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Historic Firestone Mansion in Jeopardy

The battle over the planned demolition of an historic Columbus building is coming to a head. Preservation groups and neighbors are fighting the proposed razing of the Firestone Mansion on East Broad Street. The Columbus Foundation owns the building. It's next door to the foundation's headquarters at the old governor's mansion.

The 13,000 square foot mansion at 1266 East Broad was built by Joseph Firestone, one of the owners of the Columbus Buggy Company. Now the 101 year old building could be just a few weeks away from demolition.

"Stop this demo! Stop this demo!"

Sign-waving demonstrators recently lined East Broad Street in front of the mansion. They were there to encourage the building's preservation.

The Columbus Foundation wants tear down the mansion and build a parking lot and some green space. The demolition is part of an $8 million project to build a conference center next to the foundation's headquarters. Project consultant Jay Panzer says that due to several factors the Firestone Mansion is not suitable for the redevelopment plan.

"It was determined by the foundation that 1266, due to location, condition, expenses of restoration, did not fit in with the plan," Panzer says.

The demonstrators are members of the Old Towne East Neighborhood Association. President Tawana Owens says her group is trying to bring attention to what she calls "a travesty."

"I don't think preservation is important to the city of Columbus because if it was, we would not be tearing down as many historical structures as we have in the past," Owens says.

While a policeman confined Old Towne protestors to the sidewalk, project representatives were meeting with another group, the city-sponsored Near East Area Commission. An architect used illustrations to explain the proposed changes and consultant Jay Panzer fielded questions. One NEAC commissioner, Bill Shaffer, complained that planners did not talk with neighbors.

"I'm curious as to why a foundation which is built on contributions from the larger community and has a responsibility to that larger community doesn't seem to feel any immediate responsibility to its neighbor community and so on," said Shaffer.

Panzer responded, "I'm not a spokesperson for the foundation on larger issues of involvement; I just deal with the redevelopment of this project."

The head of the Columbus Foundation, Doug Kridler, says local government, neighbors and neighborhood associations have been kept informed about redevelopment plans for past nine months.

"We did a heads-up briefing," Kridler says. "We then invited the neighbors to our groundbreaking, and then announced the timeline for the demolition."

The Near East Commission has voted to oppose the demolition. But its vote has no authority.

Also without authority, but strongly in favor of saving the Firestone home is the Columbus Landmarks Foundation. Executive Director Kathy Mast Kane says members are working feverishly in the short time remaining to persuade the Columbus Foundation to reverse its decision to tear the building down.

"Technically it could occur in January as soon as the permit is let which I believe is targeted for January 7th.

Kane says the home is historically and architecturally significant. She says continued demolition along Broad Street will change its character the same way Cleveland's Euclid Avenue changed.

The foundation has offered to sell the Firestone home for a dollar and is willing, Kridler says, to put up $50,000 to help pay for moving the house elsewhere.

"This is the conclusion that's been reached," Kridler says. "Is it a happy one? No. Is it one that was carefully arrived at after a thorough study? Yes."

Moving the home from 1266 East Broad does not appear to be an option for the Landmarks Foundation's Kathy Mast Kane.

"Our interest is to see 1266 East Broad Street stay on its current site, at its present location in perpetuity," Kane says. "And that's where our exploration's going."

The Columbus Foundation, on the other hand, maintains the project will reaffirm its commitment to its historic Broad Street location.