In the late 1880s, a large Jewish and immigrant community popped up around Livingston Avenue, formerly South Public Lane, which was the southern boundary of Columbus. It was a peaceful meshing of people from all creeds and countries.
Race car driver, fighter pilot, and airline president Eddie Rickenbacker was a South Side native. Like many others in his neighborhood, he learned to work hard at a young age, sweeping floors as a child to help make ends meet.
Formerly farmland, Driving Park was home to many races through the year. Horses, cars, and even biplanes dashed to the finish for spectators’ enjoyment.
As the industrial age picked up momentum, South Side became home to some large manufacturing companies. Cheap, undeveloped land was plentiful and attracted businesses like Buckeye Steel and Federal Glass. The work was hard and sometimes dangerous, but there was certainly opportunity on the South Side.
Many Hungarians found a home on the South Side as decades of turbulence in their own country forced them out. They established churches and spoke little to no English, and as other immigrants entered the mix South Side became a miniature representation of the great American melting pot.
Schottenstein’s fortune started on the South Side with a small shop. Buying directly from factories allowed Schottenstein’s to offer its customers a lower price than competitors, resulting in the fortune the family is known for today.
In 1924, the Children’s Hospital moved to Livingston Avenue from its former location near Franklin Park.
The factories’ high employee turnover rate forced them to look for workers as far away as Appalachia. Buses were regularly sent down to recruit workers, and eventually the patchwork of immigrants was overtaken by the incoming southerners. As with the foreign immigrants before them, these workers brought their culture along as well.
The southern influence was felt immediately in the music scene. Several bluegrass bars opened up and enjoyed success. The new working class went to these bars to relax, drink, and fight to their hearts’ content, if that was on their agenda.
In 1963, Ohio State Sophomore Jim Grote bought Donatos at 1000 Thurman. It has grown from a small pizzeria to a large company stretching into six states.
The people were doing well, but the neighborhood had a tough road ahead. As people became more successful, they bought cars and moved east. They no longer needed to live near their work. Construction of the Interstate did not help matters, and many manufacturing plants moved overseas or were hindered by new environmental regulations. Jobs left, and so did the people. South Side fell into decline. What was once home to proud immigrant communities was now home to dilapidated houses and rental properties.
As the majority of the South Side experienced a sharp downturn, what is now Nationwide Children’s Hospital expanded, taking over some properties in the area. The extensions have continued, and today the hospital is a world leader in child care.
South Side is currently experiencing a huge revitalization. The Church for All People has spearheaded several community outreach campaigns through partnerships with the city, state, and Children’s Hospital. These include the building of new houses, the restoration of old houses, a free pharmacy and health care space called Health Station, and a free store.