Who has the right to raze this classic building?
Should the historic Greater Columbus Antique Mall just south of Downtown Columbus be demolished to make way for a drive-thru restaurant? Or should the former Brewery District mansion—now resembling a five-story attic filled with kitschy collections of glass salt and pepper shakers, luxurious full-length mink and fox coats and 2-foot-tall rooster lamps—be saved because of its architectural significance?
You might think the building's owner, Fred Altevogt, would play the role of stubborn savior, fighting to stop the demolition, especially once you learn that he's spent 38 years of his life in love with antiques.
You'd be wrong.
“If you own something I think you should have the right to tear it down,” Altevogt says.
But it's not up to him; instead, the building's future appears to be in the hands of the Brewery District Commission, which must approve demolition, and of the potential buyer, Schiff Properties, which told the commission in April that the building can't be salvaged. The developer has repeatedly put its demolition request on the commission's agenda and then postponed it, most recently in early September. And the company has been unresponsive to requests for comment.
Preservationists have vigorously opposed the demise of the building, a 12,000-square-foot red brick Victorian Italianate at 1045 S. High St. that once drew busloads of antique enthusiasts. Columbus Landmarks included it on its 2018 list of endangered buildings.
Matthew Leasure, advocacy chairman for the preservation group, says the building has no major deterioration or structural problems and has significant historical value and architectural character. “The more of these you lose, the less of that historic character exists,” he says.
The 129-year-old building began as the home of Bavarian immigrant George Janton Sr., a soap and candle manufacturer. The Janton family owned it until 1924, when it became a funeral home, and then, from 1952 until the 1970s, an Elks Lodge. The antique mall opened in 1979, and Altevogt, 63, began working there a year later on his days off from the Hamilton Township Fire Department. By 1993 he was the sole owner.
“In our prime we had sales up near three-quarters of a million [dollars] a year,” he says, “which I thought was pretty good for what I jokingly called a mom-and-pop junk store.”
Now sales have fallen to about $300,000 annually, and Altevogt has had to borrow to keep the enterprise afloat. Still, he hadn't thought of selling until last year when a Realtor wrote and asked him to consider an offer. That fell through, but then Schiff Properties came calling.
“Business has gotten so lousy the last several years that keeping it open any longer is not economically viable,” says Altevogt, who's been in a wheelchair for more than a year because of neurological problems. “I'd like to see it go for 50 or 60 more years, but the times don't call for that.” The Brewery Commission, he says, shouldn't have the right to waylay Schiff's plans and, as a result, his sale of the building to the developer.
Gerald Simmons, commission chairman, says the group's decision to allow or veto demolition, now scheduled for Oct. 4, will be based on what's best for the neighborhood. “We're not the taste police; what kind of business would go in there is not in our jurisdiction,” Simmons says. “We're just an architectural review committee.”***
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