How neighborhoods from long-gone Uzi Alley to developing King-Lincoln earned their monikers.
Consider the name of your neighborhood. Where did it come from? What does it mean? How does it define the residents? Or does it? Would it matter if the name suddenly changed?
These are questions we don't typically ponder, but which were likely asked at different points in the life cycle of our neighborhoods, including their incorporation, and, for many, their decline and subsequent redevelopment.
Here are the stories behind six of Columbus' colorfully named neighborhoods.
“If you walk around Washington Beach on a sunny day you can hear a band practice on every street corner, find enough furniture in the alleys for an Upper Arlington mansion and see at least one local celebrity.”
So reads user donewaiter's 2005 Urban Dictionary description of the North Campus neighborhood, with highly contested boundaries falling somewhere in the vicinity of Norwich Avenue on the south, Hudson Street on the north, the Olentangy River on the west and the Conway railroad tracks to the east.
“[The web page] has been there for ages and I have no idea where it came from,” said Nashville-based artist and designer Michael Carney, who lived in the area when he attended CCAD. “It was when there were lots of active message boards in the Columbus scene. … There were lots of arguments about [Washington Beach] amongst Columbus locals online.”
And Carney would know. He coined the name in 2003, when he and his roommate were playing “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” at their house.
“Every one of the neighborhood names [in the game] sounded so cool, like a place you'd go on vacation,” Carney said. “And then somehow we were like, ‘Why don't we just rename our neighborhood?' And then the next logical step was to just steal a name from the game.”
Eric spray-painted the name outside and Carney informed some of the neighborhood residents at a party that night. “Everybody immediately was like, ‘Yeah, this is great, of course,'” Carney said. “It went from a handful of people to basically every person at the party [being] involved in this conversation as if it were a city council meeting.”
A focal point in the Columbus music scene — with Cafe Bourbon Street as its hub — Washington Beach produced myriad bands such as Times New Viking and the Washington Beach Bums, which celebrated their beloved neighborhood.
Adam Elliott of Times New Viking remembers putting Washington Beach on the band's Myspace page, and giving the area a shout-out in his previous band, Offending Instruments. “We actually made a CD-R in 2003, and we dedicated it to all the men and women of Washington Beach who died serving in the great wars,” he said.
Today, North Campus has taken on new monikers like Old North and SoHud.
“[Washington Beach] didn't stick on well enough,” said Adam's brother, Kevin Elliott of Connections and previously 84 Nash. “To me, SoHud sounds like a vape store or a diet.”
But the legend lives on.
“I'll be hanging out with a group of people and … somehow it will come up,” Carney said. “It's basically like … you and your friends make a bad joke and then you're forced to remember it. But I mean that in the most endearing way. It makes me laugh.”
The Peach District
Situated two miles south of Washington Beach (aka North Campus), founded several years later in 2008 and characterized by a similar artistic community, the Peach District faces accusations of mimicry.
“It's the poor man's Washington Beach,” Michael Carney said. “And no self-respecting member of the community would choose to live in a place that was a pathetic attempt at being another place.”
“I welcome him to come down and hang out and save some money,” responded Zach Henkel, who helped promote neighborhood events. “The Peach District's for graduate students and Washington Beach is for burnouts.”
Like Washington Beach, the origin of the Peach District — with West Tenth Avenue and West Fifth Avenue as its northern and southern boundaries, and Neil Avenue and North High Street as its western and eastern boundaries — is similarly whimsical.
“The founder was Brett Zehner,” Henkel said. “He was in a romantic encounter with his girlfriend and she called him a peach. And he walked out on his balcony and he goes, ‘Yeah, the Peach District,' and he snapped his fingers and it became like a vision. And then he told me a little bit later and I just started saying it to everybody.”
A mural was painted on the present-day Bottle Shop on King Avenue, and a group of artists started gathering at open-mic night at the now-closed Taj Mahal Bar in the area. “It was like church for all of us,” said musician Phil Kim. “We would watch our friends play and workshop songs.”
The open-mic host, Andy Gallagher of Trains Across the Sea, released an album, Greetings from the Peach District, and the community hosted events like “The Greatest Show,” an 11-week extravaganza, “Peachtoberfest” and the “Peach District Classic.” (Rumor has it the “Classic” is coming back this year.)
“[The neighborhood] had its heyday and fizzled away,” Henkel said. “[But] people bring it up all the time. It hasn't been forgotten.”
During the early- to mid-1900s, there were at least four Bronzeville neighborhoods flourishing in the United States at the same time. The name was coined in the 1920s by Chicago Bee reviewer James Gentry to describe the residents' skin tone. Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Columbus all had these African-American cultural, businesses and entertainment hubs, which developed following the Great Migration of black populations to northern states beginning in the early 1900s.
By the 1960s, the neighborhoods had declined, but there have been efforts to either revitalize them — Chicago's Bronzeville has enjoyed a renaissance in the last decade — or commemorate them. Last year, a “Bronzeville Week” and festival took place in Milwaukee, and a series of Bronzeville-based installations and events were produced in L.A.
If it were up to Columbus resident and Bronzeville Neighborhood Association president Willis Brown, the city's King-Lincoln District would be renamed Bronzeville. Located on the Near East Side, the King-Lincoln District (bounded by I-71 on the west, Atcheson Street on the north, Twentieth Street on the east, and East Broad Street on the south) is said to be at least part of the original Bronzeville.
“[People] didn't believe that this area had that kind of history until we started digging it up,” said Brown, who moved to the neighborhood in 1987. He started doing research on Bronzeville, even interviewing a 98-year-old former Bronzeville cabinet member (a 1938 Dispatch article confirms the establishment of unofficial elected offices). Brown presented the information to Mayor Mike Coleman and City Council.
“They didn't even say, ‘Well, great job, let's have a celebration,'” Brown recalled. “And every time we bring it up, it always gets pushed down.”
In a 2009 Dispatch article, Coleman is quoted as saying, “Willis Brown is Willis Brown. I'm not going to get into the naming of neighborhoods.”
“Really?” Brown said to Alive. “Well then how did the King-Lincoln District come about? The people didn't name that.”
In the early 2000s, Boyce Safford, formerly of the Columbus Urban Growth Corp. — created by Coleman — coined the name as part of a plan to revitalize the Long Street area into a cultural arts district.
“When you have two assets such as the King Arts Complex and the Lincoln Theatre [in the area], they're key in redevelopment efforts,” said Safford, who simply fashioned the King-Lincoln name from those institutions. “I presented it a couple times to the Near East Area Commission.”
“I appreciate Willis' passion for [Bronzeville], but it hasn't stuck,” Safford added.
But a Google Maps search reveals the area is branded as King-Lincoln Bronzeville, and there are residents dedicated to preserving the history and culture, regardless of what the neighborhood is called.
“A lot of things I want to do revolve around affecting people in their hearts and minds,” said MC, poet and King-Lincoln resident Keith “Speak” Williams. “You could change it back to Bronzeville and then sweep all the black people out of it. … Culturally, I think artists and young professionals are doing a lot of work here.”
Brown, however, remains unsatisfied.
“I'm not going to stop until this area is called Bronzeville again,” he said.
“You don't have to be a nut to live here, but it sure helps!”
That tagline is featured on the Facebook page of Old Oaks Civic Association, representing the historic district located east of Downtown between Interstate 70 and Livingston Avenue. The phrase embodies the spirit of the area: lighthearted and fun. It's a neighborhood where residents still babysit each other's kids, change each other's lightbulbs and loan each other lawn mowers. There are Mardi Gras parties, wine tasting and garden tours, as well as “Wednesdays on the Porch,” where residents take turns hosting parties on their properties.
“The first one [featured] cookies and lemonade,” said former Old Oaks Civic Association president David Gray, who started the event about 15 years ago. “Next thing you know, people are having backyard barbecues.”
That camaraderie didn't always exist. “The civic association is what changed the neighborhood,” said Michael Herman, who once served as treasurer and vice president. “When I first started, nobody knew anybody and it was just everybody out on their own.”
In the early 1980s, Herman moved to the area — established in the late 1800s as a streetcar suburb — just before the Bedford Addition Civic Association shifted its boundaries to include more streets.
“We didn't want to be called Bedford Addition Civic Association [anymore] … so we had a contest for a new name,” Herman recalled. “Everyone liked Old Oaks because of all the old oaks in the neighborhood. … I think we've still got five left [today].”
“Obviously, when [Interstate 70] went in and then there was ‘white flight' … it went downhill after that,” Herman continued. “[Now] it's just an excellent neighborhood. We're proud of our diversity.”
Following the familiar trajectory of old American neighborhoods, Old Oaks is now undergoing renovation with younger families moving in and housing prices increasing.
“We've hit the $300,000 mark now,” Gray said. “When I first moved in, I bought a house right next door for $9,000 and that came with two cars and three floors of antique furniture.”
However, Gray said they are helping to minimize displacement as much as possible, often finding grants for residents to keep up with home repairs.
“You'd have to be pretty blind not to see that the neighborhood is turning a bit,” Gray said. “Unfortunately, sometimes when your neighborhood becomes successful, it's like, ‘Okay, the house prices are going up, we've got stabilization, we've got new people moving in, [but] then you lose some of that charm.”
Flytown is alive and well — at least in the media and minds of those who remember living there. WOSU TV featured the area in its “Columbus Neighborhoods” series several years ago, and former residents still gather in Goodale Park each summer for a “Flytown Reunion.”
Bordered by Goodale Street on the north, Spruce Street on the south, Dennison Avenue on the east and the Olentangy River on the west, Flytown was established after the Civil War. Looking for work in the nearby factories, African-Americans, as well as Italians and other immigrants, cohabited in the neighborhood, which took its nickname from three possible sources.
“The houses ‘flew up' overnight,” local historian and author Doreen Uhaus Sauer said of the shanties that dotted the low-income area. “The housing was fairly immediately needed and not very substantial.”
“The other interpretation is [based on] the way immigrants and others were looked upon … that this was a place that drew flies,” she continued. “And if you think about it, the sanitation in Columbus in the day and age was not great anywhere, but certainly not in areas where there were a lot of people living.”
A third theory posits that the name was taken from the colloquial phrase “on the fly,” used among African-Americans as a term of independence, Uhaus Sauer said.
By the late 1950s, the city began a redevelopment process that eventually forced residents out of the area.
By then, “everyone just referred to it as the Short North,” said Teresa Toler, who lived in Flytown with her parents and seven siblings from 1960 to 1978. Her father was on permanent disability and her mother worked as a waitress.
“It was predominantly large families who were struggling to put food on the table,” she said. “[But] it was a great place to grow up and it was really sad to see the neighborhood turn and so many families be displaced.”
“There's really little of Flytown [left] physically,” Uhaus Sauer said. “But the story remains.”
When rapper Correy Parks moved to the Woodland Meadows apartment complex around 2000, the 11-year-old became accustomed to witnessing criminal activity.
“I definitely remember seeing dog fights, or at least what looked like was about to be a dog fight,” he said. “I didn't actually stick around to see.”
There was also evidence of crack-cocaine use. “There were public laundromats at the bottom of each building, and I would always see orange glows coming from those,” he said.
Police were a constant presence. Parks recalled helicopters shining spotlights on him and his friends as they played with laser tag guns. They were also able to buy cap guns that popped and smoked from the local convenience store.
“[The police] could have really interpreted that wrong,” he said. “You're putting us with these replica guns in this crime-infested area, which is always monitored by the cops. … I'm surprised nothing did happen to [us].”
Parks did not see the actual guns that inspired police to nickname the East Side complex “Uzi Alley,” but said his grandmother remembered hearing machine gun fire. Parks wasn't aware of the name “Uzi Alley” until after he'd moved away and gotten older; he'd always called the area by its previous name — Greenbrier. (It was renamed Woodland Meadows in 1998.)
“It certainly sounds [more] dramatic to say Uzi Alley than to say Woodland Meadows,” said Jorge Newbery, who purchased the property at a bankruptcy auction sale in 2002. “The media probably used Uzi Alley more than the people.”
Newbery, who lived on the property, was determined to turn the neighborhood around. He aggressively evicted tenants engaged in criminal activity and hired residents to help maintain the property. “It proved that, given the opportunity, people will often times choose legitimate, regular work,” which resulted in “enhancing their ability to pay rent on time [and] enhancing their ability to live quality lives,” he said.
However, Newbery's progress was thwarted by an ice storm that hit the city on Christmas Eve in 2004 and left the complex without power for four days. “We had no electricity, no heat and no water for literally thousands of people,” he said. Eventually, pipes burst and caused basement units to flood.
“It just spun out of control,” Newbery said. “And then the city, [from] my perspective, seized upon an opportunity to get rid of probably one of the largest lower-income apartment complexes in the city. … We ended up in a pretty high-profile battle.”
Mayor Mike Coleman labeled Woodland Meadows “public enemy No. 1.” Franklin County Environmental Judge Harland H. Hale declared the complex a nuisance, and demolition of the 1,100 units began in 2007.
“The whole fiasco was a huge challenge for me and represented some massive setbacks,” said Newbery, who felt “publicly smeared” and was left with millions of dollars in debt. He wrote a book, called Burn Zones, about his experience, and now lives in Chicago, where he runs a company to help other families in debt.
Today, the Columbus Africentric Early College sits on the former Woodland Meadows grounds.
“There's still kids [in the area] that need education [and] that need access to high-quality facilities,” Parks said. “It's nice to have something there for them.”