LeVeque Tower Documentary to be Screened at The Drexel
The LeVeque Tower was the first skyscraper to dominate Downtown Columbus, and while it’s no longer our tallest building, it’s still viewed by many as the historic centerpiece in our skyline.
Local filmmaker Seth Moherman will be screening “The Citadel, Birth of the LeVeque Tower”, a documentary about the interesting history behind the building this Wednesday, November 9th at The Drexel Theatre at 7:30pm. Following the screening, Seth will be on hand for a Q&A session along with architect Robert D. Loversidge, Jr.
We spoke with Seth recently for our own Q&A session about the film, the building, and the process of honoring Columbus history.
Q: First off, what can you tell us about your background in film making and documentary work?
A: My background… I’m going to need to bullet point this for the sake of brevity. My first draft of this answer sprawled out into a five paragraph commentary on the shallowness of local news, especially ABC 6/Fox 28, the popularity of American Idol over discussions of 9/11, the cute girlfriends of manic depressive neighbors, how pretentious OSU sounds when it refers to itself as “The” Ohio State University and what happens when quirky, physics professors who also make films decide to start shooting weddings. So yeah…
• I graduated OSU, majority in TV/Video Production.
• I began shooting weddings.
• I worked my first full day at a real TV job at ABC 6/Fox 28 on September 11, 2001.
• I decided that I liked documentaries better than news, and that I should make a documentary.
• I made my first documentary, Winning Lives: The Story of Ted Ginn Sr., in 2006-2007 with a guy I met randomly at a Chris Robinson show (lead singer of the Black Crowes) at the Newport.
Q: So then what got you interested in making a film about the LeVeque Tower?
A: One day, while killing time between shooting a wedding and its reception at the Columbus Athenaeum, I wandered into the Athenauem’s basement. Which felt like the billiards room of a 19th century gentlemen’s club. It looked as if the men put their sticks down on the table, walked out, and a hundred years worth of dust settled on the table. It was like a slice of time, frozen. I kept thinking about the room and the rest of the building. I quickly began to search for any back story on the Athenaeum, but the best I could find was that it was an old Scottish Rites temple. Some sort of Masonic offshoot. Nothing else.
I will admit that I was a fairly amateurish researcher, with a bit of a lazy streak. I could have dug deeper, but instead I kept coming across references for the LeVeque Tower. Though there was always minimal information other than the basic facts and pictures. I was surprised that I had never really even noticed the building before. It was as if it had not existed for me yet, despite living in the city for almost ten years. That odd, vagueness of detail and the building’s unique style was enough to hook me.
Q: So when starting the process of making this documentary, did you have any sort of goal in mind about what the final product should look like, was there more of an exploration approach what would lead you to wherever things would end up?
A: My approach is definitely more of an exploratory approach, and go where the story goes. For as cliched as it may sound, I try to let the story dictate its own direction. My goal is to approach a subject with as few preconceived notions of how the story should be told as is humanly possible. One of my pet peeves (one of many, don’t get me started on my pet peeves as an editor) is when a director tries to force themes and archetypes into a story that are not really there. They force the story to fit their preconceived notions, as opposed to changing their narrative to fit with reality. Don’t make the story something it’s not.
I have spent a good chunk of my career working in post production at companies who produce for Discovery, National Geographic, TLC, and others… first as an assistant editor, then an editor. That has definitely influenced my approach. I identify with being an editor more than a director. I like to amass all the possible information and artifacts that I can lay my hands on pertaining to a subject, and then just look at them. Study them, and see what patterns emerge. As opposed to deciding ahead of time what exactly I want to say, then finding the elements to support that thesis.
Q: What sort of research went into to figuring out the details and history of this building? Were there resources utilized at the Columbus Metropolitan Library?
A: Did I do any sort of research at the Columbus Metro Libraries? I would type “lol”, if doing that would not cause me to punch myself in the face instantly. I lived in the microfilm room of the main library Downtown. One of the things that drew me to this story was the lack of information out there about the origin of the building. It was as if the man who built the building, and his company, had been deleted from the public record. Which is great from a novelty stand point, but when it comes down to doing the actual research, it made me work for it.
I started going through old newspapers trying to reconstruct the building’s past, one newsclip at a time. This took a massive amount of time (not to mention the casual motion sickness that can come from spending too much time going through microfilm). Then throw in the fact that while I was doing this research, someone broke into my car and stole some coats and my backpack with all my research in it. Good times that was, let me tell you. Talk about a freak out. When I realized that bag was gone, I am fairly certain that is the loudest I have ever yelled the f-word in my life. A reminder for the kids out there, don’t leave your super time-consuming research in your car. Ever.
After taking a few days to calm down, I eventually went about recollecting the materials. It was much easier the second time. Probably only cost me a week or so of time. And a backpack.
Somewhere in the middle of this process, Michael Perkins put out his book, LeVeque: The First Complete Story of Columbus’ Greatest Skyscraper. I remember hearing him speak at the main library and he held up his 156-page book, which looked like a college workbook, and said something along the lines of, “you know, this information. it just isn’t out there. I spent ten years on this, and this is how long the book is.” This statement made me feel better about my struggle to find hard data on the building’s origin.
Q: Were there any people that you spoke with or interviewed who had relationships or connections to the building?
A: Honestly I did not really talk to a lot of people about the building. Early on I had made the decision to focus on the building’s origin and not worry about its modern era. So I have had virtually no contact with the LeVeque family, current staff or building occupants. I felt that these stories were already out there in some form or another, so why should I tell people what they already know?
I wanted to answer the most basic question about the building… Why? Why was it here? Why does it look the way it does? Why was it the only skyscraper in Columbus for almost 50 years? And why would someone build the 5th tallest building in the world in Columbus, Ohio?
There are a few people around town who knew a thing or two about this early period of the building that I could have interviewed on camera. But I felt they really could only offer opinion, and little hard facts. There might be one or two people out there who was alive during this early phase of the building, but they would be approaching 90 years old. The chance of them being able to offer a lucid memory about it, seemed little to me. So I chose to use no interviews.
Q: Was there anything that you learned in the process that surprised you, either about the building itself, or about the research process?
A: If you would have told me when I first started working on this project that my research would lead me face to face with a plaster bust of Fabio in the archives of Nationwide Insurance Downtown, I would have told you to shut your lying mouth. I definitely did not expect the story of a building to lead me through the early days of insurance. Nor to end up talking about William Jennings Bryan and the national political scene of 1896. But that’s where it went.
Q: What do you think the Leveque Tower means today in the Columbus landscape?
A: I think the LeVeque Tower symbolizes a cool looking building to most of Columbus. All these companies and organizations use it in their logos and what not, but I doubt they really knew what the building was built to represent. It was the physical manifestation of a waning era’s ideology. It’s construction came at the close of the Progressive Era. A time that was marked by a collective desire for man to help his fellow man by coming together to fight the evils of capitalism, alcohol, poverty, inequities of all sorts.
Q: Do you have any other plans for Columbus-based documentary work, or will your travels lead you to other projects in other locations?
A: I always have a number of projects in various stages going on at once. I spent a month in Mongolia this past spending summer working on a piece about a national park there. I believe it is going to become an ongoing project that will be shot over the course of the next several years. Which I am not in a rush about when someone else is paying my way half-way around the world. The longer the better.
There are a few Columbus’ based projects I’m trying to get going. There is always the Bicentennial coming up, and I have a few various ideas based upon that. One of the most interesting is an exploration into the founding of Columbus itself. According to certain stories out there, it appears that our founding father, Lucas Sullivant may not have acted alone. That project is well underway.
Q: Can you give us one solid reason why we all need to come see the documentary tomorrow night at the Drexel?
A: You should come see this documentary if you have ever looked at the LeVeque Tower and wondered why does it look so different from all the other buildings in Columbus? Or why is it covered with so many strange images? What do they mean? Or even, why is it here?