UDH Hdr-Mirror Lake 1888

This five unit rowhouse at 441-49 E. 15th Ave. was built near the end of the rowhouse period in 1926 on land at the very edge of the University District near the Big Four Railroad tracks. Though built a decade later, it is identical to rowhouses from the 1910s.

Rowhouses were communities. Neighbors saw each other coming and going. Housewives hung laundry on the line out back and gossiped. Kids played together. On hot summer nights, neighbors shared the relative comfort of the front porch.

Looking through city directories and census records, one finds traces of stories. One University District rowhouse was home to a good section of the Kroger meat department. In another building, a widow lived in same end unit from 1917 until the late 1940s. Her two immediate neighbors, also widows, spent decades in the building as well. In another rowhouse, two up and coming businessmen were neighbors, made good, and then moved to neighboring houses on the same street in Upper Arlington.

As the 1930s wore on, things began to change. New Deal programs favoring home ownership, the rise of building and loan institutions, and lower home prices as a consequence of the Great Depression all made home-buying cheaper and easier. The comparatively affluent residents of the rowhouses no longer had to scrimp and save for years to buy a home of their own.

Through the late 1930s into the 1940s, rowhouse populations become more diverse. One notices more widows, older persons, and blue collar workers starting to move into rowhouses.

After the Second World War, students poured into the University District and kept coming in ever increasing numbers for the next forty years. By the early 1960s, Ohio State students were the majority in the University District. The rowhouses of the University District became student housing for Ohio State sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Students were a transient population. They moved into a unit, stayed a year, maybe two, then moved on. Between 1965 and the present, a typical University District rowhouse unit has seen over 100 different residents.

Student residents were notoriously hard on the apartments they rented. Landlords were reluctant to invest any more in the maintenance and upkeep of their properties than absolutely necessary. Handymen slopped on a fresh coat of white paint each fall and forced modern plumbing and electrical repairs into 1910s spaces with little regard for appearance. Original windows, sinks, tubs, lighting, and fixtures were torn out instead of repaired and replaced with whatever the hardware store was selling cheapest that week. It's testimony to the skill of the original builders that these buildings have survived as well as they have.

By the late 1980s, many rowhouses were in sorry shape. Unable to attract even student renters any longer, many--especially on the periphery of the district--were converted to Section 8 housing and presided over by even more negligent landlords. Some deteriorated to the point they became uninhabitable.

Lane at Indiana

Neighboring rowhouses at the corner of E. Lane and Indiana.

 

In the past decade, hopeful signs have emerged. In the community, tolerance for slumlords has vanished. The city and community insist properties be maintained. As the overconcentration of students in the district has started to ease, landlords have been forced to upgrade their properties to compete. In 2003, Community Properties acquired a huge swath of the Section 8 housing in the University District and began a program of rehabilitating neglected older properties. They have done an excellent job. As a consequence of these changes, many of the district's old rowhouses approach their hundredth year looking better than they have in decades.

Long dismissed as cheap housing, rowhouses are beginning to receive some appreciation. The unique style of the Columbus Rowhouse was a point raised by preservationists in the debate about razing old structures to make way for development on E. 11th. Discussions of rowhouses among historical architecture enthusiasts make frequent mention of Columbus' heritage. In Franklinton, a pair of rowhouses were recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

139-41 W 9th

This unusual rowhouse at 139-41 W. Ninth Ave. features interesting polychrome brickwork and--with just two units--has the distinction of being one of the smallest Columbus Rowhouses. It was built c. 1910.