Romance Out Of The Rubble

Oct 31, 2019

Nancy Recchie and Jeff Darbee had their hearts broken when crews demolished one of Columbus’s most famous landmarks. But the loss of the historic building also started their lives together.

On October 22, 1976, demolition began on the arcade of Union Station in Columbus in preparation for construction of the new Convention Center. The unexpected destruction of the historically significant building inspired some citizens, including Jeff and Nancy, to start a preservation effort.

One reason the structure was worth preserving is that it was designed by Daniel Burham, a world renowned architect. He was responsible for designing many early skyscrapers as well as the expansive "White City" for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. 

"This was a major building, not just in Columbus, but in his body of work because it was so unusual," Jeff said.

While the property was owned by the city of Columbus, a private entity was in charge of building the convention center. The decision to demolish Union Station was made without any public input.

Union Station opened in 1897.
Credit Detroit Publishing Company / Columbus Metropolitan Library

"They knew it would be controvertial," Nancy said.  

Demolition began on a rainy Friday evening. The activity drew a crowd and news cameras, and word quickly spread.

"We saw each other that night and were equally angry at what had happened," Jeff said.

After that night, Jeff, Nancy and other advocates formed a new organization called Citizens For The Union Station Arch. Through their efforts, the main arch from the arcade was saved from the wrecking ball and can be seen today in McPherson Commons Park in the Arena District.

Nancy Recchie and Jeff Darbee working to preserve the Union Station arch in 1977.
Credit Nancy Recchie and Jeff Darbee

Another result was the creation of the Columbus Landmarks foundation, an organization that continues to advocate for and preserve historic buildings and neighborhoods. But the event didn't just have professional consequences.

"The best thing that happened was that's why we bonded and why we got married a couple of years later," Jeff said.

"It's been a great run – 40 years – I have to say we've had our challenges,"  Nancy said. "But we've also had a lot of fun along the way."

Some might have reservations about living and working with a spouse so closely, but for Nancy and Jeff, it's been fairly easy.

"Because we have shared interests and work in a field that we care about and love." Nancy said.

Nancy Recchie and Jeff Darbee  continue to fight to preserve historic landmarks. They were recorded this summer at the StoryCorps booth when it was parked on High St. just north of the old train station site. You can see Jeff regularly on WOSU TV’s Columbus Neighborhoods.

To hear more stories from your neighbors, be sure to subscribe to the StoryCorps COLUMBUS podcast on AppleSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

TRANSCRIPT

Leticia Wiggins, host: Welcome to StoryCorps Columbus and Leticia Wiggins. StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that collects and preserves stories from across the country in a mobile recording studio. StoryCorps Columbus brings you interviews from central Ohioans who shared their stories during StoryCorps' recent visit to our city. Today, a story about how the destruction of a historic building brought two people together. Nancy Recchie and Jeff Darbee had their hearts broken when crews demolished one of Columbus's most famous landmarks. But the loss of the historic building started their lives together and created Columbus Landmarks, an organization that advocates for promotes and preserves Columbus landmarks and neighborhoods.

Jeff Darbee:  October 22nd, 1976, a Friday evening about six o'clock. Demolition began on Columbus Union Station, specifically the Arcade that was along High Street. It was the entrance to what was the actual railroad station itself. Dated from the late 1890 is designed by Daniel Burnham, the architect for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. This was a major building, not just in Columbus, but I think in his body of work because it was so unusual. And the Arcade demolition began in preparation for construction of the convention center here in Columbus. The problem was Union Station, the Arcade. That whole property was owned by the city of Columbus, therefore by the citizens of Columbus. Yet it was a private entity whose building, the convention center made the decision without any discussion that the Arcade would come down.

Nancy Recchie: They knew it would be controversial because they started on Friday night at 6:00 p.m on the weekend.

Jeff Darbee: In the rain. And it brought a horde of people out and newspeople and klieg lights and all of that.

Nancy Recchie: In the days before social media, the word still spread.

Jeff Darbee: And we saw each other that night and were equally angry at what had happened. But then what followed was we formed an organization called Citizens for the Union Station Arch. There were maybe a dozen of us. We had some adult supervision. It was mostly younger people.

Nancy Recchie: One couple in their forties were the adults in the room. The rest of us were in our 20s.

Jeff Darbee: The adventure of saving the arch. That's the last remaining fragment of the Union Station Arcade. And it is in a park in downtown Columbus in what's called the Arena District. And it's still there 40 plus years later for people to enjoy. And it took until 1980 to get the arch disassembled, moved, put in storage, acquired a site, brought it back and got it built again. We had a lot of donated time and materials. Local architects, a local trucking company. There was a manufacturing plant that let us store the pieces of the arch. The electric company donated a piece of land they it had in downtown Columbus. Mel Dodge did accept that land and made it into a public park once the arch was reinstalled. It was later moved in 1999 to make room for a parking garage and moved to its current location, which honestly is a better location. It's more visible, more people can enjoy it than in that original location. Although at the time in 1977 1979, we couldn't be very picky about who was offering us land. We needed a place to put it. The electric company said, put it here and we did it and it worked.

Nancy Recchie: We were happy it could be moved in one piece the second time, not just disassembled and reassembled.

Jeff Darbee: Of course Landmarks did come out of that Union Station Arcade demolition because there are a lot of other people in the community who were concerned. The best thing that happened was that's why we bonded and why we got married a couple of years later.

Nancy Recchie: It's been it's been a great run 40 years. I have to say, we've had our challenges, but we've also had a lot of fun along the way. And one of the questions people frequently ask us is how do you work with your spouse and how do you make that work? And we found that to be very easy because we have shared interests and we work in a field that we really care about and love. I want to thank you for a great life. I can't imagine it without you and a great legacy, I think.

Jeff Darbee: Well, and my thanks to you. There couldn't be a better partner.

Leticia Wiggins: Nancy Recchie and Jeff Darbee, now retired, continued to fight to preserve historic landmarks. They were recorded this summer at the StoryCorps booth on High Street, just a few blocks north of the old train station site. You can see Jeff regularly on WOSU TV's Columbus Neighborhoods. StoryCorps Columbus is a production of WOSU Public Media. It's produced by me, Leticia Wiggins and edited by Mike Thompson. Additional podcast editing by Michael De Bonis. WOSU's digital content director is Nick Houser, our Chief Content Director of Arts, Life and Culture is Brent Davis. Special thanks to Diana Bergman. Hear something that resonates with you? Share this episode on social media and subscribe to the StoryCorps Columbus podcast at WOSU.ORG/StoryCorpsColumbus or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening.