Just two weeks ago I spent more time looking at the east side of the Scioto River than I ever imagined I would.
Just two weeks ago I spent more time looking at the east side of the Scioto River than I ever imagined I would. A week's worth of being on-site for Oktoberfest provided a great opportunity for seeing a view of Columbus I wasn't before familiar with (I don't get out of 43206 all that often) and it piqued my curiosity about my current favorite building, the LeVeque Tower.
I love Columbus, but with all due respect to its status as the 15th largest city in the country, we don't have much of a skyline. But my, oh my how the LeVeque Tower stands out! It is gleaming white in a sea of glass-fronted office buildings, it's Art Deco in style, and it's quite obviously historic (no one builds like that anymore) so what's not to love?
The building at 50 West Broad Street started as the American Insurance Union, or AIU Citadel. From 1927 until 1974 it was the tallest building in Columbus and fifth tallest building in the world and at the time of its completion, the tallest building between New York and Chicago. It was intentionally constructed to be six inches taller than the Washington Monument.
Built by Charles Howard Crane with the support of local AIU magnate John Lentz, the AIU Citadel exhibits classic Art Deco design elements. With its stepped design and curves, the building reflects the time's raging style of opulence and pure decoration. The building is made of steel covered in glazed architectural terra cotta tiles, a product loved by architects because it can make a building appear to be made of granite or limestone.
Originally there was more sculpture on the building, but the terra cotta began to crumble so for safety reasons much of it was removed. Among the decorations "lost" were four 18' eagles at the corners of the building at the 36th floor, and four 20' statutes of colossus and youth on the sides at the setback of the 40th floor. The spaces left empty are now used as bases for the lights used to illuminate the building.
Five people died during construction of the building; one fell from steel framing and four others died when a pocket of noxious gas was opened during digging.
The foundation of the AIU Citadel goes down to bedrock, resulting in an incredibly stable structure. Charles Howard Crane utilized a system based on the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in which caissons were sunk into the ground so workers could dig around them. Laying the foundation took longer than any other building process for the project.
Due to the depressed economy, American Insurance Union went bankrupt and sold the building shortly after it was completed to pay off unpaid policies. In 1945, John Lincoln and Leslie LeVeque purchased the building for far less than AIU paid to build it, and far less than insurance claims amounted. Those holding AIU policies were never fully paid.
At the base of the building is the Palace Theatre, which seats 2,800 people. The elegant theatre was designed by Thomas Lamb in the spirit of France's Palace of Versailles. (The LeVeque Tower originally housed a very scaled-down Hall of Mirrors, a ballroom of Versailles.)
Vaudeville mogul Edward Albee oversaw construction of the theatre. The dressing room tower in the backstage area was designed as a small hotel, complete with a "front desk," where performers picked up their room keys and mail. Kitchen facilities and a children's playroom were available. The dressing rooms are named after cities on the vaudeville touring routes.
Today the AIU Citadel/LeVeque Tower continues to hold a dramatic presence in our skyline, and is quickly identified as being a Columbus landmark. It is a spectacular building both in natural daylight and when lit at night, and it truly was a sight to behold from Oktoberfestwhen it wasn't raining that is.
Nothing beats being a tourist in your own town and learning more about the buildings we see every dayI can't wait to learn about what my next favorite building will be!
Jody H. Graichen is Interim Executive Director of the German Village Society.