Author: Grace Shackman
Date: March 2014
Elaine Selo, co-owner of the Selo/Shevel Gallery, calls its longtime location at 301 S. Main "the
best corner in Ann Arbor. The building's changes over the past 142 years mirror downtown's
evolution. Built in 1871 by German immigrant Henry Binder, it originally housed Binder's third-story
saloon as well as thi sown large family. In the twentieth century, when downtown was the country's
shopping center, Hutzel's Ladies Apparel sold upscale women's dresses on the corner from 1916 until
1989, when it was purchased by Selo and Cynthia Shevel, her partner in both life and business. Now
301 S. Main has been sold again, and its next use will doubtless reflect downtown's changing
Binder immigrated to Ann Arbor in 1852 at age twenty-one. Discovering there was only one small
hotel in town, he built another one by the railroad station. It did well, and with the proceeds he
began erecting brick commercial buildings downtown.
When the shopping district expanded south from the courthouse square on N. Main, Binder tore down
his home to contruct the building that still stands at 301 S. Main. Done in the Commerical
Italianate style, with tall windows capped with ornate hoods and brackets at the roofline, it
blended well with the other buildings then going up nearby. Binder moved into the second floor with
his wife and eleven children. On the taller top floor, he opened a "lager beer and refreshment
saloon" that he named Orchestrion Hall after its entertainment system: a sort of giant music box
that could imitate the sound of a wind orchestra.
In 1877, recent immigrants Samuel and John Baumgardner opened a grocery store and baker on the
street level. "The started in business in a humble way, and scarcely knowing any of the English
language," the 1881 History of Washtenaw County, Michigan reported. In 1880 the
Baumgardners built a "large and commodious baker" at the back of the building and quickly gained a
reputation for being some of the best bakers in the county. Their ads mention "greatly celebrated
Vienna Bread" as well as an array of housewares for sale, including crockery, china, and glassware.
When the Buamgardners moved to a new location in 1892, the storefront became a showroom for the Ann
Arbor Organ company, whose factory was a few blocks away.
By the time the German American Bank moved into 301 S. Main in 1906, Italianate was considered
old-fashioned and overly ornate. The bank simplified the brackets, took off the window hoods,
squared the windows, and made the pilasters (fake columns" larger and blockier. They added more
light by putting in oriel windows on the second floor and Luxfer windows on the first, both in style
at the time. (Luxfer windows incorporate prisms to project more light into a building's
The next tenant, Charles Hutzel, had managed the ladies' ready-to-wear department at Mack's, then
the city's major department store, before going into business for himself in 1916. When Charles died
in 1943, his son Ray took over, running Hutzel's Ladies Apparel until 1969, when he sold the buiness
to George and Mary Dibble.
Connie Osler recalls Hutzel's as the place to go if you wanted something sophisticated to wear
for a special occasion. The only other place selling clothes of this caliber was a special
department in Goodyear's department store. "The had wonderful personnel attached to beautiful
clothing," recalls MOlly Dobson, another Hutzel's shopper. "As soon as you put your foot in the
door, you were warmly welcomed." Dobson adds that Hutzel's carreid "so many salable dresses you
couldn't decide what to take home."
In the back of the store, in the former bakery, Dobson's sister-in-law, Helen Dobson, ran a gift
shop selling silver, crystal, and other items that would appeal to Hutzel's clienetele. "Helen loved
beautiful things," recalls Dobson. She traveled all over Europe on buying trips. Dobson remembers
that when a friends sent you a gift in the store's lovely yellow and white box, you knew it would be
The building was also the home of the city's first radio station. WPAG, 1050 AM, began
broadcasting April 26, 1945 from a studio on the third floor. While selling ads for a Detroit radio
station, Ted Baughn had seen that Ann Arbor needed its own radio station, so he joined forces with
Paul Greene and his brother Arthur, the founder of Greene's Cleaners. The partners had wanted to
start the station in 1941, but the War Production Board refused to grant permission; the equipment
they had purchased was sent intstead to North Africa. The call letters reflected the brothers'
initials -- though because the station was upstairs from Hutzel's, legendary WPAG sportscaster Bob
Ufer liked to claim that they really stood for "women's panties and girdles."
WPAG's programming was locally oriented and included news, music, sports, weather, and farm
reports. There was no elevator, so employees got to work by climbing what they called "the stairway
to heaven." That was especially challenging for Dick Brunvand, news director from 1966 to 1968, who
needed crutches to get around. "Those days I was much more mobile on my crutches than today and
would climb those stairs two or three times a day," he recalls. "I would strap a rather heavy
recorder to a crutch so I could haul it up and down the stairs."
The second floors, where the Binders once lived, was by then divided into offices -0- mainly
dentists and doctors, but also a beauty salon. "I can still vividly recall the smell of the nasty
chemicals that they used on women's hair wafting down the hallway as you came up the stairs," says
Jim Hddle, WPAG disc jockey and sportscaster from 1978 to 1980. "I think they had been in business a
long time, because I never saw anyone under the age of eighty among their clienetele. Us radio folks
used to try to run down to Lucky Drugs to grab a quick snack or pop during the netowkr news and were
often late getting back into the studio because there always seemed to be a large elderly woman with
a walker blocking our path, slowly trying to climb the stairs."
Tom Monaghan bought the station in 1986 and moved it to Domino's Farms, where he renamed it WPZA,
for Radio Pizza. It's now WTKA and specializes in sports talk. Part of the Cumulus chain, it's based
in the company's office on Victors Way.
Selo and Shevel met in 1965 when both were social work students in the U-M master's program.
Shevel, who came froma retail backgrounds, openined Middle Earth in 1967, originally in a small
space upstaris on E. Liberty. Selo went on to earn her PhD in 1976 and then worked for the Institute
of Labor and INdustrial RElations, studying law enforcement reactions to violence.
The couple had always traveled and had picked up a lot of great objects, so they added a gallery
to Middle Earth. But students did not make good gallery customers, so when the funding for Selo's
project ran out in 1982, they opened Selo/Shevel on Main St., a few doors south of its present
location. Shevel continued managing Middle Earth, while Selo ran the gallery.
Selo, who had never studied business or even taken much interest in it, describes the opening as
a “trial by fire,” adding “I didn’t know how hard it would be.` If I had, I would have been
scared.” To choose merchandise, she says, “I saw what people were buying. I talked to customers,
and I saw what worked...Ann Arbor people were supportive of this kind of downtown.”
When it’s suggested that she had a great eye, Selo replies, “I was lucky in my taste.” Her
father studied medicine in Berlin, but when the Nazis wouldn’t give him a license because he was
Jewish, he emigrated I to the United States and practiced medicine in Iowa. Her parents enjoyed
going to estate sales on weekends, and she grew up in a home furnished with oriental rugs and
The store was originally devoted to imports that Selo and Shevel brought back from Asia, Africa,
and the Middle East. “We’d look around and see what we liked,” Selo says. “We always found
great stuff. We had no system.” They gradually added contemporary American crafts. Many stores
specialize in one or the other, but Selo thinks they complemented each other and gave customers a
wider range of choice.
In 1989, when Selo and Shevel bought the building at 301 S. Main from the Dibbles, it was in bad
shape from many years of wear. The upstairs, Selo says, was “a total shambles.” The roof needed
replacing, and the windows on the second and third floor were about to fall out; on the first floor,
windows had been blocked to give the dressing rooms privacy. -
The Hutzel’s sign, which projected from the building to be visible from both streets, didn’t
meet the requirements of the city’s sign ordinance, but, with support from the Historic District
Commission, the new owners were given a variance to I keep it.
After more than twenty years on the corner, last fall Selo and Shevel sold their building to Reza
Rahmani, an eye doctor with three locations in suburban Detroit, who has been buying Ann Arbor real
estate in recent years. He did not respond to recent attempts to reach him, but in an earlier
interview he said he was going to renovate the upstairs office space and put in an elevator but do
change the exterior. Selo has faith, saying, “Something very good will come in after us. I’m not
worried, because the buyer realizes the importance and significance of this building.”
The store has to be empty by the end of March. As the closing date gets nearer, customers have
been telling Selo about items they bought from her that they still cherish and how sorry they are
that the store is closing."
Selo admits the feeling is mutual, and that she will miss her customers. So what’s next for the
couple? “It’ll be a different life,” she says. “Yes, we’ll travel, but we’ve always
traveled. I’d like to take classes, make soup, and sit by the fireplace and read.”
Photo captions appearing in article:
(Clockweise from above) Elaine Selo remembers the opening of Selo/Shevel Gallery as a "trial by
fire." Henry Binder named his Orchestrion Hall for its mechanical orchestra. Hutzel's Ladies Apparel
after an updating in the 1930s. The Ann Arbor Organ Company showroom at the turn of the twentieth
century, before the building's original Commercial Italianate details were removed.