Chelsea Private Hospital

Grace Shackman

The owners lived downstairs

Sixty years ago, patients at the Chelsea Private Hospital could give birth, undergo surgery, and recuperate from illnesses in a homelike setting while still enjoying the benefits of modern medicine.

The hospital occupied three upstairs bedrooms in an old house at 318 East Middle Street. Two of the rooms had patient beds; the third served as the operating and delivery room. An adjoining alcove was made into a nursery.

Home hospitals were found all over the country between 1870 and 1945. Also called "proprietary hospitals," they formed a bridge between doctors making house calls and the giant institutional hospitals of today.

The Chelsea Private Hospital was owned by Nellie Notten and her husband Ehlert, a well-established dairy farmer. The Nottens opened the hospital in 1926 in a house on Main Street, then relocated ten years later when the federal government wanted the original location for a post office.

The Middle Street house was built about 1885 for Dr. George Palmer and his family. (George's son, Leigh, started the Palmer Ford dealership, which is still in operation.) While Nellie looked after the patients upstairs, Ehlert commuted from the house to his farm. They lived on the buildings first floor and sold some of Ehlert's dairy products from the back door.

The Chelsea Private Hospital served the patients of Drs. Malcolm Sibbald and Joseph Fisher, who had their offices above Schneider's Grocery (now Chelsea Market). John Keusch, whose office was behind theirs, recalls that Sibbald and Fisher performed tonsillectomies and appendectomies at the hospital. Several Chelsea residents remember the care their parents received during their last illnesses at the Nottens' hospital. The two doctors, who were general practitioners, sent more complicated cases to larger hospitals or called on the services of a Jackson surgeon.

Anna Laban, who gave birth to her son Larry in the Middle Street hospital, recalls that Nellie Notten stayed with her in the delivery room, calling Sibbald when she thought the baby was about to be born. "It didn't take him two minutes to get there from his office," Laban says. She remembers Notten as "kinda heavy, middle stocky." Sibbald, she says, was a "feisty guy, quick-tempered, very outspoken—but he was always good to me."

Myrtle Smith, who lived in Dexter, chose to give birth in the Nottens' hospital at the recommendation of her sister-in-law, who lived in Chelsea. Fisher delivered Smith's daughter Bonnie and later gave her checkups in the back room at the Dexter Rexall drugstore.

New mothers were put in one of the two patient rooms and were usually the hospital's only patients. They stayed in bed ten days, not even getting up to go to the bathroom. "I'm telling you, when I was allowed to get up my knees were wobbly," recalls Laban. But all the mothers interviewed have very warm memories of the hospital, remembering that they received good food and good care.

Ann Wood, who had her son Don there, recalls that when Sibbald was nearing retirement age. Fisher handled most of the births, on the assumption that he would be the doctor caring for the babies as they grew up. However, World War II intervened, and Fisher left town in 1942 to serve in the military. (He returned after the war and practiced medicine until his retirement.) Larry Schrader, born on September 29, 1942, was Fisher's last delivery before leaving.

When Fisher went to war, the Nottens closed the hospital. After that, patients wanting to go to a home hospital were referred to one in Stockbridge, though it was considered to be not as well run.

Nellie Notten's health declined, and she died four years after closing the hospital. Ehlert remarried and sold the house. It was used for apartments and for a chiropractic clinic until 1991, when Jackie and John Frank bought it.

The Franks have been meticulously restoring the house to the one-family status and elegant look it must have had when the Palmers built it. But, in remembrance of the house's years as a hospital, the Franks have kept the sink in the former delivery room, which is now their exercise area.

On Labor Day 1998, they organized a well-attended potluck for people born in the hospital. "People were really moved to see where they were born, where their mother was," Jackie Frank says.

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Chelsea Savings Bank

Grace Shackman

It was Frank Glazier's memorial to his father

"It would be a notable building in many a city of much larger size," wrote Samuel Beakes in 1906 of the Chelsea Savings Bank building. Constructed in 1901 by Frank Glazier, the building on the corner of Main and South streets is now the District 14-A Courthouse.

Glazier built the impressive fieldstone temple as a memorial to his father, George, from whom he inherited the bank. Frank Glazier left a wonderful architectural heritage in Chelsea, including the bank, the red-brick stove factory with its clock tower, the employee welfare building next door (until recently home of the Chelsea Standard), and the First United Methodist Church.

His enterprises collapsed abruptly during the depression of 1907. The Farmers and Mechanics Bank was organized the next year to fill the void, and in 1927, the new bank moved into Glazier's building, which in the interval had housed the local offices of the Portland Cement Company.

During the Great Depression, the Farmers and Mechanics Bank merged with the Kempf Bank to form Chelsea State Bank, which remained in the Glazier building. Renovations covered up many of the original elegant details, and the ceiling was lowered to cut heating expenses.

The bank used only the building's first floor. There were storerooms upstairs, where township treasurers sometimes set up temporary collection offices at tax time. The basement was completely unfinished—just a dirt floor covered with planks.

"There was an opening in front of the bank for night deposits," recalls long-time bank employee Margaret O'Dell. The money went down to the basement. In the morning, the men would go down to get it. It was too creepy in the basement for us."

In 1968, the Chelsea State Bank moved to a modern facility at Main and Orchard, which had more room and a drive-up window. The bank donated its old building to the county to use as a courthouse.

At first, the court, too, used just the first floor. But by the late 1980s, the building was overcrowded, and the county needed to make a change. Chelsea residents wanted the court to slay in the historic bank, and although county officials agreed, they said they could afford only to modernize the building, not restore it.

Chelsea's citizens made up the difference. The Historic Courthouse Group raised money from lawyers, judges, court employees, governmental units, and interested citizens. For a year, while the restoration was in progress, the court met nearby at the Sylvan Township Hall. "Everybody put themselves out," recalls Diana Newman, who was active in the endeavor.

The restoration work revealed the original interior: marble walls and floors, carved burr oak woodwork, leaded glass, and ornate plaster work. Taking down the ceiling tiles, restorers discovered a dome that poured light into the middle room.

"We had to push up and down, we had to make all three floors useable," says Tom Freeman, director of facilities for the county. Workers dug out the basement to provide more headroom and poured cement floors. Offices replaced the former storerooms upstairs.

Meanwhile, the Chelsea State Bank continues to flourish. In an age when most small banks are swallowed up by larger ones, Chelsea is lucky to still have a locally based financial institution. "We have been a successful bank and see no reason to sell," explains bank president John Mann. "Our board of directors [is] committed to remaining an independent community bank."

The bank's headquarters are now on the corner of Old US-12 and M-52; the in-town bank building serves as a branch. Keeping its history in mind, the bank has converted the branch building into a modern version of the courthouse—complete with pillars and a red tile roof.

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: The Chelsea Savings Bank failed abruptly in 1907.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Schuyler's Mill

Grace Shackman

Weller's guests dine where Henry Ford once dabbled

"When I was working the midnight shift, many times Henry Ford would visit unannounced," recalls Kenny Rogers, who was employed at the Ford Soybean Mill in Saline in the 1940s, when he was a teenager. During Ford's last years, the auto tycoon bought up old mills all over southeast Michigan and used them to pursue his sometimes eccentric personal interests. At the Saline mill, workers extracted oil from soybeans, oil that Ford used to make enamel paint and plastic for automotive steering wheels, switches, and knobs.

When Ford bought the Saline mill in 1935, it was already ninety years old. Schuyler Haywood had built the gristmill in 1845, and it soon became the center of an independent town as Haywood's relatives and other businesses settled nearby. Haywood named the town Barnegat, after his hometown in New Jersey. "Barnegat was a booming town and Saline a bedroom community," explains Saline historian Alberta Rogers. "They had barrel making, a slaughterhouse, even a house of ill repute." Barnegat was annexed to the village of Saline in 1848.

Barnegat and downtown Saline, about a half mile apart, were separated by a big hill, as high as the hill where the American Legion sits now. Ford flattened the hill when he bought Schuyler's Mill. He also moved the mill building farther from the road and built a factory behind it, in a Greek Revival style compatible with the mill.

A farm boy who became the world's most famous industrialist. Ford was intrigued by the notion of making car parts from crops. He provided soybean seeds to many area farmers, who delivered their harvests to the old mill building. A chute dropped the beans from their third-floor storage bin to a conveyor belt, which carried them to the new factory. There, oil was extracted from the beans with steam and a solvent. The oil was stored in a tank in the adjoining pump house until it could be trucked to Ford's River Rouge plant, where it was used to make plastics and paints. The leftover soybean meal was dried, toasted, and sold as animal feed. A water-powered generator in the mill produced most of the operation's electricity. Soy-based paints were tested in a lab on the second floor.

The plant operated around the clock except on Sunday. Only five or six people worked on each shift, since it was mostly automated. Rogers remembers they spent a lot of time cleaning in anticipation of Ford's surprise visits.

"We kept it immaculate; we'd polish the brass valves, wax the floors," Rogers recalls. Ford usually came accompanied by friends. "They'd be all dressed up in suits and ties as if they'd been out to dinner, and Ford said, 'I'll take you out and show you.' The mills were his toys."

After Ford's death, the mill was sold to a soybean processing company, but the machinery soon became obsolete. Barbara Hamel, daughter of the new owner, re-named Ford's factory the "carriage house" and started a summer theater there (the actors slept in the mill building next door). WAAM radio host Ted Heusel remembers directing plays there. One of Heusel's apprentices at the playhouse was Martha Henry; now one of Canada's most prominent actresses, she recently starred in Much Ado about Nothing at the Stratford Festival.

In 1964, Carl and Micki Weller purchased the buildings and grounds, and they have steadily worked at restoring and landscaping them ever since. Once an antique shop, then a cafe, the buildings now house a banquet facility, run by Carl and Micki's daughter, Wendy Weller. There's room for three events at the same time—in the carriage house and on two floors of the mill. The old pump house is now Weller's office.

Traces of the old operation add flavor to events at Weller's. Pathways are paved with old firebricks, and the old steam boiler is now used as a bar. The carriage house although not air-conditioned, is surprisingly cool in the heat of summer, thanks to windows and vents designed to draw out air from the factory. Carl Weller, who has come to understand the soybean extraction operation well after years of renovation work, explains, "The steam made it so hot [that] even in winter, they could work in their undershirts."

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

5 Rms, Riv Vu

A barn next to the Broadway Bridge is being turned into luxury apartments.

!n the past few years apartments or condos have been built in an old department store on Main, a battered National Guard armory on Ann, and even a former church on Fourth Avenue. But the most remarkable tribute to Ann Arborites' sudden desire to live downtown may be Mike Kessler's project to build apartments in a barn on the comer of Depot and Beakes—just a few feet away from the constant traffic of the Broadway Bridge.

The barn was built by the Ann Arbor Gas Light Company to house its delivery wagons and horses, probably in 1907. (The wagons hauled coke, a coal gasification by-product that the company sold as a home heating fuel.) After the first natural gas pipeline reached the city in 1937, the barn was used for maintenance operations. James 0. Morrison, who worked in the barn in the 1950s, recalls that he and his coworkers unofficially dubbed it the "Ditch Digging Department," since their main job was to hand-dig ditches for gas lines and gas mains. "It was home away from home," Morrison recalls. "We were paid there. We reported there. If it rained we stood in there."

In the mid-1950s the maintenance crews moved out, and the building was used for storage. In 1969 it was sold to activist Charles Thomas, whose Black Economic Development League (BEDL) had been raising money from churches by demanding reparations for past injustices against blacks. He used the money to offer courses for black youths in such upcoming technologies as computers, TV and radio production, solar heating, and photography. In 1973 architect David Byrd and his students built a modem cinder-block building to serve as BEDL's headquarters; the barn was again used for storage.

BEDL's programs petered out as Thomas's health failed. When he died in 1994 both the BEDL building and the barn went to his heirs, who rented and then sold the property to Realtor Thomas Stachler. Stachler found evidences of Thomas's paranoia about government spying, including wire-laced security windows and lead-lined walls. Last March he sold the property to Mark Pfaff, a sales rep for Allied Enterprises, which makes electromechanical and electronic components.

Pfaff has moved his sales office into the front of the new building and has rented the rest of the space to several other businesses. He sold the barn to Mike Kessler, a carpenter, who has also worked as a teacher and in sales. Although Pfaff had inquiries about the barn from people wanting to set up a wine bar, an art studio, or a flower shop, he says he chose to sell it to Kessler because "I didn't want to lose the barn-ness." Says Kessler, "I want to maintain the rustic feel of it all."

Working with architect J. D. Phillips, Kessler is carving out three apartments. Two will be mirror images, using the first floor for a bedroom, studio, and bath and the second floor for a living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bath. Kessler is leaving the beams exposed and keeping the original wood to "keep the feel of the barn."

The urban barn is just a stone's throw from two heavily traveled streets and the busy Norfolk & Southern railroad tracks, not to mention a bridge that's about to be torn down and rebuilt. But all that doesn't scare Kessler and his wife, Serena—they plan to make their own home in an efficiency apartment in the former barn loft. "You can see the river valley, " he says of
the view. "You can see the train making a curve at Main Street."

Photo Captions:

Home on the range: the former gas company barn on Depot in midconversion.

Landmarks: Space Pod Replaced

"It always reminded me of the space pod from The Jetsons," says Carol Uhal, who handles public relations for Great Lakes Bank.

Uhal was referring to the Great Lakes branch on the corner of Stadium and Pauline, built in 1962 and torn down in April. A hexagonal structure with giant umbrella-like wings forming a six-pointed star, it did have a definite space-age flavor.

The architect, Walter Anika, was a member of the board of directors of the bank, then known as Ann Arbor Federal Savings and Loan, and "was free to do what he wanted," recalls retired vice-president Robert Reiff. Many believe that he was inspired by the space race, which had started in 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite.

Architect Denis Schmiedeke calls the branch "a fun-type building for the time." Others are less complimentary. "A Chinese Dairy Queen," is how one former employee describes it. "A few good friends suggested, 'Why not open a hamburger shop?' " recalls Reiff, while retired bank secretary Gertrude Wenger opines, "It was unusual, let's say that."

Raised in New York State, Anika rode the rails to Ann Arbor during the Great Depression and somehow managed to get enough money to attend architecture school. "Anika started at Gill Lumber drawing up house plans for people for twenty-five dollars," recalls U-M architecture dean emeritus Bob Metcalf. He also sold house plans to magazines and newspapers.

Anika's fortunes improved after World War II, when he began designing schools. The onset of the baby boom "left the schools short. There [had been] no building taking place for a long time," explains architect Wes Lane, who worked for Anika. Starting with an elementary school in Milan, Anika received more than 100 commissions all over the state, including Carpenter and Stone schools in Ann Arbor.

The Stadium-Pauline area was just beginning to be developed when the bank chose the corner for its first branch. "It was filled with customers immediately," Reiff recalls. But while the west side flourished, the growth was not good for the building. The hexagonal shape left no convenient way to put on an addition. After tearing down the "space pod," Great Lakes is now building a bigger, much more conventional bank, which should be finished by late summer.

By the time Anika designed the bank, he was living in Connecticut, though he still flew into Ann Arbor for board meetings. In the late 1960s he changed careers, moving to Japan to make movies. Anika didn't live to see his Jetsonesque flight of fancy demolished: retired to Florida, he died in 1992 at age eighty.

At last, a new use for the armory!

Grace Shackman

Ed Shaffran hopes to build housing where militias marched and Bob Seger sang

Ann Arbor had a militia—a group of citizens who could be called out in times of military emergency—almost from its founding. In 1825, Elisha Rumsey organized a company that included practically all the men in the one-year-old settlement. "They drilled on special days, and their marching was loudly applauded, especially by the ladies of the village," wrote Orlando Stevenson in Ann Arbor: The First Hundred Years. During the Civil War, while the young men went off to fight for the Union cause, men over age forty-five formed the Ann Arbor Home Guard, which according to Stevenson
"held parades of their own, marched, and engaged in activities suitable to their years and to the spirit of the times."

The Spanish-American War, 1898-1899, revived an interest in military matters, and townsfolk began to consider building their own armory. In 1909, city council resolved to buy two lots and to construct a National Guard armory. (Local militias had been incorporated into the National Guard in 1903.) Ann Arbor's building was financed with a combination of state funds and contributions from local citizens. The total cost, including furnishings and lockers, was $25,000.

A turreted two-story section facing Ann Street housed offices, classrooms, lounges, a game area, and the caretaker's quarters. A longer one-story section along Fifth Avenue housed the drill hall, where the weekend soldiers practiced marching. The basement was used for a shooting range, lockers, and a kitchen. A room on the northeast corner, accessible only from the street, was used as a polling place and for voting machine storage, a condition the city made when they donated the land.

The armory had many other nonmilitary uses. Older Ann Arborites remember going to the boxing matches held by the local Guard company as fund-raisers in the 1930's. One of the participants was Casper Grammatico, who recalls, "I fought for Company K and got three dollars in trade at Moe's Sports Shop on State. I was sixteen, still in high school, when I started. The place would be full. Admission was forty or fifty cents. I did it every year in winter, two or three times a week."

The Guardsmen also raised money by selling honorary memberships. Don Nutt, who was the armory's technician from 1951 to 1978, recalls that for $10, honorary Guard members got a pin and a certificate. The real reason people signed up, Nutt says, was that membership excused them from jury duty. When the law was changed to eliminate that exemption, most people let their memberships expire.

The local company also rented out the armory. Many dances were held in the drill room, with the canvas that usually protected the wooden floor pulled back and live bands playing on the stage. In the 1930's, Herb ("Red") Ritz played for public dances every Friday and Saturday. Later, in Nutt's time, fraternities often rented the armory for their dances. The location was especially popular in the days when liquor could not be sold east of Division. The Black Elks also rented the armory regularly, since their building on Sunset was not large enough for big dances.

In the late 1960's, a teenage nightclub, Mother's, used the armory on weekends. "The kids came there to dance, to have a good time. There were no drugs. It didn't take much to attract kids back then," recalls Mark Amsdill, a member of the Sindells, one of the rock 'n' roll bands that played there. Amsdill remembers that other groups that played at Mother's later went on to greater fame—such as Bob Seger, the Rationals, and Mitch Ryder. Don Nutt has less happy memories of Mother's. "It was an awful time; they had different principles. They smoked pot and had no age restrictions—college-age kids and thirteen-year-old girls. It was always a tussle."

The drill space could also be rented for sales. After a devastating fire, Montgomery Ward held a fire sale at the armory that was so well attended that Nutt had to get a ladder and climb in through a window to reach his office. The Downtown Kiwanis Club held its popular sales at the armory from 1948 until 1967, when the club bought its own building; Don Strite, the technician before Nutt, remembers lines of customers extending around the block.

Unlike earlier caretakers, Strite and Nutt handled the administrative details of the company as well as the upkeep of the building. In the early days of their administrations, the company remained much as it had been since its founding: locally based (Nutt compares it to a fraternity), with patriotism as its main motivator. ("The pay was peanuts.") Then a series of decisions at the state and federal levels changed it irreparably. The local connection was severely weakened in the 1960's with passage of the Reserve Officers Promotion Act, which mandated that reserve officers had to be promoted regularly in order to retain their commissions. Since officers had traditionally stayed in their local communities for many years, there were few opportunities for steady promotion within local companies, and younger officers were forced to accept transfers to be promoted. Then in 1973 the draft ended and National Guard pay went up, making membership less a patriotic hobby and more a part-time job.

The final blow came in the late 1980's, when the state decided to merge the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti companies. Since the Ann Arbor building was old, and the Ypsilanti armory was to be torn down to make room for the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center (now the Ypsilanti Marriott), they decided to build a new one to serve both cities, next to the Ypsilanti Township Hall.

The Ann Arbor armory has stood empty since the National Guard moved out six years ago. Various groups have shown interest in the building - Food Gatherers, Community Access Cable, and the Hands-On Museum - and so have the city and the county. But a new state law mandating that surplus property be sold at market value put the armory out of the reach of these groups: the state's asking price was close to $500,000.

This summer, the state Department of Military Affairs finally reduced the price and accepted a lower bid from Ed Shaffran, a local developer who has done many projects in the downtown area, most recently the old Kline's building. Shaffran cautions that there are still a number of steps to be taken before the project is final; indeed, his earlier effort to buy the building at the asking price foundered when he couldn't make the economics work. With a more realistic price, he's hopeful that he'll finally be able to move ahead with his plans to convert the armory into housing, either condos or apartments.

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Herz Paint Store

Grace Shackman

Behind its modest storefront was the classiest interior decorating firm in Ann Arbor

Frequenters of downtown have enjoyed watching the recent transformation of the Cracked Crab building at 112 West Washington back to its nineteenth-century appearance. William Herz erected the building about 1880 as a paint store, and his family continued in business there for more than eighty years. Under Herz's ownership, and later that of his son, Oswald, the Herz Paint Store became the premier painting and decorating firm in town.

William Herz, a Prussian, learned his trade in Berlin. Born in 1849, he began his apprenticeship at age fourteen, learning painting, frescoing, varnishing, and sign painting. He emigrated at age twenty to join his parents, who had preceded him to Ann Arbor.

Herz opened his own business shortly after he arrived. Working fourteen-hour days, six days a week, he sold paint and related supplies and also decorated many private homes and public buildings. Within ten years, he had nine employees and was able to replace his small store with the two-story brick building on West Washington. He and his wife, Sophia Muehlig, (they married in 1874) also built an impressive house at 603 West Huron, joining other prosperous Germans on that street. He served on city council for eight years, representing the Second Ward (approximately today's Old West Side). Since Ann Arbor had not yet built its first city hall, he probably hosted some of the council meetings in his store.

When William Herz died in 1913, his son, Oswald, took over. Alice Godfrey remembers Oswald Herz as "aristocratic in manner, always dressed up, and very polite and gentlemanly." Professionally, says architect David Osier, Herz was "the painter and decorator of Ann Arbor."

Herz didn't dazzle his customers with fancy displays. Bill Dettling, longtime cook at the Old German next door, says the store looked "like an old-time grocery store, with shelves on all sides." On one side, glass cases displayed paint brushes. Along the other side, rolls of wallpaper were stacked like rugs. Morrie Dalitz owned Varsity Laundry and delivered clean towels and linens to the store. He remembers it as mostly inventory, not displays; "like himself, Herz kept the place neat."

Herz didn't need to display his inventory, because he worked so well from memory. Mary Culver remembers going to the store with her mother to pick out wallpaper for the bedroom she was taking over from her brother, who was serving in World War II. After they described what they had in mind, Herz simply reached up to the shelves and brought down several appropriate samples. Angela Dobson Welsh remembers that Herz always had the latest thing, including "very modern" wallpaper designs from California.

Herz's paint, like everything else he sold, was top quality. Welch, whose parents often used Herz's services, remembers that his paint jobs seemed to last forever and could be washed without damage. Osler likens hiring Herz to buying a Mercedes. His workmen would first clean and sand the walls and then apply six or seven coats of paint.

Bill Wente, a longtime employee, supervised Herz's crews. Most of the dozen or so employees lived on the Old West Side and walked to work. The firm's single truck was used to deliver the crews and their supplies to jobs. If Herz wanted to check on them during the day, he rode his bicycle.

Home owners trusted Herz and his crews, even turning over their house keys so work could proceed while they were off on vacation. Herz, in turn, would help out in their absence by accepting packages, arranging to cut the lawn or shovel the walk, or even sending forgotten clothes.

Herz had a reputation as an autocratic interior designer. Morrie Dalitz recalls that if Herz said a red chair was needed and a customer objected to red, Herz would order a red one anyway. Welch remembers that he worked in many styles, from traditional to modem, and that the final results were "different looking, something you didn't see anywhere else." Herz was also a potter. He had a kiln on the second floor of his store and offered classes several nights a week.

Like his father, Herz did at lot of work for the U-M, and he also worked closely with Goodyear's department store. Most of his private clients were from the east side, where many professors and successful business people lived. Jesse Coller, wife of surgeon Fred Coller, had a knack for decorating and often helped her friends with their houses. According to Welch, she was a great champion of Herz and sent all her friends to him.

Herz never married. When he died in 1954, he left the business to four faithful employees, including Wente, who continued to run it. But according to Osler, the paint business was changing drastically by then. With the advent of mixing machines and ready-mixed colors, department and discount stores were moving in on the turf that had once belonged exclusively to local paint stores.

At the end of 1963, the partners closed the business and sold the building to Herman Goetz, who changed it to a bar and grill. In 1971 the Cracked Crab took over and did a major remodeling that covered the facade, added a phony first-story roof, and lowered the entrance by removing the stepping-stone with Herz's name etched in it. (It can be found embedded in the sidewalk by the Del Rio's side door.)

The Cracked Crab expanded into the adjacent storefront in 1978. Both buildings are now owned by the same partnership that owns the former Old German building at 120, now the Grizzly Peak Brewing Company. Using old photographs found by Susan Wineberg, managing partner Jon Carlson is restoring the building and recreating its nineteenth-century appearance. He has removed the Cracked Crab's facade and white paint to reveal the original deep-orange brick. In consultation with historic paint expert Rob Schweitzer, he is painting the building's non-brick details in red, yellow, green, and brown, historically accurate colors that also complement the Grizzly Peak.

Carlson's new tenant will be the Cafe Zola, run by Alan Zakalik and Hediye Batu. They chose the name because it had the sophisticated, international ring they were looking for; because the Z picked up on Zakalik's name; and because Emile Zola was writing around the time when the building was put up. They hope to open sometime in January.

—Grace Shackman, with research assistance by Susan Wineberg

Photo Captions:

(Above) Within ten years of opening his Ann Arbor paint store, William Herz built this two-story brick storefront on West Washington.

(Right) After years of neglect, it's being restored to its nineteenth-century appearance.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Growing up in the American Hotel

Grace Shackman

Warren Staebler's boyhood neighbors were traveling salesmen and May Festival musicians

In the early years of this century, traveling salesmen would set up shop for a week at a time in the "sample rooms" of the American Hotel at Ashley and Washington. Downtown merchants would come by to order everything from liquor to dry goods for their stores. Composer Victor Herbert, one of many famous musicians who stayed at the American during the annual May Festival, claimed its dining room served the best sauerkraut between New York and Chicago. But to Warren Staebler, the hotel was home.

Staebler's grandfather, Michael Staebler, built the brick hotel (now best known as the home of the Earle restaurant) in 1885. He called it the Germania, after the Germania Society. Like the Schwaben Verein and the Greater Beneficial Union, the Germania Society sold mutual insurance to members, and it also served as a social center. The hotel's top-floor ballroom housed the society's meetings, lectures, physical drills, and concerts.

The society did not prosper, but the hotel did. In 1895, two years after Warren Staebler's father, Albert, began working there, the family divided the ballroom into additional guest rooms, added a fourth story with still more rooms, and changed the name from the Germania to the American. In 1905, the year Albert Staebler married Dora Tice, Michael Staebler retired and Albert and Dora took over the business. Warren was born in 1910.

The family had a four-room apartment on the second floor, but Warren lived in the whole hotel. As a young boy, he rode his tricycle around the terrazzo-floored lobby, sometimes detouring through the adjoining saloon. He and his sister, Bernice, ate their meals in the hotel kitchen, served by the pastry chef. The only meal the family ate together was Sunday dinner, in the hotel dining room.

Warren remembers sitting in front of the lobby fireplace talking with guests, many of them regulars whom he and his family got to know well. Most were salesmen, who arrived by train, usually on a Monday, and stayed the entire week. Many May Festival musicians returned annually for as many as twenty-five years, and the American also welcomed theater troupes performing at the Majestic Theater on Maynard.

After a big storm, gangs of repairmen from Detroit Edison and the telephone company would stay at the hotel while working to restore service. Other guests came for special events or to visit relatives—in an age when even many employed adults lived in boarding houses, they had little space to put up their visiting families.

From the beginning, the hotel also was home to a flock of Staebler family businesses. From the storefront on the building's east side, Michael Staebler sold, at various times, farm implements, fuel, sewing machines, athletic equipment, and various modes of transportation—bicycles, motorcycles, cars. The Staeblers ran Ann Arbor's first car dealership there, selling Toledo Steamers, then Reos, Oaklands, Franklins, and finally Pontiacs.

As his sons came of age, Michael Staebler turned the various businesses over to them. Albert, the fourth of six sons, was given the hotel business.

Warren Staebler recalls that his father supervised a staff of four desk clerks (often university students), two bartenders, a janitor, and a man who drove the horse and wagon to the railroad station to pick up guests. His mother supervised the chambermaids—one per floor—and had most of the hands-on responsibility for the dining room.

Located right behind the lobby, the dining room was very formal, with linen tablecloths and napkins and waitresses in starched uniforms. The food was good enough that people from town came for dinner there, especially on Sundays.

The hotel saloon also served local customers. When Prohibition was enacted, it switched to serving soft drinks, sandwiches, and light refreshments. But business dwindled, so the space was turned over to the family's car dealership (which had expanded on Ashley).

By then, the heyday of downtown hotels was over. The traveling salesmen had all shifted from trains to cars, which gave them the freedom to go directly from customer to customer, bringing their samples with them. In 1927 the American's dining room closed; its space became the Staeblers' Pontiac showroom.

In 1929, Michael Staebler died, and Albert's family moved into his duplex on Liberty and Third streets. The next year, Albert retired. For a while. Warren's uncles, Walter and Herman, who operated the car dealership, also ran the hotel, but they soon leased it to a company who ran it as the Griswold. In 1954 the Milner chain took over, renaming it the Earle after company owner Earl Milner, who had grown up in Ann Arbor. In 1971, the hotel closed for good.

In 1973, four partners, Ernie Harburg, Rick Burgess, David Rock, and Dennis Webster, bought the building, opened the Earle restaurant in the basement, and began restoring the rest of the building. In 1982 they sold the building to Tom Gaithwaite and Marvin Carlson, who gutted the upper floors, which were still divided into sixty-one small hotel rooms, and made the space into elegant offices, today occupied mainly by lawyers. The eastern storefront, until recently 16 Hands, is currently vacant. The western storefront—the original hotel dining room and lobby—is undergoing conversion to the Sweetwaters Cafe (see Changes, March).

When he grew up. Warren Staebler operated the Hi-Speed gas station at the corner of Packard and Arch (today a park). Now retired, he still keeps several souvenirs of his unusual boyhood in the hotel his grandfather built: a set of chairs from the dining room and spittoons from the lobby and saloon. Asked about growing up in a hotel, he recalls, "My friends envied me because I had no grass to cut. And I envied them because they had grass to cut." —Grace Shackman

Photo Captions

(Left) The exterior and lobby of the American Hotel. Also called the American House, it was originally named the Germania in honor of the Germania Society, which met in its third-floor ballroom. (Note the very tall windows there; the lower-ceilinged fourth floor was an 1895 addition.)

Founder Michael Staebler is the bearded man behind the counter; standing next to him is his son, Albert, Warren Staebler's father.

(Above) The Earle Building today.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Many Lives of 210 E. Huron

Grace Shackman

From Greek Revival to green building

The building at 210 East Huron first shows up on a city map from 1853. Although only a block from the Washtenaw County Courthouse, which was then the center of Ann Arbor’s commercial district, that stretch of Huron was still mostly vacant. The earliest picture shows the temple-like facade of a Greek Revival house.

In the 155 years since that first appearance, 210 East Huron has changed beyond recognition—not once, but three times:

it grew a commercial storefront as a nineteenth-century barbershop; housed a bakery and an auto parts store when Huron was a busy highway; and disappeared behind an avant-garde facade as an architect’s showpiece office.

By comparison, its latest renovation is almost invisible from the street. Inside, though, it’s the biggest change yet: after a just-completed half-million-dollar renovation, it’s downtown’s greenest office building.

Greek Revival was a residential style, so presumably 210 was built as a private home. By 1879, though, it housed George Stein’s meat market. At first Stein lived on the premises, but by 1888 he was doing well enough to buy a home elsewhere.

After Stein left in the mid-1890s, the building became W. F. Wanzeck’s barbershop. Wanzeck added a new facade flush with the street, hiding the original house. Albert Watson, house painter, decorator, and paperhanger, moved in by 1906 and was replaced in 1909 by shoemaker Thomas Lovell, who in turn was succeeded by—or perhaps renamed—the Wear-You-Well Shoe Company.

The little building got a big addition in 1913: its neighbor to the west, the City Bakery, built an L-shaped two-story addition that wrapped around the back of 210. (The bakery was owned by Fred Heusel, great-uncle of the late radio personality Ted.) The bakery soon took over the front of the building as well for its retail shop.

After the bakery closed in 1928, the next long-term tenant was Western Auto, which arrived in 1939. Before the days of expressways, major highways passed through downtown, and the store advertised “everything for the automobile,” including spark plugs, horns, lights, and tires. Clan Crawford, a lawyer who worked downtown, remembers the store as “nondescript. It was a double storefront, with glass windows and a door in the middle.” It also had a small sporting goods section—he and several other lawyers used to browse the fishing gear during their lunch hours.

Washtenaw County’s section of I-94 was completed in 1960, followed by US-23 in 1962. Traffic downtown plummeted, and many car-centric businesses left. Western Auto closed in 1963, and the following year the building was sold to architects Colvin, Robinson, and Wright. Houston “Tex” Colvin, who founded the firm in 1950, dealt with the public. Richard Robinson ran the office and was responsible for the specs, while junior partner Don Wright supervised in the field.

By the time CRW moved into 210 East Huron, the building was very run down and needed lots of work. It was also bigger than they needed—they were able to afford a serious renovation only after signing up a major tenant, the pioneering urban planning firm Johnson, Johnson, and Roy. JJR had outgrown its space in the Hutzel Building at Liberty and Main, where it had a view out the second-floor bay window.

The oldest part of the building, in front, underwent the most drastic change: the architects added a second story, a new roof, and of course a new facade. In the 1960s “modernizing” old buildings was still in vogue, and Don Wright designed an eye-catching slab of brown brick, boldly bisected by a recessed vertical bay.

Wright is modest about his effort. “There were two senior partners,” he says. “While they kept busy, I played with the building.” But JJR cofounder Carl Johnson thinks its “elegant simplicity” was a strong statement of the firm’s identity. “It was compatible with the direction of what they did,” Johnson says. “We thought it was pretty cool—or, as we would have said then, pretty sharp.”

“They were infatuated with the modernist movement,” says architect Rick Hermann, who rented space from CRW and was later part of a group that bought it. With its flat brick surface, gray-painted tubular columns, and framed entrance, he says, “the exterior is not unlike Mies van der Rohe.” Asked about the comparison, Wright agrees that he may have been influenced by the great German-born modernist.

CRW and JJR shared the expanded second floor. Wright remembers that restaurateur Leo Ping was interested in renting the first floor, but the insurance people told them it would be a fire hazard. Instead they divided the downstairs into smaller offices and rented it to attorneys, who found it very convenient to the County Courthouse and City Hall.

The modern facade may have been the most innovative design CRW ever did. They were very well regarded by their clients but were best known for practical designs that worked. Retired U-M planner Fred Mayer describes them as “a journeyman architectural firm. We’d hire them to do renovations and routine projects that didn’t involve sophisticated design, such as remodeling a lab. We knew we’d get the work we wanted from them, but they were not big on the glamorous.” At the Michigan Union, they redesigned the basement cafeteria. “We were told to make it ‘nookier’—more like a nightclub,” recalls CRW architect Bob Chance. That project turned out to be “too successful,” Chance adds: “The students came to study and wouldn’t leave.”

CRW did the same kind of work for another big client, the Ann Arbor Public Schools. “We’d get a call—‘Tex, we need two more rooms at Dicken. Can you do it?’—and we would,” recalls former CRW architect Bob Pierce. Pierce says that some of the younger staff members, himself included, wanted to branch out into more interesting work but that Colvin preferred to stay with what he felt they did best. Pierce eventually left CRW to work for the schools.

When the architecture firm A3C bought the building in 1997, one of the first things they did was alter the front facade, by then more than thirty years old. “We wanted a bit of a contemporary look,” explains Dan Jacobs, principal of the firm along with Jan Culbertson. “In the sixties they were creating austere simple panels; we gave it more level of detail. We wanted the building to have more presence.”

The new owners turned the central recess into a bay window, allowing more light into their second-floor lobby. They softened the monolithic look of the front by adding four rows of lighter brick, and changed the entrance.

Then, last year, they decided to do a state-of-the-art greening of the building. Jacobs was inspired to undertake the renovation after hearing William McDonough, the nation’s leading proponent of green buildings, speak at the 2006 American Institute of Architects Convention in Los Angeles. (In 1999 McDonough had similarly inspired an ecosensitive renovation of the U-M’s Dana Building—one of the pioneer instances of greening an older building.) Jacobs saw the renovation as a way to reduce A3C’s carbon footprint, to introduce green technology to their clients and the general public, and to improve the working environment for their staff.

A3C has maximized the use of natural light by installing skylights wherever possible. The lights are all ultra-efficient LEDs, sensor operated so that no energy is wasted. Dual-flush toilets and sensor faucets conserve water, a passive cooling system draws heat out through two “solar chimneys,” and when heating or air-conditioning is needed, it comes from a geothermal heating and cooling system whose pipes are buried under the alley in back.

To minimize remodeling waste, doors were shuffled from one place to another, and walnut panels removed from the front area went into offices. When the firm used new materials, they chose—whenever possible—either recycled or rapidly renewable ones, such as cork and bamboo. The building has insulation made from old blue jeans, rugs woven from the fiber left at the ends of spools, and wallpaper that’s really paper. When the chairs wear out, the manufacturer will take them back and rebuild them. Although most of these details are invisible in the finished building, they’ve earned 210 East Huron a LEED-CI Gold Certificate from the U.S. Green Building Council—the first downtown Ann Arbor building to be so honored.

The part of the greening anyone can enjoy is a rooftop garden, as aesthetically pleasing as it is earth friendly. Although the post-and-beam construction of the building was strong enough to hold the garden, the roof wasn’t, so A3C’s architects had to add steel beams. They are experimenting with three types of plantings—meadow, arctic ground cover, and a more cultivated, parklike look.

The garden can be enjoyed outside from deck chairs (which were made from old telephone poles) or from the “UrbEn Retreat”—a conference room set in a small, glass-walled penthouse. Made with recycled materials, including wood salvaged from ash trees killed by the emerald ash borer, the retreat is available for use by government and nonprofit groups.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Herman Bock, Decorator

Grace Shackman

A gift from the past at the Law School

Last summer, Deb Adamic was cleaning the ceiling of the U-M Law Library’s reading room when she spotted a cubby­hole where the ceiling beams meet the wall. Reaching in, Adamic felt something loose and pulled out a grimy tube. Inside was a rolled-up piece of canvas bearing the inscription “Herman Bock—Feb. 5, 1931—Ann Arbor, Mich.—Decorator.”

“It was like a gift from the past,” says Adamic’s boss, Ron Koenig. “He put his name up fifty feet off the ground where no one could see it, with the thought that someday someone would see his name.”

Many people know that Law School alum William Cook (class of 1882) gave the money for the beautiful Law Quadrangle. Historians are well aware that York and Sawyer, well-respected East Coast architects, designed the buildings. But until Adamic discovered Bock’s note, the artisans who decorated the building had remained uncredited.

A city directory of the time shows a Herman R. Bock and his wife, Elizabeth, living at 435 South First Street. His occupation is listed as “painter.”

“Decorative painters were the unsung heroes” of historic buildings, Koenig says. “They traveled from project to project and kept a low profile.” Although they’re rare, Koenig had previously run across a couple of other examples of artisans who have left their names to posterity. In the early 1990s, when he was working at the state capitol in Lansing, he found the name Frank Baumgras written on the top of a door frame. The door was poplar and pine, treated to look like walnut. Koenig did some research and discovered that Baumgras was only peripherally involved in the decoration—his brothers and nephews did most of it—so it’s possible he signed his work because he was unused to anonymity. The name was left intact, with a piece of Plexiglas to protect it.

Working at Wisconsin’s capitol in 1996, Koenig was cleaning and replicating painted surfaces when he found five or six signatures entwined in a floral design high on a wall. He realized they were all women’s names and thought, “Wow—what a great thing.” When the wing where he was working was built, from 1910 to 1913, it would have been unusual for women to be involved in such a project.

It is easy to imagine why Herman Bock would have wanted credit for his work on the Law School’s reading room. The coffered ceiling, made of plaster hand painted to look like wood, is gorgeous. The recessed square panels are painted in a fleur-de-lis pattern in blue and ivory. The beams that run across the ceiling are richly decorated in bright colors and have winged shields at their midpoints. Figures of griffins—mythical winged lions—hold more shields at the points where the beams meet the walls.

The four Law Quad buildings were erected between 1923 and 1933. The library was the third completed, in 1931. It looks and feels like a Tudor Gothic cathedral, except that the entrance is on the low, long north side rather than the high, peaked east or west end. There’s even stained glass in the windows—though instead of depicting saints, these feature the seals of other universities with law schools.

Except for routine maintenance and repair, no work had been done on the reading room since it opened. Small lights lit the desks, and light streamed in from the stained-glass windows higher up, but the area between was gloomy. The painted ceiling had darkened with age.

In June 2007 the Law School received a $3 million gift from Charles Munger, a Warren Buffett associate who attended the U-M as an undergrad but didn’t finish (interrupted by World War II, he never got a bachelor’s degree—but did graduate from Harvard Law School). The school raised matching funds for what it called the “lighting project,” since the focus was on making the reading room brighter (it also included safety improvements in the library and neighboring Hutchins Hall).

“The reading room is such a gem,” says Lois Harden, the Law School’s facilities manager. “We wanted to do updates as needed while enhancing the iconic areas and have it all work together, not pull apart.” For instance, exit signs were required but would have looked out of place on the walls. Instead, they were installed on historic-looking metal poles.

Ron Koenig was delighted to win the bid to renovate the ceiling. He had lived in the Law Quad in 1971 when he was a grad student studying English and had fallen in love with the Law Library. Even then, he had noticed that the ceiling needed cleaning.

The ceiling job presented two major challenges: how to work safely fifty feet above the floor, and how to clean and restore the paint without doing any damage. The first challenge was solved with rolling towers. The second was made easier when Koenig discovered that the paint was oil based, not water based, and therefore wouldn’t dissolve in water-based cleaner.

Still, the job was huge. “We cleaned a ceiling the size of a football field with balls of cotton,” says Koenig. He also recast medallions damaged when lights were installed, cleaned parts of the limestone walls that had suffered water damage, and treated metal light units to look like stone.

While work on the ceiling proceeded, Harden sent the reading desks, also untouched since the library opened, out to be refinished. When the ceiling work was done, she also had the original cork floors replaced. They had worn remarkably well and did an excellent job of keeping the noise down, but they were dirty and scuffed. Most of the work was finished by the time the Law School opened last fall. The last job, rehanging the restored chandeliers, was done over Christmas break.

Herman Bock’s signature hasn’t been forgotten. Koenig had the canvas framed on acid-free matting, with glass on each side so that both the front and the back are visible. He will give it to the Law School to display in the building.

The Law School’s enrollment has doubled since the Law Quad opened. Its next challenge is to create more room without harming the beauty of the original buildings.

Two attempts to expand the complex have been made in the past, one more successful than the other. The ­modern-style metal addition to the library stacks facing Monroe Street is widely disliked, while the clever underground library addition is widely applauded. The Law School is now raising money for a three-pronged project: to replace the stacks’ metal cladding with a stone facade; to create a student commons by filling in a courtyard between the library and Hutchins Hall; and constructing an entirely new building in place of the parking lot across Monroe Street, next to Weill Hall.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman
Syndicate content