Before and After: The Near East Side Transformation

Given the popularity of the Weinland Park Before and After, I am finally getting around to posting this one for the Near East Side, which is a combination of Olde Towne East and King-Lincoln. Like Weinland Park, the NES has seen its fair share of struggles over the years, but unlike Weinland Park, its revitalization has been decades in the making. It has seen steady house-to-house renovations since at least the 1980s, and is now at the point where the pace of larger scale redevelopment is picking up. There are currently at least a dozen infill projects in the works, with even more renovations.

North Ohio Avenue
Before: 2009 North Ohio Avenue looking north.

After: 2017


These photos don’t represent all that big a change, but it shows some of the infrastructure improvements going on around the neighborhood. This picture is just south of the Poindexter Place development on North Ohio Avenue. The photos show the addition of a multi-use path, new sidewalks and pavement. Bike lanes, which aren’t shown in the Google image, were also striped.

Poindexter Village
Before: 2009 North Ohio and Hawthorne, looking east.

After: 2017

Poindexter Village was the first large-scale public housing complex in Columbus, built back in the 1940s. All but 2 of the original buildings were torn down to make room for a redevelopment, called Poindexter Place. The last 2 buildings will become a museum. The change from 2009 to 2017 is drastic.

Before: 2009 Champion and Mt. Vernon, looking southeast.


After: 2017

Before: 2011 Hawthorne Avenue looking north.

After: 2017

Before: 2009 Oak and 18th looking northwest

After: 2017

An example of some of the businesses that have moved into the neighborhood.

Before: 2015 Bryden and Garfield, looking northwest.

After: 2017

This is an example of the most common type of development within the Near East Side- the small-scale renovation.

Before: 2009 Long and 17th, looking southeast.

After: 2017

These photos show a mix of private and public development.

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.

Neighborhood Profile #1- Olde Towne East

Olde Towne East, as the name implies, is one of Columbus’ oldest neighborhoods. It began as a series of farms and modest homes, but began to consolidate as a neighborhood when the National Road (now Broad Street) reached Columbus in 1833. This new road acted much like later highways would, allowing those with the means to live a bit further out from the hustle can bustle of Downtown Columbus, which during the 1800s was rapidly growing. So essentially, Olde Towne became one of Columbus’ first suburbs. These early suburbanites tended to be the wealthy elite of Columbus, and they built large, extravagant homes for the period, many of which still exist today.

As the city and neighborhood prospered, residents began to clamor for alternative modes of transit. In 1863, Columbus began service of its first horse-drawn streetcar with a route to Olde Towne East along Broad Street. This allowed for further growth of the area and made it easier for those of more modest means to take part in building the area, and the population continued to grow. This prompted the city to annext Olde Towne in 1870.

By the 1880s, transportation improved again when trolley tracks were laid. The streetcar barn that served the trollies still exists, although currently in desperate need of maintenance. Further development prompted much of the area to be converted to a gridded, residential area, and the affluent continued to flock to the area to build their dream homes. It is likely that the neighborhood reached its peak sometime between 1890-1915, before new suburban areas, such as Bexley, began to pull the rich from Olde Towne.

From the 1920s through 1940s, Olde Towne East transitioned from a neighborhood of the rich to a middle class enclave, and much of its former luster began to slowly disappear. Old mansions were gutted and turned into apartments and nursing homes, while others slowly rotted until they were demolished. This trend was accelerated in the 1950s, as a new highway system was being constructed, and the urban core of Columbus gradually declined due to pollution, crime and worsening schools. This suburban flight, better known as the “White Flight” movement, left Olde Towne wholly transformed. Over time it became a neighborhood dominated by low income families mostly of African American descent. African Americans had not been able to take advantage of the surburban exodus, and instead had simply replaced those who had already left.

What happened in Olde Towne was happening in many urban neighborhoods across the city, exacerbated by the “urban renewal” movement. Urban Renewal is now considered one of the absolute worst disasters to ever befall cities. Leaders believed at the time that the best way to fight urban blight was to basically bulldoze everything in sight. Because the automobile had become such a dominant force, it was believed that the best way to bring people back to the city was to provide large amounts of parking vs a smaller amount of buildings. The theory was that if it was easy to drive and park Downtown, those businesses that were left would be able to tap into all those customers. Beyond that, there was a lack of appreciation for anything of real historical value or age. Old buildings, more often than not, were just considered blight that needed to be removed, far too cost inefficient to maintain. Therefore, if there was more parking for the increasing suburban population along with less blight, urban areas would again become revitalized. It was a ridiculous theory and basically accomplished the exact opposite.

The worst blow, however, was the highway system. Olde Towne East was connected to Downtown with dense, urban development. I-71 changed that. It carved a path through the heart of the neighborhood, destroying hundreds of historical homes and permanently severing the two areas with a highway canyon. All highways did was allow more and more people to escape to the far suburbs, and by the 1970s, Olde Towne East, along with most other urban neighborhoods, was in freefall decline.

The 1980s began to provide a ray of hope. The principles of urban renewal were rapidly becoming obsolete, if not shunned. The damage the philosophy had caused was obvious everywhere one looked in the urban core. But while Olde Towne had lost so much and was in bad shape, some people saw potential. Many of the original mansions had survived, though in extreme disrepair. Real estate had become very cheap in the neighborhood, and house flipping was beginning to take off. Renovations began to take place and the very slow process of turning the neighborhood around began. It was not without controversy.

By the 1990s, gentrification was well underway in Olde Towne East, but not everyone was thrilled. Many in the African American community saw these new urbanists as a threat. Why? Because the inevitable result of fixing up a neighborhood is higher rents, higher mortgages and higher taxes. These lower-income residents, who had been there for decades, saw this revitalization as their eventual push out of Olde Towne East altogether. This controversy became the subject of a 1990s documentary called Flag Wars. The documentary centered on the gay community, in particular, being a force of revitalization, and the conflict it created with African American residents who felt they were being bullied to leave.

The 2000s were a slow time for Olde Towne East. Double recessions hit house flippers and developers hard, and the housing market overall crashed. Revitalization slowed and it looked for awhile that perhaps the process had stagnated. However, within the last few years, the city, along with private and public investment, such as with Ohio State, has pledged millions of dollars to fix up homes and infrastructure in and around Olde Towne even as small-scale renovations have gradually ticked up once more. These new partnerships signal a new era for Olde Towne and other urban neighborhoods that we are once again serious about the urban environment. In the years to come, Olde Town’s incredible architecture and history will become an increasingly important selling point to a society that, at least in the past 5 years, has taken a second look at urban living and not found it to be all that scary anymore. It may take time to rebuild infrastructure and population, but the seeds are there for a true rebirth of one of Columbus’ oldest and best neighborhooods.

Olde Towne East Historical Population and Demographics

2010: 4,950
2000: 5,572
1990: 7,090
1980: 7,941
1970: 12,463
1960: 17,860
1950: 16,823
1940: 14,627

% of Population by Race
2010: 32.0%
2000: 20.2%
1990: 21.6%
1980: 22.9%
1970: 23.7%
1960: 62.7%
1950: 90.3%
1940: 93.7%
2010: 62.1%
2000: 74.8%
1990: 75.9%
1980: 75.9%
1970: 75.3%
1960: 37.3%
1950: 9.7%
1940: 6.3%
2010: 2.1%
2000: 1.1%
1990: 0.6%
1980: 0.2%
1970: 1.0%
2010: 0.6%
2000: 1.1%
1990: 0.9%
1980: 1.0%

*Hispanics were not counted separatrely until the 1970 Census.
**Asians were not counted separately until the 1980 Census.
***Prior to 1970, many were largely counted as either White or Black. This partially explains the rapid changes from 1960-1970 in demographics, but is not the entire story. This was also the same period that Interstate 71 was constructed through the neighborhood (early 1960s). Almost 5,000 residents were forced to relocate or simply left the area between 1960 and 1970 and completely reversed the racial makeup of the neighborhood.

Completed Project #1- 2011- National Road Condos

The Olde Towne East neighborhood, especially along E. Main Street, has long been in the sights of developers and urban revitalization advocates. Gentrification began in the early 1980s, but for the most part, occurred structure by structure, so it was only very gradually that the area changed. That has changed somewhat in recent years with more investment from larger sources, such as the collaboration between Ohio State and the City to invest millions in infrastructure and housing improvements. Larger-scale developers have also stepped into the game. National Road Condos was one of those types of investments.

Located at 1023-1059 E. Main Street, 4 19th century homes as well as a commercial building were renovated. The 4 homes had been abandoned for decades and the commercial building was mostly empty, save for a small convenience store. After many months of work, all five buildings emerged as updated gems in a neighborhood growing with them. 8 new residential units, all condos, were opened up and the commercial building gained new tenants. While certainly not the largest project completed in the neighborhood, it does represent the potential of the Near East Side neighborhoods and their abundance of great housing stock just waiting for new life.

Project Stats
Began Construction: 2010
End of Construction: 2011
Cost: $3.5 Million
# of Units: 8

Some great before and after photos of the project.

1023-1025 E. Main is the westernmost house.  Here is the BEFORE photo.

1023-1025 E. Main is the westernmost house. Here is the BEFORE photo.

1023-1025 E. Main AFTER

1023-1025 E. Main AFTER

379 S. Ohio Avenue BEFORE.  The easternmost house and in very poor condition.

379 S. Ohio Avenue BEFORE. The easternmost house and in very poor condition.

879 S. Ohio Avenue AFTER.  Huge difference.  Even the lot at Ohio and E. Main has been cleaned up.

879 S. Ohio Avenue AFTER. Huge difference. Even the lot at Ohio and E. Main has been cleaned up.

1051. E. Main Commercial building BEFORE.

1051. E. Main Commercial building BEFORE.

1051 E. Main Commercial building AFTER..

1051 E. Main Commercial building AFTER..