Secret Columbus: Arts and Cultural Spots to Discover

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

They tower above Columbus. They're buried beneath it. They're unseen even though they're right under our noses. Columbus is full of hidden gems. Some are threatened by the ravages of time, but others are thriving spaces where in-the-know culture vultures, foodies and history buffs flock. How many of our 37 city secrets do you know-and how many will you discover for the first time?

A Storytelling Unicorn

On the north end of Thurber Park is an enclosure of trees surrounding a bronze unicorn statue. Made by artist Jack Greaves and dedicated in 1988, the casting for the statue was the same used to make the unicorn statue at Columbus School for Girls (CSG). "When the Thurber unicorn was installed, there was a parade from one unicorn to the other," says Jennifer Gregg, Thurber House executive director. The Thurber unicorn holds a lily, a reference to James Thurber's short story "The Unicorn in the Garden." Don't know how it goes? Read the famous cautionary tale on a plaque next to the statue.

Love at First Light

The only thing Tom Burns, director of Perkins Observatory, likes more than looking at the stars is showing them to other people. He gets to do so every Friday night when groups gather at the observatory-which was built by Ohio Wesleyan professor Hiram Perkins in 1923-to experience the magic of the skies firsthand. "You haven't lived until you've got that 8-year-old standing up at that big telescope about to see Saturn and its rings for the first time," Burns says. Indeed, in the stargazing community an almost mystical aura surrounds that first sighting. "New telescope owners talk about that experience," Burns says. "They call it First Light."

Vast Time Capsule

For decades, Warren Motts has been amassing thousands of meticulously archived, restored and displayed items in his military museum in Groveport. The Motts Military Museum is in constant flux-it recently acquired a World War II C-47 transport plane that had been abandoned in North Carolina. One long-term goal is to establish a section of the museum just for its collection of Sept. 11 items-the second-largest such collection anywhere. Among many other objects, Motts has a New York Fire Department truck that was crushed beneath one of the falling World Trade Center towers. "Every day brings something exciting to us," says Daisy Motts, Warren's wife and a member of the museum board. "I guess it's because we love history."

Jazz in the Park

The if-you-want-it-start-it spirit of Columbus is reflected in the fledgling Harrison West Jazz Stage series, which just wrapped up its second year. When Harrison Park opened a few years ago in Harrison West, Mark Subel and Dara Schwartz, who have called the neighborhood home for 10 years, thought it-and especially its gazebo-would be the perfect place for a community event. "[We] felt like the neighborhood didn't have enough going on," Subel says. The Jazz Stage isn't trying to be something grandiose, but it's thriving on the strength of its humble neighborhood origins. In its first year, about 150 people showed up each weekend. "It's a free show; anybody's welcome," he says. "No one except for Harrison West residents even knows this park is here." Harrison Park Place between West First and West Second avenues

A Macabre Fascination

Follow Greenlawn Avenue west out of German Village for about a mile until you spot a sprawling neoclassical structure on your right, strikingly reminiscent of a miniature Zappeion. Take the narrow, beaten path up the grassy knoll and meet Green Lawn Abbey, the final resting place of magician Howard Thurston, longtime mayor George John Karb and members of the Sells Brothers Circus family. Access to the 87-year-old mausoleum is limited; for a closer look, attend one of the Green Lawn Abbey Preservation Association's luncheons, magic shows or movie nights. The group is restoring the mausoleum's ornate stained glass windows, developing a crypt database (hundreds of former Columbusites are interred within) and seeking funding for new landscaping and parking.

A Diamond in the Rough

The Golf Club in New Albany is perhaps the highest-ranked course in the country about which so little is publicly known. Ranked the 36th best golf course in the U.S. by Golf Digest in 2013, the Golf Club was commissioned by Fred Jones and designed by legendary golf course architect and Ohio native Pete Dye in 1967. To this day, the Golf Club is a very well-kept secret (intentionally so). Club president Tim Nagy says the club has a "relatively small membership compared to other clubs in the area-or anywhere." The course was renovated this past year by Dye himself, now 88, rendering the Golf Club a kind of living Dye career retrospective. "He would stand near an area he was thinking about redesigning, stand and stare at [it], walk away, look at it again, walk away," Nagy says. "No notes, no drawings." 4522 Kitzmiller Road, New Albany

Fashion for the Ages

Ohio State University's Historic Costume and Textile Collection includes garments from the 1700s and 20th century items from names like Coco Chanel, Cristobal Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent. With 25,000 items, the Ann Rudolph Button Collection is the largest of its kind in the United States. Every once in a while, the collection shows off some of its holdings to the public. And the Bride Wore …, an exhibition of historic and contemporary wedding costumes, is being presented as two installations-one during fall semester and one during spring-so plan a couple visits before May 2015.

The Imagination's Playground

The imposing brick building at 139 W. Main St. became one of Ohio's first state armories 153 years ago. Today, this Downtown landmark-often confused for a house of worship-is home to the Cultural Arts Center. Inside, versatile galleries showcase local art exhibitions, with the third floor Loft Gallery exclusively reserved for work produced in the center's many classes. Local educators and artists lead 7-to-8-week courses in dancing, painting, weaving, blacksmithing and creative writing, to name just a few, for $55. Stop by in January when the refurbished, 8,000-pound limestone couch (formerly of the Short North) is relocated to the center's outdoor sculpture garden.

Where Dinosaurs Still Rule

There is a place in the middle of Columbus where rocks glow in the dark. Fossils from thousands and thousands of years ago and a life-size Tyrannosaurus rex skull live here, and so do the bones of an 1,800-pound mammal that roamed the Ohio prairies long before Ohio was even a state. It's the Orton Geological Museum at Ohio State. The natural oddities in the museum often bring awe to visitors' eyes, says Dale Gnidovec, the museum's collections manager and curator. "If you pass around a mammoth tooth, it's as big as a kids' head," he says, "so that gets their attention."