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 K-Mart..one 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!

1 comment:

Katie said...

Love your pictures of my neighborhood. My husband is a life-long Westsider and I am a transplant from Clintonville (where the "Horse in the Sky" is).

Just to let you know what happened with Ding Ho and why its sign didn't move. The old owner died and left the building to the second wife and the business to the kids. The second wife wanted to run the business herself and so she evicted the business from the ultra-cool building. The took the name and the great food, but had to leave the ambiance and the sign.