German Village: Columbus, Ohio
Unpretentious, renovated houses and cottages stand shoulder to shoulder. Small, meticulously maintained front yards front tree-lined streets with brick sidewalks and cultivated village planters. Small businesses and storefronts with eye-catching displays and the aroma of culinary delights draw in passing pedestrians. German Village has remained true to its mid-19th century history, architecture, and character despite periods of disinvestment, decline, and near ruin.
The neighborhood is bordered by Livingston Avenue to the north; Lathrop, Grant, Jaeger and Blackberry to the east; Nursery Lane to the south; and Pearl Street to the west.
The first immigrants to move here arrived in the 1830s. By the 1850 German Village was so popular that half of all new construction in Columbus occurred there. The neighborhood's good fortune and prosperity began to change, however, with social and political shifts that stirred anti-German sentiment during World War I. In 1917, Congress shut down beer breweries, a source of employment for many in the village.
Six years later the situation worsened when the area was zoned for manufacturing and commercial use, further hastening residential deterioration. Suburban development following World War II and the razing of a third of the neighborhood in the 1950s to make way for I-70 further fueled the exodus.
Taking the first step to reverse the village's downward spiral was Frank Fetch, who purchased one house in the village with the goal of rebuilding the entire neighborhood. He founded the German Village Society in 1960, and his subsequent efforts led to establishment of a local architectural review panel and local and national historic district designations in 1963 and 1974.
Eventually 1,600 structures in the village were renovated, making German Village the largest, privately funded historic district in the U.S. Today preservation of the neighborhood continues to be a priority for residents, who hold numerous events to build camaraderie and raise funds for improvements.
Defining Characteristics, Features
Planning and Revitalization
- German Village Commission architectural review board established in 1963
- German Village Society lobbied for rezoning (1972) to protect neighborhood's residential quality; R-2F classification limits residential development to single- and two-family units
- German Village Historic District added to National Register (1974); boundaries expanded (1980), bringing number of structures to more than 1,860
- $1 million fundraising campaign (1990) by society led to Meeting Haus renovation and implementation of the Schiller Park Master Plan. Park improvements included new street lamps, benches, waste receptacles, lake restoration, tree plantings
- Society and residents partner with city on Third Street Master Plan (2010) to enhance streetscape, promote traffic calming, green methods for stormwater treatment, reuse of materials, and use of local, regional, and recycled materials
Sense of Place
- Rectangular street grid makes village easily navigable on foot; neighborhood defined by small lots, close spacing of buildings, narrow streets, and alleyways
- 23-acre Schiller Park houses gardens, public art, outdoor amphitheater, recreation center, and lake; Frank Fetch Park, a Munich-style pocket park, hosts Christmas tree lighting
- Proximity to downtown offers unique views of Columbus skyline; Central Ohio Transit Authority serves neighborhood; buses provide access to downtown and outlying areas
- Restaurants, grocery store, pharmacy, pet shop, bookstore, wine shop, salons, banks, churches, and schools scattered organically throughout district; lack of vacant lots creates intact, uninterrupted streetscape
Residents' commitment and involvement
- Frank Fetch, gambling that his vision of reversing urban blight through preservation and rehabilitation will take root, purchases house on Wall Street (1959)
- Fetch and 183 charter members established German Village Society (1960) to lobby City Hall, serve as a clearinghouse for ideas, and work to retain community character
- Annual Haus und Garten Tour (1960) inspires village residents and raises funds for neighborhood improvements
- Volunteers promote and maintain the German Village, staffing the Meeting Haus visitor's center, tending park gardens, serving on society committees, and working neighborhood events
- Structures no higher than four stories
- One-and-a-half story brick cottages and unique Dutch Doubles (expanded cottages) built on small lots for working-class families. Architecture is noteworthy for craftsmanship, modesty, and durability; two-story Italianate and Queen Anne homes signal prosperity
- Extensive use of brick for buildings, streets, sidewalks, and alleyways. Masonry exudes similar patina. Limestone stoops and wrought-iron fences enhance streetscape
- Structures built to sidewalk or with minimal front yard space; ubiquitous window boxes add color and texture
- Tree lawns between sidewalks and streets break up extensive brick streetscapes