerry's drive in was a part of history for 1950s and 60s generation. Now that part of history is dead. What a shame! It's like trying to change the TV show "good days" with the Fonz into something else. It's just not the same. There are a lot retro 1950's style restaurants but there aren't many of the authentic ones like Jerry's. It makes me angry.

Maureen McCabe said...

Have you ever seen any old photos of Jerry's Drive In anywhere?

Sally Boatwright said...

I was born in Columbus in '63, and we frequented Jerry's Restaurant from '63 to '68 at which time we moved to Texas. So it was definitely still open during those dates. I remember vividly the restaurant's floorplan, the downstairs bathrooms, the inlaid sparkly floor, and of course the iced brownies for desert. AND, if the blinds were open and the light was just right...down the right side of the building one could see into an office where there was a huge shiny blue swordfish on the wall. Great memories.

wfdancer said...

When I came to Columbus in 1963, the trolleys were still running, so they couldn't have stopped in 1948. I think both trolleys and busses were running at that time. The trolley lines were unseemly, so when they were eventually taken down, it improved the landscape.

West Egg said...

Not sure I'd describe the animation as "just fine". They must have cut some corners with the retrofit. I remember before the restoration, even though a number of the sections were burnt out it definitely had a smoother "zip" effect. Here's a snippet from the Jerry's days: http://youtu.be/rhCUPVQSfiE?t=5m24s

mary butler said...

Hi guys...I love that sign and my father was the one who built it. He owned Fred Ervin and Sons neon sign company, and actually won a national award for the design of the way the neon flashed. I too remember the owners office with that great swordfish on the wall. I was so surprised to see the sign on the web. thanks for the memories.

thormoo T. Davis said...

I worked at Jerry's as a Busboy back in High School, late 70's-early 80's. Does anyone remember their sausage gravy and potatoes special they had. I would do anything to get that gravy recipe. Seeing pics and movies of the old sign sure brought memories back...