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History Lesson: Looking Back 25 Years to AmeriFlora ’92

Doug Motz Doug Motz History Lesson: Looking Back 25 Years to AmeriFlora ’92
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As the leaves begin to fall and the smell of autumn is in the air, it might be an interesting moment to reflect back on the floral spectacle that overtook Franklin Park and the Near East side from April to October of 1992. European garden festivals have been around for generations, including such shows as the Floriade (Netherlands), Kifissia (Greece), Girona Flower Festival (Spain), and the legendary Chelsea Show in the United Kingdom. So considering the impetus that spawned such a desire in Columbus, the 500th Anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ infamous voyage to the “New World,” it’s no wonder that city leaders of the time conceived of AmeriFlora ’92 to mark that milestone.

Planning began in earnest as early as June 1986, when 25 OSU Landscape Students prepared elaborate plans for the transformation of not only Franklin Park, but also nearby Nelson Park, Wolfe-Academy Park, and Jeffrey Park. Their plans were presented to then Director of Recreation and Parks James Barney, City Services Director Gisela Rosenbaum, and First Lady of Ohio Dagmar Celeste. This initial planning was conceived of and paid for by Oakland Park Nursery’s John Reiner.

The next step was to get approval for the International Floral and Garden Expo in Columbus from the City’s 1992 Commission in July 1986. John Peterson, who was an associate professor of horticulture at OSU, was the chair of the expo at the time, and had this to say in a July 17 interview with the Columbus Dispatch:

“The community will enjoy long-term benefits from the project. Montreal, the site of the only international floral exhibition held in the Western Hemisphere, has parkland that is currently there and open for anyone to use, with gardens that are just phenomenal. France put in a million-dollar display in Montreal and left it behind. We’re looking at drawing 2.2 million.”

The 1992 Commission approved the plans and the next hurdle was to receive further approval from several international floral groups, including the Society of American Florists, the Association of International Horticulture Producers, based in Amsterdam, Holland, and the Bureau of International Exhibitions in Paris.

All of these groups came to endorse the proposal but many shook their heads at the tenuous connection between Columbus the explorer and Columbus, the city named for him.

Lucas Sullivant of Franklinton is the true father of our capital city, but it was his neighbor Joseph Foos who gave the State Capital its name. He moved to Franklinton in 1798 from Pennsylvania, ran the first tavern, operated the first ferry across the Scioto and was apparently very passionate about the explorer Christopher Columbus.

Professor Christian Zacher, who chaired OSU’s committee on the exposition, offered up this primer about the name of our city and its relevance.

“The public record doesn’t show why Foos proposed the name. The newspapers of the time don’t give any account of a debate over the name. If Foos wrote down his reasons, no one has been able to find the documents.”

In Foos’ time, many people thought the place ought to be named Columbia. (In Latin, nations had feminine names, and “Columbia” was the feminine form of “Columbus.”) In the anti-English spirit of the time, the name “Columbia” came to embody the principles of equality and freedom from tyranny, Zacher said.

There are about 40 cities around the world with the name Columbus or Columbia or variations thereof.

As it happens, the largest of these is a landlocked Midwestern American community whose only tie with Columbus came after it was named. The enclaves of Italians who had immigrated here made Columbus Day an Italian holiday.

Columbus Day celebrations over the years have been “awkwardly focused,” Zacher says. They are “attempts at remembering something Columbian about the city’s name and history that do not quite succeed because the connections were never precisely or tangibly maintained.”

AmeriFlora “Fever” soon caught on with the city’s boosters. The committee hired Walt Disney World’s chief landscape architect to assist with the planning, got the blessing from President Reagan’s Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission, and even began taking dollars and cents to the tune of $50 million dollars ear-marked for AmeriFlora. (It’s interesting to note that city leaders are also quoted in a June 8, 1987 Dispatch article of considering $50 million towards a monorail system, that was expected to connect the John Glenn International Airport to the Columbus Convention Center that never came to fruition. (Initial proposals were requested from Swiss Company Von Roll Habegger on the feasibility of such a project.))

But even in the early planning stages, which were embraced by the city leaders, neighbors of the Near East Side surrounding Franklin Park voiced concerns about parking and the park being shut down to the community for the run of the exhibition.

At an early meeting between residents and AmeriFlora leaders in the summer of 1987, here is a sampling of the residents’ concerns:

David Dickerson of Leeanne Marie Ct. said, “Franklin Park is a black area enjoyed by black people. We should be able to vote on it.”

Carlyle Harris of Frebis Ave. said, “We have had too many promises by the white community that have not been kept. I don’t believe what you are saying about the parks is going to happen because you have made promises before that have not been kept.”

Alice Flowers, chairman of the Near East Area Commission, and Edward Phillips, a commission member, said area residents have been left out of planning the show.

But Flowers urged the audience not to reject the show: “Things will be happening in Columbus in 1992 that will mean jobs and economic opportunity. There is no need to jump on this program and lose it to another part of town.”

And other parts of town did have projects that tied into the Columbus Quincentennial. Most noticeably along the riverfront, where a replica of the Santa Maria became moored along pathways for a renovated Battelle Parkway along the Northeastern banks of the Scioto. Then president and general manager of WBNS raised the roughly $1.5 million dollars it cost to build and deploy the replica of one of Columbus’ ships.

Estimates for projected attendance at the show started at 2.2 million, then went to 3 million and as high as 5 million. Preliminary plans for the 160 acre project were prepared by John Peterson, AmeriFlora Executive Director; Scott L. Girard, Walt Disney World’s Chief Landscape Architect; landscape architect Robert L. Hartwig of Jacksonville, Fla.; Dutch landscape architect Pieter Van Loon, who was Chief Landscape Architect for Amsterdam’s 1982 International Flower Show; and Pierre Bourque, Director of Montreal’s 1980 International Floral Exposition.

To beautify and spruce up the surrounding neighborhood of Franklin Park and Woodland Park, City leaders began a “housing rehabilitation program.” Many residents felt the city was forcing the elderly and poor of the area surrounding Franklin Park into debt. Mayor Dana “Buck” Rinehart even went so far as to get COTA drivers into the act by asking them to empty trash cans at bus stops to keep the city looking nice.

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