April 2008 Issue
Vibrant museums, old neighborhoods and architectural treasures –– a tour of Toledo’s historic highlights shows you the Glass City’s fascinating character and culture.
Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral
Forget your navigation system. You will know you’ve arrived at this jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring cathedral long before it tells you it’s time to turn. The Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral is the only
Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral
Plateresque cathedral in North America, a style of architecture from 16th-century Spain. Completed in 1931, the cathedral was designed with Toledo, Spain — Toledo’s sister city — in mind, says Reverend Charles Singler.
“Artists and craftsmen from around the world came to Toledo to build Rosary Cathedral,” he says, moving his gaze upward along the fresco of angels and saints that joins seamlessly with the ornate ceiling 96 feet above the altar. The structure is an endless detail of magnificent stained glass, woodwork from the Black Forest of Germany and Florentine marble. The building’s impeccable acoustics are also a noted feature, and are showcased in the free concert series the church hosts during the spring. This month (April 27), the cathedral features organist Steven Ball, who will perform Widor’s Fifth Symphony for Organ as well as Dupré’sEvocation on the church’s 1931 E.M. Skinner organ. The cathedral is the seat of the Catholic Church for the Diocese of Toledo, and welcomes people of all faiths to visit and enjoy the structure’s beauty with a night of music, or by scheduling a tour. Like the concerts, tours are free (but donations are welcome).
To arrange a tour, contact the Parish Office at 2535 Collingwood Ave., 419/ 244-9575. www.rosarycathedral.org
The Toledo Firefighters Museum
People come to see “Neptune,” the beautifully restored 1837 machine that was the city’s first hand-pulled and -operated fire pumper. Personally, we’d go just to meet Bob Schwanzl and John Repp, retired firefighters and curators of the Toledo Firefighters Museum. With about 70 years of service between them (Repp joined his division in 1953, Schwanzl in 1958) the duo adds a living-history component to the collection that is just as compelling as all the brightly restored vehicles on the building’s first floor.
"Neptune," a hand pumper built in 1837, is displayed at the Toledo Firefighters Museum
Housed in the Old Number 18 Fire House, the two-story museum is a surprisingly detailed portrayal of Toledo’s firefighting history. The ground level is a showroom of meticulously restored pumpers, trucks and other vehicles used by the city, including the 1929 Pirsch pumper, which Repp rode on during his early years with the division. “It was still in service when I came on,” he says. “It didn’t go very fast, but it was reliable.” The blindingly red rig could transport four firemen, ladders and water tanks and is the only remaining one of four the city purchased in 1928. Surrounding the trucks, the downstairs walls are covered with firefighter paraphernalia and old-fashioned firefighting equipment, including a tin roof cutter that looks like an oversized can opener, and a life net — the round, trampoline-like pad designed to catch people jumping out of a burning building.
Imagining anything before cell phones gets tougher with each generation, but the curators are quick to give a demo of how the department was alerted about a fire. Schwanzl says Toledo used neighborhood fire alarm boxes into the early 1960s, and a quick pull of the handle on the museum’s display sends a loud ringing through the building. The bell prompts a response from an old-fashioned tape register, which punches holes in the tape for the watchman to count and cross reference with a locator board. The watchman would give the cross streets to the nearest station, “and from there, you hoped there was someone standing on the corner yelling ‘that way,’” he says.
Upstairs, the museum’s library is filled with journals that chronicles the stations’ daily business, as well as composite photos of past squads and the upper half of the two shiny gold poles you probably noticed downstairs (the holes in the floor are blocked per the insurance company). Part of the museum’s mission is to promote fire safety in the community, and the second floor also houses a mini theater with a mock child’s bedroom — complete with faux burning waste basket, smoke machine and rope ladder — for role playing how to react in a fire emergency.
The museum is open Sat. 12–4 p.m., and by appointment. 918 Sylvania Ave., 419/478-3473. www.toledofiremuseum.com
Started as an organization for the city’s business leaders, the Toledo Club took up residence in its uptown clubhouse on the corner of 14th Street and Madison Avenue 93 years ago this June. While the facility remains a private club, its Georgian Revival-style architecture and the who’s who of
The main dining room at the Toledo Club
local and national history (including six U.S. presidents) it has hosted make it a treasured part of Toledo’s past.
Carved limestone arches and Parthenon-like columns mark the entrance along the building’s burnt sienna brick exterior, rolling out an august welcome for members and their guests that continues inside. The club has done an impressive job of retaining the dignified effect of its interior, and its richly colored oak paneling, high ceilings, crystal chandeliers and other details still speak of a time when social clubs were the measure of the city’s elite. The club’s Red Room, so named for the rich scarlet hue of the carpeting and draperies that accent its Italian Renaissance Revival style, houses a sparkling collection of Libbey glass as well as nearly life-size paintings of feminine characters by artist Louis Bemsra. “We’re extremely proud of our art collection,” says general manager Mike Searle.
The building is not open for tours, but plays host to a handful of events throughout the year that gives the curious a chance to peek inside.
235 14th St., Toledo, 419/243-2200. www.toledoclub.org
The Old West End
A Dining Room in an Old West End home
Testimony to the turn-of-the-century wealth that glass, manufacturing and other industries brought to the city, Toledo’s Old West End neighborhood contains a large collection of late Victorian, Edwardian and Arts and Crafts homes. While a drive through this historic neighborhood offers a fair introduction to its 25 blocks of grand homes, one of the best ways to experience the neighborhood is to plan a visit during the annual Old West End Festival, June 7–8. The event features home and garden tours, as well as a juried art show, vintage car show and lawn and garage sales. Proceeds benefit the Old West End Association, which sponsors scholarships, community events and neighborhood preservation.
Take Monroe St. to Collingwood Blvd., 419/244-5676. www.toledooldwestend.com
Blair Museum of Lithophanes
Unlike Charles Dickens or “gingerbread” houses, lithophanes — porcelain castings with three-dimensional pictures that are visible only when light passes through them — are products of Victorian Europe that leave most of us in the dark. Which is why, new to Toledo and attending a plant sale at the Botanical Gardens, Margaret Carney was shocked when she noticed the sign for the Blair Museum. “I did a double, then a triple take,” says Carney, now the museum’s curator. “I looked at my husband and said ‘did that say lithophanes?’ ”
A 19th-century French porcelain veilleuse theiere (night-light tea warmer) at the Blair Museum of Lithophanes
Carney, who holds a Ph.D. in Asian art history with a specialty in ceramics, says the ethereal artwork was an immensely popular means of decorating for middle-class European households in the mid to late 1800s. The Blair Museum, named for wealthy Toledoan and collector Laurel Gotshall Blair, houses his 2,300-plus-piece collection, and is the only museum on the planet exclusively devoted to the art form. “Most lithophanes were produced by porcelain factories in England and Germany,” says Carney. “I would have expected the museum to be in Europe.”
The process of creating these delicate castings is as fascinating as the result. “Artists would carve images into beeswax using dental tools,” says Carney. A mold was made from the carving, which was then filled with porcelain and kiln fired. The end product is deceptively plain in ambient light. “If you found it in your attic, it would look like a rough piece of porcelain,” she says. “Without lighting you would probably just throw it out.”
The museum’s collection takes many forms, including portraits, nightlights, tea warmers and even beer steins. Not surprisingly, many of these are rare and one-of-a kind pieces.
“This is the only Lincoln lithophane we know of,” says Carney, pointing to what looks like a photograph of a wavy-haired man resembling the 16th president. “It was made as a tribute after his death, but the company realized that they got the hair wrong, so they didn’t make more,” she says. Tours are free, although it’s easy to see how this place could inspire an expensive hobby. Just know where to look: “I see them for sale on eBay,” Carney says, “but only a handful of those are actually old.”
On the grounds of the Toledo Botanical Gardens, 5403 Elmer Dr., 419/245-1356. www.lithophanemuseum.org