Tag Archives: Gardens

Columbus Ohio: Wandering…

6 May

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We’ve dipped south about 3 hours into Columbus Ohio; after spending the night in German Village we take a drive around the area before heading downtown. On Kossuth, a quiet neighborhood street, we pass an unassuming cement block building, a Packard Service sign hangs above the open door, a 1957 Nash Ambassador Custom peeks out onto the street, vintage signs dangle from the ceiling. What is this place? We park at the corner and wander into the building, we are greeted by a gentlemen asking us if we’re his appointment–no, do we need one? He smiles and invites us into the garage, he explains he is expecting a local couple to come have a look around and encourages us to do the same–thank you! The building was built in 1930 for 80 years it was an automotive repair and paint shop, today it holds the personal collection of these two business partners. They own about 40 cars between them, then there’s the soap box derby cars hanging on the wall, signs from gas and oil companies, antique gas pumps, banners, flags, Dodge, Buick, Plymouth and Packard memorabilia, and the largest collection of license plates I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

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Cars are parked single file against the right wall, at an angle on the left. The Nash is the first vehicle to greet us, look at that rear vent window. The red 1958 Edsel is gorgeous, see those buttons in the center of the steering wheel? P for park, R, reverse, N, neutral, Hi and Lo, believe it or not, that’s how you shift!  The 1956 Cadillac has the gas cap hidden under the tail light, the 56 Imperial is elegant, there’s another Edsel over there–powder blue, cool door-mounted mirror, look at that E mounted on the front fender, sweet. Lots of chrome, huge bumpers, designs resemble aircraft, torpedoes, rockets. The back section holds older vehicles; a bunch of Packards, an Auburn. There’s so much to look at; display cabinets are filled with hood ornaments, advertising and trinkets. Goodyear, Shell, Mobil, neon signs, city plaques for licence plates, how cool. It was sheer luck we happened by when the door was open, the owner was extremely generous with his time and stories. If you’d like to check out the Wagner-Hagans Auto Museum for yourself, call 614-271-0888 and make an appointment to stop by.

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Before you read any further, do me a favor, click on this link: “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte”. Done? Good. We’re in the Town-Franklin neighborhood on East Town Street at a free, public, Topiary Park, we are looking at the topiary interpretation of George Seurat’s said painting, in other words, it’s a landscape of a painting of a landscape–it’s the only known topiary of a painting. The garden was started in 1988, local sculptor James T Mason designed and built the bronze frames and planted the shrubs. His wife, Elaine, was the original topiarist, she trained the city gardeners how to trim the topiaries. The pond was added in 1989 representing the Seine in Paris, hills were also added to the landscape. The gatehouse came along in 1998 and is home to the Visitors Center.

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I have seen reproductions of A Sunday Afternoon multiple times, here the Parisians enjoying a leisurely afternoon are made of Yew but you totally get the picture. Throughout the park there are 54 human figures, 8 boats, 3 dogs, a monkey and a cat. We walk along taking it all in; flower beds are freshly weeded and mulched, daffodils are in bloom, shrubs are just starting to fill in. I recognize the woman with the parasol and large bustle who resides in the forefront of the painting. Characters gaze out across the grounds, a man in a boat is fishing. They sit, they stand, in solitaire, arm and arm or groups; books, top hats, more parasols, it all comes together when you know what you’re looking at. The painting itself hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. We exit the garden wandering past Cristo Rey High School; decorative brick patterns and stonework surrounding the windows are magnificent, then  onto East Town Street to check out the spectacular homes.

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Now we’re on the near east side of Columbus in the Olde Towne East neighborhood; stately homes line the streets, flowering trees are in bloom, let’s take a walk. This is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods; farmhouses once occupied the land, by the 1870’s it transitioned into a subdivision of grand houses built by industrialists, judges, businessmen, lawyers, mayors, governors, you know, the rich and famous of Columbus OH. Back in the day locals nicknamed it the ‘Silk Stocking District’ referring to the residents expensive clothing. By the 1950’s much of the housing was abandoned by the wealthy, palatial homes were divided into apartments, nursing homes or rooming houses; the final blow came with the construction of the highways. Same story, different city. Thanks to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Neighborhood Association was able to begin preservation efforts of Olde Towne East in the 1970’s.

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Today the area is once again on the rise; gentrification has begun, new businesses are opening, Main Street is a mix of public and private development. They say there are over 50 architectural styles spread out over 1,000 homes. We walk past gorgeous 2 and 3-story homes that have been restored or are in the process of restoration; wrought iron fences, columns, turrets, ornate moldings and trim grace lavish residences. Edwardian, Victorian, Second Empire, Romanesque, Italianate, well, you get the idea. Most are brick some have leaded glass windows, beautiful stonework surrounds windows and doorways. Streetscapes are lovely; lawns are neatly kept, ornamental shrubs and trees fill the landscape, today Tulips are in bloom. Olde Towne East was the subject of a documentary film, Flag Wars, back in 2003; after many hardships it’s wonderful to see the neighborhood return to its former glory.

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Roadtrip…….Grand Rapids; Meijer Gardens,Van Andel Public Museum

5 Jun

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We were hoping to get away for a little bit over the holiday weekend, with the prediction of sunshine and temperatures in the 80’s for Monday, the west coast of Michigan seemed an ideal place to go. We left Sunday morning and headed directly to Grand Rapids. We are regular visitors here, and have watched it change and reinvent itself over the years.  There are so many things to see and do here, you can easily spend a few days in town.

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We started with a visit to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, this place is incredible! The tropical conservatory is the largest in Michigan, along with a stunning collection of plants there are several water features, but that is only the beginning! The five-acre Children’s Garden is unlike any other I’ve seen, anywhere, and it’s not just fun for kids. There is an amazing tree house, get to it from a wooden stairway and elevated walkway, it even has a swinging bridge. Kids love to play in water, here  the bodies of water are actually the shape of  the Great Lakes, they surround the concrete patio area that is of course in the shape of Michigan, lots of splashing and giggling takes place here. The outdoor gardens are stunning, there are benches to sit and rest before visiting the Midwest’s most significant outdoor sculpture collection, seriously. Major works by artists with names like Rodin, Moore, Rickey, and Marshall Fredericks, very impressive. You can do a walking tour or take a tram. All in all there are 125 acres of nature and art, which go hand in hand beautifully.

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While downtown has been making great strides, now surrounding districts are too. Streets like Wealthy and Cherry are seeing a surge in independent entrepreneurs; boutiques, bakeries, and restaurants are popping up in these neighborhoods. We had lunch at the Cherry Deli on, well, Cherry. Order at the counter from an extensive deli menu, then take a seat, we went Al fresco, and your order will be brought out to you. Ours was a panini with a stack of turkey, crispy bacon, and melted cheese, all smothered in a herb mayo, excellent. The Pasta salad was quite good too, no mushy noodles here, all in all good food for a good price. We needed some time to re-charge our batteries, The Sparrows Coffee Shop and Newsstand is a relaxing place to hang out. Serving organic coffee and tea, they also sell local pastries and over 75 magazine titles and newspapers. It’s a cozy space located in the lower floor of a historic building, it seems to be a favorite of neighborhood residents. We had iced coffees and some kind of multi-grained bar with pieces of dried fruit that was scrumptious.

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The Grand Rapids Public Museum was next on our list, this is one of those spectacular museums with top of the line exhibits. With three floors of things to see and do plan on spending a couple of hours here. I always enjoy the “Furniture City” section, which is what Grand Rapids has been primarily known for. The “Streets of Old Grand Rapids” is very popular as is the “Habitats” display. There are life-size items suspended from the ceiling and in the galleria, learn about the history of Grand Rapids and the state of Michigan. One of the big attractions is the 1928 antique Spillman Carousel housed in the Cook Pavilion. It is one of only three of its style known to have been produced by the company. Take a ride; young or old, all are invited to enjoy a spin revolving to the music of a Wurlitzer band organ.

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We had dinner at The Winchester on Wealthy Street, it is a restaurant and bar, but it feels more like a bar. We had a nice dinner at a fair price, but it was pretty loud. Afterwards we went for a walk in the Heritage Hill Historic District, this is one of the largest urban historic districts in the United States. You could walk for hours and never get bored looking at the homes. They just held their 42nd annual home tour in May, this is the first time they scheduled it in spring, instead of fall. We have been on the tour probably a dozen times, and enjoyed the variety of stately homes each time. Grand Rapids hosts a large scope of architectural styles running the gamut from Queen Ann and Frank Lloyd Wright, all the way to Mid Century Modern.

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Back downtown we had a nightcap at one of the newer places in the city called The Viceroy. Come in the door and step back in time to the 1930’s. The decor is retro and cool, red is the preferred color here, from the tin ceiling and walls to tabletops and seats and it looks fabulous. A funky mix of musical styles play in the background adding to the atmosphere.  Their cocktail menu is unique in that in features a wide variety of timeless cocktails; a Perfect Rob Roy, an Old Fashioned, or Kris’s selection for the evening, a Sidecar. I went the boring route with a simple glass of wine, which by the way, was excellent, because one of us needed to be able to drive back to the hotel. Kris found his Sidecar quite enjoyable, and we had a great conversation about Detroit with the manager who had moved to Grand Rapids only recently from Ferndale. It was really a splendid place to end the evening, unique setting, unusual cocktails, and  peaceful enough to have a conversation without yelling across the table. Next time we’re in town we’ll definitely come back!

Just over two hours away from the D, Grand Rapids makes a great get-away.