The building housing the Roby and America Anderson Community Center on McClure Road is 37 years old. It was dedicated in September 1979 and christened the Eastside Community Center. Earlier this year it was renamed in honor of the Andersons, its co-founders.
The organization also underwent a name change. It’s now the State Street Area Associates, although I suspect that a great number of people will call it Eastside for years to come.
Truth is that the Center building – at least part of it – is a lot older than 37 years. Its origins could reach into the 19th century.
There’s no doubt that the building was built in 1979 and served as a gathering place for the people in the east side community. Roby, a Stadler Packing Co. retiree and former Navy cook, along with his wife America, were the unofficial mom and pop of the organization.
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The building has sort of been taken for granted during the past 37 years but memories of its construction resurfaced recently during the renaming process.
One of those memories concerned the bricks used for the exterior walls. They weren’t new.
That was attested to by several sources. One, former Community Development Director Tom Vujovich, remembered driving past the center site in 1979 and seeing people cleaning bricks and passing them on to workers for re-purposing in the new building.
There’s an irony in his observation. Tom had moved to Columbus in 1978 and taken a position in the department which was located in the old Columbus City Hall at Fifth and Franklin streets. That was a year before construction was to begin on what is now the current City Hall. Early in that process, crews had to demolish several old buildings on the site bordered by First, Second, Washington and Franklin streets. The buildings were brick structures which were used for residential apartments and office space. One was used by the welfare department to distribute food stamps.
Instead of taking the bricks to the landfill, city officials elected to make them available for re-purposing. When Roby Anderson died in 2000, it was reported by The Republic that in 1979, 27,000 bricks from the site for the new City Hall were transported to the Eastside location, cleaned by teams of volunteers and put in place by another group of volunteers.
It was a cost savings measure in terms of labor and materials, but it also had a couple of important emotional values. One was the involvement of the volunteers, many of whom would be the primary users of the new/old facility for several years.
It also served as a link to the city’s past, an element that is not often taken into account in today’s disposable world.
At the time, it was not an anomaly.
When researchers began looking into reports that the Eastside bricks had come from the demolition of downtown buildings, a possibility other than the City Hall block came to mind.
That possibility was a treasure trove of building materials that were part of the original buildings which stood in a downtown multi-block area bounded by Third, Fourth, Washington and Brown streets. In the early 1970s, the area was coined “Super Block.” It was to serve as the critical element in downtown redevelopment and upon completion would serve as Courthouse Center and The Commons.
To make way for the futuristic complex, a number of deteriorating buildings dating to the 19th century had to be demolished. It proved to be a complex process, made even more difficult by complaints from a number of residents that despite their condition – many of the buildings were abandoned and had become eyesores – important elements in the city’s history were being erased. A sense of nostalgia also played into the opposition. The buildings weren’t just brick and mortar. They had names of businesses, covering a gamut from Simmen-Penisten Hardware to the Wagon Wheel Bar and McQueen’s lunch cafe
Ironically, some of that physical history was saved and later put to new use in other buildings around Columbus.
The properties had been acquired by Irwin Management, the firm at 301 Washington St., which managed the financial and investment interests of philanthropist J. Irwin Miller and his family.
Prior to the start of demolition in 1972, workers were told to salvage bricks from the buildings as well as woodwork and other interior furnishings. Owen Hungerford, an executive with the management company said he believes that the original idea for saving the materials came from Xenia Miller, J. Irwin Miller’s wife, but that another family relative, Elsie Sweeney, also might have been involved.
“They both had an interest in preservation,” he recalled recently. “However, I don’t think they were directly involved in determining where the materials might be used around town.”
Former Irwin Management executive John Dorenbusch remembered that the materials were stored at two different locations in Columbus. “The bricks were moved to an area just off Indianapolis Road near the old drive-in theater where the industrial park is now located,” he said. “They were stored out in the open and people sort of helped themselves to them.”
The woodwork and other interior furnishings were stored in a loft area at the rear of the company’s parking garage on Franklin Street between Third and Fourth streets.
According to Owen, the company made the materials available for re-use in properties around town. “There was no fee involved,” he said.
So far as either retired executive knows, there are no records as to where the materials might have been repurposed. It’s believed that some of them were used in the remodeling of the Holiday Inn (now the Clarion) on Jonathan Moore Pike when the complex was given a 19th century look.
Given that materials such as the bricks were available for the taking, it’s likely that a number of buildings around town have a piece of the downtown history in them.
And as far as Roby Anderson’s renamed building on McClure Road is concerned, there’s likely a lot of sweat intermingled with the bricks that volunteers scraped and cleaned for their new purpose in life.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.