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Architecture appreciated best by those who live in it

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The newsroom of The Republic in 1971.
The newsroom of The Republic in 1971. FILE PHOTO

The newsroom of The Evening Republican in 1962.
The newsroom of The Evening Republican in 1962. FILE PHOTO

I’M still trying to figure out this historic landmark status for The Republic building in which I work. The main reason for my difficulty is that I still refer to it as “the new building.”

I’m not about to dispute the building’s worth in receiving the honor bestowed upon it last month by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Although it’s only 41 years old, the building on Second Street is a landmark in contemporary architecture, just as the six other local structures that were given the same recognition in 2000.

And all of these buildings — First Christian, North Christian and First Baptist churches; the Miller Home; the former Irwin Union Bank and Trust Co.; and McDowell Adult Education Center — have retained much of their original appearance thanks to faithful maintenance programs.

A lot of the visitors who come to Columbus for the architecture — even professional designers — are able to experience our buildings through only one sense: sight. Those of us who live here, who work here, who play here have an opportunity for much more. We see our buildings, but we also touch them, listen to them, even smell them.

It’s an aspect I suspect many take for granted. I don’t.

Those of us who moved into the new newspaper building in 1971 had an instant appreciation of it. You should have worked in the place that we vacated.

We moved to 333 Second St. from 444 Fifth St. Today, 444 Fifth St. is the home of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.

Back before 1971 it housed the entire newspaper — newsroom, advertising, circulation, business, production, even the press. We did spill out across the street into the old Storey House (now home of the Columbus Area Visitors Center), where our accounting department was housed.

But most everything happened in 444. It was crowded and noisy. Eventually you got used to the clanking of the linotype machines and the rumble of the press from the basement, and you’d be careful to watch where you walked to be sure you didn’t brush your white shirt up against a wall or piece of equipment that might be splattered with ink.

It also was dark. The newsroom had lots of lights, but even when they were all turned on, you still had to strain your eyes to read anything. That probably explained why many of our proofreaders had lamps on their desks.

Getting around the building was like struggling through a maze. Visitors to the newsroom had to climb a steep flight of stairs and, once inside, had to keep watch for copy boys running through the office to deliver proofs.

There were curtains on the windows that I thought were brown until I returned one Monday morning to discover that I had white curtains. Someone had taken them to the cleaners over the weekend to remove years of smoke stains.

When we moved into the new building on a weekend, it was like walking into a new world. There was space, lots of it. The newsroom resembled a small gymnasium, and it was all open ... no walls, no cubicles, no lines of demarcation — just rows of desks.

It was bright inside the building, equal to the light outside that spilled in through the huge glass windows that encased the building. It was a totally new experience, but there were touches of the old to give its new inhabitants a feeling of permanence.

On the wall behind the reception desk was a huge mural — an 1886 map of downtown Columbus. Inset into the map were sketches of individual buildings in the downtown at the time. One was an engraving of the building occupied until 1925 by The Evening Republican (forerunner of The Republic). Perched atop the building in that photo was an arched yellow sign declaring it to be The Republican 1872. The year was when the newspaper was established by the Brown family.

The sign now occupies a prominent place in the employee break room.

But the building was about more than light, roominess or nostalgia.

Gone was the maze-like traffic pattern of the old building. The new home had a distinct production route going from west to east. Stories were written, edited, set into type, affixed to pages that were put onto a press that produced the newspapers that were rolled out via conveyor belts to motor route drivers.

And the press was a thing of beauty. It wasn’t hidden in the basement but positioned in full view of Second Street. It even had an audience — pedestrians walking past on Second Street would stop and watch it in motion. So would those of us inside the building, and we could see it all through a glass partition. Even running at full speed, its sound was muted by the glass divider.

The press was taken out more than a decade ago, and a lot of the functions inside the building have changed, but we’re still doing the thing we started doing here 41 years ago. We’re still producing a daily newspaper.

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