Pet Peeve: Renovation vs. Restoration

The other day, I was looking at real estate listings for the Near East Side, and noticed what I think is a very unfortunate trend- that many historic homes in the neighborhoods of Olde Towne East and King-Lincoln are being stripped of all their historic character in favor of a quick flip. These neighborhoods have some of the best historic housing in all of Columbus, even as the neighborhood has seen hundreds of teardowns particularly in the 1960s and 1970s during the Urban Renewal years. For a long time, the NES was being revitalized very slowly, with only piecemeal restorations of individual homes by private owners. This allowed many historic homes to be gradually restored. Here are some examples where I think the historic nature was largely respected:

1049 Franklin Avenue
This home, built in the 1890s, was updated in 2017.

Photo taken in 2010.

The 2010 photo of the 2-unit shows the home mostly intact, with really only some restoration needed, particularly for the porch area. The double porch is most likely not original to the house, which was likely a single-family home at one time.

Photo taken in 2018.

The 2018 shows a mostly unchanged look aside from a much nicer porch with appropriate color schemes and landscaping.
While I don’t have any old interior shots, the updated ones show consideration for the age of the home.

As these pictures show, the home has been updated without losing its character. Original hardwood floors have been restored, woodwork hasn’t all been whitewashed and details like built-ins and stained-glass windows remain intact.

248 South 17th Street
This single-family home from 1894 is another great example of a historic home being updated without extensive change.

Photo taken in 2010.

The 2010 photo shows the house needs some updated curb appeal, but not much else.

Photo taken in 2018.

In 2018, the exterior has only been lightly updated.

Again, the home has clearly been renovated, but it is also crystal clear that it’s a historic home.

So these are a few examples of the good, where the homes were respected for what they are.

Now let’s look at a few examples where the owners attempted to make the homes into something else, with minimal historic elements maintained or where the character of the homes was changed. These examples represent the majority of current renovations.

240 South 18th Street

Photo taken in 2010.

In the 2010 photo of this 1900, 2-unit home, the right unit is boarded up, but otherwise the exterior appears to be in great shape.

Photo taken in 2018.

In 2018, it appears that there has been virtually no change to the exterior.
The same cannot be said for the interior.

The renovation is not necessarily bad, but you get the feeling that the owner thought exposing brick somehow equals an appreciation for character. Instead, because the original floors, woodwork, doors, mantles, etc. have all been replaced, removed or covered up, it comes off less as a historic home, but more of an industrial loft that you might find Downtown. This is typical of the vast majority of renovations in the neighborhood. Historic character is an afterthought.

55 Hoffman Avenue
This early 1900s home has a unique exterior that was changed little between 2010 and 2018, other than receiving a new paint job and landscaping.

Photo taken in 2010.

Photo taken in 2018.

I feel like this renovation is somewhat a transition between the first set of homes and the 240 S. 18th example. The renovation is much more extensive than the first set, but not quite as bad as 240 S. 18th. However, it shows the popular use of whitewashing everything to make the interiors look modern. The historic character that remains is mostly maintained due to the configuration of walls and windows rather than anything specific about decoration or color choices.

The 2 homes above are not the worst, in that they maintain at least some historic elements even if they might have gone a little too far in the modern updating. The next examples are the Frankenstein monsters of the group, where the renovations basically gutted every last historic detail of the interiors, and even significantly altered the exteriors.

422 South Ohio Avenue
This late 1890s home was in very bad condition in 2010, as the photo shows The house had completely lost its original front porch, windows were missing and the home was a candidate for demolition.

Photo taken in 2018.

What?? The new porch looks like something taken from some mountain retreat with its oversized wooden beams. It looks completely inappropriate to the home. Yes, the house needed a new porch, but come on. It’s not only the wrong architecture, the color scheme clashes and comes across as tacky.
The interiors are even worse, in that they do not even try to match the exterior style.

Some rooms are heavily industrial, others are featureless and bland, and then there are others that look like the houses from the 2nd grouping, that maintain some historical elements. Now, given the poor state of this home several years ago, the interiors were probably heavily damaged and it was essentially a blank slate, but this design reeks of someone who didn’t quite know how to create any cohesive look.

505 Linwood Avenue
Now, this is not an old home, as it was built in 2017. So this is not a case of renovation or restoration at all. However, it falls into the Frankenstein category for simply not keeping with the architecture of the neighborhood at all.

Photo taken in 2017.

So what’s the style of this? It has some design elements of historic homes, like the punched out windows, but the exterior once again is designed like some kind of modern cabin. And then you have those ridiculous lion columns.

I honestly don’t hate the interior. It has a quirky, but interesting design. It just doesn’t seem to go with the outer look at all, and the whole thing seems so random.

Luckily, the last 2 examples are not the norm, but the rare exception. Still, the fact that most homes fall into the 2nd category is not encouraging. Many people may find no issue in that group. The renovations aren’t distasteful exactly, but to me, something is being lost in trying to turn these homes into the equivalent of a loft apartment rather than appreciating the elegance that a historic home offers. Once those original details are lost, they’re never coming back.

Historic Building Database Major Updates!

A multi-day library research trip has been fruitful! I gathered enough new information to create 3 new pages: Short North, South Side and West Side. While some of the entries were just moved from the mixed Other page, among the currently 125 homes featured on the 3 new pages, there are more than 2 dozen completely new homes added. There are many more coming to all 6 of the current residential pages.
In addition, many of the previously-added homes were updated with better photos and links that allowed for larger images when clicked on, so details are clearer than ever. Many also received updated histories.
Neighborhoods that previously had no featured homes that now do include German Village and the Hilltop.

A great example of the many new homes included in the new South Side page, this one in German Village.

Photo taken in 1978.

Check out the history of this home and more on all the Database pages-
Historic Building Database- Residential: Olde Towne East/King-Lincoln
Historic Building Database- Residential: Downtown
Historic Building Database- Residential: Short North
Historic Building Database- Residential: South Side
Historic Building Database- Residential: West Side
Historic Building Database- Residential: Other Places

Winter 2014-2015: A Look Back- November 2014

While it’s still possible to get snow into April, winter is essentially over for one more year. For the second year in a row, winter was colder and snowier than normal, so let’s look at the monthly play-by-play as well as the final stats.

November 2014
First, a reminder of November normals.
High: 52.6
Low: 36.1
Mean: 44.4
Precipitation: 3.20″
Snowfall: 0.9″
Snow Depth: 0.0″

November 2014 Average High: 45.7
1878-2014 Ranking: 10th Coldest
Departure from Normal: -6.9

November 2014 Average Low: 30.0
1878-2014 Ranking: 6th Coldest
Departure from Normal: -6.1

November 2014 Mean Temperature: 37.8
1878-2014 Ranking: 7th Coldest
Departure from Normal: -6.6

Coldest November 2014 High: 19 on the 18th
1878-2014 Ranking: 5th Coldest
The 19 recorded on the 18th was the record coldest high ever recorded for the date, beating the previous 1903 record by a full 7 degrees!
Other near record low highs:
33 on the 17th. 3rd coldest daily high for the date.
27 on the 21st. 3rd coldest daily high for the date.

Coldest November 2014 Low: 12 on the 18th.
1878-2014 Ranking: 8th Coldest
The 12 recorded on the 18th was the 2nd coldest low ever recorded for the date.
Other near record lows:
13 on the 19th. 2nd coldest low for the date.
14 on the 21st. 2nd coldest low for the date.

Number of Highs 32 Degrees or Below: 4
1878-2014 Rank: 5th Highest

Number of Lows 32 Degrees or Below: 19
1878-2014 Rank: 4th Highest

November 2014 was clearly very cold historically, coming in as a top 10 coldest ever.

The month overall was rather dry, with just 1.46″ of precipitation, which was 1.74″ below normal. This was the 22nd driest November since 1878.

November 2014 Precipitation Days: 20
1″+ Daily Precipitation Days: 0
0.5″+ Daily Precipitation Days: 0
0.25″+ Daily Precipitation Days: 3

Snowfall, despite the dry month, came in at a bit above normal, at 4.1″. Still, this was the 15th snowiest November on record, as the graph shows.

Greatest November 2014 Daily Snowfall: 3.8″ on the 17th.
1878-2014 Rank: 10th Greatest
The 3.8″ on the 17th was also the 2nd highest total for the date.

Snowfall Days: 9
1″+ Snowfall Days: 1
2.5″+ Snowfall Days: 1
5″+ Snowfall Days: 0

Greatest Daily Snow Depth: 3″ on the 18th and 19th.
Average Monthly Snow Depth: 0.4″

Questions Answered: Columbus Snowfall By Season

I get *tons* of searches for Columbus snowfall history, and while I’m still building up individual monthly records in this regard, here are the season snowfall totals for every season since 1878-79.

A Glimpse at 1960s Preservation Efforts and the Mystery of the Alfred E. Kelley House

In my research into finding photos and information on historic buildings in Columbus, I have come across some interesting documents related to why some buildings were demolished. Take the Alfred E. Kelley House, which once stood at 282 E. Broad Street. Built over the course of about a year between 1837-1838, the house was a classic Greek Revival. Over the many years of its existence, the house functioned in multiple capacities, including as a school. During those other uses, the architecture was drastically altered, and by 1960, the year the house was proposed to be demolished to build the Christopher Inn, the historic nature had been “severely damaged”. Still, the house had survived 122 years by then, and a history-minded group of people got together to try and save it with the intent of restoration and operating a period museum.

The Kelley House in 1898.

Photo taken around 1900.

Photo taken around 1900.

The Kelley House in 1958.

The rear of the Kelley House in 1958.

An interior room of the Kelley House in 1958.

In early January 1962, the efforts to save the house during the previous year were detailed by one Dixie Sayre Miller, chairman of the Kelley House Committee, which had been formed on March 24th, 1961. The goal of the committee was as follows:

“Considering the time element and the importance of Kelley to the State**, the committee decided to ask the legislature for money for which to move the house intact. We, later, would seek private money with which to restore it.”

The Committee had some powerful allies at the time. State Rep. Chris McNamara and John Vorys, former delegate to the UN, were both in leadership roles. Given this, even during a time when preservation efforts took a clear backseat to development, the Committee did meet with some initial success. The Kelley House legislative subcommittee was able to pass an appropriations bill in July 1961 for the amount of $95,000. The governor vetoed the bill, calling the appropriation “frivolous”. In August, a member of the Committee, Lee Skilken, had the idea to solicit local contractors to volunteer in taking down the house in order for it to be moved. When the idea was presented to the property owners on September 5th, it was rejected because it could not be guaranteed that the property would be clear in time for construction to begin. Instead, the owners wanted a paid contractor to do the work so that the timeline could be met. The land had to be cleared by October 15th, 1961, and the Committee had to have the money to pay the contractor by September 15th.

Here is where the story becomes a bit shady and political. On September 6th, members of the committee went to the Governor for advice on how to proceed. He recommended that they go to the Emergency Board, which would be able to issue a grant towards the project. The Governor promised he would “not object, would not fight it and would not make a political issue of it”.
On September 15th, the money deadline, the Committee had raised only $11,000 towards the $35,000 cost of the paid contractor. However, the following day, they caught a break. Another contractor came forward offering to take down the house for just $20,000 and would begin immediately. Further, even though the Committee did not have the full $20,000, the contractor trusted that the Committee would have raised the amount by the time the work was completed. I’m not sure if such deals would ever occur in today’s environment, but they still happened 53 years ago.
Only 2 days after the contractor began to take down the house, the Emergency Board awarded a $20,000 grant to the Committee and the house was fully dismantled before the deadline of October 15th. Stonework and foundations of the house were moved to a holding site at Franklin Park, while interior detailing was stored “in a city building”, all waiting for funding to be assembled and restored at a new site. This new site was listed as being in Wolfe Park on “East Broad at Nelson Road”.

So, why isn’t the Alfred E. Kelley house at Wolfe Park today? Two things happened after October 15th. First, the Governor lied. On the very day that the Committee was supposed to pay the contractor, they received a call stating that the Governor had deemed the Emergency Board grant unconstitutional and was withholding the money, despite being his recommendation that the Committee seek the grant from it in the first place. This also after a promise that he would not interfere or stand in the way. The Committee considered legal action, but decided a costly court process was not “advisable”.

Without the $20,000, the Committee was only able to pay the contractor $6,000, who then threatened legal action for the full amount. Since the Committee had neglected to be incorporated, each member was personally responsible for a share of what was owed. By December 1961, the Committee had become incorporated and had managed to pay an additional $2,000, but still owed the majority of the contract.

That concluded the events through January 1962. After that time, there are mysteries that remain unknown (at least as far as I can tell). First, what happened to the Committee? Did it end up raising the amount to pay off the contractor or did they end up in court? Why had the Governor decided to prevent the Committee from getting the grant? Did he have a political axe to grind with members of the Committee? Finally, and far more importantly, what happened to the Kelley House? The materials were in storage in early 1962, but the house was never rebuilt. Were they destroyed? Did the contractor take possession of them if the Committee was unable to pay? Are they still sitting in some warehouse somewhere covered in half a century’s worth of dust? We may never know, though I suspect that someone out there has the answers.

The irony of a Dispatch article from the fall of 1961.

**Kelley helped save the state from bankruptcy during the Panic of 1837 by offering up his house, possessions and business interests as collateral.

Edit 7/18/2014:
I guess research pays off, and now, at least part of the mystery is solved. As mentioned above, part of the house’s remains, particularly the stone and brick portions, were stored at Franklin Park after the demolition in 1961. Five years later in 1966, these were moved to the Ohio Expositions Center at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. By then, the plans no longer called for putting the house back together and restoring it. Instead, the stone materials were planned to be incorporated into a new Ohio Historical Center in the late 1960s, presumably the one that sits adjacent to the fairgrounds today. But that plan also fell through. Today, the material is currently in the hands of the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. This still leaves many questions unanswered, such as where the interior portions of the house ended up, why none of the material was reused in Columbus and how they ended up in Cleveland. Perhaps an email to the WRHS is in order.