In which our intrepid hero drives up and down two streets…
Although the original goal of my first excursion was to photograph the Silent Woman Bar, a goal that was thwarted, I knew there were other things I would want to photograph along the way. The reason is that the bar had been located on East Main Street. Another name for East Main Street is US 40. US 40 becomes East Main Street as it approaches the Columbus area from the east. Somewhere around downtown it shifts a bit and continues west on West Broad Street until it is out of the city.
US 40 is also known as the National Road and it is one of the most famous roads in the history of the United States. It was the first road ever built by the federal government, starting in 1811, and linked the Eastern seaboard to the Midwest, almost to the Mississippi River. However, for me, US 40 holds a particular fascination.
What fascinates me about US 40 is not its history in the 1800s but rather its history in the 1900s, specifically, the period roughly from 1920 until the late 1950s. This was the early automobile era and US 40 was closest thing to an interstate highway we had. Because of this, the long route of US 40 became the site of innumerable “motor hotels” or motels built during this time period. Unlike previous hotels, these buildings were typically long and low and built with cars in mind. You could park your car right in front of your room and walk right in. Some of these early motels actually even had garages for each room; they would be organized as room, garage, next room, next garage, and so forth, all in a row.
But in the 1950s, the Eisenhower administration began building the Interstate Highway System and I-70 pushed US 40 aside. Although in a few stretches, I-70 actually incorporates US 40, mostly it runs parallel to the highway, a relatively short distance to the north or south. I-70 almost instantly turned US 40 into a backwater. Towns that I-70 went through now became the stops for weary travelers. And those motor hotels? They lost their customer base. They were dinosaurs, in a sense, wondering where all the tasty treats had gone after the meteor hit.
The interstate was devastating to these hotels, most of which closed. An unknowable number are simply completely gone, disappeared, bulldozed under, built over, or overgrown. Others are in ruins. Some have been repurposed for other uses. A small minority still eke out an existence.
A later blog post will show some of these old US 40 motels in the countryside, but here let’s talk about Columbus. US 40 goes all the way through Columbus—right through the center of the city. As a result, it was a natural stopping point for travelers and these small motels abounded right up and down the road. When I first moved to Columbus, in 1988, they seemed to pop up every few blocks. Many of those are gone now, lost to development after long periods of abandonment. The motels developed a bad reputation—probably deserved—as places for illicit behavior, ranging from affairs to prostitution to places for drug deals. However, some of these motels still exist—either abandoned or in some cases actually still operating. Most of the surviving motels are on East Main Street.
This little excursion took me from the west side of Columbus to downtown, then out east on Main Street. I doubled back (after finding the Silent Woman Bar was no more) and took West Broad Street back to the west side. Most of my excursions are to places other than Columbus and can take up to 10 hours or more; this was one of the shortest.
I had to pass through downtown to get to East Main and in so doing came across one of the more well known signs in Columbus, the sign on top of the Dispatch building.
The Dispatch bills itself as “Ohio’s greatest home newspaper,” but it is not; the Cleveland Plain Dealer is widely regarded as the best newspaper in Ohio. However, both newspapers are suffering these days. The Dispatch just went to a new, tiny format with less content, while the Plain Dealer went so far as to cut home delivery to only a few times a week.
On East Main, one of the first things to strike my fancy was the painted side of an old building. I should warn you that murals and painted buildings are a “soft spot” for me and you will find many examples in these blog entries. What I liked about this was the crude, homemade nature of the painted man with is groceries. I include the image in black and white, too, as it enhances the starkness of the scene.
Sadly, April 1 was largely overcast—as it would be for my first four excursions!
East Main goes through several less well-off areas of town, but nestled in-between two of them is the enclave of Bexley, Ohio, a tiny high-toned inburb completely surrounded by the city. One establishment there is Rubino’s Pizza, over half a century old, with a distinctive sign that I have always liked—as, apparently, have others, as I’ve seen other photos of this sign on the web.
Past Bexley, the old motels start showing up. I didn’t take pictures of all of them, for various reasons (mostly due to shooting constraints explained in a future post).
However, the abandoned Motel One, with its “Welcome Friend” sign, definitely deserved to be photographed.
This motel almost certainly had a tawdry end. There’s a sign posted next to the office doorway that reads “No visitors, guests only,” suggesting that prostitutes or drug dealers were a definite problem.
The Villa Motel, below, is still operating, but hardly more impressive. The line of grocery store carts does not inspire confidence.
Here you can see it in a more comprehensive shot:
In contrast, the Capital Motel is surprisingly well kept up. With its colorful paint job and its anachronistic sign advertising “Color TV,” the motel seems fresh out of a time capsule.
Not long after this, I discovered the non-existence of the Silent Woman Bar and began heading back. West of downtown, now on West Broad Street, I came across a interesting mural painted on the derelict side of an old building. It is worth a look:
Readers of this blog will discover that I am interested in dereliction, decay, and ruin. The mural provides a nice contrast to the building on which it rests.
I leave the reader with one final encounter. While driving down Broad, out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a flash of color and discovered that it was a man dressed as the Statue of Liberty, holding up a sign for a nearby income tax preparer. By this time, it was getting late in the afternoon, on a weekend, and nobody was around. It was still cold out, too. He can’t have been too happy dressed as a female statue and parading around an empty street with a sign. Still, often any job is better than no job at all.
And that ends the first official excursion for this blog.