Social and economic changes during the first quarter of the 20th century combined to send the neighborhood into decline: As Germans became Americanized, they depended less on the traditional German community. Perhaps most devastating was the onset of World War I, which stirred strong anti-German sentiment in Columbus’ largely American-born population. German books were burned, German newspapers closed; speaking German was also verboten. Officials renamed Schiller, Germania, Kaiser, and Bismarck streets as Whittier, Stewart, Lear, and Lansing Streets. Schiller Park became Washington Park. Further decline occurred later due to the closing of the local breweries during Prohibition (1920-33). By the 1950s, the area had become a slum. The city then demolished one-third of the neighborhood (between Main Street and Livingston Avenue) to make way for the new interstate highway system. The remainder of the South End was seriously deteriorated and a prime candidate for leveling.
As the neighborhood faced the possibility of total demolition, Frank Fetch defied common wisdom. In 1959, he and his father-in-law bought and restored a small cottage on Wall Street. The following year, Fetch and a group of like-minded people created the German Village Society, to promote the preservation and rehabilitation of the “Old South End.”
At the time, Fetch’s dream of reversing urban blight through preservation and rehabilitation was a radical approach. Ironically, the same characteristics that urban renewal studies of Columbus used to describe “blight” are the very attributes that give German Village its unique and appreciated character today: small lots, narrow streets and the absence of new development. Those attributes brought working-class people armed with dreams and elbow grease back to German Village. Significantly, this Village revitalization has been privately funded without the aid of government programs or subsidies of any kind.