Commentary: Who’s Blocking All The Good Views?

Listen to the Story

Looking west from downtown Columbus.(Photo: Marada (Flickr))
Looking west from downtown Columbus.(Photo: Marada (Flickr))

People in Central Ohio seem to have lost their ability to see things from the perspective of a high place.

I am not really sure why.

Perhaps the airplanes did it.

Most people have a sense of awe – and occasional stark terror – when they view their world from a high place.

That fearful feeling we get when looking down from a high place is often mistakenly labeled acrophobia, or fear of heights. It is not that at all in most cases. What really possesses us is the perfectly human fear of falling from a high place, or bathophobia.

Despite those fears, most of us over the years have from time to time sought a high place to help us better understand the world around – and below – us.

At least that was the case – until recently.

When I first lived near downtown Columbus in the late 1960s, the LeVeque Tower (or AIU Citadel, as it once was called) still had an observation deck in one of the highest floors of the 44-story building. On that floor were a number of large cumbersome binocular machines. Inserting some pocket change permitted one to see large slices of the world below us in rather close detail. It was fun, it was cheap, and it was even occasionally enlightening.

And there was nothing new about it.

After Columbus was created by the Ohio General Assembly in 1812, it took a few years to get the streets laid out and some public buildings erected.

But by 1816, when the Assembly came to town for the first time, one could walk into a new two-story brick Statehouse at the corner of State and High Streets. Upon entering by the south door, one encountered the chamber of the House of Representatives. Up a flight of steps was the Senate chamber. Up yet another flight was a doorway to the balcony surrounding the roof of the building.

From that balcony one could see all of Columbus – such as it was – and probably the homes and shops of all of its several hundred residents.

Over the years, the city grew in size and sophistication. And so did the size of its buildings. But there was always a place where the public could rise up and see their city. Our current Statehouse – completed in 1861 – has a walkway encircling the cylindrical cupola above the rotunda.

In the years after the Civil War, our buildings got taller. And with the perfection of safe, reliable elevators, we got our first skyscraper – The Wyandotte Building – in 1898.

By the time the LeVeque Tower was completed in 1927, the idea of having a public viewing place on top of high buildings was well-established.

Then in the late 1960s, the world began to change.

The viewing level of the LeVeque Tower was closed and the space was rented as offices. Newer and bigger buildings continued to be built, but they did not have public viewing at their highest levels. I always wondered why.

Was the space all that previous that a bit of it could not be set aside? I don’t think so. Or did we just lose interest in the high places? I don’t think that was the case, either.

People are still fascinated with the view from up on high. We simply found other ways to see our world. The combination of affordable air travel and the wealth of imagery available on the web meant that we could now see our world in other ways.

In a way, it’s too bad. Take it from me: no picture can match what one can see from the top of the tower.

Ed Lentz is a WOSU commentator and local historian.

Comments