One of the cool things about the big city is being able to get a panoramic view from a tall building.
But it doesn't seem that any skyscrapers in Columbus allow public access for viewing. What gives? You're right—people have always liked to view their cities from high places. Here in C'bus, the earliest was at the Statehouse. There was a circular walkway inside the tall windows of the rooftop “drum” and even a wooden bench for sitting and gazing over the two- and three-story buildings around Capitol Square (height is a relative thing). The spooky and narrow stone stair that provided access remains in place, but it's no longer open to the public.
The iconic LeVeque Tower did have a public viewing platform way up high, an open-air, narrow circular walkway behind a chest-high wall that provided great views. That closed nearly 50 years ago, and there are no plans to reopen it to the public. Then there were the top-floor restaurants such as One Nation atop the Nationwide Plaza and Top of the Center in what is now the Chase Bank building. Good food and great views went hand in hand, but those places closed long ago as well. So what's available today? Not much. Some of our big Downtown buildings like the Rhodes Tower, the Huntington Center and the Riffe Center provide great views, but only if you're there on business; they have no public observation areas. Shorter, but still pretty cool, is the green roof above the old Lazarus department store, but it's not publicly available on any regular schedule. It's too bad, but alas, it seems that Downtown's parking garages provide the best public views of our changing city from a high vantage point.
We've lost a bunch of older buildings in Columbus over the years, although we've gained a lot of new ones too. Just out of curiosity, what's the tallest building we have knocked down? Hmmm. We don't get asked this much, so it was fun to ponder. Judging from both memory and some reliable sources, it looks like the tallest buildings to have bitten the dust (or been reduced to it) in our Downtown area all have been hotels. One of the first we thought of was the Chittenden, which was at the northwest corner of Broad and Spring streets. It was known for its collection of pagoda-like tower roofs and opened in 1895. It had eight or nine stories, depending on how you counted them, and came down in 1973.
But then there was the Deshler at the northwest corner of Broad and High, built in 1916 and demolished in 1969, which once had some 600 additional rooms in the adjacent LeVeque Tower. The Deshler had 13 stories, counting its mezzanine.
An even taller hotel from around the same era was the Fort Hayes at 33 W. Spring St. It lasted from 1924 to 1977 and was 14 stories high. (Note how many hotel rooms we lost in this late-60s to mid-70s, after I-270 gave a growth spurt to the suburbs; fortunately there have been some worthy new replacements since then.)
Finally, there was the Christopher Inn at 300 E. Broad St. Clearly inspired by the (much taller) Marina Towers in Chicago, this round hotel had the shortest life, 1963 to 1988, but it turned out to be the tallest of our lost hotels. Counting the ramps to the parking levels, it topped out at 16 stories.
Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and the answer might appear in a future column.
Sources: Online photo archives; Architecture: Columbus