Columbus Ohio: A Breath of Spring

22 Apr

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About this time every year Kris and I jump in the car and head about 3 hours south to Columbus Ohio to get a little head start on Spring. You wouldn’t think there would be much of a difference 200 miles south of here, but there is! We head out of town under a perfectly clear blue sky, by the time we reach Columbus the temperature is in the 70’s. Last time we were in town we read about an upcoming exhibit on the 1950’s at the Ohio History Center Museum, this is our first stop.  Of course the first image most people conjure up of the 50’s is poodle skirts, juke boxes and Happy Days-like scenes. The pop culture, music, art, literature and design of that decade defined our country; the influence of that time is still apparent today.

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The exhibit is titled “1950’s Building The American Dream”, to the right a shiny silver Airstream is hooked up to beautiful copper 1957 Chevy Bellaire. Just inside the exhibit a reel mower rests along the fence of a perfectly manicured Astroturf lawn belonging to a  real, full size, completely furnished Lustron home. This is what we came for. After WWII 12 million soldiers returned home, there was a housing shortage, prefab houses were seen as a quick solution to the problem, thus the Lustron home was born, er, manufactured. The steel houses were made like cars in a former aircraft plant in Columbus Ohio. Flatbed trucks would deliver the porcelain enamel-coated steel panels to the concrete foundation the home would sit on. Panels were assembled with nuts and bolts, the whole process took about two weeks. Radiant heating was installed in the ceiling, china cabinets, book cases, cabinets and shelves were built-in. Houses were one-story ranch style, you could choose from three floor plans and four color combos.

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Cardboard cut-outs of the ideal family greet us at the front of the home; dad looks dapper in his overcoat and hat, while mom looks lovely in her matching red coat and hat, holding her baby daughter in one hand and a homemade pie in the other. Just inside the front door we enter the authentically furnished family room; Nat King Cole croons from the nearby record player, period newspapers and magazines rest neatly on an end table, I think my grandmother may have had a jaguar lamp like the one on top of the television set. The house is full of visitors like us, signs encourage us to make ourselves at home; little girls play dress up and walk about wearing hats and dresses from back in the day. A boy about 8 is putting on the old adjustable metal roller skates to give roller skating a whirl. Down the hall we pass a full bathroom complete with tub/shower, every detail has been seen to right down to the Stag after-shave powder.

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The next room belongs to the little boy in the family, the Roy Rodgers inspired curtains and bedspread are awesome. A young boy sits on the floor playing with Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys, they don’t even need batteries. At the end of the hall is the Master Bedroom, I feel like I’ve just walked into my grandmothers bedroom; the vanity is built-in, vintage jewelry, hat boxes and a brush and mirror set are laid out for us to see. Closet doors slide open and closed, one is open to reveal what mom and dad would be wearing. This is a hands-on exhibit, we are welcome to try things on, sit on the furniture and play. In the main living area the dining room table is set for dinner, a cart acts as a portable bar complete with liquor bottles, ice bucket and glasses. The kitchen is a world all its own; magnets hold recipes to the metal walls, cabinets are filled with cool vintage dishes, a single-handle white Frigidaire keeps the food cold, the most interesting appliance is the combination dishwasher—-washing machine. Yes, that’s right folks, with the turn of a dial you can go from washing your dirty clothes to cleaning the dinner dishes! We pass through the laundry room complete with a clothes wringer and ironing board on our way to the backyard. 

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This was the ideal of what every backyard was supposed to look like in 1950; a picnic table and bbq are in the back corner, Jarts and Hula-Hoops encourage family fun and then there’s the hatch leading to the bomb shelter…. Lustron built homes from 1948 until 1950 when the company went bankrupt, a total of 2,498 were built, few remain, which is why it is such a treat to be able to see the real thing in person. We walk through the rest of the exhibit with its examples of life in the 50’s; tricycles, rocking horses, a coke machine, cigarette machine and juke box, have I mentioned aprons were a big thing? One vignette shows what a bride and groom would wear to their wedding along with examples of gifts they would receive. It has been fun traveling back in time.

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Kris drives us over to the German Village neighborhood where we have booked a room for the night through airbnb. This is where we will be spending the rest of our time in Columbus and it is absolutely the most quaint part of the city. Our host has arranged everything for our arrival including a parking permit that allows us to park right by our door, hooray. The house is located on Schiller Park, we are mere steps away from the tranquil setting and within walking distance to restaurants, shops and cafes. Our room is lovely, the home was built in 1814 and retains its historic charm, the fresh roses and chocolates make us feel welcome.

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It’s late and we have yet to have dinner. After freshening up we head out on foot in search of food. We meander down uneven brick streets, leaded glass windows glow with light from within, gas lanterns and lampposts illuminate many of the old-fashioned homes, flowering trees perfume the air. When we reach Mohawk Street we head to The Old Mohawk (naturally).  The building has operated as a tavern since 1933, the current owners have been here since 1977. This is definitely a neighborhood joint, patrons all seem to know one another as well as the staff. The interior is cozy with its brick walls, tin ceilings and horseshoe-shaped bar. First out of the kitchen is an order of corn nuggets: dollops of creamed corn deep-fried and served with house made salsa, I love these! The burger arrives soon after, a half-pound patty topped with sautéed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, served with a side of fries. It doesn’t take long for the food to disappear.

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We step outside to a mild night resembling summer more than spring. Walking through German Village the patio of Lindey’s is still lively; patio tables are lit by candles, a fountain trickles in the distance, cocktails anyone? Crossing through the patio gate we take a table fountainside, cocktail menus are delivered along with glasses of ice water. I sip on a chocolate martini, Kris savors his Old Fashioned, it’s 10 pm on a Friday night in April and we’re sitting outdoors having drinks, life is good.

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