In the park in the Arena District, there's an archway that is from an old building. What's the story behind it?
The giant arch at McFerson Commons has a great history, even if the city doesn't tell anyone.
In the park in the Arena District, there's an archway that obviously is from an old building. What's the story behind it?
That's the Union Station Arch, our only reminder of Columbus' Union Station. Until paved roads were built, Americans got around on passenger trains. Our fair city got its first in 1850, and lost its last in 1979. The trains arrived at and departed from Union Station, of which there were actually three, all in roughly the same location northeast of High and Naghten streets (Naghten today is Nationwide Boulevard).
The first station, a big wooden barn, was built in 1850, and the second, a brick building, opened in 1876. In the mid-1890s, it gave way to the last Union Station and boy, was it different from the first two. A long ornate terra cotta entry arcade stood on High Street, with the brick station itself several hundred feet behind the arcade. Unlike the first two stations, the arcade was built on a viaduct over the tracks, solving a train-and-traffic snarl on High Street, and an elevated drive led to the station's second-floor ticket offices, waiting room, restrooms and restaurant. The arch at McFerson Commons was actually salvage from the arcade, and not Union Station itself.
Union Station exemplified the City Beautiful movement, an effort to upgrade cities inspired by the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Daniel Burnham, the exposition's principal architect, designed both the Wyandotte Building on West Broad Street and the Union Station complex. At its peak, the station served more than 100 daily trains. Union Station was down to two when it closed in 1977; the trains ran for two more years from a pre-fab building nearby.
The city of Columbus had acquired the arcade, the station and surrounding land, and a private nonprofit company called Battelle Commons Corp. agreed to pay for and build a convention center on the site. On a rainy Friday evening in late October 1976, without any notice or public discussion, demolition of the arcade began. Because it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the city had a pending request for federal transit funding for reusing the arcade, an injunction stopped the demolition after about 12 hours. By then only the main arch was left.
A small citizens' group (the author was a member) formed and, over the next three years, managed to find funding and donations of land, materials, labor and architectural services to disassemble the arch and rebuild it in a new park along Marconi Boulevard. There it stood in isolated splendor until 1999, when it was moved to its current location.
Unfortunately, metal plaques telling the story of the arch never made it to the new site. People still ask today why there was not a greater effort to preserve Union Station. One silver lining of the incident was the formation of the Columbus Landmarks Foundation, which has worked to preserve and celebrate the city's architectural and design heritage. But wouldn't it be nice if some sort of plaque were to be installed again at the Arch so everyone could read its cautionary tale?
Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions firstname.lastname@example.org the answer might appear in a future column.