Old Oaks Reborn
PHotos by Ryan M.L. Young
Situated on the southeastern edge of Downtown Columbus is a treasure bursting with history, turn-of-the-century architecture and a community looking to embrace its storied past.
Old Oaks, covering barely one square mile, is a neighborhood of fewer than 500 houses. It’s dwarfed by its larger and more heavily traveled neighbors, Interstate 70 and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. But look closely and you will find—as its residents have—that Old Oaks is truly one of Columbus’ hidden gems and one that continues to be discovered.
Old Oaks took off at the same time Columbus’ streetcars went electric near the end of the 19th century, providing easy access to Downtown. One of the first landmark buildings in the area was St. John’s Catholic Parsonage and School, dedicated in 1899, now Holy Rosary St. John the Evangelist Church.
Old Oaks resident and historian Doug Motz says the community’s early years were a thriving time.
“If you were doing well in the 1890s, you were living in the south end of Columbus,” Motz says. Motz and partner Todd Popp moved to Old Oaks 15 years ago, but it wasn’t where they expected to take up roots. Originally they had their sights set on Westgate. Their real estate agent suggested taking a peek at a house in Old Oaks.
Motz says they immediately fell in love with the property, which boasts four fireplaces.
When they moved in, Motz acknowledges the area was struggling with issues like drug houses and prostitution. Over time, though, the problems have receded. Residents formed a neighborhood block watch and are active in the Old Oaks Civic Association. More recently, the neighborhood has become part of the city’s Vacant Properties Rehabilitation Program, which gives incentives to homeowners and rental property owners to redevelop in a struggling area.
During summer, residents are invited to Wednesdays on the Porch, a get-together that moves to a different resident’s porch each week.
“It’s a good time for us to catch up and it’s a really fun social event,” Motz says. “The weather’s nice and we can just be with our neighbors. It’s something we really enjoy.”
The large porches prevalent throughout Old Oaks are ideal for hosting such gatherings and are typical of turn-of-the-century architectural designs, including American Foursquare, Modified Queen Anne and Colonial Revival.
Clarence Hicks Jr. purchased a house—originally owned by his grandparents—in Old Oaks in 2005.
“When I was young, we visited for holidays and my grandmother sang at St. John’s church,” Hicks says. “I’m proud that I am able to bring back the house, and now we have holidays at my house.”
Hicks put in a new kitchen, transformed the attic into a bedroom and living area and made some changes to the first-floor layout. Throughout the process, Hicks tried to keep the history of the 1900 home intact.
In addition to being rich in architectural style, Old Oaks was home to several notable Central Ohioans, Motz says, including Jack Nicklaus, Ohio State All-American football player Chic Harley, former 10TV anchorwoman Angela Pace, Irving Schottenstein and William R. Gault, former president of The Columbus Stock Yards.
“Everywhere you turn, there’s historical significance,” Motz says.