Part 1 of a Series
“Columbus is a town in which almost any thing is likely to happen,
and in which almost everything has.”
A long time ago, Columbus discovered America. A short time ago, I discovered Columbus!
Although this capital city of Ohio is only 100 miles from my home, I had not been there in decades. And, when I finally returned some twenty years later, I was amazed at the bustling, creative, fun city I discovered. One of the fastest growing cities in the Midwest, redevelopment sparked some significant changes in Columbus (aka CBUS). First and foremost was development of the riverfront.
According to Beth Ervin, Director of Communications for Experience Columbus, prior to the riverfront development the downtown had a dammed "old sludgy" river that Ervin described as a "chocolate pond that was awful." But then, she added, "they took the dams down, reclaimed 33 acres of parkland and added walking trails and a beautiful promenade along the river".
|THE OLD SLUDGY SCIOTO RIVER IS NOW THE NEW BEAUTIFUL SCIOTO RIVER|
The result was Scioto Mile, an urban oasis that reconnects downtown with the river through a system of parks, boulevards, bikeways and pedestrian paths. There are 145 acres of parkland, a 15,000-square-foot interactive fountain, the country's largest free outdoor climbing wall, and the 120-acre Scioto Audubon with shore birds and birds of prey.
My home-away-from home in Columbus was the Hilton Columbus Downtown. This upscale hotel, opened in 2012 to great acclaim, has a stellar collection of over 150 original works by local artists with dramatic ceiling murals that float above each guest room.
|ONE OF THE HOTEL’S 150 ORIGINAL WORKS ART|
The unique spiral staircase to the atrium reveals plenty of sunlight, and the 15,000 sq. ft. skylight provides a feeling of being outdoors while in the middle of a bustling city. The lovely Atrium setting of the Gallerie Bar and Bistro was the perfect spot to relax any time of the day or evening.
COLUMBUS HILTON’S UNIQUE SPIRAL STAIRCASE
High Street is the main thoroughfare of Columbus and many of the city’s great neighborhoods branch out from High Street. You can get your bearings on High Street by taking advantage of CBUS, a free downtown circulator running every 10-15 minutes from the Short North Arts District, the Arena District, Downtown and the Brewery District. Look for the specially branded CBUS stop signs and buses along High Street and Front Street. The bus will arrive every 10 to 15 minutes, so there’s no need to memorize a schedule.
SHORT NORTH, centered on the main strip of High Street immediately north of downtown, extends until just south of the Ohio State University campus area. Once a neighborhood full of hookers and drug dealers, Short North is now one of the most vibrant parts of the city. The colorful Short North Arts District is filled with offbeat galleries, restaurants, boutiques and bustling nightlife. Seventeen iconic, lighted metal archways, extending across High Street throughout the Short North, are reminiscent of similar arches present in the early 1900’s.
|SHORT NORTH’S LIGHTED METAL ARCHWAYS EXTEND ACROSS HIGH STREET|
This gentrified neighborhood is also known for its popular mural series called BLANK SPACES, a name that acknowledges the beautification of otherwise blank brick walls. North High Street murals include Trains, a mural on the south wall of Bernard's Tavern that depicts passengers on a train arriving in Union Station; the Mona Lisa Mural, known for its sideways pose of its subject; and the renowned Short North Gothic Mural, painted on the outer wall of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.
|SHORT NORTH GOTHIC MURAL|
Wandering along the cobblestone streets of Columbus' historic GERMAN VILLAGE, I discovered a dynamic blend of Old-World charm and cutting-edge sophistication. This historic district was settled in the early-to-mid-19th century by a large number of German immigrants who, at one time, comprised as much as a third of the city's entire population. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, it is now one of the premier historic restorations in the world.Cool shops and amazing eateries, draw locals and visitors alike to this charming neighborhood. Among the must-see stops are Katzinger’s Delicatessen and The Book Loft.
KATZINGER’S DELI, a Columbus landmark for three decades, is known for it humongous sandwiches that come with a “help-yourself-from-the-pickle-barrel” pickle. Although Katzinger’s may be most well known for their Reuben sandwiches, there is a full menu of salads, vegan and vegetable dishes, Jewish specialties, and desserts that include a New York Cheese Cake with “a full half-pound of cream cheesey sweet goodness in every slice”.
THE BOOK LOFT, one of the nation's largest independent bookstores, is located just a few blocks South of the State Capitol building. The pre-Civil War era buildings that once were a conclave of shops, general stores, a saloon, and a nickelodeon cinema, are now home to 32 rooms of Bargain Books. Not only is the Book Loft one of the nation’s most unique book stores, but it is a huge labyrinth in which you can easily get lost. I know, because I did! If you want to find your way out without panicking, be sure to take along the map they give you at the front desk (I didn’t)…or else, take a handful of apple seeds to mark your path.
|THE BOOK LOFT IS A LABYRINTH OF ROOMS AND PASSAGEWAYS|
COSI (the Center of Science and Industry) is one of the most respected science centers in the nation. In addition to more than 300 interactive exhibits, you’ll find COSI’s hair-raising Electrostatic Generator Show, the only High-Wire Unicycle in the country, a seven-story Extreme Screen theater, a Science 2Go! retail store, and the Atomicafe’ restaurant.
THE COLUMBUS MUSEUM OF ART, founded in 1878 as the Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, should be on any art lover's bucket list. The first art museum to register its charter with the state of Ohio, it was originally housed in the Sessions Mansion. It was replaced on the same site by the current building that opened in 1931 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Henry Moore’s “Three Piece Reclining Figure” greets visitors at the front of the museum.
|HENRY MOORE SCULPTURE RECLINES AT THE FRONT OF THE MUSEUM|
On October 25, 2015, the renovated museum and the new Margaret M. Walter Wing were opened to the public. Roy Lichtenstein’s “Lamp” is a bright addition to the lovely new sculpture garden.
|ROY LICHTENSTEIN’S “LAMP” BRIGHTENS UP THE SCULPTURE GARDEN|
FRANKLIN PARK CONSERVATORY AND BOTANICAL GARDENS, just two miles east of downtown Columbus, offers beautiful indoor and outdoor gardens, dynamic exhibitions, and world-renowned artwork. Dale Chihuly’s glass artistry, placed within the plant collections, is on long-term view.
THE WELLS BARN is a new 12,000 sq. ft. facility that provides a dedicated space for the Conservatory's expanding outreach and education programs. The hand-hewn timber frame from a 200-year-old Richland County barn, which was set to be dismantled in 2014, was relocated to the Conservatory’s grounds in 2016 and has been reconstructed as the framework for this new facility that features warm wood interiors, a soaring roofline, built-in bar, and stone fireplace.
|THE WELLS BARN|
THE LONG STREET BRIDGE AND CULTURAL WALL is a green space over the interstate, with a public art wall and complementary architectural features. It is the first in the state of Ohio. The Long Street Bridge reconnects the King-Lincoln District with the Downtown Discovery District campuses of Columbus State Community College, Columbus College of Art and Design, and Columbus Museum of Art. The cultural wall honors the rich history of the King-Lincoln District.
LONG STREET CULTURAL WALL IS COLUMBUS OHIO’S VERSION OF EAST SIDE GALLERY IN BERLIN, GERMANY
Add to this the WEXNER CENTER FOR THE ARTS, THE COLUMBUS ZOO AND AQUARIUM, THE GATEWAY FILM CENTER and some heavy-duty shopping at the EASTON TOWN CENTER, and you’ll understand why you’ll have more than enough to do in Columbus, Ohio.
It seems that, when I wasn’t looking, the Columbus I knew so many years ago just blossomed into a chic cosmopolitan city.
JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer/Editor and International Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont, Ohio