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.

An aerial view likewise looking south has High Street on the left, the commercial buildings guarding the entry at Kelso, and the residential space behind them to the right.

(The red line is the property border, which I can’t figure out how to eliminate from the Auditor’s aerials.)
This is the centerpiece of the campus, in the third rank from High Street but which intercepts the main entry after you get past the gauntlet of the commercial frontispiece. (“Italian carbs…ice cream…” <slobber>)

It reminds me of my 1989-1991 home at Ohio University, Bryan Hall, which was built only a decade later in the same phase of Colonial Revival.

Being symmetrical but somewhat hiding its bisection, it also reminds me of Smith school in Chillicothe, a noble 1931 high school lost recently. It also had two main entries on either side of its center.
But through the multiple archway (archways? archesway?) is a nice patio overlooking a completely wild mini-ravine, with the Olentangy River a stone’s throw away. Well, maybe two or three throws.
The design was sensitive enough to allow this tree to stay in place…or at least its predecessor, since this one doesn’t look like it was big enough 80 years ago to warrant this concession.

Perhaps the original tree was lost, and this one was planted in its place. Maybe the original tree was killed by construction…ok, this is getting increasingly pessimistic, so I’ll stop here…

Note the little divot under the end of the curve (at the window mirroring) to drain water off the patio via a shaoow channel along the outer wall. No PVC pipe or plastic drain cover from Lowe’s there – instead, original and solid design and construction.
The white cupola overlooks from center left, as trees crown the mini-ravine draining into the Olentangy at the right.
A few wildflowers persist on the grounds – surviving 220 years of deforestation, farming, development, redevelopment, footprints, mowing, and glyphosates. Native Spring Beauties flower white among yellow-flowered alien Lesser Celandine…next to a soulless concrete curb.

Admittedly, they could have spread up from the ravine, or been accidentally brought in with fill earth. But they’re here!

Where Are We, Again?

So here’s a map of the area, a screen shot from the Franklin County Auditor’s web data. The Olentangy is the blue ribbon, and High Street runs north-south at a slight diagonal right-of-center. Olentangy Village is the group of larger Tetris shapes in the center (see what I mean?). Newer units of the complex are subdivided and along the river.

Admittedly, the rectilinear zig-zagging adds variety and varied vistas in the complex. Every corner creates a new perspective, and separates units so they aren’t a continuous monotony like cheaper apartment complexes. Every projection is answered by a recess, exaggerating the already gracious undeveloped outdoor space.

Other features on the map are Clintonville residential streets running east-west on the right; Glen Echo Ravine on the south border of that; the older south part of Union Cemetery on the left side; and the OSU lab wetlands with the kidney-shaped ponds along the Olentangy.

Regarding my previous post about following the lost end of Walhalla Ravine: The rec trail runs from the upper left, crossing the river (with the sewer line dam to its right and the divot at the outlet of Walhalla creek beside that) and then splitting to go along both sides of the wetlands.

Walhalla creek itself is buried under the streets entering the north edge of the map. With Glen Echo on the south edge, the two frame the Village. Contour lines show the mini-ravine within the Village, in-line with West Kelso.
An aerial photo from the Franklin County Auditor’s web data is of the main part of the complex at about the same angle, looking north.

Kelso enters it from High Street at right center, the core with its white cupola is just left of center, and the Olentangy is barely in the lower left corner.

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

In the second rank from High Street, facing away from it, this is one of the more highly styled parts, complete with quoined arcaded gablets, faux balconied stoop porches, and arcaded hyphens at both ends. These must be the more pricey apartments.

(‘Coined arched grabill…what?!’ Sorry, classically derived architecture has a vocabulary of its own. Ask me if you want to borrow a guide book.)
An aerial view of the same angle has that porch upper left of center. Note the white-roofed strongly Tetrised unit on its right. (Kudos for the white roofing – that’s better than the solar oven of traditional black.)

New units on Sunset Cove are in the lower left (more on those below) and the Olentangy is in the lower left corner.

The Old New Now

….The new “Olentangy Point” part is shoehorned to the side behind the center complex. With the Olentangy River being flood-controlled, they can build on the lower terrace. But by regulation or sensibility – and/or efficient land use and/or profitability – the ground level is only garage space.

On these rears of the units, the transomed and tripled windows are a nice touch, but barely noticeable. At least the useless fake shutters maintain the slightest reference to the Colonial Revival of the original complex!
The terraced tight triad has the Olentangy in the upper right and the mini-ravine at the upper left.

Meanwhile, Back at High Street…

The fragrance of food wafts from the turreted frontispieces.

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.

It was a typical development at the end of a trolley line (in this case, the Columbus Railway Power and Light Company) that encouraged paying customers to ride the trolleys on weekends.

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.

There’s also “The Lost Amusement Parks Of Columbus By Madeline Keener“…

…and a seven-minute episode of local PBS’ Columbus Neighborhoods:Olentangy Park” (Season 3, Episode 18).

Next: NOT commenting on the latest generation, Colonial Re-Re-Re-Re-Re-Revival…instead, perhaps reveling in the gleeful self-deprecation of honest paradoxical Post-Modernism.

• The end…but not of Classicism! •

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.

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