'New' German Heritage Haus taking shape
The Columbus Maennerchor is making a slow, but certainly steady transition into its new home.
Members of the German singing society, founded in 1848, have completed a bulk of the renovations themselves, save for a new roof that was installed by a contractor.
"It brings people together when you have these types of projects," said Werner Niehaus, president of the organization's board of directors.
Several facets of the former facility next door have been reused in the new building, to be called the German Heritage Haus.
Those include light fixtures, a chandelier and a map showing the German roots of prominent denizens from central Ohio and beyond.
The new place is considerably smaller, totaling about 3,500 square feet, but most of its fixtures are original, including the wooden floors, windows, heating system and plaster walls.
Vandals tore out a portion of a railing leading upstairs, but volunteers rebuilt it from a section that remained.
The first floor features a lounge area, small kitchen and practice space for the various singing groups.
The second floor will have offices, a history room and library for sheet music. A third story will not be in use for the foreseeable future, Niehaus said.
"It's our new home," he said. "From here, we'd like to begin again."
The new facility is commonly referred to as the Dutch House, the Anglicized pronunciation of Deutsch, meaning German. It will have a full liquor license and limited food service.
The structure, 976 S. High St., was built as a house in 1907.
The Maennerchor purchased the property in the 1970s and leased it to various professionals and used it for storage.
As the original building became dilapidated and too expensive to fix, it became clear the Maennerchor needed a new home.
Architects estimated the renovations to cost $250,000. Niehaus said volunteers will keep the total cost to about $150,000.
Kathy Megown, who sings with the damenchor, the women's choir, said the new space expresses "old-fashioned elegance."
"You just get such a welcoming feeling there," Megown said. "You also get a feeling of timelessness, intimacy. It makes you comfortable."
Like many ethnic social clubs, the Maennerchor has struggled to maintain membership over the last few decades. For example, it had about 2,000 members in the 1960s. These days, there are about 300 active members and associates.
"That's the reason we can't maintain such a huge building," Niehaus said.
The old building closed in 2011. Columbus City Schools purchased the property for the expansion of Stewart Alternative Elementary School, which is across Pearl Street to the east.
School officials said they will raze later additions to the structure but plan to keep the core of the building.
The next stop is getting a sign off from the state of Ohio on ADA-compliance issues, Niehaus said.
Also, more money is needed if the German Heritage Haus hits its target opening date at the beginning of May.
To help raise funds, the Maennerchor is holding a spaghetti lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Swiss Chalet, 1036 S. Front St. Admission is $9 for adults and $5 for children.
"There's still a lot to be done," Niehaus said.