Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Mural At Mills Buffet





The Greenfield –Mills Restaurant Company of Detroit operated two places in Detroit and three in Ohio, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati. The Columbus one opened in 1911, but along about 1950, the Mills Buffet opened across from the Ohio State House in an up-to-the minute five stories producing efficient cafeteria fare.

Customers carried their choice of foods on a tray to their table. The food was prepared on the third floor, with the basement and sub-basement serving the kitchen and dining rooms by elevator or conveyer systems. The front had lots of glass, the main dining room was two stories high, and the mezzanine was reached by two dramatic staircases.

And facing those staircases was a huge and wondrous mural. Designed by Howard Pearce of Cleveland, designed and painted by Andrew Karoly and Louis Szanto of New York City, it depicted a vista of the Ohio River that actually exists below Marietta and looking toward Belpre and Blennerhassett Island.

In the center foreground was a boy with a dog and a history book. Two steamboats were passing by, also docking was a keelboat. The boy dreams the historical figures of the Ohio Valley.

Shown with a map in his hand on the upper precipice, was Rene Robert Cavelier in 1667, also known as Sieur de la Salle. Next came Celeron de Bienville, 1749, making claims for France. Father Bonescamp came next, who accompanied de Bienville, then Chief Logan, John James Audobon, George Washington, and Christopher Gist. Washington came to the Ohio Valley in 1753 and 1770. Gist was a frontiersman and surveyor.

And that’s just the left side! And more people I haven’t mentioned carrying a canoe and scrambling up the waterfront! On the right were Daniel Boone, Johnny Appleseed, and composer Stephen Foster. None other than Foster’s “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” was dancing merrily along the lower right, surrounded by other merry-makers.

Mills issued a brochure to accompany the mural. Karoly and Szanto were from Hungary, but had been in New York for twenty-six years. They also painted for Mills a pictorial map called “The Wealth of Ohio.” Cleveland’s Terminal Tower and Columbus’s AIU Citadel flank the bottom, and little floating heads are: Presidents Grant, Hayes, McKinley, and Taft, Edison and Sherman.

As if that wasn’t enough, eight shadow-boxes depicted Ohio life in a Shaker kitchen, an old mill, maple sugaring, farming at Malabar, a canal lock, a covered bridge, Mt. Adams in Cincinnati, and the lakefront in Cleveland. Add to that the etched-glass windmills, symbol of Mills Buffet, decorating the waiting-in-line area, and you will get an idea of the lengths the state-of-the-art Greenfield-Mills company went to, to amuse their patrons.

I would sit and stare into the mural and imagine I was Jeanie dancing. You could climb over the edging and really get into the painting. Where did it go? No one knows. The tragic tearing-down of Mills and other Columbus landmarks occurred all too soon.

Christine Hayes

4 comments:

  1. I found this because I was researching the Columbus restaurant after finding mention of the "Mills Buffet" in a July, 1945 letter written by my grandmother to my grandfather while he was in the army. Thanks for posting this little history lesson about the location!

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  2. Does anyone have, or know where I can get a decent picture of the entire mural ? For personal use only btw.

    Thanks

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  3. My grandfather, Alton Clyde Gammill, was manager at Mill's.I would love to purchase any memorabilia from Mill's.

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    1. My grandfather was Paul Mills, brother of JO Mills, the restaurant owner. He worked there too. I have some memorabilia from the restaurant that's been passed down through the years. jim@kegelmeyer.com

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