The Columbus Trolley Barn Complex – A Great Survivor, But Can It Be Saved? And Saved Well?

Part One: Current Events

I first learned about this industrial remnant in an article about several properties in Columbus gaining tax credits. It intrigued me that there was a huge abandoned railroad building in Cap City that I didn’t know about, so I posted a summary of the tax credit praises about it on Facebook. (Railroads are one of my interests in transportation history, geography, and preservation – in addition to canals and trails.)

Signs asking voters to allow profitable alcohol licensing on the site hang from the perimeter fence of the 3.1 acre property at Kelton & Oak avenues, half a block south of Franklin Park and its conservatory, off East Broad Street in eastern Columbus.

In my internet researching of the topic, I found a 2010 web entry on Urban Ohio, with informative comments added over the last eight years. “The six brick buildings at Oak Street and Kelton Avenue just south of Franklin Park were built between 1880 and 1920 to serve the city’s streetcar system.”

The 2010 Urban Ohio post began by pointing to a Facebook page for the project. It also mentions the Columbus Compact Corporation wanting to develop the site – “a nonprofit community development corporation working to improve the quality of life in the central city” – but since their entry on it is gone now, they must have given up on being a part of it.

Comments on the Friends of Franklin Park Trolley Barn Facebook page have gotten corrosive about Columbus city council, so scroll past the recent screeds to get to solid information about the property. They have several photos of a community tour and visioning session on September 4th 2010, some of which include Columbus’ Bob Loversedge, a highly reputed preservation planner in Ohio who was a major part of the Ohio Statehouse renovation:

A screen shot of the 2010 tour and visioning photos on the Friends of Franklin Park Trolley Barn Facebook page

The Facebook page also has computer renderings from 2012. They are fairly basic, as if there was not much budget at the time and they were done on a laptop or in a web app. They also show the buildings to be used as they are, with no attempt at restoration or expansion:

A screen shot of 2012 renovation rendernings, on the Friends of Franklin Park Trolley Barn Facebook page

So be it; as a preservationist, I’m ok with saving things as they are, if they’re worth saving. But if there’s an opportunity to restore or better interpret a historical building or site while renovating for a new life, I want to see it.

The almighty dollar dictates terms…but with the upturn in construction activity in the recovery from the Great Recession, more might be possible now. (They way Columbus construction is now, I’m surprised they aren’t replacing some corner gas station stop-and-rob with the Tower of Babel.)

A 2012 renovation renderning, on the Friends of Franklin Park Trolley Barn Facebook page. (Compare to the below 2017 rendering at a similar angle – by a different developer.)

In 2014, Columbus Underground reported on the property’s sale; a commentator on Urban Ohio was exuberant: “Great news about the Franklin Park Trolley Barn property!  The bad old owner has sold it to a good new owner.  No announced plans for the property yet.  But this is a BIG step in the right direction toward its redevelopment.”

An April 21st, 2014 article reports:

Brad DeHays, who opened Rehab Tavern in Franklinton and has been working with the city on an affordable housing development Downtown, is the new owner of the property. The purchase of the site from Minnie McGee (who bought it in 2003), follows many years of legal wrangling and neighborhood complaints about the condition of the structures.

…such as a January 11, 2013 Columbus environmental court appearance by McGee:

“Essentially nothing has been done,” Judge Hale said, adding that her [McGee’s] plans are “farfetched.”  “You ain’t fooling me.  There’s no way you’re getting the millions to do this.  This place is either going to get redeveloped or sold,” Hale said.

She owned it while the community group Friends of Franklin Park Trolley Barn were championing its preservation and community-focused reuse. So if the judge were not overly cynical, I can see that McGee may have been either being unrealistically hopeful to redevelop the site, or was using them to delay punishment for neglecting it. Either way, conditions have changed.

On October 12th, 2017, Columbus Underground had reported ‘New Plan for Trolley Barn Site Calls for “East Market,” Restaurants and Apartments.’ The article has some good context and stronger renderings – and slightly different plans that are less artsy and more pedestrian…or rather, more automotive:

Columbus Underground reported: A Columbus Brewing Company tap room, a new concept from the owner of Ray Ray’s and an “East Market” could all be part of a new plan to revive the deteriorating brick buildings that were once used to store and repair trolleys at the northeast corner of Oak Street and Kelton Avenue on the Near East Side.

Apartments are also tentatively planned for the empty lot across Oak Street from the trolley barn site [upper right in the rendering], although developer Brad DeHays of Connect Realty stressed that nothing is set in stone, and likely won’t be until the state announces in December if the project is approved for historic tax credits.

More renderings are in the tail end of the 2010 Urban Ohio post.

I believe getting alcohol sales approval from voters in the fall 2018 ballot was part of the plan to make the site more worth renovating, as listed on the signs posted on the perimeter fence. Issues 23 and 24 were to allow all sales all hours on the site…but it’s ridiculous that my internet search can’t confirm whether they passed or failed. (So much for the internet knowing everything…or maybe it’s just user error.)

But in the search, I came across Wikipedia’s entry on the Franklin Park neighborhood/district, which includes a little bit on the trolley site, and a historical map covering the east side of Columbus in 1899. (Click on that map to find links to larger versions of it.)

The last entry on the 2010 Urban Ohio post, December 2018, is “Trolley Barn project awarded a second round of historic tax credits from the state this month.” So at least that has succeeded.

But back to the Friends of Franklin Park Trolley Barn Facebook page – the best gem I found there was a historical map. (Ooh yummy! A map! An OLD map! A detailed OLD map!) So I will steal this image from their Facebook page:

It looks like a Sanborn Fire Insurance map, but I’m not sure if it was part of a published volume – the other Columbus Sanborns I’ve been able to find lack some details present in this one. This may have been a special 1909 report expanded by Sanborn for the owners.

…Ok, I’ve rambled on, and have barely covered the existing site and all my photos of it and my interpretation of its history…so, more soon – allowing the best of my 150+ photos and videos of the site to inspire me to compose further.

Paint Shop…
…and peeking inside
Pit Room (in ruins) and Machine Shop
Office and Boiler House
Carpenter Shop and Machine Shop
Car Storage House
Brake Foundry

~ ce n’est pas la fin ~

Published by:

Kevin B. Coleman

Pre/historian, architectural historian, re-enactor, guide, reporter, speaker, writer, gardener, craftsperson, husbandman, et al., who can work in stone (flint knapping, flintlock, silicon chip) among other things and who is determined to use my knowledge, wisdom, and personal survival to help the greater good. At least, my cats and dog here in semi-rural Ohio tell me that.

Categories Cultural Geography, Historic Architecture, Historic Preservation1 Comment

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