450,000,000 Years of South Central Ohio Heritage in Word, Image, and Action
Olentangy Village: Pleasant but Stale Colonial Re-Re-Re-Revival…and Getting Staler
Or, Getting Snarky About Increasingly Unconsciously Overly Pretentious Minimal Traditional Style
(a.k.a Walhalla part 1.5)
Well, it’s more charming than most newer apartment buildings and complexes. Being older it probably has a few cracks in the walls and slightly crooked elements – and those are called patina: they lend character!
But even beyond that – what is the appeal of these timeless ‘old’ buildings built new at the end of the 1930s?
I literally walked into this topic while scouting out the hidden end of Walhalla Ravine (see previous blog) and couldn’t resist taking photos there. So before I got bored with the topic of…yawn…Colonial Revival, I figured I’d do a quick short blog about the Village. Yeah…famous last words.
Where Are We, Again?
What Are We Talking About, Again?
Western architecture is fraught with the “Classical.” Our revered, ennobled, semi-mythical origins in Greece and Rome have been repeated ad infinitim since the Renaissance (literally, “rebirth” of classical culture) in our architecture – with columns and pediments and arches, oh my!
(The wild Medieval, like an undisciplined weed, has fared less well in Western culture.)
Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Palladian, Georgian, Adam/Federal, Neoclassical, Renaissance Revival, Greek Revival, Italianate, Romanesque Revival, Beaux Arts, Second Renaissance Revival…the same vocabulary and rules recombined, cycling between restraint and extravagance in Europe and its spawns and mimics.
Our more recent American origins are repeated ad infinitim in the U.S. as various generations of the “Colonial Revival” style. Yes, we celebrate our independence by recycling the style of our overseas masters! – considered to start in our centennial in 1876.
Since then, each generation has developed its own version of the Colonial Revival: Creative and recombinant High Victorian that little resembled the originals, about 1876-1900; the “National” era with the boldness and simplicity of the new American empire of 1893-1918; playful jazz-age cartoonish versions 1918-1931; rigid, archaeologically accurate, true revivalism with ingenuity only in hiding modern needs in an old veneer during the cultural repression of 1929-1947; economically liberated but automotively debased Postwar 1947-1963; increasingly tepid “Minimal Traditional” 1963-1980s; a new reductionist minimalism of the 1980s…and so on.
“MinTrad” deserves the most scorn, with its veneer of imitation-clinker brick, poorly-proportioned windows, and de rigueur fake shutters on ranch houses that bear as much similarity to colonial architecture as a Chevette does to a horsecart. Gack.
(At least Olentangy Village features a decent compromise of modernity and calm traditionalism…well, the original part does. See below.)
In my opinion, the first great new version of the Classical – since the Greek Revival in its prime of the 1830s-1840s – arose in the 1970s and ’80s: the Post-Modern.
Fed up with the lies of Modernism (“less is a bore!”) and feeding on the economic rally after the low point of 1973, the new philosophy fed on glitz, snarkiness, honesty, and mannerism. Even the name hints at honest self-effacement: if “Modern” is the eternal Now, how can say we’re from the Future?
So Google some PostMod images, and stick your tongue out at Mies van der Rohe and blow raspberries at Levittown: Turn a skyscraper into a grandfather clock, add some color to a deconstructed pediment, and put neon on an outdoor sculpture!
Back to the Old New Past
The Old New Now
Meanwhile, Back at High Street…
Rather, the original theme was a cozy, semi-set-back, articulated, residential-feeling commercial pavilion – not a tall massive block. (But nice try…unless rentable space was the prime motivator.)
And it doesn’t help that a typical mall-type grocery store and its asphalt desert next up on the south yanks the architectural viewer into yet another and lesser geographical ovré.
There’s some imitation and revivalism here (specifically, from Renaissance Italy – yes, Classicism pervades!), but much more creativity and ingenuity from probably the last truly free architectural generation…before being strangled into conformity by the Great Depression, World War II, and the reflexive postwar conservatism…relieved only by the hyperventilated mania of the Post-Modern.
*Btw, I believe these are the “Lofts on High.” Some sales hype: “our newest community located directly off High Street in historical Clintonville. These homes offer an urban feel in an unbeatable location. Each loft offers an 8′ window that stretches from the living room to the open loft above and is a dramatic focal point. These newly built lofts also feature a modern and industrial kitchen. These kitchens have an open feel and are highlighted by stainless steel appliances. If you are in search of a truly unique home in a trendy neighborhood then The Lofts on High is for you.”
But What About Its Predecessor?
Plenty has been written about that, and I won’t go over all of it. But for the uninitiated, the apartment (and shopping) complex of Olentangy VILLAGE is there because it replaced an amusement park named Olentangy PARK.
The park was begun in 1880, but declined in the 1930s, and its rides were finally sold off and the land redeveloped into what is there now. (The restored carousel is at the Columbus Zoo.) One aspect of the trolley line remains nearby, part of the old powerhouse on Arcadia near High.
Wikipedia has a good entry, complete with old postcard views:
Olentangy Park (1880 to 1939) was an amusement park in Columbus, Ohio. The park was once the largest in the United States…
Near the river, a large theatre was constructed. At the time, it was the largest theatre in the United States…
A significant addition to Olentangy Park in the 1920s was the world’s largest swimming pool which was constructed near the theatre…
Olentangy Park closed in September 1938. In the first part of 1939, much of the area was levelled so that the L.L. LeVeque* company could build the Olentangy Village apartment complex. The complex was designed by Raymond Snow, a Washington, D.C. architect…
The only remaining building is the park’s office and zoo keeper’s quarters. The stone building is located at the curve of North Street.** It has been divided into six apartments.
Some of the Park’s original wrought iron fencing can still be seen along the northern side of North Street from High Street to the curve at the stone office house….
*As in the LeVeque Tower, the best-looking skyscraper in downtown Columbus.
**I have not verified whether it’s still there, after the recent (and somewhat controversial) additions to the Village.