Nickels Arcade: The First 100 Years

Author: 
Grace Shackman

It's a mystery why State St. butcher Tom Nickels decided to build an elegant shopping arcade. According to his family he'd never seen an arcade, yet the one he built is breathtakingly beautiful. His descendants still own it, and four generations of family members are convening this month to celebrate its 100th birthday.

Nickels' father, John, had a butcher shop at 326 S. State and an ice business directly behind it, selling ice from Traver Creek. He lived at 334 S. State with his wife, Elizabeth, and their four children.

John Nickels died in 1907 and Elizabeth in 1913. Tom inherited the meat market, ice company, and family home, and bought the land back to Maynard from his siblings. His granddaughter, Elizabeth Herbert Becker, who now owns the arcade with her brother Fred Herbert and cousin Fred Nickels, surmises that he learned about arcades from European magazines and newspapers.

Nickels hired local architect Herman Pipp, who designed the arcade in an elegant beaux arts style with three-story pillars on the State St. side and an ivory-colored terra-cotta facade. Separated by an arch, the rest of the arcade is more modest, two stories high and faced with yellow brick, but with terra-cotta windowsills decorations tie it in with the front.

Nickels didn't build the whole arcade himself: the southeast corner was constructed by the Farmers and Mechanics Bank, which bought the land from him and also gave him a loan. The bank was finished in 1915, but the rest of the arcade wasn't ready for occupancy until 1917 due to shortages of materials during World War I. There were eighteen stores on the first floor, each with a mezzanine and a basement storage area. The second floor was rented to offices or businesses. "It's a little gem box," says Gene Hopkins, an architect who worked on its 1987 restoration. "It's unique. You don't see things like it every day."

Tom's daughter, Theodora Nickels Herbert, recalled the grand opening in a 1974 interview: "There were flowers all around, and it was quite a deal." They came from the Blu Maize Blossom Shop in the arcade. There's still a florist in the arcade, the University Flower Shop. The Arcade Barber Shop now has the spot where barber Myron Baker opened in 1917.

In 1921, Peter Van Boven opened a men's clothing store in the north State St. storefront, opposite the bank. He added a shoe store on the other side of the arcade in 1933. Karen Godfrey, third generation of the Van Boven line and first woman to work in the clothing store, explains its origins: "I understand that my grandpa went into the men's clothing business because he was a dapper fellow and had an interest in men's fashions. Back in the day, the store's emphasis was on selling suits and furnishings. As times changed the store had to adapt." They continue to sell formal clothes but now also have T-shirts, golf attire, Hawaiian shirts (including a Michigan one), and blue jeans.

The Caravan Shop opened in 1927. It was the creation of Frank Karpp, who had worked for Texaco in Africa and the Far East. He used his connections there to procure unique items for his store. It too has been there ever since.

Many other stores that opened in the first decade stayed for years, including a post office substation (until 1998), Bay's Jewelers (until 1992), the Betsy Ross Restaurant (1975), and the Van Buren lingerie shop (in the arcade until 1987, and nearby on State until 1994).

Early second-floor occupants included two prominent doctors, R. Bishop Canfield and Albert Furstenberg. Clarence Fingerle's Arcade Cafeteria, upstairs from the post office, sold reasonably priced food like creamed shredded chicken and dumplings and baked Virginia ham. The late Ted Heusel remembered eating there regularly with his mother.

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When Tom Nickels died in 1933, the business passed on to his two children, Dora Herbert and her brother, James Nickels.

James' son Fred Nickels, now ninety, recalls that during the Depression, some tenants paid part of their rent in kind, including Roy Hoyer, who had his dance studio on the second floor. "I had to take tap dancing lessons for five years before being allowed to quit," he laughs.

Fred Nickels remembers accompanying his mother to the arcade when she got her hair styled at the Blue Bird Salon, and Mr. Karpp at the Caravan Shop warning him not to touch the exotic merchandise. He had a better time hanging out with janitor Zonie Steinke, his maternal uncle, while he closed up for the night, stoking the furnace and filling the coal bin under the Maynard St. entrance.

James died from tuberculosis in 1936. His half of the ownership went to his two sons, Fred and Bob, but since they were still children, a professional management group was hired. In 1965 the family bought the original bank building and now owns the whole arcade.

"You could survive at the arcade with everything you needed," recalls Dora's daughter, Elizabeth Herbert Becker, who was born in 1936. "You had a post office, restaurant, a bank, and ladies' and men's stores. Everything but groceries, and you could get those at White Market" around the corner on William. As a teenager, Elizabeth worked for her aunt, Bee Nickels, who lived in the Nickels house on Maynard (site of the Collegian building) and owned a store that specialized in baby and children's clothing imported from Europe. As a young adult, she worked at Bay's.

Elizabeth's brother, Fred Herbert, born in 1941, recalls how important the arcade was to their mother: "It was a vital, essential part of her life. She patronized it two or three days a week. She was friends with the tenants." His childhood memories include "the aroma of grilled pecan rolls from the Betsy Ross wafting up from a vent into the concourse."

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Van Boven's two stores made it through the Depression and World War II. In 1973 the family hired Robert Frost to manage the shoe store, which he later bought. Frost remembers those as the golden years of the arcade, when Jacobson's department store and then Borders books drew a high-end clientele to the area. "We thought it would never end. We had such pride to be on State St.; it was the place to be."

In 1990, U-M student Rich Bellas started working in the shoe store part time. He stayed on after graduation, and became Frost's partner. In 2014 they sold the store to Roger Pothus, the owner of Renaissance clothing. Bellas still works there, but Frost runs shoe stores in Petoskey and Traverse City.

After the Nickelses and the Van Bovens, the arcade's other great dynasty began in 1963, when Jim and Augusta Edwards opened Maison Edwards. Augusta, from Italy, based the inventory on things in European stores such as leather goods, scarves, perfume, chess sets, and pens. In 1964 the couple bought the store next door and turned it into a tobacco shop. From then on Jim ran the tobacco store and Augusta the original store. In 1965 the Edwardses bought the Van Buren shop, and in 1973 they bought the Caravan Shop from the Karpps.

"When they sold to Jim Edwards, they charged him full price for every item in the store, even some damaged things," recalls Fred Herbert. Even so, as the Karpps were childless, the Edwardses helped them out in their declining years. "When the Karpps died," Herbert adds, "they left them more money than they'd paid for the shop."

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The Edwardses hired Linda Liechty to manage the Van Buren shop and eventually sold it to her. They also helped Liechty's daughter, Rhonda Gilpin, buy the arcade's antique shop when she was just nineteen. She'd asked Jim for advice, and when she couldn't get a bank loan, he lent her the money himself. She opened the Arcadian in 1983, and ten years later, when Edwards was ready to retire, bought the Caravan Shop, too.

Gilpin's children grew up in the arcade, just as she did. "Most kids learn to ride their bikes on the sidewalk in front of their house. I learned riding down the arcade," explains her daughter Bailey, who works with her mother in the Arcadian. Son Steve is working on a master's at U-M but still works with his mother in the summer.

Chuck Ghawi also got involved in the arcade at a young age. As a student at U-M in the 1980s, Ghawi walked into Maison Edwards Tobacconist and asked for a job. He remembers that "three men in three-piece suits all said 'no' at the same time." But he kept coming back, and they finally relented and hired him part time. After graduation Ghawi kept in touch with the Edwardses, and in 1991 they sold him the store. Although he only occasionally smokes a cigar or a pipe, he still loves the business and the chance to visit with customers. "I don't get to travel because I have to be in the store, but the world comes here," he says.

In 1987, when the arcade was seventy years old, it received National Register of Historic Places designation. Architects Four was hired to do a restoration. They repaired or replaced terra-cotta that was cracked or damaged, repaired the skylight, designed consistent signage, moved the AC units, and removed the asphalt tile covering the glass-block floors.

The biggest retail tenant now is Bivouac, which sells outdoor gear and clothing from the former bank and several neighboring State St. storefronts. But owner Ed Davidson says that when he first talked to the arcade's management company about renting space, they turned him down. "They said, 'You look like a bum off the street, and you want to rent a clothes store?'" he recalls.

Davidson argued that the jeans and army surplus he sold were the new trend, but his long hair and brief credit history--he'd only been in business a year and a half--worked against him. So he phoned Dora Herbert to plead his case, offering to put up as many months' rent as she wanted in escrow. To his surprise, she asked only for two months' rent--and came to his grand opening in her wheelchair.

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Today, Nickels Arcade is a mix of new and old stores. Entering the tobacco store is like being in a time warp, while Comet Coffee and Babo provide a hip European look. Many tenants have left the floor bare with the original maroon, gray, and white tiles. Some have also kept the mezzanines, usually for offices. The original bank safe and vault are still in the basement of Bivouac, used for storage.

The arcade does show its age. Tenants note that there are no elevators to the second floor, uncertain heat, and no central air. And as beautiful as it is, it's a landmark mainly to people who spend time on campus. "I have people come in and say they've lived in Ann Arbor for twenty years and never knew this existed," says Rich Bellas.

Still, the overwhelming opinion of the tenants is that they love the arcade. Graphic artist Mike Savitski, who designed the concourse banners announcing the 100th birthday, has had an office upstairs since 1998. He says he especially appreciates the location during Art Fair, when he can work quietly, then walk out to "find the place packed like sardines," and at Christmas, when the arcade becomes "a Dickens-looking scene with greens hanging, lights glowing, troubadours singing, and the cold outside."

Architect Lincoln Poley, a tenant since 1987, loves "the architectural style, the openness of the building, the fenestration, and the decorative elements." Landscape designer Norm Cox (1995) appreciates "the sense of community combined with the cool factor of working in a pedestrian arcade located across the street from the Central Campus and all of its energy."

"I'm an architecture and history buff from way back," Savitski says. "The arcade embodies both these things. To walk through it several times a day is a real treat."

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Lurie Terrace at Fifty

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Lurie Terrace, a residence for active seniors of moderate means, was a real groundbreaker when it was built fifty years ago. "There were none [like it] to the best of our knowledge" recalls Bob Chance, one of the four architects who worked on it. The designers had no template to follow, just organizer Shata Ling's vision.

Ling was a remarkable woman who was not only full of ideas but made them happen. Born in 1905 in Houston and trained as a social worker, she came to Ann Arbor with her husband, Daniel Ling, in 1943 for grad school - he in civil engineering and she in public health. She later returned to U-M to study community organizing and worked part-time for researcher Wilma Donahue, a pioneer in the new field of gerontology.

When Ling realized that local seniors lacked a gathering place, she and her husband bought an old house at 439 S. Ashley to use as a senior center, renting out a basement apartment to help cover the cost. Ling served as the unpaid director and organized activities such as art classes and choral groups. "It was almost an instant success," recalled Daniel Ling in a 1985 memoir. When they outgrew that building, a generous donation helped them buy a house at 323 Packard, again making it work by renting out apartments. One of the renters there was U-M student Bob Creal, who later served on the board of Lurie Terrace for thirty-eight years.

The seed for Lurie Terrace was planted when Ling learned that many seniors who came to the center lived in inadequate rooms or small apartments, often paying more than they could afford. The problem was compounded by the fact that many of the older homes that offered low rents were being tom down to make room for apartments in the post-WWII building boom. There were four nursing homes in Ann Arbor, but no places for active seniors except for the Anna Botsford Bach Home, which housed just seventeen women.

Learning of new federal programs that would loan money for supportive housing for the elderly, Ling in 1961 converted the senior center board into a nonprofit entity known as Senior Citizens Housing of Ann Arbor, Inc. She then put together a proposal, convincing professionals, such as architect Jim Livingston, to sign on without knowing if they would ever collect a fee or not. Daniel Ling was the structural engineer. Wanting a site near downtown, she convinced the seller of property on Huron St. to keep the land option open for two years.

In the spring of 1962, the nonprofit was approved for a $1.7 million loan, payable over fifty years at 3.375 percent interest. However, it was another year before they could break ground while they ironed out the last details, including raising funds to finish the interior. The community responded with contributions, including a lounge furnished by the Kiwanis Club.

Meanwhile, the architects went to work on the design. Chance remembers Livingston coming into the office and saying "Bob, we've got a good one. You're going to love this lady." meaning Shata Ling. He was right. Chance developed a "profound admiration and respect for her," describing Ling as "an intense, brilliant, no-nonsense, off-the-shoulder kind of gal."

Livingston, who owned the firm, dealt directly with the clients. Kip Serota was the chief designer, while Linden Pettys did the drawings. Chance's main job was to see that the design was carried out as planned when building began. But Chance says they worked as a team. "If there was a problem we'd work it out together to make it happen," he explains.

"We started with what was generally expected, but Shata pushed-she wanted something different," recalls Chance. The challenge, according to Serota, "was to create something with a modest amount of money that didn't look like a public housing project."

The size of the parcel and the number of units dictated a high-rise. But Serota made it different from most blocky low-income projects by designing two eight-story hexagon-shaped towers. The ten apartments on each floor are accessed from corridors that branch out from a central elevator, rather than a single long hall. The hexagonal walls made for wedge-shaped rooms, but Serota explained those made the small spaces seem bigger, and gave residents different views out their windows. Chance remembers doing mock-ups to make sure that furniture would fit in the unconventional rooms.

Serota's original design had balconies, but Livingston nixed them, saying that the residents would rather have more floor space. Serota still thinks they would have been a good idea: in the era before air conditioning they would have allowed residents to cool off, given an illusion of more space, and made the exterior more attractive. The section connecting the two towers contained the elevator, stairs, and a different activity room for each floor: a music room, a greenhouse, an exercise room, an arts and crafts room, and a library.

The most controversial part of the plan was locating the dining room on the top floor. Ling suggested that so all the residents, not just those living on top floors, could enjoy the view over downtown Ann Arbor and the Old Serota’s original design had balconies, but Livingston nixed them, saying that the residents would rather have more floor space. Serota still thinks they would have been a good idea; in the era before air conditioning they would have allowed residents to cool off, given an illusion of more space, and made the exterior more attractive. The section connecting the two towers contained the elevator, stairs, and a different activity room for each floor: a music room, a greenhouse, an exercise room, an arts and crafts room, and a library.

The most controversial part of the plan was locating the dining room on the top floor. Ling suggested that so all the residents, not just those living on top floors, could enjoy the view over downtown Ann Arbor and the Old West Side. She felt the bother of bringing food up and carrying garbage down was worth it. City officials disagreed. Characteristically, Ling didn't back down, and eventually they relented.

The groundbreaking took place in May 1963. Sid Woolner, head of the federal Community Facilities Administration – soon to be folded into the new Department of Housing and Urban Development – called Lurie Terrace “a remarkable, intriguing design.” When construction started, Ling resigned from her by-then-paying position at the senior center to volunteer on the site. She was given a hard hat and an office in the old house that the contractors were using as headquarters before tearing it down. “She was one of the few clients I’ve had who read the specifications,” recalls Chance. She monitored every aspect of the project, including the doors, carpeting, slate, drapery rods, kitchen cabinets, and tile. She also fought to save the trees on the site.

Daniel Ling recalled that his wife “climbed ladders to check the construction and brought coffee to the workmen on cold winter days. With such feminine supervision, some of the men wanted to be informed if she became involved in another construction project so they could apply for the work.”

As the opening date neared, there was a steady stream of applicants to live in the 142 apartments in the new building, which Ling had named after her mother, Anna Lurie. To qualify, people had [to] be at least sixty-two years old and have an income of less than $4,000 a year if single, or $5,000 a year if married. There were also federal rent subsidies for twenty people who qualified.

The official opening was October 9, 1965 – a day so cold and raw that some of the participants watched from inside. The program booklet included a quite from Donahue, from whom Ling had gotten many of her ideas: “Not only is this a ‘break-through’ in retirement housing for middle-income people, but Lurie Terrace represents the practical application of U-M’s many years of work and study.” The New York Times published an article about Lurie Terrace, and in the early years there were visitors from around the world who wanted to learn from its example.

Ling stayed involved in the new residence for the rest of her life. Louise Bale, who later became active in Lurie Terrace, recalled her first glimpse of its creator while dining there with a friend: “Ling entered, dressed in a classic brown suit, her gorgeous red hair piled high on her head. She radiated warmth and vigor. Table after table of the residents looked up to greet her as she passed. A quick remark, an inquiry about someone’s health, an infectious laugh – everyone in that section of the dining room became livelier at once.” Ling died of cancer in 1969 at age sixty-four, just five years after Lurie Terrace was completed.

Serota left Livingston’s office to work for Minoru Yamasaki, who was expanding his staff when he got the job of designing the World Trade Center. Chance spent most of his career working as an architect for the U-M. Livingston continued in private practice, where he designed a wide array of local buildings including Weber’s, Kale’s Waterfall (later Szechuan West), and Lawton Elementary School, as well as apartment houses and private homes.

If Shata Ling and Wilma Donahue were alive today, they would be amazed at how their pioneering efforts have mushroomed. Every community in Washtenaw County now has a senior center. Catholic Social Services Resource Directory lists eighteen senior residences including independent living, assisted living, and memory loss units, plus sixteen subsidized or affordable places. For seniors who wish to stay in their own homes, there are a myriad of services including Meals on Wheels, senior cab service, home sharing, and home health care.

The revolution that brought about this new order started in 1965 with the passage of the Older Americans Act, part of LBJ’s Great Society program. “It moved the needle on the needs of seniors and how to respond,” explains Henry Johnson, U-M emeritus vice president, who is a neighbor and supporter of Lurie Terrace. “As the population aged, a more informed public began advocating for better senior services, which led to both private and public development.”

In spite of the newer competition, Lurie Terrace is usually full, although vacancies are not filled as fast as they once were. “It used to be that they [new residents] would move in literally the next day. They’d already have their things in the car,” recalls Mary Jean Raab, who has been a board member for twenty-two years and is now president.

Most of the original units were very small efficiency apartments ranging from 300 to 350 square feet. While a great step up from the rented rooms many of the first tenants came from, as Americans grew used to having more space, Raab says, “that was simply not the right mix of unit sizes,” and eighteen of them were combined to create nine large one-bedroom apartments. Though the efficiencies are a bargain – rents start at $546 a month, including fifteen meals in the dining room – those larger apartments are now in the greatest demand, with a wait list of several years.

Raab also notes that there used to be more couples. “Today with more options [for support] to bring into the home, couples stay [home] more often until one person passes.”

Another change is the removal of the original ban on walkers and wheelchairs – the thinking then was that the residents had to be totally independent. But as residents needed assistance walking, many just hid their devices or had others go through the food line for them. “We now realize that seniors can be active mentally and physically and still need help,” Raab says.

Last year the board paid off the fifty-year mortgage. That frees them from HUD rules but also means greater responsibility. Since 2002, the board has spent $1.2 million on major updates – installing air conditioning, replacing plumbing, and putting in new windows.

“Fifty years after the first resident, we are thriving, still around, fulfilling our mission,” says Raab. She hopes that with all the improvements, the same thing can be said at the end of the next fifty years.

Captions from images:

There were no models for a residence for active seniors when Shata Ling (at left, with husband Daniel) conceived Lurie Terrace.(Above) Jim Livingston, one of the architects, speaks at the 1964 dedication; his colleague Kip Serota designed the striking hexagonal towers.

The Lings started Ann Arbor's first senior center in a house on Ashley. When Shata realized that many seniors who attended lived in inadequate rooms or small apartments, she created a nonprofit and got a $1.7 million federal loan to build Lurie Terrace. (The name honors Shata's mothers, Anna Lurie.)

Board president Mary Jean Raab shows off the vista from the top-floor dining room. Placing it there was the most controversial part of the design, and city officials objected. But Ling prevailed – she wanted every resident to be able to enjoy the view.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Many Lives of 2390 Winewood

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The History of the Observer's New Home

You wouldn't think a simple 1940s industrial building would have much of a history, but 2390 Winewood, the new home of the Ann Arbor Observer, has a surprisingly diverse past: it has housed a manufacturer of trading stamp gifts, a factory where the first hockey helmets were made, a one-of-a-kind map store, and a remodeler's office.

The address first appears in the 1947 city directory. A motorcycle store was the first tenant, but Automated Products, later known as Kingsware, soon moved in. The company made gift items for Gold Bell trading stamps.

At the time many stores gave trading stamps as incentives to encourage customers to come back--an early version of today's "loyalty" programs. Customers received the stamps based upon the amount they spent; pasted in books, the stamps could be redeemed for gifts at special cash-free "redemption centers." It was quite a business in its heyday: Shelly Byron Hutchinson, founder of S&H Green Stamps, made enough to build the awesome mansion at 600 River St. in Ypsilanti (used today by High Scope).

In an undated aerial photo of W. Stadium, 2390 is visible as a small cement-block building facing Winewood. Presumably, it was Kingsware that added a steel warehouse behind the original structure that connected it to a second cement-block building, with a loading dock, off Maple. John Marchello, co-founder of Danmar Products, recalls that the building had already been expanded to that L shape by the time he first saw it, in the early 1960s.

Marchello says that Kingsware made electric fondue makers, hot plates, and other household appliances. His discussions with Kingsware owner Hugh Garver about painting the ice-hockey helmets that he was developing led to Danmar's moving into the building in 1962. The "Dan" is for Harlan and Josephine Danner, who joined with Marchello to form Danmar, which manufactured safety products for sports and medical uses. Marchello developed the products, and the Danners oversaw their production.

Marchello, a U-M art and design major and a member of the U-M wrestling team starting in 1954, had worked with his coach, Cliff Keen, to develop better ways to protect competitors from the hematomas known as "cauliflower ears." From wrestling headgear, he moved on to develop a plastic ice-hockey helmet; up until then, players' only head protection was a pair of soft pads connected by an elastic strap.

With a $300 loan from Keen, Marchello began manufacturing hockey helmets in his garage in New Hudson. He soon had enough orders to repay Keen's loan. Meanwhile, the Danners had moved back to Ann Arbor from Venezuela in order to rear their children in the United States and were looking for a business to become involved in. Harlan Danmar had also wrestled for the U-M, in the 1930s, and his mother was a landlady who often rented rooms to wrestlers--including, during his college years, Marchello. The sports connection soon led to a business partnership.

It turned out to be a good time to start a helmet business. Besides hockey headgear, Danmar made special helmets for motorcycle riders and police departments. And when bigger competitors took over those markets, Danmar found a new niche in medical safety products.

During Danmar's infancy, Marchello had continued doing freelance design work. One of his customers suggested that he create a helmet to protect the heads of institutionalized people, some of whom are prone to falling. Soon, other customers began asking Danmar for various medical safety products.

"There was a big need not being serviced," explains Marchello. Health care professionals had "been trying to jury-rig things to work. We'd talk on the phone, and they'd send rough drawings." Products for people with special needs included face guards, apparatuses to help hold forks or crayons, headrests, chest and head supports, and wheelchair accessories. Ruth Harris, U-M professor of physical education, contacted Danmar to suggest they build a flotation device that would allow physically handicapped people to play water sports, and thus was launched a line of swim aids.

In 1978 the Danners retired, and Marchello became Danmar's sole owner. Ten years later he sold the business to general manager Karen Lindner, but continued to work for the company. That same year, Danmar moved the company to roomier quarters at 221 Jackson Industrial Dr.

The company now has thirty-three employees, tripled since its Winewood days, and is still making medical safety equipment, much of it one-of-a-kind items. They've also seen a bit of a return to sports equipment; for instance, some teams come to them to make helmets with logos that don't easily peel off, as decals do. At age seventy-six, Marchello still comes into work every day.

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John Roumanis, who was then running the Cottage Inn Pizza delivery chain, bought the building from Marchello to store supplies for his company's commissary, which at the time was located across Winewood. (For Roumanis's latest project, see Marketplace Changes, p. 45.) He rented out the part facing Winewood to Don Wagman for his map store, Geography Ltd. Wagman remembers that Cottage Inn employees stopped by many times a day, to retrieve food stored on pallets in the metal building or to get foods out of the walk-in freezer in the very back, but he says they didn't bother him because they used different doors.

Wagman sold anything having to do with cartography--maps, atlases, globes, even astronomy paraphernalia. His maps were of every kind imaginable and from all over the world--topographical, reproduction antique, road and railroad maps, street plans, and literary maps, to name just a few. When Cottage Inn moved out a few years later, Wagman had the whole building to himself, so he spread out into the unused space. "To call it ramshackle would be being kind," laughs Wagman. His biggest sellers were Michigan topographical maps, used in summer by vacationers, in fall by hunters, and year-round by engineers and environmental consultants. Wagman stayed for fourteen years but closed in 2004, no longer able to compete with online sales and web mapping services.

Contractor Paul LaRoe bought the building in 2006. By then it was in pretty rough shape, but being a remodeler, he knew what to do. "I could see that it had a good structure and was full of possibilities," LaRoe says. He gutted and cleaned the inside and, working with architect Ed Wier, installed new offices, bathrooms, and windows. He says his goal was to make the interior feel "warm and cozy, like a home," a theme echoed by a new facade with hints of a traditional peaked roof.

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Observer owners Patricia Garcia and John Hilton bought the building last summer. LaRoe did such a good job on the front part that it needed only minor changes. The metal building, though, got a complete overhaul that added windows, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems. The Observer is also using part of the back building, but still has some warehouse space on the Maple side that it hopes to rent out.

The Observer spent twenty-one good years in the Marketplace Building near Kerrytown. But when ad sales fell during the recession, the company had to sublet part of its space, and what remained was uncomfortably cramped. The magazine's staff is enjoying having room to spread out again and plenty of parking (rented from Eberbach Corporation across Winewood). They do admit to missing downtown but are pleased to discover how many locally owned businesses are within easy walking distance on the west side. Says publisher Patricia Garcia, "We've traded Zingerman's [Deli] for the Roadhouse."

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This article has been edited since it appeared in the February 2013 Ann Arbor Observer. The spelling of John Marchello's name has been corrected. (end of article)

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Yamasaki's Chelsea High School

Author: 
Grace Shackman

What was a star architect thinking?

When I worked at the Chelsea Standard in the 1980s, I often covered events at Chelsea High School. It was not a single building, but a campus of one-story structures that students scurried between in all types of weather. I was told it was designed by a California architect who didn't understand Michigan winters.

Imagine my surprise to learn, years later, that it was actually the work of Minoru Yamasaki, the famous Modern architect who went on to design the World Trade Center. Born in Seattle, Yamasaki moved to Detroit in 1945, so by the time he designed the school in 1956, he had been through eleven Michigan winters.

But Yamasaki evidently wasn't thinking about winter. In a 1957 interview with Architectural Forum, he explained: "We hit upon the idea that if the buildings could each express their individual character that we might be able to depict the quality of a small town. The auditroium, gym, homemaking area would symbolically and literally be the town center."

Yamasaki was hardly the first architect to ignore practical problems. A janitor once broke a leg tending an elevated planter at Alden Dow's Ann ARbor library. Frank Lloyd Wright's eccentricities - leaking roofs, tiny kitchens - are well know. But Chelsea needed a new school - the high school population, then fewer than 400 students, was predicted to double in ten years.

Local architect Art Lindauer encouraged an innovative design. "I went to the school board and said, 'Every school looks like each other,'" recalls Lindauer, the father of Chelsea mayor Jason Lindauer. "'Why don't you try an architect with a different approach?'" Asked for suggestions, he mentioned Yamasaki, who at the time was activiely pursuing school work. After interviewing a dozen architects, a citizen's committee recommended hiring Yamaski, Leinweber, and Associates.

Peter Flintoff, whose father, Howard Flintoff, was secretary of the school board, recalls hearing that they felt lucky to get Yamasaki. Alyce Riemenschneider remembers that her parents and their friends were also excited to have someone so famous design their school.

People raised questions about the campus layout, but according to the Standard, school board members argued that the design would "provide the best building program at the most economical cost." Outside walkways would to-ceiling windows [it] was much nicer than the traditional string of hallway lockers," recalls Carol Cameron Lauhon, who also graduated in 1961. Covered walkways with brightly colored bubbles at building entrances served to unify the campus and afford some shelter as students passed between classes.

The main building, which Yamasaki called the "Town Center," contained the cafeteria, library, gym, and auditorium. Circling the auditorium were six classrooms used for English and social sciences. A Central atrium was open to the sky and filled with planst and bushes. "For the prom, the junior class would decorate the atrium with flowers and green plastic truf and furnish it with a wooden bridge over a small pond. Couples posed on the bridge for their prom photos. Very romantic!" recalls Lauhon.

June Winans, who taught earth science and geology, shared the science building with biology, chemistry, and physics teachers. Shop classes, the Standard explained, also had their own building so that "noises made by operating equipment or hammering and sawing will not disturb other classes."

The home economics and art building had a pitched roof to look more like a house. Riemenschneider recalls that the desks converted into cutting tables and that sewing machines were hidden in veneer cabinets. The kitchen had the newest stoves and refrigerators and an island, a novelty at the time. After preparing a meal, the students moved into a dining room and a living room.

At an open house, the Standard reported, "most people were impressed not only with the beautiful appearance of the new campus type high school but also with its very evident functional features."

The students who made the transition still have fond memories of Yamaski's school. "The exterior walkways between buildings felt less confining than the old school's intererior hallways and multiple stairwells, some of them narrow and windowless," says Lauhon.

"I was happy to walk outside," says Brown, adding: "The teachers aid it woke the students up."

"The breath of fresh air did them good," says Bill Chandler, the school's work-study coordinator. Sam Vogel, social studies teacher and later assistant principal, recalls that "the covered walkways developed leaks, but, unless it was pouring, it wasn't a problem."

Parents were less thrilled. Some thought it was ridiculous that their children had to go outside. One recalls her daughter tell her, "mom, we don't need decent clothes to go to school. We just need a good coat."

As enrollment grew, an auto mechanics garage was added, and a new bulding facing Washington for social studies. The cafeteria was enlarged by moving the library into another building.

But when the locker room got overcrowded and rowdy-the staff dubbed it "God's Little Acre" - there was no way to expand it. Eventually the lockers were movied into the "town center," but "then the halls were too crowded," Vogel recalls. The atrium also became a problem, with maintenance issues and heat loss through the single-pane glass the surrounded it.

Yamasaki's futuristic vision never caught on: the present Chelsea High, built in 1998, is again a single building. His campus, however, is still in use - its buildings now house the Chelsea Senior Center, school board offices, Chelsea Community Education and Recreation, and Chelsea Early Education. The roofs and bubble entrances are gone, the original large windows have been replaced by smaller ones, and the atrium has been filled in to create a windowless meeting room.

But students who went there still have fond memories of their school. "It seems to me that the Yamasaki design was a new way of imagining spaces for student life," says Lauhon. "The school was a pleasant place to be. My sense is that this is what Yamasaki had in mind."

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Dream Houses: When architects design their own homes

Author: 
Grace Shackman

A house without a doorbell? A bathtub sticking up in the middle of a room? A window instead of a mirror above a bathroom sink? Who would design houses like these? The answer is: architects, for their own homes.

Freed from constraints of clients and their families, architects can give free rein to their own needs and tastes. The local architects interviewed for this article have designed unique houses, personal statements of how they want to live. The oldest house is nearly sixty years old, but all turned out so well that the architects are still happily living in them.

The two local giants of the post-war Mid-Century Modern building era, Bob Metcalf and David Osler, both designed their own homes early in their careers, and both for practical reasons: Metcalf to showcase what he could do for future clients (see "Metcalf Modern," April 2011), and Osler to build a house for his growing family within the limits of what the bank would loan him.

Osler's house, at 3081 Glazier Way, was actually his second try building for himself. He grew up on a farm east of today's Huron Parkway. His father was the county agricultural agent. Early in his career Osler built an apartment in his parents' barn for himself and his wife, Connie. "We lived there until I thought I had enough practice to build a house," he says, explaining why he waited until 1961, when they had three children, to design his own home. He chose another site on a corner of his parents' land. (Much of the rest of the property was later developed as the Osler-designed Oslund condominiums.)

Osler designed a simple rectangular two-story house and hired builder Dick Wagner to put it up. Although clearly in the Modern style, Osler's house was practical. Before opening his own office in 1958, Osler had worked for several other architects. The one he admired most was Douglas "Pete" Loree, from whom, he says, he learned that "solving a problem for the family was more important than interesting shapes." For Osler's family, the challenge was to maximize useful space within a limited budget.

The house is entered from the narrow end, with the main living area half a story up and bedrooms half a story down. The entry and dining room are in the center, with the living room and family room off to the right, and kitchen and study to the left. "It's open, but each room has an identity," he explains. "Every inch is working. There is no wasted space."

Friends who, like him, were just starting careers and had limited means, admired the house and became early clients.

Since the home was built, Osler has added bays and an upstairs screen porch and moved bedroom walls. "I've played with it over the years, but it's basically the same," he says. Now in his nineties, he never thought when he was building it that he might one day prefer to live in a one-floor house without stairs, but he has no intention of moving.

Kingsbury Marzolf describes his house at 1420 Granger as a "Scandinavian row house." His wife Marian's maternal grandparents came from Sweden, and the couple has visited Scandinavia many times. Marzolf designed the house before moving to Ann Arbor to teach at the architecture school, but didn't build until 1967, when he found a suitable site—a narrow lot that had been the side yard of an older house. It worked perfectly: Marzolf's plan was for a narrow part facing the street and most of the windows on the front and back.

Although the house is clearly Modern, with a wooden front and brick sides, Marzolf made sure it would fit in the neighborhood by raising it to the height of the other houses and eschewing the flat roof often found in this style. "I like houses to have caps," he explains. Marzolf hired Calvin Hoeft to build the house but closely watched the progress. "I must have taught because I got paid, but I don't remember. I just remember coming over twice a day and taking pictures," he says. He often used it as a case study for his classes.

From the front door, one can see all the way back to the living room, and beyond that, through floor-to-ceiling windows, a secluded back yard. "Seeing all the way through makes the house seem bigger," explains Marzolf. The kitchen is in the front, with the stove next to a window facing the street, divided from the dining area by cabinets with sliding panels.

Marzolf regularly invited his U-M architecture students to his house. They called his living room "a 1950s Scandinavian furniture museum" with its Swedish rugs, chairs by Finland's Alvar Aalto, a papa bear chair by Danish designer Hans Wegner, and a Le Corbusier chrome frame black sofa.

Though Marzolf did commercial and apartment work before returning to the U-M to teach, his own house is the only one he ever designed. The only major work he's done to it was in 1997, when he called Hoeft back to replace the living room windows because their wooden frames were rotting out near the ground. Now in his eighties, Marzolf is still happy here: "I've never considered moving to Florida."

When the Modern architects were making their mark in the 1950s and 1960s, subdivisions were sprouting all around Ann Arbor's historic core. The generation that followed in the 1970s and 1980s rediscovered the joys and headaches of older buildings.

Gene Hopkins' first Ann Arbor home was a condemned house on the Old West Side. He and other designer-rehabbers, including Dave Evans of Quinn Evans and landscape architect Clarence Roy of JJR, shared a van to haul their trash and building supplies.

Hopkins, like Evans, went on to build a national reputation in historic preservation, working on such gems as the Michigan State Capitol and Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel. Most of his residential work has been restoring old houses or building new ones that fit into historic areas, including several he's now designing on Mackinac. However, when he built his own house at 4709 N. Delhi Rd. in 1985, he didn't have to worry about fitting into a neighborhood: he and his wife, Jane, chose to build on eight acres in Webster Township, leaving him free to choose elements he liked. The house features such historic touches as pointed gables, front door sidelights, and a set of three Palladian windows with the middle one taller. The house is clad in cedar shakes, alternating shell patterns with rectangles, which "softens how the house sits on the site," as Hopkins puts it.

On the inside, a modern open floor plan is paired with historic references such as woodwork with bull's-eye patterns and old-time hardware. Large windows on the north and west sides, decks three-quarters of the way around, and multiple exits go with the Modern precept of blurring the definition of inside and outside. "We like the traditional character-defining features but are not restricted by the Victorian lifestyle," Hopkins explains.

Building the house was a family project. Hopkins' dad, just retired, moved in with them for awhile so he could help. Hopkins' two brothers came on weekends. The Hopkins' daughter, Brie, then in kindergarten, was given jobs such as picking up nails. She picked out her own room and made all the decisions about it. Now grown, Brie and her husband recently returned from New England. Hopkins is fixing up the old farm house next door for them, where they plan to operate an organic farm.

In furnishings, the family enjoys what Hopkins calls "the design tension with antique and contemporary." Mixed in with modern furniture are antiques that Jane enjoys collecting. The lamp above the kitchen table is from the one-room school that Gene, who grew up on a dairy farm, attended near Belding in Ionia County.

The house still meets their needs. The biggest change has been in the walkout basement. Originally left unfinished, it was fixed up for Brie to entertain her teenage friends, then used as a family room, and is now the office of HopkinsBurns Design Studio, housing Hopkins, partner Tamara Burns, and their three-person staff. The floor-to-ceiling windows on the north side look out onto a patio where they hold staff meetings in good weather, and beyond that to a pond that Hopkins built using natural springs on the property.

Russell Serbay works at Hobbs and Black, where he specializes in commercial architecture. Although his residential work has been limited to designing a few additions for friends, he created a totally unique house for himself at 1625 Leaird Dr. in 1989.

Serbay wanted to live in an established neighborhood and found an oddly shaped lot no one else had built on. That wasn't a problem for him, he explains, because "I didn't want to reshape the land to fit the house but to design the house to fit the land." He sited the house on the highest point of the lot, with the front door and garage on a street side and the east side windowless for privacy from the house next door.

The most exciting part is inside. The front hall, which can be entered from the front door or the garage, leads past the stairway to a step-down living room, following the contour of the land. The large windows on the west and north face his back and side yards and a spectacular view all the way across town to the steeple of Zion Lutheran Church on W. Liberty.

Serbay compares his design to a pinwheel, the center being the stairwell and the three spokes being the entry hall, the living room, and a wing with the dining room and kitchen. "No space is wasted, and the only door is to the powder room," he explains.

Upstairs there are two bedrooms, with a loft in the guest bedroom. His friends warned him that his house was not marketable, to which he responded "Why build someone else's house for me?"

He did most of the work, hiring subcontractors only when necessary. Acting on advice from Hobbs and Black's interior decorators, he installed commercial-grade blue-gray carpet and matching porcelain ceramic tile, both of which still look new.

Serbay says the experience of building his own house helps on his job. "Now when they say they can't do something, I can say 'Yes, you can.'"

Serbay doesn't have a doorbell because he's never liked them. "The house is small enough that if someone raps on the door and I'm awake, I'll hear it," he explains.

Damian Farrell has built houses in fourteen states in the twenty-five years since he moved here from South Africa, but none is like the house he built for himself in 2000 in Scio Township at 4930 High Meadow, off Knight Rd. The lot is in a small subdivision. Knight's Farm, which he laid out as an investment before deciding, at the suggestion of his wife, Katherine, to build their own house there. (Counting his own, he designed four of the six houses on the street.) The garage is perpendicular to the house, thus avoiding his pet peeve, snout-nosed garages that stick out from the front of the house.

The house has a front inspired by Charles Voysey (an English Arts and Crafts architect who lived from 1857 to 1941) and a South African layout. The outside has repetitive elements, such as pointed gables and square windows, but is not perfectly symmetrical.

Inside Farrell leaves Voysey behind, eschewing small rooms and low wood- beamed ceilings for a much more open and flowing space, with cathedral ceilings in the living and family rooms. Coming from a sunnier climate, Farrell has worked to maximize the Michigan light with large windows throughout the house, even from north-facing windows, which he says create a softer light.

A central corridor runs the length of the house so "you pass every room every time you pass through the house. All the rooms are engaged in everyday life," Farrell explains. The house has a T shape: a wing in front crosses the main corridor and contains the master bedroom and the stairs to the second floor.

The first room along the main corridor is the living room to the left. A formal dining room, across the hall from the living room, is like ones that Farrell grew up with in South Africa. He enjoys having an eating space large enough to seat their three own children and three grandchildren. The dining room table is from South Africa, as are most of the decorative items on built-in shelves.

The kitchen, midway down the central corridor, is the heart of the house. Katherine, who owns Katherine's Catering, loves to cook, and the two of them like to entertain, so the kitchen was designed to take lots of wear and to be very usable.

The most telling feature of Farrell's South African roots are the ten outdoor exits—eight sets of French doors plus the front and back doors, which "extend living to outside." A patio on the east side, with a croquet lawn beyond, and a wisteria-covered veranda on the other side, allow the Farrells to have more guests in the summer. A big meadow behind the house, which they’ve deeded to a conservancy, creates a wonderful view in all seasons.

Because Katherine loves to take baths, her husband bought her the deepest tub he could find and put it smack in the middle of the bathroom. They also have an unusual outdoor bathroom extension with a shower and hot tub. In warm weather they can step outside and take an outdoor shower as if they lived in the tropics. "It's like an early morning vacation," says Farrell.

Mark and Jenny Melchi, who since 2001 have lived at 1471 Ardmoor, didn't plan on building their own house. While house hunting in the city, they were becoming discouraged by what they found in their price range, when their Realtor casually mentioned that the lot next door to a house they were shown on Ardmoor was also for sale. "It dawned on us: 'Why don't we try it, we can do it,'" says Jenny.

They each grew up in Midland and were used to seeing architect-designed houses, especially those of Alden Dow (who also designed Ann Arbor's City Hall and downtown library). Since Ardmoor was filled with established homes, Mark designed a modern version of an American four square, which he describes as "a new but old house that fits in the neighborhood and looks like it's been here all the time." Four squares, modeled on the nineteenth-century Italian cubes, were popular in the early twentieth century. They were practical for large families, giving maximum square footage for their footprint with straight vertical lines and hip roofs and no wasted space. The Melchis' house has the classic box shape but is also clearly Modern with cleaner lines and added features, such as a balcony off the master bedroom, several bump-outs including one for the stairs, and bay windows.

Inside, the house is totally Modern with rooms that flow into one another. There are no walls dividing the front entry, living room, dining room, sunroom, and kitchen. Instead the rooms are subtly differentiated by the ceiling soffits. Wanting the maximum amount of light, Melchi didn't connect the garage with the house, so all the walls could have windows.

The Melchis did much of the work themselves—installing hardwood floors and built-in bookcases and doing trim work, painting, tiling, and outside grading. They also saved money by being their own protect manager. At that time Mark was head of his own company, Archetype (since merged with Mike Vlasic's MAVDevelopment), so he could get away from his office whenever he needed to.

They included lots of little touches, such as a laundry on the second floor, a Murphy bed in the basement, and a library nook in the upstairs hall. The newel post on the stairs replicates the one they liked in their previous house. The kids' bathroom has a round window above the sink instead of a mirror. There's a mirror on another wall.

While all the architects' houses are different, certain elements are similar. The most noticeable is that they all rejected four-walled rooms in favor of free-flowing space, except in the private areas. All of them paid careful attention to the light coming in.

The exteriors are all Modernist, either totally with the straight vertical lines that define the style as in the Osler, Marzolf, and Serbay houses, or with references to earlier styles used by Hopkins, Farrell, and Melchi.

Many of the architects took the opportunity to try new materials and technologies. Melchi used plumbing pipe for his porch pillars. Hopkins was the first architect in the area to install geothermal heating. Serbay used a Canadian construction method he had read about, with a thicker outer wall for insulation, and a conventional inner one for wiring, plumbing, and heating ducts.

With all these advantages, the bigger question is why more architects don't build their own homes. Local architect Marc Rueter points out that the high costs of city lots makes the endeavor very expensive. Today, buying an existing house and changing it incrementally as time and money allow is usually a more viable alternative for young architects.

Even if one can pay for a city lot, they are hard to find. Both Metcalf and Osler built at what was then the edge of town, while Marzolf and Melchi were lucky to find side yards that were being separated into new lots. Serbay looked for years before he found his lot. Its unusual shape, which he used to his advantage, probably deterred others from buying it. Hopkins and Farrell built outside the city.

Another problem is that it's hard to de sign for oneself. "Being your own client, that's the toughest client you can come up with," says Serbay, who drew three plans before settling on the one he used. Some compare it to a doctor treating him- or herself. An out-of-town architect shudders at the thought. "If I wanted a house, I'd have one of my colleagues do it. If I tried, I would never stop fiddling with it,” he explains.

Rueter also thinks the trend has changed. In the 1950s forward-thinking architects believed in building Modernist homes, while today they are more into buying an old house or condo in the city and fixing it up. Doug Kelbaugh, U-M professor of architecture and urban planning, is a perfect example of this. When he was a young architect starting out in the 1970s, he built his own Modernist solar house in New Jersey. When he came to the U-M, he designed the interior of his condo in the newly converted Armory Building downtown.

When Wells Bennett became dean of the U-M architecture school in 1937, he worked at hiring architects who were Modernists, such as Tee Larson, William Muschenheim, Joe Albano, Walter Sanders, and Joe Lee, all of whom also designed and built their own houses, as did Wells Bennett himself. Looking at a list of his colleagues, Kelbaugh could find no one who had built his or her own home, although many of them had done major remodeling or big additions on existing homes.

Asked why things changed, Kelbaugh replies that the earlier professors wanted and could afford to make a design statement. "In Metcalf's day, simple Modernism was cutting- edge. Today you have to be more avant-garde, like Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid," architects whose freeform shapes and exotic materials are far too expensive for academic architects.

Kelbaugh also points out that the study of architecture has become more academic less practical (although he's hoping that it is swinging back from high theory to more emphasis on construction, affordability, and sustainability). "Where once building your own house might have helped get tenure, it is less likely to now,” he says.

However they do it, most people work at making houses personal to them, but architects designing their own homes can ratchet up the personal many notches. As Hopkins says, "A home is not a home unless it’s about you; otherwise, it’s just a house.”


[Photo caption from original print edition]: (Top) Gene Hopkins made his name in historic preservation, but mixed traditional and modern elements when he built his own home. (Above) David and Connie Osler maximized useful space on a limited budget

[Photo caption from original print edition]: (Above) The ten entrances to Damian Farrell's Scio Township home recall his South African roots. (Below) Russell Serbay didn't mind that the lot he found was oddly shaped: "I didn't want to reshape the land to fit the house, but to design the house to fit the land."

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Kingsbury Marzolf calls the narrow home he built on what had been another house's side yard a "Scandinavian row house." His students joke that it's also "a 1950s Scandinavian furniture museum."

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Mark and Jennifer Melchi (with Nicholas, Jacob, and Blu) did much of the work on their home themselves, including installing hardwood floors and built-in bookcases.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The firehouse and the Hands-on Museum

Author: 
Grace Shackman

When the present fire station was being built in the 1970’s, Ann Arborites debated whether to save the 1882 firehouse and, if so, what to use it for. Although the Civic Theater also had many proponents, the final decision was to use it for a children’s science museum. The city retained ownership of the building, but rented it to the Hands-On Museum for a nominal fee. The museum, under the direction of Cynthia Yao, refurbished the almost century-old firehouse and expanded the floor space by 50 percent by opening up the attic and creating a mezzanine above the second floor.

Ironically, the old firehouse needed significant upgrades to meet modern fire safety standards, including enclosing open stairwells. (The museum later added sprinkler and alarm systems.) While the work was in progress, some firehouse artifacts were found, including an ancient ax, an 1883 grocery list, and a flag. These are on display in the museum’s stairwell, along with some historic items donated by the fire department – including the hook once used by the city’s first professional fire chief, Fred Sipley.

The museum moved into the old firehouse October 13, 1982. At that time it had one paid staff member (director Yao), ten volunteers, and twenty-five exhibits. They hoped to attract enough visitors to meet their $50,000 operating budget and, to their relief and surprise, did so: 25,000 people came the first year. Although the museum has received some grants, for the most part it has operated on money from entrance fees and programs. It now has more than 250 exhibits, a staff of fourteen, between 400 and 500 volunteers, and a yearly budget of $850,000. Last year 145,000 people visited the museum, including 40,000 children in school groups. At last count, 1,343,221 people have come through the museum since its founding.

But just as the fire department outgrew the building, so has the museum. It has purchased four buildings to the west along Huron. Once remodeling is complete, the acquisitions will triple the museum’s size. The new space will be used for a variety of new displays and innovative programs, including a preschool gallery, a telecommunications exhibit, and a science theater for high school and college students. The area that had been covered parking for the gas company will be used for a lobby and gift shop. The rest of the parking lot on Ann Street will become the entrance, making bus drop-off and pickup much safer.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

First Presbyterian's move to Washtenaw

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Gothic Revival in the "picnic grove"

"When the Session [the church governing body] decided to tear it down and build a church way out there, there was a lot of criticism," remembered First Presbyterian Church member Paul Lowry in a 2001 interview. In 1926, "way out there" was the site of the old Demmon house at 1432 Washtenaw— just east of the University of Michigan campus.

"People were set in their ways," explains church archivist Pearl Summers. "They had been in the old church in the center of town. None of the churches had been that far over on the Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor Road."

The block of Washtenaw between South University and Hill was developed in the late nineteenth century with family homes on spacious lots—so spacious that, Summers says, the Demmon property was known as "the picnic grove." Most of its first residents were U-M faculty members, but by the 1920s fraternities and sororities had taken over much of the block. Merle Andersen, First Presbyterian's pastor when the congregation bought the land in 1926, recalled in a later reminiscence that the building committee had noted "the fine grove which was the old Demmon home" while looking at another property across the street. Told that Emma Demmon was refusing to sell, he paid her a formal call. She explained that she had turned down all offers for the property because she knew that her late husband, U-M English professor Isaac Newton Demmon, would not have wanted apartments on the site. When Anderson made his plea, she paused a minute and then said, "I think he would liked to have a church there."

It's hard to imagine that Demmon wouldn't have loved the Gothic Revival church that was built on the property twelve years after Anderson's visit, the long wait due to the Great Depression. The church, with its buttresses, lancet windows filled with stained glass, and steep slate roof, looks like it could have come out of an English novel.

The First Presbyterian Church was organized in 1826, just two years after Ann Arbor was founded, and is celebrating its 185th anniversary this year. The original seventeen members included Ann Arbor co-founder John Allen's wife and parents. In the first three years the group met wherever they could find space—in a log schoolhouse, in two different taverns, in an unfinished room in Cook's hotel, and in a frame schoolhouse.

In 1829 they built their own modest frame building at Huron and Division–Michigan's first Protestant church west of Detroit. In 1837 they moved into a bigger church down the street. In 1859 they repurchased their original site and started work on a more permanent red brick church. Finished in 1862, it was used for almost seventy-five years.

Historic as it was, that building fell short of the twentieth century's rising expectations—Andersen disparaged it as "a great barn of a place without facilities for any adequate program of church activities." It was cold and hard to heat, pigeons roosted between the roof and false ceiling in the nave, and there was only a tiny patch of lawn, leaving no room for outdoor events. Members who drove to church had to park on the street.

After rejecting several other options, including fixing up the old church and re-merging with the Congregationalists (originally one church, they had divided in 1847), First Presbyterian appointed a building committee. Their first act was to recommend buying the Demmon property, "beautifully wooded and excellent in topography." In 1927 First Presbyterian merged with the U-M Presbyterian student group, sold the student group's property at State and Huron to the First Methodist Church, and converted the Demmon house to a student center.

They were off to a good start, but when the Depression hit a few years later, pledge payments dwindled or stopped. In 1934 the church became reenergized when a new pastor, William Lemon, replaced Anderson. "The place was packed, people came from all over," recalled Lowry. Still they couldn't proceed with the new building until they sold their old one, and there were few buyers during the Depression. Finally, in 1935, the Ann Arbor Daily News offered them $32,500—half what the congregation had paid for the Dem- mon house just nine years before. On May 29, 1935, the congregation held a special commemoration service before leaving their downtown church. They met for the next two and a half years at the Masonic Temple on South Fourth Avenue (torn down in the 1970s to make way for the Federal Building) until the new church was ready.

New York City architects Mayers, Murray & Phillip were hired to design the new church. The firm was the successor to one led by Bertram Goodhue, who was known for using modern methods to create buildings in medieval styles. When Goodhue died in 1924, three of his staff kept the firm going, renaming it for themselves. They designed Christ Church Cranbrook in 1928 and Christ Church Grosse Pointe in 1930. For Ann Arbor, the firm designed an L-shaped building, with a sanctuary facing Washtenaw and a wing on the east side for student use. Lowry recalled that Harlan Whittemore, a U-M professor of landscape architecture, was responsible for saving the mature trees on the property: "He kept the site as wild as possible."

They brought two bells from the old church and some of the pews that are still in the balcony. "They creak very nicely," says Pearl Summers, who shares archivist duties with her husband, Larry. They also saved two brightly colored lancet windows, which were installed in the back wall of the chancel.

They didn't have enough money for new stained glass, so they filled the windows "with a creamy colored, opaque glass," as described in a 1983 report by Marcy Westerman. In the 1960s the windows were replaced with stained glass from England. Mary Hathaway, who loved the "restrained quality" of the original glass, later had a panel that she found in the basement reinstalled as a memorial to her parents, A.K. and Angelyn Stevens.

The Presbyterians held their first service in the new building on January 23, 1938. Before the move, the congregation numbered 348. Within a year it had gone up to 685 and continued upward. Increased membership meant a growing Sunday school population, which soon outgrew the basement quarters. They also needed more parking. The most unobtrusive place for an addition was behind the sanctuary, but that land belonged to their backyard neighbor, Sigma Delta Tau sorority, which, the building committee reported, "was not disposed to sell on any basis." Church member Robert McNamara (later to be Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War) finally convinced the sorority to sell. The addition, finished in 1956. was designed by Colvin and Robinson and named for Henry Kuizenga, minister from 1952 to 1961.

In 1998 the church added a second addition behind the student wing. Designed by Dan Jacobs, it's named Montieth Hall, after Michigan's first Protestant minister, and used to hold smaller services.

Today the church membership fluctuates in the 2,000 range, while the sanctuary has room for only about 500. "We can squeeze in 600 at high-attendance services like Christmas and Easter," explains Summers, "but it is not very comfortable." To accommodate everyone, the church now holds four Sunday services, two in the sanctuary and two in Montieth Hall.


[Photo caption from original print edition]: Demolition of the 1862 Presbyterian church at Huron and Division.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: The present church, shown under construction in the 1930s, replaced the Washtenaw Ave. home of English prof Isaac Newton Demmon.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Metcalf Modern

Author: 
Grace Shackman

In the 1960s, U-M Profs sometimes waited years for architect Bob Metcalf to design their homes. Now his mid-century designs are back in fashion.

Bob Metcalf, at age eighty-seven, is adding a two-car garage to his house on 1052 Arlington. He already has a one-car garage and isn't currently driving, but he's building it now because he can't bear the thought of a later owner doing it badly. "I figure they would wreck the house by putting the garage right out in front," he explains.

The house is very special to Metcalf‹he and his late wife, Bettie, built it themselves in 1953. Using it as a showcase, he went on to design sixty-eight houses in Ann Arbor. All are in the style now known as "mid-century modem," and, after a period of being ignored, are treasured by a growing community of admirers.

Metcalf's new garage is a little south of the existing home so it doesn't interfere with the entrance. The original one-car garage on the other side of the house was the first thing that the Metcalfs built in order to have a place to store their tools during construction.

Bettie Metcalf found a large lot in the then-unsettled Ann Arbor Hills, just outside the eastern city limits. (The subdivision was laid out in 1927, but very few houses were built during the Depression and World War II.) Bob Metcalf spent a year drawing up the house plans. They started work in April 1952 and moved in just over a year later.

At the time, the U-M architecture grad was working as a draftsman for George Brigham, one of the first architects in the area to odern-style houses. Metcalf would work for Brigham from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. and then head over to the construction site. Bettie would join him at 4 p.m. after getting off from her nursing job at the University of Michigan Health Service. She would bring the supper that she had made the night before, which they would eat sitting in the car.

They did all the labor themselves except the work required by law to be done by specialists, such as electricity and plumbing. Design decisions were based on aesthetics, their skills, and what they could.afford. Metcalf didn't know how to plaster, so he made the interior walls out of cedar (relatively cheap then). He got the idea of putting in a brick floor from a friend who had done that for a project with Alden Dow in Midland‹according to Metcalf's construction journal, he paid five cents a brick.

Homes that George Brigham designed were filled with light coming in from large south-facing windows. Metcalf made his windows even larger and angled them more to the southeast‹an orientation, he says, that lets in "less sun in summer but [more] heat gain in winter." Like most mid-century modem designs, the house has a flat roof. Rainwater drained into the backyard through an interior pipe, in effect creating a rain garden long before they be- came popular.

The couple's work paid off. Before the house was even finished, Metcalf had received five commissions, all from U-M faculty members‹vindicating his belief that Ann Arbor would appreciate the type of house he wanted to build.

Metcalf was born in 1923 in the small town of Nashville, Ohio. His dad. dis- appeared when he was young, and his mother moved to nearby Canton, where she worked as a maid and later remarried. When Metcalf was six or seven, a visiting uncle saw the way he was playing with objects on the floor and told him "you ought to be an architect."

He enrolled in the U-M architecture school in 1941 but was drafted to serve in WWII. He and Bettie had dated after high school, and just before Memorial Day in 1943, he called and asked her to come down to Louisiana, where he was stationed, for the holiday. When she asked why, he replied, "Because we're going to get married." And so a three-day engagement led to a sixty-five year marriage. Metcalf returned to the U-M after the war, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1950. As graduation grew closer, Metcalf asked Brigham, a professor he thought highly of, if he could work for him. He liked the way Brigham took into account "the impact of the environment on a building," he recalls, and was also impressed that Brigham was the only member of the architecture faculty who invited students to his house. Brigham hired him as a draftsman at $1 an hour.

After four years with Brigham, Metcalf began his own business. His first commission was from physics professor Richard Crane and his wife, Florence, who wanted a house in which they could be separated from the noise and clutter of their teenage children. Metcalf obliged by designing their home at 830 Avon with an entrance on the side that led from the left into the living room and master bedroom and from the right into a kitchen and family room, with the children's rooms on the other end.

In addition to his architectural practice, Metcalf taught at the U-M. Within two years, he had so many jobs he asked two young U-M colleagues, Tivador Balogh and William Werner, to join him. "We worked in his own house, but it wasn't satisfactory and after a month we moved into his one-car garage," recalls Wemer. With only a space heater for warmth, he says, "it was so bad, it was wonderful."

Metcalf eventually moved into an office at 444 South Main, renting the first floor from builder Zeke Jabbour. Balogh did freehand drawings to give clients an idea of what their house would look like, while Wemer did many of the calculations and detailed working drawings. When Balogh left in 1960, he was replaced by Gordie Rogers, who had studied under him. Bettie Metcalf didn't work in the office but was always an important part of the operation, keeping the books, typing letters, and ordering furniture.

Some clients knew just what they wanted. The woman for whom he designed 2576 Devonshire, Metcalf recalls, wanted lots of white walls to display her art collection (he remembers her bragging that she had an original Kandinsky hanging above her washing machine‹and that she'd paid $25 for it in Paris). A home at 1329 Glendaloch has a center courtyard, because its first owner had seen that in South America. But Metcalf says most clients weren't so definite, so he would interview them for several hours to get an idea of their needs: "I'd ask them how they use a house‹if they had meetings where people talked together, if they played cards, what activities they did when they had company, if they read."

Metcalf designed houses starting from the inside. He'd block out how the rooms should be arranged, including where furniture should go. He'd figure out the best view from inside as well as how to bring in the most natural light. He often used grilles he designed to serve as room dividers. The exteriors were usually a series of boxes arranged in interesting ways, sometimes on different levels so they snuggled into the landscape. John Holland, one of the few original owners who still lives in his Metcalf house, recalls how before starting work in 1964, the architect "walked all around [the site] and thought [about] what fit naturally."

The Holland house at 3800 W. Huron River Drive sits high on a knoll with a view of the river below. Because the knoll was flat, Metcalf stepped a bedroom up half a story to give the roof a more interesting look. The house includes many of his signature features, including a big window angled southeast, lots of built-ins including a buffet, desk, and bookcases, and careful use of wood throughout cedar outside and vertical grain fir inside. "There's not a day I haven't been happy to be in this house," says Holland.

By then, the firm was so busy that another client, aerospace engineering prof Elmer Gilbert, waited several years for the architect to be available. Gilbert was single at the time; he later married Lois Verbrugge, and they still live in the house at 2659 Heather Way.

The home is more vertical than many of Metcalf's designs: taking advantage of the sloping site, it is two stories in front, three in back. Because the street side faces south, Metcalf placed his requisite big windows on the north side, but did so in a spectacular way: they're three stories high, and the top floor is a mezzanine that stops before reaching the windows, so light spills down to the first floor.

The siding is cedar, and the inside trim mahogany. The house is still filled with original top-line mid-century modem furniture‹Saarinen, Eames, Bertoia--which Bettie Metcalf ordered so Gilbert could get the 40 percent architect's discount.

Metcalf varied materials and size depending on the means of his clients but never abandoned his basic principles. For instance, in 1957 he designed an inexpensive house at 2466 Newport for anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, then a low-paid assistant professor with two kids. The siding is cement block and plywood, and the inside is finished in inexpensive materials such as tile and Masonite, but Metcalf still did amazing things with siting and light. The house sits on the western edge of the property with big windows facing east giving a view of the rest of the wooded lot.

Present owners Judy and Bob Marans, who bought the house in 1974 when it was pretty run-down, have made many improvements over the years, including enclosing the foyer, adding a garage, and modernizing the kitchen and bathrooms, but they still have kept the basic structure, which they love. Judy Marans remembers thinking when they moved into the house, "When will I get used to the beauty of this? The answer is never."

Metcalf began teaching at Michigan as a visiting lecturer shortly after he graduated. In 1958 he became an assistant professor, promoted to associate in 1963. When he was hired, he recalls, he proposed that he teach "a construction class that every student had to take. It sounds logical, but no one was doing it."

Architects Norm and llene Tyier, who took Metcalf's classes in the 1960s, recall that their most important assignment was to find an active construction site and visit it every day, jotting down observations in a journal. llene watched the building of the U-M's Oxford Houses, while Norm followed an apartment being built near the Blue Front on South State. "It was one of the best things I did as a student," he re- calls. "There was no greater respecter of Mies van der Rone's statement that 'God is in the details' than Metcalf."

In 1968 Metcalf was made a full professor and chair of the architecture department, and in 1974 he became the first dean of the newly named College of Architecture and Urban Planning. The promotions greatly reduced the time he could devote to his private architecture practice.

From 1953 to 1968, Metcalf worked on 100 jobs‹not only houses, but offices, sororities, churches (his Church of the Good Shepherd won several awards), and park shelters. Over the next twenty-three years, when he was absorbed in the work of running the architecture school, he did only twenty private commissions. "He realized he couldn't do both at once," explains Werner.

When Metcalf retired in 1991, he returned to his architectural practice. Werner rejoined him after he retired seven years later "It took the sting out of retirement," he says. But while they were busy in academia, the popularity of the mid-century modem style had waned.

The simple, uncluttered look that seemed so revolutionary to their parents struck many Baby Boomers as cold and sterile. Often built on modest budgets and with a minimalist aesthetic, many homes seemed small by contemporary standards. And there was a feeling that modern houses, with their large windows, flat roofs, and easy flow from indoors to outdoors, fit better in California's climate, where they originated, than in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, postmodernism, with its return to ornamentation, and historic preservation, which celebrated premodern styles, both grew in popularity. Though Metcalf has done thirty commissions since he retired, only three of them have been for new homes.

In the past twenty years, most of his work has involved modifying his own past designs. Holland contracted with him to build a bigger living room and later to add a bedroom and bathroom in the space between the garage and house. When Gilbert married Verbrugge, he asked Metcalf to figure out how to add a study for her on the ground floor as well as making other improvements.

Since the 1950s, home buyers have grown accustomed to more space, more bathrooms, and bigger kitchens. Over the years, many owners have remodeled their Metcalf houses. His admirers often show up at open houses when they go on the market, as does Metcalf himself. Sometimes he finds that there are no changes, but in most cases they have been modified and are often, in his words, "worse as far as I'm concerned." When people ask, he is always willing to show them the original plans and help to do new additions or undo old ones.

Nancy and David Deromedi asked him to help with their house at 819 Avon, a 1950 Brigham design that Metcalf had worked on. The house, built for famous anthropologist Leslie White and his wife, Mary, had been modified by later owners with a snout-nosed garage extension that stuck out toward the street with a porch sitting awkwardly on top of it. When David drove up to attend an open house, he didn't even want to stop, but Nancy convinced him it was worth looking inside.

They bought the house in 2005 and asked Metcalf to figure out how to undo the damage. He solved the garage problem by simply returning it to the original dimension. A second problem, dating to the original design, was a long outdoor entrance staircase, especially treacherous in the winter. Metcalf moved the inside entry outward, creating a well-lit foyer that covered about half the stairs.

Beyond keeping the respect of his clients, Metcalf also became friends with many of them. Holland often stopped in at his office to say hello, while Gilbert and Verbrugge periodically invite him to dinner. At Bettie's memorial service in 2008, the room was filled with people who felt a connection with Metcalf because they lived in one of his houses.

And he's lived long enough to see his designs appreciated by a new generation. Lois Kane, who lived in a Brigham house in Barton Hills, sees young people returning to an appreciation of the environmental and social pluses of living simply, of the "less is more" philosophy. When she and her husband, Gordie, sold their house four years ago, she says, they realized "it would appeal to people who read Dwell [a magazine celebrating modern style and simple living], not Better Homes and Gardens."

When Monica Ponce de Leon was appointed dean of the school of Architecture and Urban Planning, she and her husband, Greg Saldana, bought a Metcalf house at 715 Spring Valley in Barton Hills. Metcalf designed it for Millard Pryor in 1958. Ponce de Leon, who had been on the faculty of Harvard, knew of Metcalf's work and specifically hunted for one of his houses when moving to Ann Arbor.

When Metcalf heard of the purchase, he showed up at the couple's hotel room with his original drawings. Saldana, an architect whose specialty is architectural conservation, used the drawings to restore the house.

Saldana says they constantly get compliments on their Metcalf. "Very recently we hosted a highly accomplished artist who did not know of Bob Metcalf," Saldana emails, "and upon entering our home said, 'what a beautiful home--who designed it?'"


[Photo caption from original print edition]: Metcalf's first home design ws the house he and his lte wife, Bettie, built on Arlington in 1953, They did all the work themselves, inclduing laying the brick floor -- an idea borrowed from an Alden Dow project in Midland. The couple's work paid off. Before the house was even finished, Metcalf had five commissions, all from U-M faculty members.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: After a long wait for Metcalf to get to his house on Heather Way, aerospace engineering prof Elmer Gilbert was rewarded with this unusual vertical design.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Lost University - The Forgotten Campus of 1900

Author: 
Susan Wineberg

Ann Arbor today would be just another small Michigan town- no bigger, perhaps, than Saline or Chelsea- had it not been for one crucial event: in 1837, just thirteen years after its founding, it was designated the site for the University of Michigan.

The initial campus, situated on forty acres donated by the Ann Arbor Land Company, was a tiny affair, consisting of one combination classroom building and dormitory along with four professors' houses. The president's house on South University is the lone survivor from that first generation of campus buildings. Though still used as a residence, it has been vastly altered over the intervening 160 years.

The "Diag" took its name from the diagonal walk that crossed what was then largely an open field. But the campus grew quickly, particularly under dynamic presidents Henry Phillip Tappan (1852-1863) and James Burrill Angell (1871-1909).

Except for Tappan's observatory and Angell's Catherine Street hospitals, almost all of the nineteenth century construction took place on the Diag. By the turn of the century, campus was thick with structures, most built of a red brick in a weighty Romanesque style.

Almost all were swept away as the U-M's growth accelerated in the twentieth century. The Diag was completely rebuilt, and surrounding properties were acquired to extend the university's presence far beyond the original campus borders. Today only tiny Tappan Hall, hidden away between the art museum and the president's house, survives as a reminder of the red-brick campus of 1900

When James Burrill Angell arrived as president in 1871, the U-M had nine buildings. He oversaw the addition of fifty more before stepping down in 1909. The elegant oval shape of Angell's 1883 University Library had been truncated by the turn of the century with the addition of new book storage "stacks" at the rear of the building (left), but a gracefully curved reading room still looked out on the center of the Diag. Though the older portions of the building were torn down in 1918, the stacks were incorporated into the present Graduate Library, completed in 1920.

The Waterman and Barbour gymnasiums, at the comer of North University and East University, were the longest-lived of Angell's great red brick buildings. Their demolition was also a turning point in campus interest in historic preservation. In 1976, when the university announced its intentions to tear down the historic complex, a group called the Committee for Reuse of the Barbour-Waterman Buildings was established and lobbied hard for the university to take another look at alternative uses for the structures, which dated to the 1890s. Petitions were circulated and signed by thousands, citizens wore buttons saying "Recycle Barbour-Waterman," and many spoke before the regents to urge reconsideration.

The regents were not swayed, and the buildings were demolished in 1977 (their site is now part of the chemistry building). But the university has since shown greater sensitivity to historic buildings. And one unexpected result of the regents' intransigence on Barbour-Waterman was the listing of the entire original Central Campus, and other significant buildings such as Rackham and the Law Quad, on the National Register of Historic Places.

President Tappan's Law Building stood at the corner of State and North University. It was completed in 1863, the same year that the U-M's visionary founding president was fired by the regents (see "President Tappan Fired" in "The Top Ten Ann Arbor Stories of the Millennium," p. 31).

The formidable turret was added in a remodeling in 1893 but didn't quite make it to 1900—it was removed during another expansion in 1898. After completion of the Law Quad in the 1920s, the building was renamed Haven Hall and used for LS&A faculty offices. In 1950, a disgruntled student determined to obliterate a bad grade burned it down.

The modern Haven Hall is closer to the center of the Diag. The place where Tappan's Law Building stood is now a lovely, tree-shaded lawn.

When it opened in 1881, the U-M's natural science museum was the first owned by a public university. Designed by architecture prof William LeBaron Jenney—later
famous as the "father of the skyscraper"—the museum had a collection ranging from stuffed animals to Asian manuscripts.

The exhibits moved to the present Ruthven Museums Building in 1928. Jenney's building housed the Romance language departments for three decades before being demolished in 1958.

Exceot for the crowning dome, this long, massive building parallel to State Street bears an uncanny resemblance to Angell Hall. University Hall, completed in 1871, was the U-M's first great classroom building. The impressive dome shown here was actually the building's second- the first was deemed structurally unsound and replaced in 1896. Hidden from State Street when Angell Hall was built directly in front of it in 1924, University Hall lingered on for another twenty-six years before being torn down in 1950.

Stretching the tum-of-the-century date slightly, this multipanel postcard shows the U-M's hospitals as they stood following completion of the Palmer children's ward in 1904. One of the two hospitals flanking the Palmer ward had been built for the U-M's medical doctors, the other for its homeopathic physicians. By 1900, however, the homeopaths had moved out to a new hospital on North University.

The low, many-windowed "pavilion" hospitals reflected the emerging medical thinking of the nineteenth century before the role of germs was understood, disease was thought to be spread by "morbid" air exhaled by sick patients. It wasn't a bad guess, since it led to the division of hospitals into isolated, well-ventilated wards—steps that did help reduce the rate of hospital-induced infections.

By the turn of the century, the germ theory and antiseptic surgery were fueling great strides in health care. The homeopaths soon faded, while the M.D.'s moved into a succession of huge new hospitals—on Ann Street in the 1920s, and overlooking Fuller Road in the 1980s. The site of the old pavilion hospitals is now occupied by the Victor Vaughan Building, Med Sci II, and the Taubman Medical Library.

An impressive testimonial to the growing importance of the physical sciences, the 1885 Engineering Laboratory bore a striking resemblance in both style and scale to the University Library just to the north. It was designed by Gordon Lloyd, the celebrated Gothic architect best known locally for his work on two prominent churches, St. Andrew's and First Congregational.

The engineers expanded into larger quarters bordering the southeast comer of the Diag (home of the famous "Engin Arch"), then leapfrogged East University, and finally relocated en masse to a still-growing complex on North Campus. By then the 1885 laboratory was long gone—it was torn down in 1956.

As the university expanded in the early twentieth century, it acquired and demolished many of the buildings that had bordered the original campus. Between 1909 and 1920, the university gained title to some 114 separate parcels of land, including the Arboretum, the Botanical Gardens off Packard Road, and the site of the power plant on Huron Street. But perhaps its most dramatic acquisition was professor Alexander Winchell's spectac-ular octagon house on North University.

Winchell served at various times as professor of geology, zoology, botany, physics, and engineering. The strong-minded Winchell was one of president Tappan's most vociferous opponents but also a powerful advocate of opening the university to women, and perhaps America's most influential supporter of Charles Darwin's then-novel theory of evolution. His unusual octagon home, built according to the tenets of Orson Fuller, a well-known phrenologist and prolific writer on health, happiness, and sex, was surrounded by extensive gardens that complemented his collections of flora and fauna, some of which are now at the Smithsonian.

After Winchell left the university in the mid-1870s, his home was rented by various fraternities. Acquired by the university in 1909, it was demolished shortly afterward to make way for Hill Auditorium.

The original professors' residences from the 1840s found new uses as the campus grew. This one facing South University housed the Dental College from 1877 to 1891, adding a wing (right) in the process. The engineering department took over in 1892 and stayed until 1922. when the building was demolished to make way for the Clements Library.

The U-M Law Quad has a timeless feel, but in fact it is of comparatively recent construction. Two entire blocks of residences were demolished in the 1920s to make room for it. One of the more spectacular of the buildings lost was the 1880 Psi Upsilon fraternity house, which faced South University at the comer of State. A newspaper account from June 30, 1923, noted that "since the beginning of the second semester men have been tearing down the former fraternity houses on State Street, which occupied the land needed for the new [Lawyers] Club. Practically all of the work of the demolishing of the Psi Upsilon house has been completed and the steam shovel will clear away the remainder of the ruins. . . . Practically all of the homes in this block are now being torn down."

Until recently, it seemed that the same fate might befall the row of four nineteenth century houses the U-M owns on Huron across from the Power Center.But after years of designating the location as a future building site, the university is now renovating and rehabbing the houses—an encouraging sign that it has finally begun to develop a preservation ethic.

Rights Held By: 
Susan Wineberg

Lost Ann Arbor- The Vanished City of 1900

Author: 
Susan Wineberg

The vanished city of 1900

Thanks to the presence of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor consistently enjoys the lowest unemployment rates in the state and has produced an artistic, intellectual, and political environment out of all proportion to its size. But the city has paid a price for its growth and prosperity over the past century, it has lost a great deal of its architectural heritage.

If an Ann Arborite from 1900 could see the city at the turn of the millennium, she would be impressed by its growth—the vast shopping centers along the south side, the office parks lining Plymouth Road, even the tree-lined streets of Bums Park and Ann Arbor Hills would all be new to her. But she surely would be shocked as well to discover how many of downtown's most prominent and beloved landmarks have been demolished.

The city's growth was driven by the university's and nowhere was the destruction greater than on Central Campus (a future article will describe the changes there). The U-M. however, was not the culprit in the demolition of architecturally significant buildings downtown. Many losses reflected the onslaught of the automobile, and the changing patterns of housing, transportation, and work it produced. And of course the normal forces of "progress" also were at work, as brick structures replaced wooden ones, municipal facilities were torn down to make way for larger ones, and "modem" buildings replaced "old-fashioned" ones.

Here's a look at the Lost Ann Arbor of 1900: The local landmarks swept up by the onslaught of the twentieth century.

The 1878 Courthouse
Every city has at least one historic building whose loss is universally regarded as a tragedy. In Ann Arbor, that unhappy distinction surely belongs to the 1878 Washtenaw County Courthouse, shown here on a winter's day in 1916. Foursquare and formidable, capped by a limestone cupola and a soaring clock tower, the courthouse, at the northeast comer of Huron and Main, was downtown's centerpiece. The surrounding Courthouse square, with its grassy lawn and shade trees, served as Ann Arbor's town common. Though its legal functions were taken over by the present modem-style building almost half a century ago, nothing has ever replaced it as the heart of downtown.

The county's first courthouse, an unassuming brick structure built in 1834, played a pivotal role in Michigan history as the site of the "Frostbitten Convention" of 1836, which paved the way for Michigan's admission to the union. But it was outgrown during Ann Arbor's growth spurt after the Civil War, and in October 1877 workmen laid the cornerstone for a courthouse as ostentatious as its predecessor had been modest.

Designed by G. W. Bunting, the courthouse was completed the following year for a total cost of $88,000. The regal structure would preside over downtown for three-quarters of a century. Unfortunately, as architectural fashions changed and the county's legal business grew, it was gradually allowed to deteriorate by civic leaders who considered it outmoded and inadequate.

First, cars were permitted to park on what had been its marvelous lawn. Next came the removal of the clock tower—a hazard, said the building inspector. After World War II, a series of articles in the Ann Arbor News, deploring the horrific working conditions in the building, led to its destruction. In a final indignity, the new courthouse was constructed around old one, filling in three sides of the old courthouse square. In1954, the move complete, the old courthouse was demolished for a parking lot.

A Mayor's Mansion
Already an anachronism by 1900, the Maynard mansion on the northwest comer of Main and William nonetheless survived most of the twentieth century. Built in 1842 by developer and future mayor William S. Maynard, the stately home was once famous for its broad sweep of lawn and beautiful flower garden, which ran down the hill to Allen Creek (the creek now runs underground near the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks). The strutting peacocks on the grounds were a source of wonder and amusement to the townspeople.

Maynard developed most of Ann Arbor's west side and had large landholdings all over town. His memory is perpetuated today by both William and Maynard streets. By the time this postcard was made early in the century, his home had been sold to the Elks Fraternal Order, who used it as their lodge for many years. Remodeled beyond recognition by the Elks and its last owner, the Ann Arbor Civic Theater, the mansion was finally torn down in 1989; today, its site is occupied by the 350 South Main commercial and office block. The only surviving remnants of Maynard's home are the cornice brackets, which were salvaged to restore the cornice at 111 West Liberty.

Grandeur at Fourth and Huron
At the turn of the century, two substantial structures faced each other across the intersection of Huron and Fourth Avenue. The Allenel Hotel, on the southwest comer, was important enough to rate a tinted photographic postcard (undated, but mailed in 1914). Built in 1871 to replace an earlier hotel, the Allenel was remodeled after a 1910 fire and lasted until 1964, when it was replaced by a modem eleven-story building. After decades of intermittent financial trouble, the Ann Arbor Inn closed in 1990; its building is now the Courthouse Square apartments for seniors.

Kitty-comer across the intersection was the Comwell Block. It was built in 1882 by Charles Manley and Joel Hamilton, who had visions of selling it to the federal government as a post office but lost out to a rival site at Main and Ann (see p. 36). By the time this photo was taken in 1910, it was the headquarters of the Comwell Coal Company; signs also reveal the presence of a basement bowling alley and an Odd Fellows lodge. In the 1920s and 1930s, the building was also the last home of Joe Parker's Cafe, a favorite hangout of U-M students and alumni.

The Cornwell Block, like many other ninteenth-century buildings on Huron, fell victim to the automobile: it was demolished in 1936 to be replaced by a gas station. More than sixty years later, the station itself has become an object of historic interest. After the city rejected a recent proposal to tear it down for a parking lot, it's now rented to Vault of Midnight Comix.

The Lost Blocks
Ann Arbor's first "blocks," or groups of storefronts built as a unit by one investor, appeared on Main Street in the 1830s. Fire quickly proved wooden blocks to be impractical, so beginning around the time of the Civil War, they were rapidly replaced with more durable brick buildings. Happily, many of these blocks are still standing—but many are not.

Perhaps the most dramatic loss occurred on North Main directly across from the courthouse (below). Starting at right in this 1892 streetscape, the lineup began with a true architectural gem. Hill's Opera House on the comer of Ann. Constructed in 1871 by G. D. Hill, a local entrepreneur who, among other things, gave his name to Hill Street, it was the center of the city's cultural life in 1900. Renamed the AthensTheater in 1901 and the Whitney Theater and Hotel in 1908, it managed to survive until 1955, despite serious fire code violations that eventually resulted in its demolition. Today this once impressive comer is a surface parking lot.

At the south end of the block, a triangular pediment tops another imposing structure: the Masonic Block, formerly the Gregory House hotel. Later known as the Municipal Building, in the 1950s it was wrapped in blue and white enamel paneling that had already begun to look outdated by the time the building burned in 1972. Most of the block was demolished after the fire. The rest—that last remnant of this once proud lineup—was removed in the mid-1980s to make way for the One North Main office building

A Magnificent Post Office
The lavishly detailed post office on the northeast comer of Main and Ann was a busy social hub when it was built in 1882. At the time, mail still had to be picked up in person—a daily ritual that annoyed many university students but also made the building a respectable meeting spot for the sexes.

In 1886, however, home mail delivery was introduced in Ann Arbor. By the time this photo was taken, around 1892, the post office was no longer such an important meeting place. Replaced after the turn of the century by a new building just to the north (today the Washtenaw County administration building), the 1882 post office and the neighboring Ann Arbor Daily News printing plant were demolished in 1940 to make way for a Kroger supermarket. Subsequently abandoned as Kroger continued its migration to the fringes of town, the new building was a Salvation Army Red Shield store before being bought by the county and demolished in 1989. A five-story county office building is now under construction on thesite—a handsome postmodern design that promises a presence worthy of its Victorian predecessor.

From Church to Newspaper Office
A number of historic downtown churches are still standing, including St. Andrew's, First Baptist, and the First Unitarian Church (now the offices of the architectural firm Hobbs & Black). But others have been lost over the years to growth pressures within downtown, or to the growing needs of their own congregations.

Among the casualties was First Presbyterian, which occupied the southwest corner of Huron and Division for more than a century. In 1829, the congregation built the first church in Ann Arbor on the comer, replacing it in 1860 with this fine red-brick edifice (shown in an undated postcard). But in 1935, as parking became more of an issue and more congregants moved to new residential neighborhoods east of campus, the Presbyterians moved out to their present location on Washtenaw. The Huron Street church was sold to the Ann Arbor News, which tore it down to build an office and printing plant designed by the celebrated Detroit architect Albert Kahn.

A Private Library
At the turn of the century, this homey Romanesque building at 324 East Huron was a privately operated library. It was designed by Irving and Allen Pond, the Ann Arbor-bom architects who would later plan the Michigan Union and Michigan League, and was operated by the Ladies Library Association, which made its collection available to members by subscription.

Ann Arbor's first public library was built in 1906. Financed by a donation from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, it was on Huron next to the new Ann Arbor High School on State (today the U-M Frieze Building). The ladies held out for a decade before donating their collection to the public library in 1916. Their building served as the local headquarters for the Boy Scouts in the 1930s, but was demolished in 1945 to make way for a Michigan Bell Telephone building and associated parking. A newer Ameritech building occupies the site today.

Perils of Modernity
Two major buildings at the corner of Main and Washington succumbed to the pressures of modernization, but in different ways. The high-ceilinged three-story building on the southwest corner—Hangsterfer's confectionery when the top photo at left was taken in 1869—had by 1900 been acquired by the Kresge national dime store chain. In 1912, both Hangsterfer's and the building next door were demolished to make way for a new, two-story Kresge store (today BD's Mongolian Barbeque and Cafe Felix).

Few living Ann Arborites will recognize the building with the candy-stripe awnings (middle photo), even those who see it every day. Home of the State Savings Bank when this photo was taken in 1910, it later became the local branch of the National Bank of Detroit (now Bank One). The original building is still there, buried under several generations of remodeling.

The Last Homes on Main
A century ago, much of what we now consider the central business district was still a residential area. Streets such as South Fourth and South Fifth avenues and Liberty, Washington, and Maynard streets were filled with houses, many of them quite stylish and boasting large lots with extensive gardens. There were even a few home owners on Main Street.

Two of the last holdouts were the Muehlig houses (bottom photo), which stood side by side at 311 and 315 South Main. An old Ann Arbor business family (Muehlig funeral parlor, B. E. Muehlig dry goods), the Muehligs had homesteaded on the site. They were apparently not sentimental about the property, however—in 1928, they demolished the home on the left to build a brick business block.

Bertha Muehlig's namesake dry goods store occupied the northwest corner of Washington and Main (now the Hooper Hathaway law office) for most of this century. Muehlig walked to work from her Greek Revival home until her death in 1955. In 1962, the house was sold and demolished for a Glidden paint store (the building now shared by M Den, Au Courant opticians, and Collected Works).

Miss Muehlig's generosity to local schoolchildren had made her a popular figure, and the Christmas creche on her lawn was a favorite seasonal landmark. The loss of her home prompted a public outcry. "The whole town grieved, not only at the passing of a beautiful and historic landmark, but at the loss of a visible reminder of the noble and gracious woman who had lived there all her long life," local historian Leia Duff wrote in her 1965 book Ann Arbor Yesterdays.

The loss of the Muehlig home led to creation of the first local historical commission. In 1973, city council took advantage of a new state preservation law to designate Ann Arbor's first historic district, preserving nine scattered buildings from destruction or inappropriate exterior alteration.

Today, most citizens recognize the value of historic buildings and appreciate the character, charm, and sense of historical continuity they provide. Ann Arbor now has fourteen different historic districts, protecting a total of more than 1,600 structures.


[Photo caption from original print edition]: The Cornwell Block in 1910

[Photo caption from original print edition]: North Main between Ann and Huron, 1892.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Hangsterfer's Hall (above, in 1869) and the State Savings Bank (left, in 1910) sat kitty-corner from one another at the intersection of Main and Washington. One was demolished, the other remodeled beyond recognition. The loss of Bertha Muehlig's Main Street home (right, reflow) helped launch the historical preservation movement).

Rights Held By: 
Susan Wineberg
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