Midcentury structure on Long St. is now an office building.

Out near the east end of Long Street, at the railroad overpass, there's a modern-looking medical office building that just had some renovation. It seems out of place there. What's its story? That's the Franklin Park Medical Center at 1829 East Long Street. You're right—it's a little out of the mainstream, but it was in the right place at the right time and has a history important to the city's East Side.

It was built in 1962 by a group of African-American doctors—Arthur L. Clark, Harold E. McDaniel, Richard D. Ruffin, Jaime Smith-e-Incas and Walter A. Thomas. They wanted to solve a long-running problem—unlegislated, but no less real, segregation in Columbus that carried over from the 19th century well into the 20th. Among the problems this caused was a lack of ready access to medical care for the thousands of African-Americans living on the East Side. Discrimination kept many black doctors from joining white doctors' groups or working in established hospitals.

The doctors who established the Franklin Park Medical Center represented various specialties and were motivated by a desire to provide a range of services for an underserved community. They did so for many years, retiring in the 1990s and early 2000s. Their building has been recognized with a listing in the National Register of Historic Places because of its history and also its midcentury modern design, part of the body of post-World War II architecture that's now being recognized and documented.

Threatened by demolition for a while, the 9,000-square-foot building recently was rehabilitated by the city of Columbus and the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation for resale as an office building.

Columbus is a pretty safe city, but has organized crime ever caused problems here? Our city seems to have escaped much of the so-called mob influence that other Ohio cities like Cleveland, Youngstown and even Steubenville endured. But we weren't immune and we certainly have had our share of trouble. La Cosa Nostra (Italian for “Our Thing”), also called the Mafia (from an obscure Italian term suggesting a “respected group”), dates back to about the 1880s and doesn't seem to have taken root here, but for many years the Black Hand (“Mano Nera” in Italian, from the inked palm-print signature it used) terrorized Columbus. It began in New York City around 1896 and first popped up in Ohio in Marion. Its racket was extortion; one 1908 letter to a hapless Columbus family threatened to “kill your children and pickle them like pork in barrels” if a payoff was not made.

A 1986 Ohio attorney general's report called it and similar groups “nontraditional,” in contrast to the “traditional” Mafia. That same report said that “no known traditional organized crime figures” resided in Central Ohio but that motorcycle gangs totaled about 30 in Ohio and were active in “topless/bottomless bars,” narcotics, vending companies, weapon sales, carnivals and pornography.

Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to cityquotient@columbusmonthly.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.

Sources: National Register of Historic Places nomination form; State Historic Preservation Office; Ohio History Connection; Attorney General Anthony Celebrezze, “1986 Report of the Organized Crime Consulting Committee;” David Meyers and Elise Meyers Walker, “Ohio's Black Hand Syndicate,” The History Press, 2018; and assistance from Loraine Wilmers, Columbus Metropolitan Library