Columbus' Former Shoe Factories Are Being Renovated, Reused

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Did you know Columbus was once the footwear capital of America?

Conversion of historic Columbusbuildings to new uses has picked up steam in recent years. Former brewery buildings, factories, commercial buildings, banks, garages, warehouses and several more spaces are now or soon will become craft breweries, restaurants, offices and, especially, apartment buildings. This month marks the completion of one of the latest: The Julian apartments. Until 1975, the building, at Front and Main streets, was the home of shoe manufacturer Julian and Kokenge Co.

Columbus was once a shoe-rich city. Not only was the Downtown area peppered with shoe stores, but the city was also a major center for shoe manufacturing. Most of the companies sprang up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and were gone by World War II. No one's making shoes here today, but some of the factory buildings still stand as reminders of this heritage.

Jones Shoe Co. (in 1919, one of the country's largest shoe manufacturers) and Jones Heel Co. were at 841-843 S. Front St., near Whittier Street. The buildings are in partial use, and the Jones Heel sign is still visible on one wall. The Bradford Shoe Co. was located at 232 Neilston Ave.; the building is in commercial use. And the Kropp Shoe Co. was at 309-319 S. Fourth St., in a structure built in 1902 as the United States Carriage Co. It's now being rehabbed for apartments.

Others no longer with us include G. Edwin Smith Shoe Co. at Neil Avenue and West Long Street (closed in 1950), the H. C. Godwin Shoe Co. at 347 W. Broad St., the C and E Shoe Co. at 155 Noble St. and the Wolfe Brothers Shoe Co. at 50 S. Front St. (Yes, it was owned by the financial, TV and former newspaper family-the WBNS call letters stand for "Wolfe Banks Newspapers and Shoes.") Other shoemakers in or near Downtown included the Riley Shoe Manufacturing Co. and the Walk Over Shoe Co.

Shoe factories tended to be several stories tall and have large windows to provide natural light for intricate cutting, forming and stitching operations. Since they did not produce a lot of objectionable industrial waste, the factories were usually integrated into the city streetscape rather than in isolated industrial districts.

What's Up with the Js?

The Joseph, The Jeffrey, The Julian.Is this a naming trend?

It walks like a trend and quacks like a trend, but it's not a trend-just a coincidence. The building housing The Jeffrey condominiums on East First Avenue was the office for the huge Jeffrey Manufacturing Co. plant along the east side of North Fourth Street. Nearly all the Jeffrey buildings are gone, and the site is being developed for housing; another building there houses the State Library of Ohio. The Julian, on South Front Street, was also an industrial building-the Julian and Kokenge Co., shoe manufacturers. The company closed in 1975, and the building was used for storage. Now it's apartments, and "The Julian" probably sounded better than "The Kokenge." As for the Joseph, this name applies to the development consisting of office building, hotel and parking garage on North High Street in the Short North. It's named for developer Ron Pizzuti's father.