By Kate Giammarise
Jeff Nelson may be one of Toledo’s most interesting residents. Nelson, 46, has called the Glass City home for the last five years. If you live in Toledo, you may know him from his involvement in Old West End activities, or by the large anti-war signs he has displayed on his lawn. Others know him as the drummer in Minor Threat, a hardcore punk band in the early 1980s that launched the Straight Edge movement. Nelson still co-owns Dischord Records. He grew up overseas and in Washington, D.C.
He recently sat down with Rust Wire to share his thoughts on Toledo, the Rust Belt, green jobs, historic preservation, and more. The following is a condensed and edited version of our conversation:
Rust Wire: “What brought you to Toledo?”
Jeff Nelson: “Two strange things – my obsession with Jeep Wagoneers, which were produced from 1963 to 1991 [Nelson owns seven Wagoneers] …and having always wanted a Victorian mansion.”
Prior to moving here, Nelson was visiting Toledo on his way to a Jeep celebration and asked at the Toledo Museum of Art if there were any inexpensive Victorian mansions nearby; a woman at the museum directed him to the nearby Old West End neighborhood. “My friend and I drove through, and my jaw dropped,” Nelson said. He maintains his passion for Jeep, and has even met with local officials about trying to open a Jeep museum in the city.
RW: “What do you think are some of Toledo’s best assets?”
JN: “The people. It’s a wonderful mixture of salt of the earth people, unprepossessing…it’s very blue collar.”
In addition to the city’s “world-class” museum, zoo, Mud Hens stadium, the recreation and beauty of the Metroparks and Lake Erie, lack of traffic and abundant affordable housing, and the city’s daily newspaper, Nelson said Toledo has one especially important asset- it will be well-situated in the coming decades if scientific predictions about global warming prove true, leaving large areas of the costal and southern U.S. uninhabitable. “Long-term, the fact that we’ve got drinking water is huge, at least in terms of survival,” Nelson said.
RW: “What could Toledo do better?”
JN: In no particular order, Nelson said he would like to see a Jeep museum, downtown grocery store, linking the city and suburbs by trolley line, high-speed rail connecting the city with Cleveland, Columbus, and/or Chicago, and strengthening and enforcing laws to preserve older buildings.
RW: “You’re a vocal supporter of Toledo mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski. What do you think he can do for the city to improve it?”
JN: “The number one reason I’m for him is I think he is capable of being an honest broker and keeping the warring factions from killing each other…I think he would be like a miniature Obama, someone who can bring everyone together.”
“He is a big believer in green technology and the fact that we should start putting our money where our mouth is as a city and county,” such as installing solar panels and acting as a liaison to local companies First Solar and Xunlight. “It’s just a no-brainer to make use of First Solar and Xunlight and buy their products and install them all over the place.”
“Toledo does like to think of itself as a leader in solar technology…but every city in the fucking country is planning on green jobs and green technology saving them…what little lead we have could vanish in six months.”
RW: “You were very involved in the fight to preserve Scott High School, rather than see the building torn down. Why is preserving historic buildings so important for Toledo and other cities like it?”
[Nelson was a founder of Save Our Scott, a group dedicated to protecting Scott High School, an English Gothic-style 260,000 square foot building that opened in 1913. It is only a few blocks away from Nelson’s home.]
JN: “To me, preserving our historic buildings is imperative for a number of reasons – they represent our history, all the accumulated knowledge that went into the design. Even though people view them as inefficient… old buildings with their abundance of detail enrich our lives.” He continued, “We have a tendency to think we know better now – it’s such a short-sighted notion. Are we better off now that we have completely based our cities around the automobile? No.”
Though Nelson admits it can take some work to figure out how to work the steam radiators in his 1890 home, he added, “We have a terrible, terrible tendency in this country to tear down.” Nelson believes it is especially important for places like Toledo to preserve their downtown commercial buildings. Once destroyed, he said, “They will never get built again, especially in an ailing city like this one. It’s a big enough gamble for someone to start a small business in an existing, small building downtown, but if they also have to build the building? Forget it.”