It all looks the same.
The houses of my old neighbourhood have a look to them. When I moved there in 1975, the house we moved to was less 17 years old, but it already felt dated. That seems to be right on the cusp of when a house starts to no longer look current, but rather as belonging to a different era.
The neighbourhood is dotted with the latest suburban architecture of 1958. Some of them are open concept, ranch-style mid-century moderns that are only a step or two away from their Usonian influences. But most are blank-looking stucco or half-stucco boxes, ranch or split, with large picture windows for the living room and small, squinting, bedroom windows. Here and there, a two story kind-of-colonial or really-mock Tudor with halfhearted halftimbering, or something sort of modern with some undersized columns breaks the monotony. Not a lot of architectural masterpieces, but there are a few good houses here and there, ones I always liked or which intrigued me—the one that looks like a ski chalet, the one with the flat roof.
Farther to the south, the large, stately homes built in the 20s and 30s are still large and stately. This time of year, white lights and pine garland are popular, and the homes are ablaze with their magic. No stucco here. The mock-Tudors have what looks like real half-timbering and glazed windows.
It all looks different.
My old house is the same, but it doesn’t look like it’s had a coat of paint since my parents moved out in 2000. There’s not much in the way of landscaping any more. But the black oak tree that I used to climb has turned into an utter giant. I am astounded at how huge it is.
The church up the street from my old home is gone, its lot now occupied by four new homes that are shiny and new and obviously not built in the 50s. No stucco, but a lot of pointed eaves. The lots are tiny in comparison.
The shuttered shell of the Kingsdale Lazarus remains, resplendent in blue glazed brick. Nothing else remains that is easily recognizable as the old shopping center. MCL Cafeteria lives on, serving comfort food but in a new space. The Big Bear where I worked is two generations of grocery stores gone now. The Limited store where I bought Hunter’s Run, Forenza, and Outback Red clothes in junior high and high school—what I later learn was the first of its kind—gone for ages. So is the Marjorie Jones School of Dance, once down a dark set of stairs in a basement under Easton’s Shoes. (Both of them survive, but in different locations). Long vanished are the Zettler Hardware with its instore restaurant, the Readmor bookstore, the Union department store, and the So-Fro fabric store. Now a huge, trendy Giant Eagle Marketplace takes up significant space, back where we used to park floats after the 4th of July parade so that they could be judged.
If I visit in a couple of years, my high school will have vanished. They’re planning to build a new one where the football stadium is now.
Lane Avenue Mall started out as a suburban strip mall. Then they enclosed it and built a novel new thing called a food court. And now it’s a strip mall again. Oh, they call it a “lifestyle centre” style now, but it’s a strip mall, just one with a Whole Foods at the end. There are trendy looking shops across the street now, too. It almost looks like it wants to be a downtown for quintessentially suburban Upper Arlington.
Columbus is a growing city. It never was a Rust Belt town, although the West Side, where the old Fisher Body plant was (and a casino now stands) is still careworn—even as Franklinton—what used to be called “the Bottoms” as opposed to “the Hilltop”—is attracting hipsters. There are clearly a lot of hipsters here. The Short North has almost entirely shed the grittiness. Victorian Village and German Village were long ago claimed by regentrification and are full of spectacular, restored Victorian houses. The same—yet different.
The Arena District also no longer has just one arena. Nationwide Arena, at 20, is now the old man on the block. There’s a new baseball stadium here for the AAA team that is so retro it hurts. And up by the OSU Campus, the sports complexes have mushroomed along the Olentangy, just as new buildings and dorms have filled in the north part of campus—yet the Oval looks unchanged. I sit in one of the many chain hotels that have popped up on Olentangy River Rd. I’d hoped to stop by the Kroger at University City on the way in to pick up some Coke Zero. Nope—completely gone. They’re building a new shopping centre there. Yet the surrounding appartments—the ones where I first smelled curry, the ones that have long been occupied by students and newcomers—they seem unchanged. Up the street, I can see the nucleus of Riverside Methodist hospital there in the midst of what is now an enormous medical complex.
But oddly enough, it all still seems like home. Correction—it is home. Home is not a house or a building—it’s an accretion of memories and architecture and the people who populated them.
I was born here. I spent my first 23 years here, engraved that map on my heart, and largely, that map still endures unchanged, even as the buildings morph and evolve and new ones appear. To quote Carmen Ohio, the alma mater for the Ohio State University:
Time and change shall surely show
How firm thy friendship…Ohio.