ColumbiaTHE RISE OF COLUMBIA PICTURES
CAPRA, COHN, AND THE
COLUMBIA HOUSE STYLE
THE WARTIME AND POSTWAR ERAS
INTO THE NEW HOLLYWOOD
The rise of Columbia Pictures to Hollywood prominence is as unlikely as the plot of a Frank Capra (1897–1991) film, and in fact it was a run of Capra-directed hits that fueled Columbia's ascent. No other studio relied so heavily in its formative years on the talent and output of a single filmmaker, as Capra's early hits put Columbia on the industry map in the late 1920s, and then his Depression-era comedies like It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) defined its house style and secured its stature among the studio powers. Columbia continued to thrive after Capra's departure in 1939, thanks largely to the equally singular talents of Harry Cohn (1891–1958). Reviled by Capra and widely dismissed as a tight-fisted philistine, Cohn in fact was unique among Hollywood's movie moguls in that he served as president of a studio he owned and operated while overseeing production in its decidedly substandard Hollywood plant.
Cohn guided the studio's steady growth and shaped its collective output from its founding until his death in 1958, turning a profit every year—a phenomenal accomplishment in light of Hollywood's Depression-era and postwar travails. In fact, Columbia enjoyed its greatest success in the postwar era, complementing its trademark screwball comedies with superior dramas like All the King's Men (1949), From Here to Eternity (1953), On the Waterfront (1954), and Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)—solid hits that brought Columbia four Best Picture Oscars® in less than a decade. Columbia's post-war success was due to its quick and canny response to a range of industry challenges—the rise of independent production, freelance talent, and location shooting, for instance, and the concurrent rise of commercial television. That openness to industry change continued after Cohn's death, as Columbia took even greater risks than it had under Cohn and rose to unprecedented heights—and experienced more severe declines as well. Its distinctive house style steadily dissipated with the rise of the New Hollywood, but Columbia did maintain its corporate autonomy longer than most of the other studios, finally succumbing to conglomeration in the 1980s—first in an ill-fated merger with Coca-Cola, and then in a historic "hardware-software" alliance with Sony that stands as a watershed in modern Hollywood history.
Columbia Pictures began its corporate life in 1920 as the CBC Film Sales Company, a modest production operation specializing in "short subjects" created by Jack Cohn, Joe Brandt, and Harry Cohn. Before launching CBC, all three had worked for Universal Pictures—Brandt and Jack Cohn in the New York office, and Jack's younger brother Harry on the West Coast at the massive Universal City plant. The three young men created CBC (Cohn-Brandt-Cohn) with seed money of $100,000 from the Bank of Italy, a California-based concern run by A. H. and A. P. Giannini that was vital to Columbia's development. Brandt and Jack Cohn ran CBC and handled sales out of New York, while Harry set up production on Hollywood's legendary Poverty Row, a block-long stretch of low-rent offices and makeshift studios on Beechwood Drive between Sunset Boulevard and Fountain Avenue.
CBC's one- and two-reel productions sold well, and in 1922 the company began producing low-budget feature films that were sold through states-rights distributors. These cut-rate programmers also sold well, convincing Brandt and the Cohns to upgrade their operation. In January 1924 they incorporated CBC as Columbia Pictures, moving into new offices in New York while expanding their Hollywood plant. Brandt and Jack Cohn remained in New York as president and vice president in charge of sales, respectively, with Harry running the studio as vice president in charge of production. Columbia continued to expand in the following years, developing a national distribution setup and steadily absorbing its Poverty Row environs until it encompassed most of the city block bordered by Sunset, Beechwood, Fountain, and Gower Street—thus the appellation "Gower Gulch." Columbia churned out low-grade programmers at an impressive rate during the late silent era, many of them directed by Reeves ("Breezy") Eason (1886–1956) and George B. Seitz (1888–1944), but none was of any real note or suitable for first-run release.
Columbia's fortunes began to change in late 1927 with the arrival of Frank Capra, who was recruited by the studio manager, Sam Briskin (1896–1968), to write and direct a typically modest feature, That Certain Thing (1928). At age thirty (six years younger than Harry Cohn), Capra had considerable experience as a writer and director, notably on several Harry Langdon silent comedies for producer Mack Sennett (1880–1960). Capra quickly caught on at Columbia, directing five pictures in less than a year, and Cohn assigned him to the studio's most ambitious project to date, Submarine (1928), an action drama co-starring Jack Holt (1888–1951) and Ralph Graves (1900–1977). The film involved underwater photography and visual effects and was Columbia's first to utilize sound effects and a musical score. Launched with a Broadway premier, a rarity for Columbia, Submarine was a modest hit and solidified Capra's status as Columbia's top director. He then directed another hit "service picture" with Holt and Graves, Flight (1929), as well as Columbia's first all-talkie, The Donovan Affair (1929). By then Cohn was actively touting his star director to the trade press, announcing that "Capra will make nothing but 'specials' for Columbia from now on."
Columbia also issued its first successful stock offering in 1929, edging closer to the established Hollywood powers—although still a minor-league studio. In 1930, at the height of the talkie boom and one year after its first issue on the New York Stock Exchange, Columbia's assets of $5.8 million were dwarfed by those of integrated majors like Paramount ($306 million), Warner Bros. ($230 million), and MGM ($128 million). Even Universal, which like Columbia did not own a theater chain, had far greater assets of $17 million due to the value of its Universal City plant. Moreover, the quality and quantity of Columbia's productions were scarcely on a par with the other studios' output; they produced from fifty to sixty pictures per year in 1929 and 1930, with at least a dozen budgeted at $500,000 or more. Even Universal, with its relatively meager assets, was producing about forty films per year, including a few prestige pictures like Broadway (1929) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), each budgeted at over $1 million. Columbia, meanwhile, produced some two dozen features per year in 1929 and 1930, budgeted between $50,000 and $150,000, with an occasional project in the $200,000 range.
When the Depression hit the industry in 1931, however, Columbia was suddenly in a more favorable position than its competitors for three basic reasons. First, it owned no theaters and thus was not saddled with debilitating mortgage payments. Second, Harry Cohn's autocratic, tight-fisted management style ideally suited the depressed economic climate. And third, the efficient output of B-grade programmers, serials, and shorts, along with the occasional A-class picture and Capra-directed "special," jibed perfectly with the Depression-era penchant for double bills and evening-long programs. Thus, Columbia's production and market strategy paid dividends during the 1930s as the studio turned a profit year after year and saw its assets increase to $15.9 million in 1940—a phenomenal achievement matched only by MGM.
The key factor in Columbia Picture's Depression-era climb and its development of a distinctive house style was, without question, its remarkable run of Capra-directed hits—notably Platinum Blonde (1931), Miracle Woman (1931), American Madness (1932), Lady for a Day (1933), It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can't Take It with You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). All were huge moneymakers for Columbia Pictures, which finally shed its Poverty Row stigma during the 1930s, and they brought critical recognition as well. Capra's films scored six Academy Award® nominations for Best Picture and five nominations for Best Director. It Happened One Night and You Can't Take It with You both won the Best Picture Oscar®, and Capra won Best Director three times in a five-year span (1934, 1936, and 1938), a feat unmatched in industry history.
Equally important to Columbia's surge was Harry Cohn, whose authority over the studio—and Columbia Pictures at large—increased dramatically in 1932, when he prevailed in a struggle with Joe Brandt and his older brother Jack for control of the company, thanks to the unexpected backing by A. H. Giannini of the (renamed) Bank of America. Consequently, Brandt sold his stake in Columbia and Harry Cohn assumed the presidency, appointing Jack Cohn vice president and treasurer. Harry opted to remain in Hollywood, thus becoming the only president of a major motion picture firm to run the company while overseeing production in the Hollywood factory. Cohn was among the least "creative" of Hollywood's studio bosses, but he was among the most heavily involved in day-to-day operations. Moreover, he opted to keep Columbia in the ramshackle
b. New York, New York, 23 July 1891, d. 27 February 1958
Harry Cohn, who co-founded Columbia and ran the company until his death in 1958, is among the most distinctive and paradoxical of Hollywood moguls and studio bosses. As both the president of Columbia Pictures and the head of the studio, he was the only individual in classical-era Hollywood to occupy both the "home office" and "front office" of a Big Eight producer-distributor. And despite his well-deserved reputation for being a brutal, vulgar tyrant who ruthlessly abused and exploited his employees, Cohn maintained a production operation that not only turned a profit year after year for over three decades, but also turned out scores of canonized Hollywood classics.
Cohn evinced his tight-fisted, lowbrow temperament early on, as personal secretary to Universal Studios head Carl Laemmle, but his more tyrannical and abusive traits seemed to develop later, along with the studio's rise to power and his own ascent to the presidency in the early 1930s. This may have been fueled by Cohn's naive infatuation with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who was the subject of a flattering (and commercially successful) Columbia documentary, Mussolini Speaks (1933), and whose offices in Italy so inspired Cohn that he replicated them at his own studio headquarters. Cohn also prowled the lot incessantly and was notorious for spying on as well as bullying and humiliating his employees. He was scarcely a creative production executive, yet he was more closely involved in day-to-day operations than any other studio boss.
Like his counterpart, Jack Warner, at Hollywood's other family-owned and operated studio, Harry Cohn quarreled with his top talent, overworked and ruthlessly typecast his contract players, and routinely suspended those who failed to cooperate. Cohn also had a tendency to hire left-leaning writers, due in part to Columbia's renegade status as well as the topical, socially conscious nature of its output. In fact, Columbia and Warner Bros. were home to far more blacklisted writers (and members of the infamous Hollywood Ten) than any other studio. The two sets of brothers (both named Jack and Harry, coincidentally) also were fierce rivals professionally. Cohn, like studio boss Jack Warner, constantly battled his brother Jack Cohn in the New York office for larger operating budgets and more authority over sales and marketing. Harry Cohn's status as company president gave him far more leverage over his New York-based brother than Jack Warner enjoyed, however, but it scarcely diminished the frequency or the ferocity of their fraternal battles.
By the 1950s Cohn had won the grudging respect of his peers and even his adversaries as Columbia enjoyed a run of hits that matched its halcyon Capra era and as the studio's pioneering and truly visionary foray into television series production paved the way for the other studios. The death of Jack Cohn in 1956 was a devastating blow, however, and the reviled "White Fang" lost much of his bite during the last two years of his life.
Lady for a Day (1933), It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), The Awful Truth (1937), You Can't Take It with You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), The Talk of the Town (1942), The More the Merrier (1943), All the King's Men (1949), Born Yesterday (1950), From Here to Eternity (1953), On the Waterfront (1954), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Picnic (1955), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Schatz, Thomas. "Anatomy of a House Director: Capra, Cohn, and Columbia in the 1930s." In Frank Capra: Authorship and the Studio System, edited by Robert Sklar and Vito Zagarrio, 10–36. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.
Thomas, Bob. King Cohn: The Life and Times of Harry Cohn. New York: Putnam, 1967.
Zierold, Norman. The Moguls: Hollywood's Merchants of Myth. New York: Coward-McCann, 1969.
Gower Gulch plant not only to cut costs, but also to maintain personal proximity to all phases of production.
One exception to Cohn's hands-on supervisory role was the so-called Capra unit. Here Cohn relied on Sam Briskin, Columbia's vice president and studio manager, whom Capra considered his own "unit manager," the one responsible for "all the production details." Capra's key creative collaborator was writer Robert Riskin (1897–1955), who signed with Columbia in 1931 and, after contributing to both Miracle Woman and Platinum Blonde, was Capra's sole collaborator on American Madness—and on seven of the next eight Capra-directed pictures as well. Theirs was an ideal melding of talents: Riskin's glib, rapid-fire dialogue, Runyonesque characters, tightly constructed plots; and Capra's deft pacing, genius for integrating verbal, visual, and physical humor, and skill with actors. Other key members of the Capra unit were the cinematographer, Joe Walker (1892–1985), who lit and shot all of Capra's 1930s pictures, as well as the editor, Gene Havlick (1894–1959), and the art director, Stephen Goosson (1889–1973).
Casting Capra's films—and all of Columbia's A-class pictures, for that matter—was a more complicated issue, given Columbia's relatively meager star stable. Capra's films generally co-starred a freelance star or loan-out from another studio playing opposite a Columbia semi-regular. From the mid-1930s onward, Capra worked most frequently with the "outside" stars Gary Cooper (1901–1961) or James Stewart (1908–1997) playing opposite either Jean Arthur (1900–1991) or Barbara Stanwyck (1907–1990), who had nonexclusive contracts with Columbia. In whatever pairing, these costars represented what became the essential Capra screen types: the aggressive, fast-talking, quick-witted career woman and the deliberate, low-key, tongue-tied male, out of his element among city slickers but ultimately capable of timely, heroic action. Capra's comedies usually centered on the male hero, whose common sense and homespun values put him at odds with the hustling heroine and with some malevolent political or industrial forces as well. The hero prevails, of course, thus projecting a world in which sexual antagonism and deep-seated ideological conflicts might be resolved.
To ensure an adequate supply of first-run product, Cohn also developed a cycle of operatic romances starring soprano Grace Moore (1898–1947), a former Broadway and Metropolitan Opera star who had a breakthrough hit with One Night of Love (1934). It established a pattern of first-run engagements in the United States and Europe that would be repeated in Love Me Forever (1935), The King Steps Out (1936), and When You're in Love (1937). Even more important to Columbia's Depression-era fortunes was Cohn's decision to increase and upgrade Columbia's overall comedy output as the Capra-directed screwball comedies caught on. This trend coalesced with Twentieth Century (1934), a madcap comedy directed by Howard Hawks (1896–1977) and coscripted by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. It starred John Barrymore (1882–1942) as an overbearing, over-the-hill Broadway director and Carole Lombard (1908–1942) as his former protégé, who is en route to Hollywood and a movie career despite his ardent protestations. This film hit led to two 1935 comedies—The Whole Town's Talking, directed by John Ford (1894–1973) and co-starring Edward G. Robinson (1893–1973) and Jean Arthur; and She Married Her Boss, directed by Gregory La Cava (1892–1952), with Melvyn Douglas (1901–1981) and Claudette Colbert (1903–1996)—that solidified the trend toward romantic comedies with a top outside director and outside star teamed with a rising Columbia ingénue.
The trend continued with Theodora Goes Wild (1936), The Awful Truth (1937), Holiday (1938), and Only Angels Have Wings (1939), all of which were written, like the Ford and La Cava hits, by one of Columbia's top staff writers—that is, Jo Swerling (1893–1964), Robert Riskin, or Sidney Buchman (1902–1975)—who not only scripted but also informally supervised production. These writer-supervisors proved far more effective than the brutish Harry Cohn in dealing with outside talent, and they also understood how to reformulate the basic ingredients of the "Capra touch"—the distinctive blend of screwball romance and contemporary, socially astute, comedy—for filmmakers like Hawks, George Cukor (1899–1983), and Leo McCarey (1898–1969). These comedies were commercial and critical hits, and in fact The Awful Truth scored more major Oscar® nominations—five, including Best Picture, Best Director (McCarey), and Best Actress (Irene Dunne)—and did far better at the box office than Lost Horizon (1937), Capra's most ambitious production to date.
In 1939 Capra decided to leave Columbia in the wake of his back-to-back hits, You Can't Take It with You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, eager to try his luck as an independent producer-director (with Riskin as a partner) and to end his battles with Harry Cohn. Capra signed a lucrative one-picture deal with Warner Bros. for Meet John Doe (1941), which gave him enormous authority and creative control. The film was a disappointment, starting a tailspin that would end Capra's career by the late 1940s and indicating that Capra was a consummate "studio auteur" whose talents ideally suited the resources and constraints afforded by Harry Cohn and Columbia Pictures.
Columbia scarcely noticed Capra's departure due to the imminent war boom. Like Universal and UA, Columbia's wartime surge was less dramatic than that of the theater-owning Big Five studios, but Columbia was able to sustain profits on a par with its Capra-era peak and to increase its revenues considerably. That enabled Cohn to increase A-class output and upgrade the production values on top releases (particularly with the use of Technicolor) and to expand his roster of top talent. Columbia continued to produce its signature romantic comedies, punctuating Capra's departure with two Hawks-directed hits, Only Angels Have Wings and His Girl Friday (1940), both of which paired Cary Grant(1904–1986) with a contract star—Jean Arthur and Rosalind Russell (1907–1976), respectively. A supporting role in the former went to Rita Hayworth (1918–1987), who emerged as a top star in a cycle of musical hits, teaming with Fred Astaire (1899–1987) in You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942) and with Gene Kelly in Cover Girl (1944). Columbia also produced a steady supply of war films—both home-front and combat dramas—including a few A-class films like Sahara (1943), starring Humphrey Bogart (1899–1957) (on loan from Warners), but mainly composed of low-budget fare.
b. Margarita Carmen Cansino, New York, New York, 17 October 1918, d. 14 May 1987
Dubbed "the studio's first superstar," Rita Hayworth was without question Columbia's most important contract star and thus the object of studio boss Harry Cohn's obsessive attention during the 1940s. She appeared in a total of seven films in 1941 and 1942 but only six for the remainder of the decade—and none from 1948 until 1952, during her ill-fated escapades with playboy Prince Aly Khan. Her half-dozen films from 1942 to 1947 included several of Columbia's biggest hits, however, and they trace Hayworth's evolution from the wholesome beauty of romantic comedies and upbeat musicals to erotic siren and consummate femme fatale. By decade's end her movie career was in limbo and her movie stardom eclipsed by her international celebrity status.
Hayworth's rise to stardom was circuitous, and it involved a radical transformation of her screen persona. The daughter of Eduardo Cansino, a Spanish-born dancer, and Volga Hayworth, a Ziegfeld Follies performer, she danced professionally before signing with Fox while still in her teens, but her early film career as dark-haired beauty Rita Cansino floundered. She was seemingly washed up before age twenty when the first of her many husbands revived her career and landed her a long-term contract with Columbia. Thus began her transformation into Rita Hayworth, whose second chance at stardom was jump-started by a supporting role in Columbia's Only Angels Have Wings in 1939.
Cohn exploited Hayworth's sudden value via loanouts while casting her in a few near-A comedies, and he then secured her full-fledged stardom by casting her in two musicals opposite Fred Astaire, You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942), which gave her a chance to display her considerable dancing talents (if not her singing, which was dubbed). Hayworth partnered with Gene Kelly in two musicals, Cover Girl (1944) and Tonight and Every Night (1945), and then her star persona underwent another alteration with her role as sultry, potentially deadly siren in Gilda (1946), in which Hayworth created an instantly memorable moment singing "Put the Blame on Mame" while provocatively removing her long black satin gloves. Next Hayworth played a quintessential black widow in The Lady from Shanghai (1947), a disastrous project for Cohn and Columbia despite its eventual cult status. Written and directed by Hayworth's second husband, Orson Welles, who co-starred, the film was made in 1946 as their marriage was collapsing, then recut and shelved before Columbia finally released it in Europe late the following year and in the United States in mid-1948—just as Hayworth hooked up with playboy Prince Aly Khan, whom she wed in 1949 and divorced in 1953.
Hayworth returned to Columbia in 1951 and begged Cohn to reinstate her contract. He complied and cast her in top productions like Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) and Pal Joey (1957), but her career failed to reignite.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939), You'll Never Get Rich (1941), You Were Never Lovelier (1942), Gilda (1946), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Miss Sadie Thompson (1953), Pal Joey (1957)
Leaming, Barbara. If This Was Happiness: A Biography of Rita Hayworth. New York: Random House, 1992.
McLean, Adrienne L. Being Rita Hayworth: Labor, Identity, and Hollywood Stardom. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004.
Columbia's B-movie operation flourished during the war, cranking out Lone Wolf, Blondie, and Boston Blackie
series; serials adapted from radio and comic strips including The Shadow, Brenda Starr, and Terry and the Pirates; and comedy shorts featuring the Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chase, and Harry Langdon. Western programmers composed roughly half of the studio's wartime B-movie output—and fully thirty percent of Columbia's total wartime releases (159 of 503 films). Most of these were subpar features that ran from fifty-five to fifty-seven minutes and featured Charles Starrett (1903–1986). He did seven or eight B westerns per year from the mid-1930s to the early 1950s, including some sixty-seven Durango Kid films. Columbia also produced an occasional A-class western—Arizona (1940), with rising star William Holden (1918–1981), for example, and The Desperadoes (1943), a Glenn Ford (b. 1916) vehicle that marked the studio's first Technicolor release.
By the end of the war, Columbia had built up a solid roster of contract talent in all departments, including stars like Hayworth, Russell, Holden, and Glenn Ford; cinematographers Rudolph Maté (1898–1964) and Burnett Guffey (1905–1983); art directors Stephen Goosson, Cary Odell (1910–1988), and Rudolph Sternad; editors Gene Havlick and Viola Lawrence (1894–1973); musical director Morris Stoloff (1898–1980); and writers Sidney Buchman and Virginia Van Upp (1902–1970). Cohn continued to rely heavily on outside directors in A-class productions, with contract directors Charles Vidor (1900–1959), Alfred Green (1889–1960), and Henry Levin (1909–1980) handling top projects as well. Columbia's expanded talent pool meant more A-films and more homegrown hits like Gilda, a noir classic co-starring Hayworth and Glenn Ford, and The Jolson Story, a biopic starring little-known character actor Larry Parks (1914–1975). Those two 1946 releases set the tone for the postwar era's continued success, and after record years in 1946 and 1947, Columbia managed to hold on as Hollywood's fortunes plummeted—thanks largely to two huge 1949 hits, Jolson Sings Again, a sequel to the 1946 biopic and All the King's Men, directed by Robert Rossen (1908–1966), a stunning, hyper-realistic portrait of political corruption, whose myriad awards included Oscars® for Best Picture and Best Actor (Broderick Crawford).
Columbia's continued success in the 1950s was due in part to Cohn's experience in dealing with freelance talent and independent production, and also to Columbia's ready acceptance of television when the other studios were either dismissing or disparaging the upstart medium. Columbia was the first studio to undertake TV series production, via its Screen Gems division, which under the supervision of Ralph Cohn, Jack's son, produced hit series in multiple genres, from daytime variety (House Party, 1952) and syndicated children's and family programming (Captain Midnight, 1954; Jungle Jim, 1955; Circus Boy, 1956) to network prime-time sitcoms (Father Knows Best, 1954; The Donna Reed Show, 1958), anthology dramas (The Ford Television Theatre, 1952; Playhouse 90, 1956; Goodyear Theatre, 1957), and crime dramas (Naked City, 1958; Tightrope, 1959). TV series production absorbed much of Columbia's B-movie operation, as Cohn reduced feature film output from around sixty per year in 1950 and 1951 to less than forty by the mid-1950s. B-western programmers were phased out altogether, although Columbia still produced occasional A-class westerns like The Man from Laramie (1955), starring James Stewart, and a good many near-A's with contract stars Glenn Ford and Randolph Scott (1898–1987).
In terms of top feature production, Columbia's greatest strength during the 1950s was its dual output of weighty male-dominant dramas and hit romantic comedies. The dramas included film noir classics like In a Lonely Place (1950), directed by Nicholas Ray (1911–1979), and The Big Heat (1953), directed by Fritz Lang (1890–1976), as well as stage adaptations like Death of a Salesman (1951), The Member of the Wedding (1952), The Caine Mutiny (1954), and Picnic (1955). While these films clearly signaled their lineage and thus were of a somewhat derivative quality, Columbia also produced hit dramas in the 1950s that, like All the King's Men, remain inconceivable as anything but films, whatever their medium of origin, and stand among the very best films of that era. The most notable of these wereFrom Here to Eternity (1953), On the Waterfront (1954), and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which were solid commercial hits and multiple Academy Award® winners, taking Oscars® for Best Picture and Best Director (Fred Zinnemann, Elia Kazan, and David Lean, respectively)—and thus giving Columbia its best Oscar® run since the Capra era. Columbia also sustained its trademark romantic comedy line, fueled by the talents of the emerging star Judy Holliday (1921–1965) and the director-writer duo of George Cukor and Garson Kanin (1912–1999), who teamed for Born Yesterday (1950), The Marrying Kind (1952), and It Should Happen to You (1954). The latter co-starred the fast-rising Jack Lemmon (1925–2001), who teamed with Holliday and newcomer Kim Novak (b. 1933) in Phffft! (1954), thus adding two more contract stars to Columbia's comedy mix.
Columbia's run of profitable years, which extended back to its founding in 1924, finally ended in 1958, the year of Harry Cohn's death. By then Columbia had sustained its contract system, centralized management, and studio production setup (still at Gower Gulch) longer than most of its competitors, but its recent success had been primarily a function of Cohn's willingness to take risks and embrace change. At the time of Harry Cohn's death, which came two years after the demise of his brother Jack, Columbia's annual revenues exceeded $100 million, putting it on a par with once-indomitable Paramount, Fox, and MGM and well ahead of the other studios. After Cohn's death the penchant for innovation and risk taking actually increased, which was scarcely avoidable given the changes and challenges facing the industry and which steadily dissolved Columbia's on-screen personality, since Columbia's boldest ventures in the 1960s and 1970s involved partnerships with overseas producers and with a new generation of independent auteurs, all of whom required creative control over their pictures. Thus, Columbia was relegated increasingly to the role of a financing and distribution company, and it experienced far wider swings in its economic fortunes than it had under Cohn.
Columbia's Screen Gems operation continued to produce hit TV series in the 1960s, most notably (and profitably) prime-time sitcoms like The Flintstones (1960), Bewitched (1964), I Dream of Jeannie (1965), and The Partridge Family (1970). While these kept the studio machinery running, feature film production declined dramatically. During the 1950s, Columbia released 450 films, with its output steadily falling from about 60 per year in 1950 to less than 40 by decade's end. The decline continued in the 1960s, when Columbia released 252 films and its annual output declined to about 20 per annum—a pace that would continue through the 1970s.
Most of Columbia's releases in the 1960s and 1970s were independent productions or co-productions, many of them packaged and produced overseas without the participation of top studio executives Abe Schneider and Leo Jaffe. Columbia's long-standing relationships with top independent Sam Spiegel (1901–1985) (On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai) continued into the 1970s, most notably with the monumental 1962 hit, Lawrence of Arabia. Another important relationship involved Ray Stark, who partnered with Columbia on several Barbra Streisand (b. 1942) hits: Funny Girl (1968), The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), The Way We Were (1973), and Funny Lady (1975). In 1965, as the "British invasion" spread from music to film, Columbia opened offices in London that delivered A Man for All Seasons (1966), Georgy Girl (1966), To Sir, with Love (1967), and Oliver! (1968). An independent company owned by producer-director Stanley Kramer (1913–2001) gave Columbia its biggest commercial hit of the era, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), a then-daring treatment of interracial romance—but equally an exercise in nostalgia, considering its co-stars Spencer Tracy (1900–1967) and Katharine Hepburn (1907–2003).
Far more daring—and in many cases far more profitable—was Columbia's output of "youth pictures," art films, and auteur projects. In fact, no other studio championed the director-driven Hollywood New Wave to the degree that Columbia did with pictures like Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964), Mickey One (Arthur Penn, 1965), In Cold Blood (Richard Brooks, 1967), The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968), Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Paul Mazursky, 1969), Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969), Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970), Husbands (John Cassavetes, 1970), The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971), Images (Robert Altman, 1972), The Last Detail (Hal Ashby, 1974), Shampoo (Ashby, 1975), and Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976). But despite this truly phenomenal output of low-cost, high-quality films, Columbia suffered record losses from 1971 to 1973 due to a run of big-budget flops like McKenna's Gold (1969), Cromwell (1970), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), and Lost Horizon (1973) as well as a costly relocation. After a half-century on Gower Street, Columbia executed a move between 1970 and 1972 to lavish new facilities in Burbank, north of Hollywood.
Columbia survived this deepening financial crisis with the help of the investment firm Allen and Co., which in 1973 purchased controlling interest in the studio (for a paltry $1.5 million). That put the company under the command of Herbert Allen Jr., the son of Allen and Co.'s co-founder, who installed a new management team of Alan Hirschfield, David Begelman, and Peter Guber. Columbia's finances rebounded, propelled by the 1977 megahit, Close Encounters of the Third Kind directed by Steven Spielberg (b. 1946), but the new team's tenure was cut short by a forgery scandal involving Begelman. The resurgence continued under the new studio head, Frank Price, whose five-year stint (1978–1983) was highlighted by two huge Dustin Hoffman (b. 1937) hits, Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Columbia's first US-produced multiple Oscar® winner in twenty-five years, and Tootsie (1982).
The Price regime, while financially successful, marked the end of Columbia Pictures' control of its destiny—or even of its production operations. By then it was releasing only a dozen or so films per year, most of them produced by independents, and many were "packaged" by talent agencies—most notably Mike Ovitz of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), who certainly had more to do with Tootsie, for example, than anyone at Columbia Pictures. Columbia's control of its destiny was further compromised when Price engineered the studio's acquisition by Coca-Cola, which bought the studio in 1982 for roughly $750 million. The new parent company attempted to expand its "filmed entertainment" operations on various fronts, including the buyout of partners HBO and CBS in TriStar Pictures, a new production venture geared to the exploding pay cable and home video markets. The Coca-Cola era brought huge hits like Ghostbusters (1984) and costly flops like Ishtar (1987) as well as considerable turnover in the studio executive ranks after Price's 1983 departure, culminating in the disastrous stint of the British independent producer David Puttnam in 1986 and 1987.
By the late 1980s Columbia Picture's fortunes had again reached a low point; in fact, its share of the motion picture market fell to 4.5 percent in 1988 and, incredibly, to 3 percent in 1989 (versus TriStar's 6 percent share). At that point Coca-Cola decided to sell the studio to Sony, the Japanese electronics manufacturing giant that had purchased CBS Records a year earlier and now was looking for a film "software" company to complement its production of "hardware" (TVs, VCRs, and so on). In a deal brokered by Mike Ovitz, Sony bought Columbia Pictures Industries and all its assets, including TriStar, in late 1989 for $3.4 billion. A year later Sony bought the MGM Studio in Culver City, where it housed the Columbia and TriStar operations. Sony also became embroiled with Time Warner over the hiring of producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters to run Columbia-TriStar, which led to several years of management turmoil and subpar production results.
The Sony-Columbia alliance eventually coalesced under the leadership of studio veteran John Calley, who took over Sony's Motion Picture Group in 1996. In 2002 Columbia was back to the top of the industry, thanks largely to its blockbuster hits of that year, Spider-Man and Men in Black II. Calley handed off the top executive position in 2003 to another veteran studio boss, Amy Pascal, whose portfolio expanded a year later when a Sony-led media consortium acquired MGM (the producer-distributor, not the MGM studio facility, which Sony already owned) for $5 billion. Thus, Sony's Motion Picture Group, which already included Columbia, TriStar, and two indie subdivisions, Sony Pictures Classics and Screen Gems, now owned the largest film and television library in the industry, as well as the lucrative James Bond and Pink Panther franchises.
The acquisition of MGM further diminished the stature and importance of Columbia Pictures within the Sony media empire. In fact, Sony seemed far less interested in sustaining and exploiting Columbia's brand-name value than in promoting its own, and thus the emphasis in recent years has been on Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) rather than on Columbia Pictures. And because all of the Hollywood studios have become little more than brand names and libraries, Columbia Pictures seems to be an increasingly endangered studio.
Buscombe, Ed. "Notes on Columbia Pictures Corporation, 1926–1941." In Movies and Methods, edited by Bill Nichols, vol. 2, 92–108. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.
Capra, Frank. Frank Capra: The Name Above the Title, An Autobiography. New York: Macmillan, 1971.
Hirschhorn, Clive. The Columbia Story. London: Hamlyn, 1999.
McBride, Joseph. Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.
McClintick, David. Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street. New York: Morrow, 1982.
Yule, Andrew. Fast Fade: David Puttnam, Columbia Pictures, and the Battle for Hollywood. New York: Delacorte, 1989.
Major Industries and Commercial Activity
Columbia prides itself on a diverse and stable economy based on jobs in local and state government, manufacturing, and services and on being the site of the Fort Jackson military base. In recent years, distribution, manufacturing, and research and development have increased that diversity. The city is relying on its technology infrastructure, active entrepreneurial community, major research university, and diverse quality of life to attract and keep new business. Columbia's diverse economic base includes 31 Fortune 500 companies, and the city serves as a service center for the insurance, telecommunications, computer, and real estate industries. Dozens of international companies from Australia, France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Denmark, Japan, South Korea, Belgium, Luxembourg, Taiwan and Canada have operations in the region.
The University of South Carolina bolsters the economy through the expenditures of its more than 32,000 students as well as 7,900 faculty, staff, and support personnel. Fort Jackson, which is located within the city's boundaries, employs more than 4,400 civilians and spends nearly $716.9 million annually for salaries, utilities, contracts and other services, much of it in Columbia. It hires local firms for construction work and buys its supplies from local businesses.
Ample rainfall and the temperate climate promote the area's success as an agricultural center. The wholesale trade industry, which began its growth in the years prior to World War I, benefits from the fact that approximately 70 percent of the nation's population and 70 percent of its industrial/commercial power are within 24-hour ground access.
Items and goods produced: electronics, military equipment, marine products, chemicals, processed foods
Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies
The City of Columbia Economic Development Office stands ready to provide a wide range of services to companies interested in the Columbia region; incentives range from new business tax incentives to site planning. The Central Carolina Alliance is a public/private partnership engaged in the recruitment of capital investment and jobs to the Columbia region.
South Carolina is a "right-to-work" state and has the lowest unionization rate in the country at only 3.7 percent. The State provides a variety of business incentives. South Carolina emphasizes helping companies expand by offering low tax structures. The following incentives and financing sources may be available to qualifying companies: 20 percent state tax credit for development or lease of qualified office facilities; elimination of inventory, intangibles, unitary and value added taxes; job creation tax credits for five years up to $1,500 per employee; the Childcare Program Credit; Sales Tax Exemptions on a variety of production goods; fee-in-lieu of taxes option for investment and job creation; Enterprise Zones incentive; and property tax incentives.
Job training programs
The Columbia Work Initiative Program is a work training program developed by the City of Columbia and the Sumter-Columbia Empowerment Zone. It provides opportunities for empowerment zone residents to develop marketable skills in carpentry and masonry to supply area industry with a pool of trained workers. South Carolina's Special Schools program, a division of the State Board of Technical and Comprehensive Education, assumes the entire training responsibility and designs programs to suit a company's needs. The program may include trainee recruitment and testing, instructor recruitment and training, provision of training sites, development of instructional materials, and complete program management. South Carolina's Center for Accelerated Technology Training (CATT) pre-employment training program provides new and expanding companies with a fully trained and productive work force on the first day of operation. In Columbia, the Midlands Education and Business Alliance is one of the 16 School-to-Work consortiums, which offer pre-employment, internships and worker training programs to ensure that high school graduates are prepared to enter the workforce. South Carolina administers the Job Training Partnership Program.
Attracting area residents to live and work in Columbia is a main objective of the city's Economic Development Office. Its City Center Residential Initiative aims to increase the number of people living in the heart of the city. A 40,000 square foot Confederate Printing Plant has been redeveloped into a Publix grocery store, which opened in 2004 to accommodate the needs of urban residents. This redevelopment is part of an effort to revitalize the Huger Street corridor, which once housed a steel business. Other developments in the corridor include two office buildings and two multi-million dollar residential projects. Six other properties in the corridor have potential for redevelopment.
The Three Rivers Greenway is a multi-year ongoing project which has brought together a partnership of city and county governments and other area institutions to develop a 12-mile linear park system for the 90-mile interconnecting Saluda, Congaree and Broad Rivers. Conceived in 1995, the River Alliance has constructed parks, river walks, an amphitheater, bike lane, running trail, housing communities, and water sport activities along the rivers. In 2005, plans for student housing apartments and an upscale condominium project near the river were underway. Work on the Columbia side of the river is scheduled in phases.
The Charles R. Drew Wellness Center, scheduled for completion in late 2005, is one of the city's newest municipal projects. The 40,000 square foot complex features an indoor swimming pool and gymnasium, cardio/weight room, jogging track, and meeting and activity rooms. The Five Points District, Downtown Columbia's shopping and nightlife destination, is the beneficiary of a $28 million revitalization. Scheduled for completion in mid-2006, the two year project is designed to renovate and rejuvenate not only the streets, sidewalks, streetlights and signage, but to also repair some major underground sewer lines and other utility lines. Columbia's Main Street is also undergoing a renovation with new landscaping, paving, lighting and the installation of a fiber duct bank. Lady Street, Harden Street, and North Main Street are other city roads which have recently benefited from streetscape improvements. Other economic development projects on the city's drawing board include a plan to develop a technology-focused industrial park and plans to attract research projects to the University of South Carolina and the community.
Economic Development Information: Economic Development Division, Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, 930 Richland Street, P.O. Box 1360, Columbia, SC 29202-9896; telephone (803)733-1110. City of Columbia Economic Development Office; telephone (803)734-2700; email [email protected]
With the benefit of its location where three major interstate highways cross within its regional boundaries and two rail systems operate, Columbus is positively positioned for businesses that require major transportation access. The Columbia Metropolitan Airport handles more than 10,400 tons of cargo annually plus an additional 93 tons of airmail. The airport's Foreign Trade Zone #27 is a 108-acre tract with a 40,000 square foot warehouse and office building and an additional 52,000 square feet of multi-tenant space. The U.S. Customs Services offices, Port of Columbia, are also located in this zone along with several Custom House brokers. Columbia is served by more than 60 motor freight carriers and is the site of United Parcel Service's southeastern regional air cargo hub, ensuring low costs and timely delivery for local industry. Charleston, the second busiest seaport on the east coast, is just 110 miles away.
Labor Force and Employment Outlook
Columbia boasts a large and growing workforce, especially in the 20-to-40 age group. Many retirees from Fort Jackson choose to stay in the area, adding skill and maturity to the available workforce. Workers are described as efficient and productive, and work stoppages are rare. Forbes magazine ranked Columbia 17th of the best cities for business climate in 2003. South Carolina is a right-to-work state and is one of the country's least unionized states. The Columbia area workforce is also an educated one, ranking 23rd in the nation for doctoral degrees and 32nd for college degrees, according to the Columbia Office of Economic Development.
While Columbia has been successful in creating jobs, it has not achieved the same success in raising its residents' standard of living. Growth in wages in the state from 1994-2004 fell below the national average. Per capita income was 80 percent of the national average. The Columbia region, historically insulated because of State government, the University of South Carolina, and Fort Jackson, lost more than 10,000 jobs between 2002 and 2004. The city's challenge is to create more high-paying jobs, according to Mayor Bob Coble in his 2004 State of the City address. To that end, the city has plans to increasingly focus on attracting technology companies to the area and especially to the University of South Carolina Research Campus.
The following is a summary of data regarding the Columbia metropolitan area labor force, 2003 annual averages.
Size of nonagricultural labor force: 303,800
Number of workers employed in . . .
construction and mining: 17,400
trade, transportation and utilities: 55,800
financial activities: 25,200
professional and business services: 33,800
educational and health services: 32,800
leisure and hospitality: 26,200
other services: 9,300
Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: not reported
Unemployment rate: 4.9% (December 2004)
|Largest private sector employers (Greater Columbia)||Number of employees|
|Blue Cross & Blue Shield of SC||5,100|
|Richland School District One||5,000|
|United Parcel Service||3,528|
|Wachovia Bank of South Carolina||3,422|
|Richland School District Two||2,500|
|Branch Banking and Trust Company||2,093|
|School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties||2,000|
Cost of Living
The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Columbia area.
2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $246,380
2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 96.2 (U.S. average = 100.0)
State income tax rate: Ranges from 2.5% to 7.0%
State sales tax rate: 5.0%
Local income tax rate: none
Local sales tax rate: none
Property tax rate: Millage rates set annually by local government tax authorities and applied to 4.0% of fair market value.
Economic Information: Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, 930 Richland, Columbia, SC 29202; telephone (803)733-1110
Columbia has an interesting array of historical, cultural, and recreational sites to delight both visitors and residents. Consistently rated as one of the top travel attractions in the Southeast, the Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden is home to more than 2,000 mammals, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates. Animals roam freely in the zoo's unique recreated environment. Visitors can watch the daily feeding of penguins and sea lions. Across the Saluda River from the zoo, the Riverbanks Botanical Garden features 70 acres of woodlands, gardens, historic ruins, and plant collections. Gibbes Planetarium, located within the Columbia Museum of Art on the campus of the University of South Carolina, provides spectacular views of the skies through its permanent and changing programs.
Columbia's newest family attraction is the EdVenture Children's Museum. Opened to the public in November 2003, the $19.4 million facility is located next to the South Carolina State Museum and features 74,000 square feet of hands-on exhibit space in 8 indoor and outdoor galleries, as well as laboratories and other visitor amenities. Special exhibit areas are designed to appeal to very young children.
The Historic Columbia Foundation conducts bus and walking tours of the city and heritage education programs (such as the Black Heritage Trail). An especially popular sight is Governor's Green, a nine-acre complex made up of the 1830 Caldwell-Boylston House, the 1854 Lace House, and Governor's Mansion, home to the state's first family since 1868. Other historic houses are the Hampton-Preston Mansion, an elegant, restored antebellum society home, and the fully restored and furnished boyhood home of Woodrow Wilson. The State Archives has contemporary exhibits and houses the state and county official records. The South Carolina Criminal Justice Hall of Fame traces the history of law enforcement, including the gun collection of Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent who captured John Dillinger. The Robert Mills Historic House and Park, designed by the state's most famous architect, has been refurbished with period pieces and has park gardens covering an entire block.
Arts and Culture
Columbia boasts an active arts environment. The showcase of Columbia's cultural sites is the Koger Center for the Performing Arts, an acoustically excellent facility with three-tier seating for 2,300 patrons. The center is home to the South Carolina Philharmonic, which presents Saturday Symphonies, Friday Classics, and Philharmonic Pops. The Bolshoi Ballet, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, and many others perform at the Township Auditorium.
Theater in its many forms is available from the city's 10 professional theater groups. The Longstreet Theatre, an 1855 Greek Revival structure, is the site for many University of South Carolina-sponsored productions at its theater-in-the-round. Trustus Theatre presents quality alternative productions with a different show each month. The Town Theatre, the oldest continuously operating community theater in the nation, stages Broadway comedies and musicals. The Workshop Theatre offers modern and classical productions by its amateur group. The Chapin Community Theatre performs plays for children as well as musicals and dramatic productions. The South Carolina Shakespeare Company performs for a week in October at Finlay Park. Columbia Marionette Theatre is one of only 20 such theaters in the country.
The Columbia Museum of Art, the city's premier museum, maintains more than 5,000 objects, including pieces from the Baroque and Renaissance periods. The museum also offers a hands-on children's gallery and traveling exhibits, as well as European and American works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, decorative arts, and contemporary crafts. The South Carolina State Museum, located in a renovated textile mill, contains a comprehensive array of exhibits on art, natural history, and science and technology. The Mann-Simons Cottage, a fine example of the Columbia Cottage style of architecture, is the site of the Museum of African-American Culture, which contains the history of the lives of an African American family in the antebellum period. The Confederate Relic Room and Museum contains relics from the Colonial period to the Space Age, with special emphasis on Civil War objects.
The original 1801 campus of the University of South Carolina is today known as the Historic Horseshoe. It has been restored and is open for tours. There visitors will find the McKissick Museum, which features changing exhibitions of art, science, and regional history and folk art; as well as the Baruch Silver Collection, the Mineral Library, and Fluorescent Minerals and Gemstones. The history of the American soldier is the focus of the Fort Jackson Museum, which displays photos, weapons, uniforms, and military items from the Revolution onward. Memorial Park is the site of the South Carolina Vietnam Monument, the largest monument of its type outside Washington, D.C.
Festivals and Holidays
The wearin' of the green is a common sight at the parade, children's areas, and arts and music events that highlight Columbia's St. Patrick's Day Celebration in Five Points.
The Earth Day festival in Finlay Park brings together environmental booths and traditional festival favorites. Also held in spring is the Riverfest Celebration featuring a 5K run, music, arts and crafts and food specialties. River activities, rides, and food are the focus of the Cayce Congaree Carnival and A Taste of Columbia in September at the Convention Center. Dance, arts and crafts, music, and a road race combine to celebrate spring's Mayfest. The spectacle of decorated boats, a parade, and fireworks light up the July Fourth celebration at Lake Murray. Peanuts galore—roasted, boiled and raw—are the stars of August's Pelion Peanut Party. Autumnfest in uptown Columbia in October brings street dances, music, arts and crafts, and catfish races to the grounds of the historic Hampton Mansion and Robert Mills House. Columbia's music festivals include the Three Rivers Music Festival, three days of national and regional musical acts, and Main Street Jazz which attracts world-renown jazz musicians. One of the biggest events in Columbia is the ten-day South Carolina State Fair in October, which draws more than one-half million visitors. The fair features agricultural and handicraft displays, rides, and entertainment. Jubilee: Festival of Heritage celebrates African American heritage with crafts, storytelling, music and dance. Vista Lights festival combines walking tours of area homes and musical entertainment with carriage rides through the antique district. The Christmas season is ushered in by December's Christmas Candlelight Tour of Historic Houses and Lights Before Christmas at the Riverbanks Zoo.
Sports for the Spectator
Sporting News' "Best Sports Cities 2002" ranked Columbia 54th among 300 U.S. and Canadian cities for its sports climate. The Columbia Inferno tear up the ice at the Carolina Coliseum. The Inferno are a professional hockey team in the East Coast Hockey League. The University of South Carolina's Fighting Gamecocks play football at the Williams-Brice Stadium. The university's basketball team plays at the Frank McGuire Arena in the Carolina Coliseum, and its soccer team is on view at "The Graveyard." Male and female intercollegiate sports teams from other local colleges offer sporting opportunities for spectators. Major League baseball, NFL and NBA teams all play within easy driving distance in nearby Charlotte and Atlanta.
Sports for the Participant
Columbia's mild climate encourages outdoor recreation year-round. Water skiers, campers, windsurfers, fishermen, boating enthusiasts, bikers, and runners enjoy the myriad regional and municipal parks in and around Columbia. Lake Murray boasts 540 miles of scenic shoreline perfect for boaters of all types. Dreher Island State Park on its shores offers RV and primitive camping, fishing, boating and swimming. Columbia's Saluda River, a navigable whitewater river with thrilling rides down the rapids, also offers gentler waters for canoeists and rafters. The 1,445-acre Sesquicentennial State Park offers nature trails, camping and picnic sites, swimming, fishing, and miniature golf. The Congaree National Park and Monument, located 20 miles southeast of the city, is a national monument offering nature walks and self-guided canoe trails affording views of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest.
The City of Columbia maintains nearly 50 parks and green spaces. Finlay Park in the downtown area is host to many festivals and celebrations. Granby Park is the gateway to the rivers in Columbia. Memorial Park is a tribute to those South Carolinians who served their country. Soccer enthusiasts enjoy the nine fields located at Owens Park. Winding along the Congaree River is the Riverfront Park and Historic Columbia Canal. Planned around the city's original 1906 waterworks plant, the park features an old pump house and jogging and bicycle paths. City and county parks offer organized baseball, youth and adult basketball, youth football, soccer, softball, volleyball, racquetball, and roller skating, as well as a variety of other activities. City residents enjoy five public and eight semi-private golf courses, plus public tennis courts and swimming pools. Private tennis and golf clubs extend the recreational choices. Several local private golf clubs offer special golf packages to visitors. Rock climbers can master their skills at the Earth Treks Climbing Center, which features two large indoor climbing walls. The new Charles R. Drew Wellness Center offers indoor swimming, jogging, and weight training.
Shopping and Dining
Shopping is a many-dimensional affair in a city that offers spacious malls, fashionable boutiques, specialty stores, antique shops, and antique malls. Richland Mall features Belk's, Parisian, and The Bombay Co. among other stores. The most popular shopping center is Columbiana Centre, with more than 100 specialty shops. Columbia Place is the region's largest, offering more than 100 specialty stores. Old Mill Antique Mall and City Market Antique Mall offer outof-the-ordinary shopping experiences. The Dutch Square Center's major shops include Belk's, Burlington Coat Factory, and Office Depot. The State Farmers Market, open daily across from the USC Football Stadium, is one of the largest produce markets in the southeast.
Dining out in Columbia presents myriad possibilities, from the fresh seafood provided by its proximity to the state's Atlantic Coast, to a variety of ethnic cuisines such as Greek, Chinese, Cajun, or Japanese, as well as traditional Southern. Southern cooking favorites may include tasty barbecue, vegetable casseroles, sweet potato pie, biscuits and gravy, red beans and rice, country fried steak, pecan pie, and the ever popular fried chicken. From simple lunchtime fare to haute cuisine, the area boasts quality restaurant fare. Five Points and the Congaree Vista neighborhoods draw visitors to their nightlife.
Visitor Information: Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 15, Columbia, SC 29202; telephone (803)545-0000; toll-free (800)264-4884
Major Industries and Commercial Activities
Columbia, whose thriving economy has always been based on the education, health care, and insurance industries, is known as a recession-resistant community. Columbia has 13 banks and saving and loans with assets totaling more than $1.6 billion. The city is consistently named as a top place in the nation to live, retire, and do business, in publications such as Money, Entrepreneur, Kiplinger's Personal Finance and Expansion Management. Forbes listed Columbia as a "Best Small Place to do Business" in May 2004. The city is home to Shelter Insurance Company, MFA Incorporated, and is a regional center for State Farm Insurance.
Columbia's manufacturers make and sell a wide variety of products. 3M is a major employer, producing projection lenses, optical equipment, electronic products, and interconnect systems. MBS is a textbook distribution center. There are three different factories making various automotive parts. Columbia Foods, a division of Oscar Mayer, employs about 700 workers at its food processing plant. Watlow-Columbia, Inc. manufactures electrical heating elements; the Square D Corporation makes circuit breakers; and Hubbell/Chance produces electric utility equipment.
Items and goods produced: all manner of electronic parts and equipment, air filters, optic lenses, plastic pipe, custom foam rubber products, automobile parts, coal, stone quarry products, corn, wheat, and oats
Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies
The Columbia and Boone County area's main economic development contact is the Regional Economic Development, Inc. (REDI). REDI is a public/private entity created to promote economic expansion while maintaining a great quality of life. REDI provides services, financing, tax credits and exemptions, job training, and other local perks for businesses such as no local income tax, moderate property taxes and low sales tax that barely effect business, and Community Development Block Grants available outside the city limits for public infrastructure. Financing takes the form of Industrial Revenue Bonds for qualifying projects, and other low interest loans and incentive financing for large development projects. Tax exemptions include no sales taxes on manufacturing equipment nor on materials used to install such equipment, no sales taxes on air or water pollution control devices, and finally a property tax exemption on business and industrial inventories. The State of Missouri reimburses employers for both onsite and classroom job training, designs programs tailor made to specific tasks, and in turn will help screen and test potential new hires.
The Missouri Small Business Development Center has a branch in Columbia which offers technical and management assistance for small businesses in service, retail, construction, and manufacturing. Other incentive programs are available at the state level. The Missouri Business Expansion and Attraction Group (BEA) is responsible for working with businesses and communities in Missouri to assist in the retention and expansion of existing businesses and the attraction of new businesses. Incentives include business financing and tax credits. Twenty-four programs or services are offered by the Missouri Department of Economic Development, including the Welfare-to-Work Grant program and the Welfare-to-Work Tax Credit program, which encourages employers to hire certain groups, such as ex-felons, who have a harder time finding jobs. There are programs for youths and adults, for workers affected by downsizing or other types of displacement such as that caused by NAFTA, for women, for seasonal or migrant farm workers, veterans' services, and apprenticeship information.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development's Division of Workforce Development offers training or retraining of employees, in a classroom setting, in cooperation with the public schools systems. To be eligible for funding, employers must increase employment above the previous year's level, and must retrain existing employees due to substantial capital investment in the state. Fourteen of the Division of Workforce Development's 24 services offered involve job training or retraining, targeted at various groups.
Growing somewhat naturally out of Columbia's strength in the education and health care industries is the biological sciences research business. There are three organizations in the area that promote expansion into this growing field: the Life Sciences Business Coalition, Mid-MO BIO, and Scientific Partnership and Resource Connection, or SPARC. SPARC works with Regional Economic Development, Inc. (REDI) and University of Missouri's College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources to procure funding for research and the building of facilities necessary to research. So far this has resulted in a new $60 million Life Sciences Center which opened in 2004 on the University of Missouri-Columbia's campus, and a proposed $175 million Human Health Research Center.
REDI was also involved in the $5.5 million project to purchase and renovate Boone County Fairgrounds, completed in 2003, and is now working with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) on annexing an 80 acre field adjacent to the 134 acre Fairgrounds, and adding an ice skating rink, several playing fields, a dog park, community gardens, and walking trails. The Flat Branch Park beautification project was completed in 2004, with funds contributed by corporate sponsors of REDI, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and CVB, which own the adjacent Walton Building of which REDI is a tenant. Downtown renovation projects have been ongoing for over a decade, and central Columbia today sports widened streets, benches and trees, new street lights and decorative trash can lids, all with an eye to both retail and residential use. The latest is the Eighth Street Beautification Project. In 2002 REDI unveiled its "Incentives White Paper," which proposed more ways to expand established businesses and bring in new ones. It focused on using Chapter 100 bonds but had other ideas such as a "microloan" program to help businesses which didn't fit the criteria for the many other incentive programs offered by REDI. Two other projects are focused on improving traffic flow. One is a new interchange at Highway 63 and Gans Road, which will improve the infrastructure and perhaps pave the way for future development near the intersection, besides allaying traffic woes. The second is a $1.3 million railroad terminal and warehouse made possible through cooperation between REDI and Columbia Terminal Railroad (nicknamed COLT). The terminal itself is expected to cut down traffic on I-70 by giving businesses the option to ship by rail, and the warehouse allows companies that don't have locations near the terminal to nevertheless use the rail option.
Economic Development Information: Regional Economic Development, Inc., 300 South Providence Road, Columbia, MO 65203; telephone (573)442-8303; fax (573)443-3986. Missouri Department of Economic Development, 301 West High Street, PO box 118, Jefferson City, MO 65101, telephone (573)751-4962, fax (573)526-7700
Boone County has 20 Interstate motor freight lines serving it, with 14 terminals in Columbia. Railroads serving the area are COLT (Columbia Terminal), Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, and Gateway Western. Seven air freight carriers serve the area, and Trans World Express offers nine flights daily to St. Louis.
Labor Force and Employment Outlook
Boone County's main area of job growth is in the service industry, although most of these jobs are lower-paying. One recent study found that approximately 33,000 of the area's more than 240,000 civilian labor force was underemployed, meaning they possessed skills, training, or degrees beyond what their jobs required.
The following is a summary of data regarding the Boone County labor force, 2004 annual averages.
Size of nonagricultural labor force: 86,600
Number of workers employed in . . .
trade, transportation and utilities: 14,400
Average hourly wage of production workers employed in manufacturing: $12.74
Unemployment rate: 3.6% (May 2005)
|Largest county employers||Number of employees|
|University of Missouri||11,868|
|University hospital and clinics||4,320|
|Columbia Public Schools||3,000|
|Boone Hospital Center||2,028|
|City of Columbia||1,168|
|State of Missouri, (excludes UMC)||1,071|
|MBS Textbook Exchange, Inc.||1,006|
|Harry S. Truman Veteran's Hospital||1,000|
|State Farm Insurance||952|
|U.S. Government (excludes VA hospital)||926|
Cost of Living
2005 (1st Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $234,580
2005 (1st Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 90.8 (U.S. average = 100.0)
State income tax rate: Ranges from 1.5% to 6.0%
State sales tax rate: 4.225%
Local income tax rate: none
Local sales tax rate: 3.125%
Property tax rate: $6.32 per $100 of assessed value (2004)
Economic Information: Missouri Department of Economic Development, PO Box 118, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0118; telephone (573)751-4241; toll-free (800)523-1434
Columbia: Education and Research
Columbia: Education and Research
Elementary and Secondary Schools
The Columbia Public School District is the seventh largest in the state of Missouri. Local students rank in the 80th to 95th percentile on the Missouri Mastery and Achievement Tests for elementary schools. Over a four year period, Columbia students taking the national Scholastic Aptitude Tests averaged more than a hundred points higher than national average on both the verbal and math portions of the test. The district is among only a few in the nation that have graduated more than a half dozen Presidential Scholars since the honor was first established in 1964. The National Governor's Association has named the district one of only 16 model districts in the country.
In response to the No Child Left Behind Act, superintendent Phyllis Chase, new to the district in 2003 and the first African American to hold the position, has made impressive progress in closing the achievement gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged students, as well as between African American and white students. Chase has chosen an elementary school—with a majority of African American students and more than 70 percent from lower income levels—to transform into a model school, lengthening the school year and considering a substantial raise in teacher pay. The community has voted to support this by approving a $22.5 million bond issue, even amidst a budget crunch. More than 60 percent of all teachers hold a master's degree. Special assessment efforts, reading intensive activities, and summer school programs are directed at students at risk of dropping out. At the other end of the achievement spectrum is the A + program in which students with superior attendance, grades, and citizenship records can earn free tuition to a two-year community college, vocational-technical schools, or the Columbia Area Career Center (run by the public school district). The free Summer Enrichment program offers core academic studies in the morning and enrichment activities in the afternoon. There is a Parents As Teachers program, a family literacy program in which adults can work on GED certification or other educational goals such as learning English, while their children attend pre-school, and other volunteer programs which encourage adult volunteers from the community to join in a partnership for mentoring or service skills education.
The following is a summary of data regarding the Columbia Public Schools System as of the 2003–2004 school year.
Total enrollment: 16,240
Number of facilities
elementary schools: 20
junior high/middle schools: 6
high schools: 4
other: 2 vocational centers
Student/teacher ratio: 22.5:1
Funding per pupil: $6,117
Columbia also has 11 private schools, mostly maintained by religious organizations, with enrollments totaling about 1,100.
Public Schools Information: Columbia Public Schools, 1818 W. Worley St., Columbia, MO 65203; telephone (573)886-2100
Colleges and Universities
The University of Missouri-Columbia (MU), with more than 27,000 students, offers 286 degree programs, including 95 bachelor degrees. MU was founded in 1839 and was the first public university west of the Mississippi. Columbia College, a private, coeducational institution, was originally called Christian Female College when it was founded in 1851. It was the first women's college west of the Mississippi to be chartered by a state legislature. It changed its name in 1970 when it went coed and offered bachelor's and post-graduate degrees in addition to associate's degrees. Columbia College now has almost 1,000 students at its day campus, and over 3,000 working adults at its evening campus, 30 extended campuses around the nation, including Guantanamo Bay, and an impressive online college. Stephens College, founded in 1833, is the nation's second oldest women's college. Stephens offers a liberal arts curriculum and pre-professional programs, with 23 majors and 20 minors in three schools of study. Stephens is the only four year women's college in Missouri and remains dedicated to women's education in the new millennium.
Libraries and Research
The Columbia Public Library is the newest addition to Daniel Boone Regional Libraries, which more than doubled its size. The $22 million project was completed in 2002 and boasts 110,000 square feet of space, 444,897 volumes, and 50 computer terminals. The design of the new building features curves and cylindrical shapes and a carefully planned system of signs that allow patrons to find things easily. Ellis Library at the University of Missouri-Columbia, with holdings of 10.2 million items including 3.2 million volumes, is one of the largest libraries in the Midwest. MU also has the Law Library, and six other specific branches for veterinary medicine, geological sciences, health sciences, engineering, journalism, and mathematical sciences. Its online catalog of resources, called MERLIN for Missouri Education and Research Libraries Information Network, makes materials available from the University of Missouri's four campuses and St. Louis University. MU's Special collections include an extensive historical and contemporary collection of government documents, Microform Collection, Rare Book Collection, Newspaper Collections, and the Comic Art Collection with original and reprints of classic comic strips, underground comics, and graphic novels. The State Historical Society of Missouri Library has special collections on church histories, literature, Midwestern history, and Missouri newspapers. Columbia College's Stafford Library has special collections in biography, history, American civilization, and costume. The Midwest Science Center Library features a collection on wildlife research. Stephens College has special libraries which encompass women's studies, educational resources, and children's literature.
A number of institutions have research facilities in Columbia. These include the Ellis Fischel Cancer Research Center at University of Missouri; the Center for National Food and Agricultural Policy (also at MU); the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center, which does research along with providing psychiatric inpatient treatment; the Missouri Coop Fish and Wild-life Research Unit; a division of the U.S. Geological Survey of the Department of the Interior; Missouri Lions Eye Research Foundation, which holds an eye tissue bank and does research into glaucoma treatment and all things involving preserving and restoring eyesight; the Rehabilitation Research Foundation, part of MU's Health Psychology Department; and the U.S.D.A. Biological Control of Insects Research Laboratory.
The University of Missouri at Columbia has a budget of $141 million for research with an additional $161 million that is externally funded. Research topics include computer assisted reporting, agriculture and agronomy, animal sciences, arthritis, business and public administration, social sciences including studies on aging, spectrometry (analytical tools to identify chemical compounds and structures of molecules) diseases such as diabetes, cardiological disorders, and cystic fibrosis, exercise physiology, engineering, water resources, magnetic imaging technology, and nuclear engineering.
Public Library Information: Daniel Boone Regional Library, PO Box 1267, Columbia, MO 65205; telephone (573)443-3161; fax (573)499-0191
Downtown Columbia itself is a stunning sight to see, where four massive columns stand in front of the stately Boone County Courthouse. The Firestone Baars Chapel, which was designed by architect Eero Saarinen of the St. Louis Arch fame, is also in the heart of downtown Columbia. Tours of the Victorian-era Maplewood Home, built in 1877 and beautifully restored, are available to give the public a glimpse into 19th century country estate life. The Columbia Audubon Trailside Museum has exhibits on birds and other creatures and offers workshops on nature. A genealogy center, a photo collection, an art collection and works of local artists are among many historical artifacts on display at the State Historical Society Housed in the Ellis Library on the MU campus. More than 1,500 types of flowers and 300 trees can be seen at Shelter Insurance Gardens, which also features a one-room red brick school house, a "sensory garden" designed for the visually impaired, many other attractions such as a giant sundial, and free summer concerts on its five acres. The writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as part of a sculptured amphitheater at King Memorial Gardens, is another must-see in Columbia, where its landscaping with benches and walk-ways provides a placid setting for cultural events.
Historic Rocheport, just 12 miles west of the city, began as an early trading post on the Missouri River in 1825 and prospered due to the building of the railroad. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, this charming town offers top-rate antique and craft shops, excellent restaurants, a local winery, and an annual RiverFest in early June.
Arts and Culture
The Missouri Theatre is central Missouri's only pre-Depression-era movie palace and vaudeville stage. It presents a variety of programs throughout the year. The Rhynsberger Theater, on the University of Missouri's campus, is the site for dramatic performances by visiting actors as well as faculty and students. The Repertory Theatre performs there in the summertime. Both professional and student productions can be enjoyed at Stephens College's Macklanburg Playhouse and Warehouse Theatre. Columbia's primary community theater group is the Maplewood Barn Theater, part of the historic Maplewood Home in Rocheport, which performs outdoors in summer months. The Columbia Entertainment Company is a dynamic theatrical troupe that gives rousing musical and dramatic performances throughout the year, as well as offering a drama school for adults and children. Columbia can also boast of Arrow Rock Lyceum Theater and two acting groups that focus on children, PACE or Performing Arts in Children's Education, and TRYPS, acronym for Theater Reaching Yong People and Schools.
The Missouri Symphony makes its home in the historic Missouri Theatre and holds its summer festival every June and July. The University Concert Series brings opera, ballet, orchestra, chamber music, jazz, dance, and theatrical performances. Other musical groups in the city are the Columbia Community Choir and the Columbia Chorale Ensemble.
Columbia's museums offer a variety of lectures, classes, and exhibits. More than 13,000 artifacts and works of art from prehistoric times to the present are housed at the University of Missouri-Columbia's Museum of Art and Archeology. Also on campus, the Museum of Anthropology displays Native American materials and archeology from the Midwest, and the Rogers Gallery highlights exhibits on architecture and interior design, as well as student art works. Rotating exhibits of professional and amateur artists are showcased at the Columbia Art League Gallery, while the work of students and faculty is shown at the Columbia College Art Gallery.
African American intellectual culture is the focus of the Black Culture Center, which offers various programs and conducts research. The story of Boone County over the decades is the subject of the Walters-Boone County Historical Museum and Visitor's Center, set in a wood-hewn family farmhouse with weathered boards and wide porches. This 16,000-square-foot house features exhibits on westward expansion along the Booneslick Trail, and portrays the pioneers who settled in the region.
Festivals and Holidays
Columbia ushers in spring in April with the annual Earth Day celebration. With May comes the Salute to Veterans Air Show and Parade, the largest free air show in the United States. June is the time for the annual Art in the Park Fair and the weekly Twilight Festivals. June also features the J.W. Boone Ragtime Festival, where folks can enjoy the sounds of early jazz and ragtime of the Roaring '20s. The Fourth of July celebration, called Fire in the Sky, kicks off the month, and the Boone County Fair and Horse Show keeps the excitement going. The International Buckskin Horse World Championship and the Lion's Antique show are held in August. In September the Twilight Festivals restart, but the highlight of the month must be the Heritage Festival. October sees the annual Missouri Fall Festival, in which the courthouse Square is transformed into a showcase of regional arts and crafts. November events include the Annual Fall Craft Show and the Downtown Holiday Parade. The downtown Holiday Festival and the Christmas Past 1865 at the Maplewood Home celebrate the December holiday season, which is capped by the First Night Celebration and Midway Invitational Rodeo and Dance on December 31st and January 1st.
Sports for the Spectator
Big 12 conference basketball, football, NCI Division baseball, wrestling, volleyball, softball, gymnastics, and track and field are all available for sports fan to watch. The city is close enough to both St. Louis and Kansas City to enjoy their major league baseball, football, and basketball teams.
Sports for the Participant
Columbia enjoys 58 parks stretching over 2,400 acres of land, with such facilities as swimming pools, tennis courts, softball fields, volleyball courts, fishing lakes, hiking and wheelchair accessible trails, golf courses, and even horseshoe pits. The Show-Me State Games, an annual Olympic style athletic competition, welcomes amateur competitors. Bikers and runners enjoy the MKT Nature & Fitness Trail, an 8.9 mile path that connects with the 225 mile Katy Trail, the nation's longest rails-to-trails conversion.
Shopping and Dining
Columbia provides a variety of shopping experiences with 16 shopping centers in addition to its major downtown shopping district. The largest mall is the 140 store Columbia Mall, which features major national chain stores. Forum Shopping Center has a big indoor entertainment center for children. The city's downtown, bordered on three sides by college campuses, features specialty shops and retail stores, and especially an abundance of antique shops, such as the 6,000 square foot Grandma's Treasures, which features antique jewelry, glass collectibles, and furniture.
Dining establishments come in all forms in the city; more than 300 restaurants, from American bistros, haute cuisine, ethnic eateries, and one of central Missouri's only brewpubs, the Flat Branch Pub & Brewery, located near the courthouse. Les Bourgeois Vineyard in Rocheport offers an elegant menu and variety of award-winning wines.
Before the coming of Europeans, Osage and Missouri tribes roamed the area of Columbia and Boone County. The "Missouri," meaning "people with dugout canoes," were originally from the Ohio River Valley, prehistoric evidence shows. The fierce and fierce-looking Osage were the predominant tribe of the area. They were a pierced and tattooed, jewelry bedecked, tall, robust, warlike people who dominated other tribes in the region. The men shaved their heads but for a strip at the crown, and wore loincloths and buckskin leggings; the women wore deerskin dresses, and leggings and moccasins as well. They were primarily migrating hunters and gatherers, although they also farmed corn, beans, and pumpkins. The Osage are considered a fringe Plains tribe even though they dwelled mostly in forested areas, because they spoke a Sioux branch of language and went on buffalo hunting excursions on the Great Plains twice annually.
The first Europeans to encounter the Osage were the French, led by Marquette's exploration down the Mississippi for New France in the 1670s. The French and the Osage soon became partners in the fur trade, and with guns and horses gained from this union, the Osage dominated other tribes even more than before. They helped the French defeat the British in 1755, but stayed out of the colonial war. More Europeans came to the area; the Spanish influence grew as that of the French waned. The Osage were pushed to reservations in Kansas and finally what is now Oklahoma by a series of "treaties" made through the 1800s.
The United States gained the Missouri Territory from France in 1803. The Lewis and Clark expedition passed nearby in that same year, and Daniel Boone and his sons started a settlement in 1806. They also established the Booneslick Trail which led all the way from Kentucky to the Columbia area. In 1818 the town of Smithton, named for its purchaser, the Smithton Land Company, was established. However, in need of a better water supply, the entire town of 20 residents was moved to its present site in 1821. The settlement of mud-daubed log huts, which was surrounded by wilderness, was renamed Columbia, a popular name at the time, and became the seat of Boone County. Although Columbia is in the Midwest it had a very Southern feel in the early days, as many of its settlers were from below the Mason-Dixon line.
From its beginnings, the economy of Columbia has rested on education. It also benefited from being a stagecoach stop of the Santa Fe and Oregon trails, and later from the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad (nicknamed Katy). Columbia was incorporated in 1826, five years after Missouri became the 24th state. The city's progress can be traced through the development of its institutions. In 1824 Columbia was the site of a new courthouse; in 1830 its first newspaper began; in 1832 the first theater in the state was opened; and in 1834 a school system began to serve its by then 700 citizens. The state's first agricultural fair was held in Columbia in 1835. A school for girls was opened in 1833, and an institution called Columbia College (unrelated to the present school) was opened in 1834. Also in 1834, one of the country's finest portrait artists, George Caleb Bingham, opened a studio in Columbia. In 1841, the University of Missouri was built in Columbia after Boone County won out over several competing counties in raising money and setting aside land. In 1851, Christian Female College was established; it went coed in the 1970s and changed its name to Columbia College. In 1855, Baptist Female College was established; still a women's-only school, it is now known as Stephens College. By 1839, the population and wealth of Boone County, with 13,000 citizens, was exceeded only by that of St. Louis County.
Slavery was a largely accepted practice in Columbia in its early days, and the slave population had reached more than 5,000 by the beginning of the Civil War. In fact, the sale of slaves continued until 1864. Before the Civil War many Columbians were very nationalistic and supported the Missouri Compromise, which would admit Missouri into the Union as a slave state, but would placate northerners with the admission of Maine as a free state and the establishment of the rest of the Louisiana Purchase, north and west of Missouri's southern border, as free territory. Early in the Civil War, Union forces secured the area and enforced mandatory draft into the local militia; however, although the state was officially Union, people were in reality sharply divided, and supported both sides with supplies and men.
Since the turmoil of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Columbia's history is marked by steady and quiet growth and prosperity, based on its roots in education, as well as health care and insurance. The health care business can be said to have started in 1822 when Dr. William Jewell set up a hospital in his own home; today Columbia is among the top in the nation for medical facilities per capita. The insurance business has its roots in Columbia's early days as well, when pragmatic local businessmen started a fund to aid one another in case of fire.
Historical Information: State Historical Society of Missouri, Lowry Mall, University of Missouri, Columbia campus; telephone (573)882-7083. Boone County Historical Society, 3801 Ponderosa Street, Columbia, MO; telephone (573)443-8936
Located at the middle of South Carolina, the city of Columbia was carved out of the countryside by order of the state legislature, which wanted to establish a new capital more centrally situated than Charleston. By that time, the area had been important in the state's development for more than a century. Early settlers were mostly Scots-Irish, German, and English farmers who moved to the hills of northwestern South Carolina, having little in common with the wealthy planters of Charleston. "The Congarees," a frontier fort on the river's west bank, was the head of navigation on the Santee River system. In 1754 a ferry service was initiated to connect the fort with the settlement that was developing on the east bank's higher ground.
The new capital, named Columbia in honor of Christopher Columbus, was set on Taylor's Hill where the Broad and Saluda rivers merge to form the Congaree River. The General Assembly moved to Columbia in 1791. History tells of a visit by George Washington during that year as part of his tour of South Carolina.
Development of America's First "Planned City"
One of the first planned cities in America, Columbia was laid out in a two-mile square surrounding the site of the State House. The city's streets, designed in a grid, were named for heroes of the Revolution and for the state's agricultural products, such as rice, wheat, blossom, and indigo.
By the early 1880s the town had become an agricultural center, and soon the state had become the leading cotton producer in the nation. The first textile mill was introduced in 1832, and saw mills, cotton gins, tanneries, carriage manufacturers, and iron foundries were soon to follow. With the establishment of steamship connections to the Congaree and Santee rivers, many of the city's cotton merchants handled shipments that earlier had moved overland to the port at Charleston. South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) was founded in 1801, and the ensuing close relationship between the college, the city, and the legislature endures to the present day.
By mid-century, the local economy was strengthened by growing accessibility to the eastern United States via the railroad. A distinctive style of architecture, known as Columbia Cottage, had emerged. To help assuage the often unpleasant summer heat, builders designed a structure to maximize the effect of natural breezes. The building featured a raised cottage with an enclosed basement above the ground, halls from front to back, windows that reached the floor, and ceilings often 15 feet high.
Civil War Brings Destruction
Columbia, with a population of 8,000, was the site of the First Secession Convention and was instrumental in establishing the Confederacy and keeping it supplied with uniforms, swords, cannonballs, and other supplies over the course of the Civil War. The city was destroyed by the fiery rampage of General William T. Sherman in 1865, which left almost everything in ruins except the university. Reconstruction was a time of great hardship, but by the 1890s the city finally reemerged as a center of agricultural commerce.
Major Fort Important to City
By 1900 large cotton mills had been built and nearly 9,000 people worked in the city's mill district. The period prior to World War I and until the Great Depression of the 1930s was one of prosperity. Trade was growing, banks and hospitals multiplied, and the city became the state's business center. East of the city the U.S. Army built Fort Jackson, presently one of the country's largest infantry training bases. Thanks to a diversified economy, the city survived the Great Depression without as much pain as some other areas of the country. Between 1940 and 1950 the population grew by more than one-third, in part due to Fort Jackson's role in the training of soldiers for World War II.
Economic and Social Progress Made Since Mid-Century
By the post-War 1950s, small and medium-sized factories were developing, and new industries such as electronics, military equipment, textiles, cameras, and structural steel further diversified the economy. During the period of the civil rights struggle in the 1960s, Mayor Lester Bates and a biracial committee of 60 citizens worked together to quietly and systematically encourage the desegregation of the city. By 1963 the university was integrated, and in 1964, 24 African American students entered previously all-white public schools.
The 1970s saw the creation of downtown's Main Street Mall and the completion of Riverbanks Zoological Park. In subsequent years Riverfront Park was developed, the Koger Center for Performing Arts opened, and new interstate highways made the city even more accessible regionally and nationally. Today, more people are moving to Columbia and its crime rate has fallen 25 percent. The city is making strides to revitalize old neighborhoods, improve its city center streetscapes and make the area's river system more accessible and enjoyable for its residents. Foreign investors are realizing the benefits of locating their manufacturing and production businesses to the area and Columbia is becoming a leading research and technology center of the region.
Historical Information: South Carolina (State) Department of Archives and History, Archives and History Center, 8301 Parklane Rd., Columbia, SC 29223; telephone (803) 896-6100. South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Museum Library, Columbia Mills Building, 301 Gervais Street, Columbia, SC 29214-0001; telephone (803)737-8095
Columbia: Education and Research
Columbia: Education and Research
Elementary and Secondary Schools
Richland County has three school districts: Richland School District One and Two and School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties. Richland School District Two is a suburban school district serving the rapidly growing northeast section of Richland County. Thirteen of its eighteen schools have been named national Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education's Excellence in Education Program. Three elementary schools and two middle schools have been named "Palmetto's Finest schools."
The following is a summary of data regarding Richland County School District Two as of the 2003–2004 school year.
Total enrollment: 18,969
Number of facilities elementary schools: 13
middle schools: 5
high schools: 4
other: 1 child development center with 5 satellites districtwide; 2 magnet schools; 1 secondary alternative school for non-violent, chronically disruptive students
Student/teacher ratio: 20.7:1
Teacher salaries average: $41,321
Funding per pupil: $7,547
Greater Columbia is home to 72 private and parochial schools.
Public Schools Information: Richland School District Two, 6831 Brookfield Road, Columbia, SC 29206; telephone (803)787-1910
Colleges and Universities
Columbia is the home of ten institutions of higher learning, including the University of South Carolina (USC), which has gained regional recognition for its programs in law, marketing, geography, medicine, marine science, nursing, engineering, business administration, and social work. The Columbia campus of South University offers programs in accounting, business administration, computer information systems, medical assisting and paralegal/legal studies and a paralegal certificate program. Baptist-affiliated Benedict College, a traditionally African American college, offers four-year degrees in more than 30 majors. Columbia College, a Methodist-related women's liberal arts school, offers bachelor's of arts and science and master's of arts degrees in such areas as public affairs and human relations, business administration, and communications, as well as a coeducational Evening College and Graduate School. Allen University, an African Methodist Episcopal four-year college, offers liberal arts and teacher education. Midlands Technical College, a two-year multi-campus college, offers technical and academic training. Other local colleges are Newberry College, a Lutheran liberal arts college; Columbia International University and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, both specializing in religious studies; and Columbia Junior College, offering associate degrees in eleven professional programs.
Libraries and Research Centers
In addition to its main library, the Richland County Public Library has nine branches and a bookmobile. The library has more than 1.13 million volumes and subscribes to 2,840 periodical titles. It also has more than 45,554 audio materials and 30,630 visual materials. They include microforms, audio cassettes/tapes, compact discs, CD-ROM titles, maps, and art reproductions. Its special collections include a local history collection, large print books, and rare and out-of-print books. The library offers many programs for children and adults, including frequent lectures by authors. The library enjoys many programming partnerships with the University of South Carolina (USC), the Historic Columbia Foundation, and the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington counties. Since 1987 it has co-sponsored the annual A(ugusta) Baker's Dozen—a Celebration of Stories with the College of Library and Information Science Department at USC. The celebration honors Augusta Baker and features well-known, award-winning authors and illustrators of children's books and outstanding storytellers each year.
Also located in Columbia is the South Carolina State Library, which houses nearly 250,000 volumes, more than 26,000 periodicals, plus microfilm, government publications, and audio visual materials. Its special collections include ERIC, Foundation Center Cooperating Collection, South Carolina collection, and state documents. A special feature of the library's web site home page is the South Carolina Reference Room, a guide to a broad range of information on state topics. The University of South Carolina campus library system has more than 2 million volumes and almost 17,000 periodical subscriptions.
Many of Columbia's research centers are affiliated within the University of South Carolina (USC). More than 80 institutes and centers comprise the University's research effort. In 2004, USC received $149 million in federal, state and private funding for its research, outreach and training programs. Notable among the funding recipients is the University's NanoCenter which is engaged in researching the applications of the world's smallest electronic circuits.
Public Library Information: Richland County Public Library, 1431 Assembly Street, Columbia, SC 29201; telephone (803)799-9084; fax (803)929-3448. South Carolina State Library, PO Box 11469, Columbia, SC 29211; telephone (803)734-8666.
Newspapers and Magazines
Columbia's daily (morning) newspaper, The State, is also South Carolina's major paper. In addition, the city publishes three weekly newspapers including the Columbia Star, which covers human interest and legal news, Free Times, Columbia's free paper, and Columbia Black News. About 20 magazines and journals are published in Columbia, including the Business and Economic Review, published by the University of South Carolina's Moore School of Business, Columbia Metropolitan Magazine, and South Carolina Game and Fish, and three magazines directed at farmers.
Television and Radio
Five television stations broadcast in Columbia, affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, as well as South Carolina Educational Television. Three cable stations also serve the area; a government information station is available on a local cable network. Six AM and 14 FM radio stations offer music, information, news, call-in talk programs, and religious programming.
Media Information: The State, Knight-Ridder, Inc., P.O. Box 1333, Columbia, SC 29202; telephone (800)888-5353
Central South Carolina Alliance. Available www.centralsc.org
City of Columbia Home Page. Available www.columbiasc.net
Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. Available www.columbiacvb.com
Columbia Today. Available www.columbiatoday.com
Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. Available www.columbiachamber.com/new/index.htm
Richland County Public Library. Available www.richland.lib.sc.us
Richland School District One. Available www.richlandone.org
Richland School District Two. Available my.richland2.org/portal/server.pt#
South Carolina State Library. Available www.state.sc.us/scsl
The State. Available www.thestate.com
Edgar, Walter B. and Deborah K. Wolley, Columbia: Portrait of a City, 1976.
Maxey, Russell, South Carolina's Historic Columbia: Yesterday and Today in Photographs, 1980.
Moore, John Hammond, Columbia and Richland County: A South Carolina Community, 1740–1990, 1993.
Rawl, Miriam Freeman, From the Ashes of Ruin (Columbia, S.C.: Summerhouse Press, 1999)