Friday, September 26, 2008

Hilltop, USA (and a few surprises)

Last night was one of those beautiful mildly cool early fall evenings just meant for being outside. It was not cool enough to don jackets and hats, but one could tell that summer was definitely behind us. While I will miss summer, and am not looking forward to winter, I also enjoy the autumn with nature's own neon collection of yellows, golds, reds and browns. The evening though, shines red, lavender, blue, and green as the neon signs light up our longer and longer nights. So it was my usual night off work, but I decided to come in for a few hours for extra cash for my upcomming move. I didn't want to waste the whole evening working so I decided to get to an area I have been wanting to cover. Of course, yes, High Street, downtown, and the Short North are at the top of my list, but with this being the first week of classes at OSU, I want to avoid the throngs of college students clogging the street. Perhaps a Sunday evening when some of the students decide to start studying. But last night seemed perfect to get to the Hilltop. The Hilltop is a large, older neighborhood on the west side of the city. The area had a long tradition of being a while, working class neighborhood with mainly Irish and Itlian ancestries dominating the area. By the 1980s, blacks and some people of middle eastern descent moved into the area, diversifying of the largest poor white neighborhoods in the city. In the 1990s, the area became home to many, many Latinos, mostly Mexican immigrants, and large areas of the west side definitely have the appearance and feel of a large city barrio. Latino neighborhoods have sprouted up all over the city, as Latinos and Spanish speaking immigrants have been one of the fastest growing demographic groups to call Columbus home in the last ten years or so, but the Hilltop and west side in general probably still contains the largest concentration of latino owned homes and businesses. I also knew, that neon on this side of town is about quality over quantity. Two of the best examples of classic neon sit within blocks of each other on this side of town. I did find some other more hidden gems slightly off the beaten path. I also have a few surprises with this tour. There are some installations that just don't 'fit' into any geographic neighborhood, but are meant to be seen from a freeway or highway. These extras were snapped on my way from the north end to the hilltop along I-71, and Dublin Road. All pictures were taken the evening of Thurs. 9/25.

Rod's Western Palace, on Silver Drive which runs parallel to I-71 near Weber Road. This high horse can be seen from the freeway of course.

The City of Columbus Utility Complex, which is home to city run and operated utilities, including water of course.

COTA headquarters on McKinley Avenue, which is squished between Columbus' west side and Grandview. COTA is the Central Ohio Transit Authority, which operates the city bus system. And does not run street cars..yet.

Some examples of what the Hilltop has to offer. Get out of jail, then get a tattoo. Better than getting a tattoo IN jail.

The colorful swirls are inside of Cirilla's, formerly Priscilla's. Why the name change? Who knows. They still sell the same stuff..items to "spice things up" shall we say. The drippy Liquid Audio seems like a car audio business of some kind. It is at the far end of an otherwise empty and dilapidated strip mall. I believe it once was home to a of those older, crowded, dingy ones and my guess is that if I were here 25 years ago, I could get a pic of one of those huge old blue and red K-MART neon signs!

Some Great Western neon. The Great Western Shopping Center was one of the earlier directionally named shopping centers designed by the Casto group in Columbus. Great Eastern is in Whitehall and was actually much larger, and was home to the Big Bear Plus I worked at in college. There is/was a Great Southern which I guess is somewhat different from the other two. Great Western had a very unique feature in it's early days that Columbus old timers recall fondly..scale replicas of the natural Wonders of the World incorporated into the parking lot. No trace remains now but I guess it was there from it's opening in the 1950's until sometime in the 70s. Why did all the cool stuff of the world go away right around the time I was born?? Seems to be a recurring theme when it comes to Americana like neon signs. Anyway, I bet the old Great Western of the 50s and 60s had some wicked cool neon adoring some of it's storefronts, in addition to Niagara Falls and Egyptian Pyramids.

If neon signs were a religion, this would be a temple! A store that actually sells neon signs! Not the best pictures because I was afraid of some Valleyview donut munching cop questioning me as to why I was taking pictures of a closed business. But one gets the idea! This is just north of Great Western on Wilson Road at Valleyview Road.

The Ding Ho Restaurant, on Phillipi Road near Westland Mall. Now this is actually a bit disappointing. The Ding Ho was in it's original location for years, on W. Broad Street across from Consumer Square West, near Great Western. A typical old fashioned Chinese restaurant, with a name that sounds funny to many Americans, that served 'cocktails' (most likely those cool old drinks that have smoke or whatever in them) and had a full bar as well as Chinese food. And of course, a small but amazing flashing neon sign which probably dated to the restaurant's opening in the 1950s. They moved a year or so ago to a former Ground Round which is their current location. Sadly, the faux Chinese font 'Ding Ho' did not move with the restaurant. This is their current sign. At least they decided to keep some neon. A photo of the old Ding Ho sign can be seen here

Saving some of the best for last. The 40 Motel on W. Broad. One of the best examples of old neon in the city, similar to the Capital or Brookside on the east side. The smaller sign flickers on and off like you would find in a movie that features an old motel. Cool stuff, cool signs!

Saving THE best for last, one of the signs I have looked most forward to photographing since I have started this blog. Hillcrest Lanes is one of the older bowling alleys in Columbus. And the sign has been there as long as the building has. Signs like this once were plentiful as bowling became more popular in the middle of the century. Now, not so much. Two of my favorite hobbies combined in one beautiful sign. Nice to see it still lit, and I am glad I snapped it when I did. Seems any old classic neon is fair game for going dark.

If I had more battery power on either camera I had on me, I would have covered Franklinton and the Bottoms, two more gritty inner city areas on the west side, closer to downtown Columbus, but alas, those areas will have to wait. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

in memory of those that have went dark..

I promised. This, I am sure, is far from complete. These were just a few examples of classic/older neon that have went dark in Columbus, to the best of my knowledge. The exact dates when they were last lit..I don't know. I don't know if I have ever seen some of these lit. The Super Duper sign on S. James Road, profiled earlier this month, can be part of this list as well. I will keep on the lookout for any other signs that have gone dark, or better yet, dark signs that have came back to life (as we see in this post). All pics were taken the afternoon of Tuesday, 9/23.

Mike's Carryout, Hamilton and Livingston. The top part of this sign actually is still functioning and can be seen in a post from last November, the Tommy's Pizza sign. It appears this could have been a drive-in sign, and looking at old property records, the small strip center that Mikes and Tommy's makes up is part of the same property that goes behind a gas station and onto Livingston Avenue, like an old drive-in theater would. But the property appears somewhat small. If anyone knows the history of this area better than me, please let me know!

The Livingston Theater. As long as I have lived in the Columbus area, this place has been closed shut and the sign dark. From the records I could gather it appears the theater was built and opened around 1947 and I have no idea when it closed, but it appeared to have changed hands in 1973 after being held by the same owner for over 25 years. Then it went through some sort of 'renovation' or addition in the later 1970s. Judging by the state of the building, my guess is that it closed sometime between 1973 and 1977. About ten years ago a fitness club that catered to gay men opended up in a refurbished part of the building, which also contained stores, and had been subject to threats and vandalism. Gotta love the open mindedness of pre-2000 Columbus, Ohio! This is in a densely populated mostly African American neighborhood known for a high crime rate. I was there to take the picture and I didn't feel in any sort of danger. It is a shame such a beautiful building
could just sit there to rot, though I know part of it has been used for medical offices fairly recently. And that awesome ancient neon! I would LOVE to go back in time to about 1955 to see what that place looked like lit up in it's neon glory!

Reeb's Restaurant, at the corner of Champion and Livingston. It is hard to find good information on businesses that have long been closed and in inner city areas of Columbus it seems. From what I can gather about Reeb's, is that the building was built not long after the turn of the last century. The Reeb family owned this property from as early as the 1920 (quite possibly earlier) until the 1950s. From looking around the internet and old Columbus themed literature, this was a popular restaurant throughout the 1940's, 50's and 60's. I have no idea when it closed but the last time it appeared in the city directory was 1986. So it is quite possible that the building has been abandoned and empty for well over twenty years. Very common in these older urban neighborhoods. My guess too, is that it had an absentee landlord and the property was forfeited to the state. Considering how long it has been vacant the sign is still in reasonably good shape. Like I mentioned before, I would love to hop in a time machine, take a stroll down Livingston Avenue in it's better days, and see places like the Livingston and Reeb's lit up brightly onto the street.

Well I was obviously wrong about this one being dark! The Lincoln Theater on E. Long Street was a cultural center of sorts for the local African American community in the first half of the twentieth century. The Lincoln (formerly called the Ogden, I believe) was opened in the 1920s as the Harlem Rennaisance was taking place in New York and across the country. This proud black neighborhood sadly started to decline in the 1950s and the theater of course went through the usual life cycle of classic American theater buildings: open, heyday, decline, porn, close, decay. The theater closed in the 1970s and was left for the birds, spiders, and vagrants. I remember hearing rumors here and there about the theater being restored as far back as the late nineties. When my daughter was in a daycare in the area, I would frequently pass by the theater and wish I had taken a picture of the building and sign before the renovations actually started. Which was last year, when the city of Columbus took ownership of the property for a sublease to a local theater company. I guess work has been slow and was scheduled to reopen about now, and has been delayed til spring of next year. The old neon sign, sadly, was taken down in favor of a new sign complete with digital video message board. While I am sad about the sign, I am not sad that this place may again be a thriving center of culture and may spur further development and restoration in the area, known as the King-Lincoln district (named after Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln). Now that I know that the theater is going to reopen and the sign functions, I will have to drive by after dark to see if the neon also lights up. That could be part of the Long Street/northern downtown photo tour I intend to do soon.

The Broadmoor Super Market, Broad and Weyant near Whitehall and the Town and Country shopping center. Cool neon and an interesting perspective on parking, as far as the orientation of the letters. While the market is very much open, the I have never seen the neon aspect lit.

Monday, September 22, 2008

North of downtown/Victorian Village

Not including the surrounding neon-rich areas of downtown itself, the Arena District, or the Short North. Not a ton of neon in Victorian Village, but enough interesting installations. Also I included a few examples that do not really fit anywhere good geographically, other than they are on the outskirts of downtown. The Wonderbread sign and the WBNS tower are Columbus landmarks, mainly due to their visibility from a large area of the freeway system north and west of the actual downtown. The Wonder bakery is also known for the wonderful (no pun intended!) smell that permeates the area in an otherwise sorta grimy area on N. 4th Street about a mile north of downtown Columbus. The WBNS TV tower is probably the tallest neon in the city, it's tower standing some nine hundred feet into the sky, the neon beacon of WBNS some two thirds up the tower. On a clear night the tall letters can be seen for miles as part of the downtown skyline. I am not sure as to when the Wonder Bread sign dates, but my guess is sometime in the 1970s maybe earlier or a bit later. I was going to get to the south campus/Short North areas last night, but I realized it was moving day at OSU and traffic was bad for a Sunday night. All photos were taken the evening of Sun. 9/21.

^This cool cat sits on the attic window of a Neil Avenue residence and watches the action below. No litter needed with this kitty!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Polaris II

Some of the neon from the Polaris area. Note this is not actually the Polaris Fashion Place mall, which was closed at 11:30PM or so on a Saturday night. The Polaris area, for neoning purposes, extends from just east of the I-71 intersection, west to about Camden, and the Sancus/Lazelle areas. I covered the 'east Polaris' stretch several months ago, and the interior of the mall itself will be covered next time I am in the place. Most of the neon in this area is chain related homogeny, but there are a few hidden gems and surprises. All pics taken the very late evening of Sat. 9/20.