Tag Archives: Topiary

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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