At this writing, the jury is still out on the future use of the Cummins Occupational Health Association building, next to the Columbus Engine Plant, that for the past 42 years has been popularly known by its initials, COHA. Right now it’s for sale.
Given the fairly recent explosion in health care facilities in and around Columbus, odds favor it being transitioned into similar usage, but don’t bet on it. Columbus’ architecture is not only famous, it’s adaptable. Trouble is, getting used to the changed missions that have been adopted in many of our buildings is difficult for people who have long memories of the city.
Consider the transitions that have been part of the history of the Columbus Pump House restaurant overlooking East Fork White River between the Robert Stewart and Third Street bridges. Prior to its conversion to a restaurant, it most recently was home to the Bartholomew County Senior Center. Before that it was a real pump house, providing water and electricity to city residents.
The building on the southwest corner of Fifth and Franklin streets was for most of the 20th century Columbus’ City Hall. It was a multiuse facility with city officials sharing space for a time with a gymnasium used by Columbus High School on an upper floor. With the opening of a new City Hall in 1981, it was converted into an office complex by Cummins Engine Co. That was a short-lived mission, ending when it was made into a bed-and-breakfast. Recently it took on a new purpose, condominiums and offices.
Across the street from the old City Hall is a building that houses the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and small business firms. From 1925 to 1971, however, it was home to The Evening Republican newspaper, forerunner of The Republic. The paper’s printing press was on the ground floor in an area near where the chamber’s conference rooms are now located.
The Columbus Area Visitors Center is across Franklin Street from the chamber’s offices, but until The Republic moved to Second Street it was used for the newspaper’s accounting department. Prior to that it was home to the Columbus Boys Club. It started life as a private residence and was known for the family that inhabited it, the Storeys. Even today, that name is occasionally dropped in conversations.
Speaking of the newspaper, The Republic will soon have a new home. Its current quarters at Second and Washington streets where it’s been located since 1971 will be turned over to Columbus Regional Hospital later this year. Incidentally, the land the building was erected on in 1971 had been a car lot.
One of the more unusual transitions revolved around the building that is directly to the west of The Republic. The Franciscan St. Francis Health facility now in place was for most of its life a tire store.
The administrative offices for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. are in a large complex just off 13th Street and Central Avenue, but it wasn’t too long ago that the same building was the corporate headquarters for Arvin Industries. Fittingly, a smaller portion of the building was the old Garfield Elementary School prior to its business use.
Washington Street has long been held out as the bastion for tradition, but change has come to it as well. The Eero Saarinen building on the northwest corner of Fifth and Washington streets was designed as Irwin Union Bank and Trust Co. The bank’s collapse in 2009 triggered a conversion process that has seen it evolve into the Cummins-owned Irwin Conference Center, but the engine company has gone to great lengths to maintain its original look.
Many years before Saarinen’s building was erected, Irwin’s Bank was located at Third and Washington streets.
It eventually morphed into a headquarters building for Irwin Management Co. and picked up the universally used name of “301,” to signify its address. Today, it’s a Cummins office building.
In the midst of all these transitions is one building that has been a constant for 142 years, the Bartholomew County Courthouse. It, however, has had to make adjustments over the years. For instance, sheep no longer wander around the grounds as they once did in the late 19th century.
While many of the city’s buildings have had to adapt over the years, they have, at least, survived. That’s acknowledged in the memories of some who prefer to think of the new as the old.
The operators of the restaurant overlooking the river took history into account by giving it an appropriate name, the Columbus Pump House.
I suspect there will be a lot of tongue biting among the Columbus Area Visitors Center tour guides as their buses pass what will be the old newspaper building and they immediately refer to it as The Republic.
And I don’t care what the prospective owners of the Cummins Occupational Health Association building on Central Avenue do with it. It’ll be COHA for years to come.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.