A tale of two funeral homes

Published In:
Community Observer, Date Unknown,
Unknown

Author: Grace Shackman

Spite spurred a rivalry that still benefits Chelsea

Chelsea is fortunate that an undertaker's twenty-one-year-old son beat Frank Glazier in the 1893 vote for village president. Otherwise, the town wouldn't have its two respected family-owned funeral homes, Cole and Staffan-Mitchell. Glazier, who later become Michigan state treasurer and Chelsea's most famous business and civic leader, was so enraged at losing to George P. Staffan that he convinced Samuel Mapes, a relative, to give up a successful steam laundry and start an undertaking firm to compete with the Staffan family's.

In the nineteenth century, caskets were made by local carpenters—a number of whom, including Frank Staffan, ended up in the funeral business. Staffan arrived in Michigan in 1847 at age fifteen from Alsace-Lorraine and built many of Chelsea's important buildings, including the township hall, two churches, and many of the downtown shops, using skilled stonemasons from the Eisele and Eder families, whom he had summoned from his native land.

Staffan and his wife, Lena, and their six children lived at 705 South Main and ran their contracting and funeral businesses from their home, as was the custom in those days. Their house still stands, although the stables, a storage building for the carriages and hearses, and the workshop are long gone.

A Democrat, Staffan served on the village council and the township highway and drain commissions. His political involvement, successful businesses, and relationship by marriage to prominent local families such as the McKunes and Keusches made him and his family a threat to Glazier, a Republican businessman with lofty political ambitions. By 1898, at Glazier's urging, Mapes had set up his rival undertaking business right behind Glazier's drugstore at the northwest corner of Main and Middle.

In 1906, however. Glazier undermined his own desire to drive the Staffans out of business when he donated land and money for a Methodist old age home. From that time on, there was plenty of business for both funeral homes, and their rivalry was gradually replaced by mutual respect.

When Frank Staffan died in 1915, the business passed to his son, George P. Staffan—the man who'd beaten Frank Glazier for village president more than twenty years earlier. George P. moved the funeral business to a second-floor spot above a tavern on Main Street, using the space to display caskets and to store equipment for funerals. He made his own embalming fluid, which he sold to other undertakers.

George P.'s son, George L. Staffan, is still active in community affairs at ninety-two. George L. remembers the days when funerals were held in the deceased's home. People usually hung a wreath, called a "door badge," to let people know there was a death in the family. His father would bring a folding couch to the home to embalm the body. The family would pick out a casket, and the Staffans would deliver it to the home. Mourners often put potted palms and a screen around the casket. The Staffans would bring a portable organ and folding chairs for the funeral service.

In the early 1920s the Staffan family moved to a big house at 124 Park that had belonged to a doctor. The former examining room on the side of the house was turned into the funeral office. In 1930 the office was torn down and replaced with a chapel, since by then many people wanted funerals outside the home.

For a time the Staffans also ran an ambulance service, using a converted sedan and their hearses. They often had runs out to the three-lane highway between Jackson and Ann Arbor, where the shared passing lane caused frequent accidents.

George L. Staffan took over the business in 1950 after his father's death. In 1981 he sold it to John and Gloria Mitchell, who had run funeral homes in East Lansing and Rochester. Staffan offered to buy it back if the new owners didn't click with Chelsea, but his generosity proved unnecessary—Gloria Mitchell became so involved in local service projects that she was named the village's citizen of the year in 1997.

The funeral business Frank Glazier instigated also flourished. In 1906 the Mapeses moved to a house at 214 East Middle, using the downstairs for offices and the upstairs for living quarters. A succession of owners sold the funeral business to younger partners—Bruce Plankell, Martin Miller, and Lou Burghardt. In 1977 Burghardt sold it to Don Cole. Cole's son, Alan, and Alan's wife, Wendy, have operated the Cole Funeral Home since 1999. They still run the business out of the house on Middle, although they don't live upstairs.

Recently the Mitchells agreed to a village request that their place be torn down for parking. Gloria Mitchell says the decision was hard, "but now we look back and wonder why the struggle." The new Staffan-Mitchell Funeral Home, less than a mile north of town, has all the latest conveniences, including sound and video systems and a children's play area. Like the founders of the business, the Mitchells live in an attached apartment. Many artifacts from earlier days were moved to the new location. A display cabinet contains such accoutrements of mourning as a vial used to catch a widow's tears, black-bordered handkerchiefs and calling cards, dull black mourning jewelry, and bottles that held George P. Staffan's embalming fluid. And in the garage is an old Staffan horse-drawn hearse. It's occasionally pressed into service, with rented horses, when customers request it.

—Grace Shackman

PHOTOS: FAMILY & HEARSE, CARINE LUTZ; STREET VIEW, COURTESY U-M BENTLEY HISTORICAL LIBRARY

Caption:The Mitchells (above) still have a horse-drawn hearse that can be used for burials, if families request. At one point the Staffan Funeral Home was in a storefront above a tavern on Main Street.

Thriving on the Railroad

Published In:
Community Observer, Date Unknown,
Unknown

Author: Grace Shackman

Most Washtenaw County towns were founded because of the potential water power nearby. Chelsea, in contrast, owes its existence to the early arrival of the Michigan Central Railroad.

When the Michigan Central passed through Sylvan Township in 1841 on its way from Detroit to Chicago, the present site of Chelsea consisted of four small hamlets, each of which had been started in the 1830's. The largest one was Pierceville, founded by Nathan Pierce at the current intersection of M-52 and Old US-12. (Pierce's house can still be seen at 14300 Old US-12.) On the north side of present-day Chelsea, in Lima Township, Nathan's brother Darius had started a town he called Kedron, after a river in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, two other brothers, Elisha and James Congdon, had settled on plots facing each other on either side of the present Main Street. The Congdons, who hailed from Chelsea Landing, Connecticut, called their settlement Chelsea and eventually convinced Darius Pierce to adopt the name for his hamlet, too.

In 1848 the railroad built a small station about a mile west of what is now downtown Chelsea. When this station burned down, the Congdons offered free land to the railroad for a new station. In 1850 Michigan Central took them up on their offer, a decision that guaranteed Chelsea's primacy. The same year, Chelsea became a post office, its first store opened, and the Congdons' land was platted. The businesses in the other settlements soon moved into what is now downtown Chelsea.

Thanks to the railroad, Chelsea grew and thrived. By 1881, according to Chapman's county history, Chelsea was the largest produce market in the county, shipping grain, apples, stock, and meat, and the largest wool shipper in the state. "With the exception of a day of exceedingly dubious weather. Main and Middle Streets are thronged with farmers' teams," Chapman wrote, "and the stores of these thorough-fares crowded with customers."

In 1891, Frank Glazier, son of Chelsea banker George Glazier, started manufacturing oil heating and cooking stoves in two buildings on Main Street. After a disastrous fire, he rebuilt on land north of the railroad station. He built on a grand scale, and the stove works' red-brick clock tower remains Chelsea's best-known landmark. Also active in politics, Glazier rose to become state treasurer, but was forced to resign in 1907, when it was revealed that he had deposited state money in his own bank and had pledged the same stove company stock as collateral for loans all over the state. His company went bankrupt, and Glazier served two years in prison for misusing state funds before returning to Chelsea to live out his life on Cavanaugh Lake.

Until ten years ago, Chelsea still had a small-town feel, with the stores on Main Street serving residents' everyday needs. But with the opening of a shopping center at M-52 and Old US-12, downtown stores started moving there, returning full circle to the original site of Pierceville. Almost overnight, downtown Chelsea became a more upscale regional shopping and entertainment area: The Common Grill restaurant replaced Dancer's, the quintessential small-town clothing store, and local son Jeff Daniels opened his excellent new theater, the Purple Rose.


Hey, were you looking for the Summer Game code? You found it! Enter PLUMPLAY on your play.aadl.org player page.

Bridgewater

Published In:
Community Observer, Summer 1998,
Summer 1998

Author: Grace Shackman

A farmer's mecca

For all of its life, the hamlet of Bridgewater has served the needs of local farmers. "It still does—what's left of them," says Glenn Mann, co-owner of the E. G. Mann feed mill and grain elevator.

Located in farm country, halfway between Saline and Manchester, Bridgewater at its height had a blacksmith shop, a farm-implement company, a lumberyard, and a farm co-op, which marketed the livestock, timber, flour, and feed produced by its members. The hamlet also included a barbershop, an ice-cream parlor, a bank, a tavern, and a general store complete with a smokehouse and an icehouse.

Although most of the early settlers of the area were from the East (Bridgewater takes its name from a town in New York), the hamlet of Bridgewater was largely built by German immigrants. By 1854 there were enough Germans in the area to start their own church, St. John's Lutheran. Organized by Pastor Frederich Schmid, who started German churches all over southeast Michigan, St. John's ran a German school for a time and continued to hold German-language services into the twentieth century. Former Bridgewater resident Jack Livingstone remembers that when his family moved to the area in 1937, many people still spoke with a German accent.

The Detroit, Hillsdale, and Northern Indiana railroad reached Bridgewater in 1870, making a beeline from Saline to Manchester. The station is still there, now used as a storage shed by Bridgewater Lumber. Businesses around the station catered to farmers shipping their crops to market; there were livestock pens, warehouses for wool and potatoes, and a dairy to process milk.

David Ernst, whose parents ran the ice-cream parlor and blacksmith shop, earned extra money as a schoolboy by helping around the railroad station. He sacked the wool fleeces and put bedding in cars for the livestock. "The train car was divided into two decks, about four feet high. So I'd go in and spread hay about eight or ten inches thick," he recalls.

At the center of Bridgewater's social life was its "opera house," above the implement company's storehouse. "It was called the opera house because it had a piano," explains Livingstone. Dorothy Armbruster, whose dad ran the car repair shop, remembers the dances there. "Dad played in the band every Saturday night, big band music," she recalls, "They put us kids to sleep on stage behind the piano."

On weeknights, locals and farmers often played cards in the Ernst family's ice-cream parlor. On weekends, they'd go to one another's houses for potlucks and play euchre or shoot the moon.

During the summers of the late 1940s and early 1950s, merchants sponsored outdoor movies every Tuesday in a lot between the general store and the railroad station. "There was a serial, a cartoon, and movie—like going to the theater," remembers Margie Wurster. They'd set up a projector on a truck and a big screen at the back of the lot. Families came and settled down on blankets and folding chairs or parked their cars across the road on the mill property.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Bridgewater was home to one of the biggest chicken hatcheries in the state, owned by Luther and Irwin Klager. (Luther founded the Manchester Chicken Broil.) But as the number of farm families has declined, so have some of the businesses the hatchery once supported.

Train service to Bridgewater ended in 1961, and the general store closed in the mid-1970s, unable to compete with big chains. But the Bridgewater Lumber Company and the E. G. Mann Mill—both in their respective families since 1938—are still thriving. The former general store is now Bridgewater Tire, specializing in big tires for farm vehicles. The bank, a victim of the Depression, is now the Bridgewater Bank Tavern, with historic pictures on the walls.

—Grace Shackman

Dexter Cider Mill

Published In:
Community Observer, Winter 1998,
Winter 1998

Author: Grace Shackman

A little bit of Americana

On the northern edge of Dexter, where the Huron River flows into town, stands the oldest cider mill in continuous use in the state, and one of the few still using wooden presses.

"We still have the original washer, grinder, and crusher," says Richard Koziski, who owns the Dexter Cider Mill with his wife, Katherine. "People from the Henry Ford Museum have been here to observe. We share stories back and forth."

The site has been used since 1836, when Peninsula Mills started grinding flour here. In 1838 a sawmill and wool plant were added. The plant made yarn for stockings and blankets.

In 1886, William Van Ettan and a Mr. Tuttle built the two-story red-painted wooden cider mill. Apples were delivered to the second floor, where they were washed and ground into a mash called "pomace" that fed the press on the first floor. The river provided water for the twelve-horsepower steam engine and also helped keep the finished product cool. An early record reports that the mill "ran day and night in 1887 and produced 100 barrels in 10 hours." The owners shipped the cider, along with jelly they also produced at the mill, to markets by railroad.

Michigan was, and still is, a good state to grow apples. "Known as the 'Variety State,' Michigan is fortunate to have the type of climate that provides cool nights to build flavor, sunlight for color, and rain to swell the apple," Katherine Koziski writes in the introduction to The Dexter Cider Mill Apple Cookbook.

Besides making cider to sell at market, the mill also pressed farmers' apples for their own use. Longtime Dexter residents remember seeing long lines of horse-drawn wagons (and later trucks) filled with apples as farmers waited their turn outside the mill.

"Cider was a substitute for water," says Richard Koziski. "Wells at the turn of the century were often shallow and became polluted." Farmers could also let their cider turn to vinegar for preserving or cleaning, or to hard cider for recreational drinking.

In 1900, John Wagner bought the mill. It stayed in the family for three generations, as his son Otto took over, followed by Otto's son Frederick. It was the Wagners who, in 1953, installed modem bottling equipment. Middle-aged people in Dexter remember earning extra money as schoolkids washing one-gallon glass bottles for a penny apiece. The mill also used to make pasteurized apple juice and grape juice, using grapes from the Paw Paw area.

After Frederick Wagner died in 1981, his widow, Katherine, continued to run the mill with help from her children until the Koziskis purchased it in 1987. The new owners have tried to keep the mill as historically authentic as possible. The only major change is an addition, built in the style of the mill, where the Koziskis' son-in-law, Roger Black, runs an upscale produce market.

The cider mill is open from mid-August to mid-November. The Koziskis buy their apples from small family-run farms, and the whole family pitches in to help—including Katherine Koziski's mother, who makes pies.

Fall is usually a frantically busy time—but it's also a lot of fun, says Richard Koziski. "It's a little bit of Americana," he says.

—Grace Shackman

Schuyler's Mill

Published In:
Community Observer, Winter 1998,
Winter 1998

Author: 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

The Dexter Co-op

Published In:
Community Observer, Winter 2004,
Winter 2004

Author: Grace Shackman

The rise and fall of a radical idea

In 1919 a group of Dexter-area farmers did something radical. One story says they did it because a Detroit buyer bragged about how much money he was making off them. Another story says that Hoey and Sons Lumber and Coal Company brought it on by charging too much for necessities like feed, grain, and hardware. "Farmers were at a disadvantage dealing one-on-one with packing companies, grain dealers," says Carl Lesser.

In November of that year, about fifty farmers, including Lessor's grandfather, met at the Dexter Opera House and agreed to put in $50 apiece—a tidy sum in those days—to start the Dexter Agriculture Association. Each also pledged an additional $50. "It was just a group of farmers who decided they should be able to buy cheaper and sell for a better price," says Bob Mast, a second-generation member.

In those days, co-ops were relatively new and controversial. The large companies that served as middlemen between farmers and consumers had tried to invoke the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act to have co-ops declared illegal, even though the act was passed to prevent business monopolies. A 1914 law, the Clayton Act, legalized co-ops but did not define their powers. In 1922 Congress finally spelled out, in the Capper-Volstead Act, that farmers could lawfully unite to collectively process, handle, and market their products.

The Dexter group bought an old house and five lots on a triangle of land bounded by Central Street, Third Street, and the Michigan Central Railroad tracks. It was an excellent location: at the time, the railroad was the main way to ship farm produce and get farm supplies. The co-op opened for business on January 1, 1920. Within two months it had ninety-four members.

The association, renamed the Dexter Co-op in 1927, sold supplies to members at low markups and helped them sell their own products. The co-op converted the old house into a feed production area, mainly for pigs, chickens, and cows. The farmers brought in grain they'd grown, such as oats or corn; ground it in the basement; and then took it upstairs to be mixed with a concentrate. Also upstairs, co-op employees shelled corn. These services were so much in demand at harvest time that farmers lined up from dawn to dark waiting.

The co-op bought a large scale (for a time the only one in the area) and placed it near the house, protecting it with a drive-through shelter. Lesser remembers accompanying his father in a horse-drawn wagon when he brought in loads of hay. "The building was so small it was hard to get the hay in," he recalls. "We had to push it in. We must have lost a lot." The co-op's bookkeeper had only to look out the window of the attached office to record the weight.

To store and ship cash crops, the co-op leased a grain elevator, freight house, and loading dock from the railroad. All of them were flush with the tracks for easy loading. (Wheat was then the biggest cash crop, and most of it was sold to flour mills in the area.) When carloads of incoming supplies such as lumber and coal arrived, they were stored until unloaded on a spur of track in the co-op grounds. As the co-op became more successful, it offered an expanding range of items, from flour and salt to Portland cement, fencing, and twine.

The secret of its success, according to Lesser, was its ability to buy products so cheaply that it could sell competitively and still make enough to cover its operating costs. Buying from other co-ops and from organizations such as the National Farmers Group and the State Farm Bureau allowed the co-op to obtain cattle feed and fertilizer at very low prices. For a few years the Dexter Co-op even sold farm machinery produced by a co-op in Lansing.

The board of directors hired a manager for day-to-day operations. The membership of the co-op met yearly at a big dinner, usually held at either the Masonic Temple or St. Andrew's Church. The meeting included a financial report, election of board members and officers, and a speaker on an agricultural topic.

The people who originally bought shares in the co-op were common stockholders. Common shares, .much in demand because they earned more than bank accounts did, were rarely available. Anyone could be a "preferred stockholder" just by doing business with the co-op. At the end of the year, the customers shared in the year's profits according to how much they bought.

The co-op did well during the Depression and outgrew its facilities. In 1940 it broke ground for a new vitrified-tile building, which the Dexter Mill still uses. To celebrate the building's grand opening on March 8, 1941, the co-op cooked up 100 pounds of free hot dogs and gave away door prizes—knives, pencils, baby chicks. The co-op now had room to stock more agricultural supplies and add new products, such as building materials, hardware, dishes, and kitchen cabinets.

In 1949 a big fire destroyed the wooden grain elevator. The co-op built a new, fire-resistant elevator and a new feed mill where the old house had stood. But the new setup couldn't save the co-op from a decline in family agriculture and a dwindling commitment to the co-op concept. "It was loyalty that kept it going," says Lesser. "The first generation knew the reason for the organization." Later generations were less loyal and more mobile: as farmers got big trucks, they could travel farther and do business for-profit companies that, because of greater volume, could offer lower prices than the co-op did. As the co-op's business declined, it had to buy in smaller volumes, and its prices rose.

In 1969 the co-op board sold the business to Washtenaw Farm and Garden Center, which was leaving its Ann Arbor store in what is now Kerrytown. On March 22, 1980, after the Farm and Garden Center finished paying off its land contract, the co-op held its last meeting to pay off stockholders and close the books. With the help of his wife, Thelma, Bob Mast, who was the last treasurer, was able to find a large number of the original stockholders or their heirs. The co-op made enough from the sale, plus the accumulated interest, to pay $10 a share—the original face value of the stock. "Very few co-ops could do that," says Mast.

John Cares, an agriculture graduate of Michigan State, now runs the Dexter Mill in the old co-op buildings. Cares provides many of the same services the co-op did, making feed, and sells many of the same supplies, such as fertilizer. As full-time farming continues to decline, more of his customers these days are gentlemen farmers or suburbanites with small gardens.

Every now and then people come into the Dexter Mill with old co-op stock certificates, maybe found in Grandpa's attic, and try to redeem them. Cares refers those customers to Mast, who says, "There's not much I can do about it. I tell them to put it on the wall and look at it."

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption:

Today, the Dexter Mill provides many of the same products and services that the Dexter Co-op did through the 1960s.

The Herz Paint Store

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, December 1995,
December 1995

Author: 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.

The Many Lives of 210 E. Huron

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, October 2008,
October 2008

Author: 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.

The History of the Ann Arbor Foundry

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, January 1992,
January 1992

Author: Grace Shackman

Who'd have guessed that Ann Arbor's distinctive manhole covers were made by a black Canadian orphan and a Russian Jewish Revolutionary?

The renovated office building at 1327 Jones Drive is named after the Northern Brewery, which occupied its site, just east of Plymouth Road, from 1872 to 1908. But the building had an equally interesting life after that, from 1920 to 1972, as the Ann Arbor Foundry. The foundry's "The Ann Arbor" logo, cast into manhole covers and storm sewer grates can still be found all over the older parts of town. Newcomers who spot them sometimes get the impression that Ann Arbor is so snooty it even has customized sewers.

The Ann Arbor Foundry was anything but snooty. It employed only about forty people, and it lived on small orders - for instance, a single manhole for a street repair project - that bigger competitors couldn't be bothered with. But it was an extraordinary place all the same. It began as a co-operative, a self-employment plan for a group of displaced foundry workers. In later years, the original group of owners dwindled to an effective but improbable duo: Charlie Baker, an orphan whose forebears fled to Canada to escape slavery in the U.S., and Tom Cook, a Jewish refugee from Czarist Russia.

In 1872, George Krause bought the site for his brewery. He was attracted by its proximity to Traver Creek and to the natural springs nearby. Krause used the spring water to make his beer, and ice harvested from the creek to keep it cool. Krause sold his Northern Brewery to brothers John and Fred Frey. John bought out Fred and then sold the business to German-trained brewer Herman Hardinghaus in 1885. The next year Hardinghaus built a substantial two-story brewery - "a fine brick block," Samuel Beakes called it in his 1891 Portrait and Biographical Album. According to Beakes, in addition to beer Hardinghaus brewed "a superior quality of ale which he ships to different cities and towns."

Hardinghaus ran the brewery until it closed in 1908. Although there was no sign that heavily Germanic Ann Arbor had lost its taste for beer, many small brewers were folding then in the face of competition from regional and national brands. When Krause opened the brewery in 1872, there were five other breweries in Ann Arbor alone. By the time Hardinghaus closed it, only one other was left.

The brewery building was briefly taken over by an ice business, and later by a creamery. But it had stood empty for about three years when the organizers of the Ann Arbor Foundry bought it in 1920.

The group had worked together at Production Foundries, at 1300 North Main, and all had lost their jobs when the foundry closed. Rather than look elsewhere for work, ten of them decided to form a co-op and go into business for themselves.

Only active foundry workers were allowed to join the group - no passive investors were permitted. Each of the ten founders agreed to work for the same wage—seventy-five cents an hour— and to invest $500 in the business. With total capital of $5,000, they put $1,000 down on the purchase of the brewery building and spent the rest on used foundry equipment.

It sounded like an ideal working situation—except that even a co-op foundry was still a foundry. Melting metal and casting it in molds is notoriously hot, dirty, and dangerous work. Ernie Jones, who worked at the Ann Arbor Foundry from 1948 until it closed in 1972, remembers that some new employees hated the heat and heavy lifting so much they quit after their first day on the job.

In addition to the built-in problems, work was slow at first. Four partners left and sold their investment to the rest within the first few years. (The buy-out value was set in monthly business meetings in which the organizers reviewed the company's financial situation.) Gradually, others left for various reasons—ill health or injuries (one organizer lost an eye on the job and decided to leave before he lost another) or to take other jobs. By 1946, only two of the original ten were left: Charlie Baker and Tom Cook.

Instead of looking for new partners, Baker and Cook decided to inaugurate profit sharing. Every three months, they divided 25 percent of the profits among their employees, which by then numbered about forty. There was an additional 2 percent bonus at Christmas. Ernie Jones remembers that he was able to buy a house on Daniel with his share of the profits.

The two partners came from totally different backgrounds. Baker was born in Buxton, Ontario, in 1886, part of the black community that settled in Canada before the Civil War. According to his widow, Ruby Baker, he had no formal training in foundry work; "he just learned." (Now in her nineties, Ruby Baker still has frying pans that her husband cast for her.)

Baker's parents died when he was a child; afterward, he lived with various relatives and with people who would let him work around their places in exchange for a bed. When he was twelve, he ran away to work for the railroad. In 1918 he came to Ann Arbor and found work as a laborer in the Production Foundries. That was where he met Tom Cook.

Cook was born Tevye Kooks in 1887 in Kherson, Ukraine. He qualified to continue his schooling at the local gymnasium, but his parents were too poor to buy the required uniform. Under the czars, Jews couldn't get apprenticeships in heavy trades, but Kooks went on to learn iron molding at a special ORT trade school funded by foreign Jewish philanthropists. When Kooks was nineteen, anti-Semitic pogroms broke out. He became a revolutionary, was jailed for passing out literature to soldiers, and escaped to Austria. After working in Europe for a few years, he managed to get to the United States in 1909—where his name was changed by U.S. immigration officials.

Within a year, Cook had a job working for pioneer car builder R. E. Olds in Lansing and had saved enough money to send for his childhood sweetheart, Esther Noll. They married and moved on to Detroit, where he worked at the Stroh foundry. When his foreman there, Everett Bets, left to start the Production Foundries in Ann Arbor, he persuaded Cook to join him.

When Bets's foundry failed, the job disappeared. But wanting their children to get a good education, the Cooks decided to stay in Ann Arbor. Cook and Baker went on to become the Ann Arbor Foundry's central figures.

The two men "had a beautiful relationship," says Ernie Jones. "They were the best of friends." If they had any differences, adds Jones, "they would straighten it out behind the scenes." In the pre-civil rights era,, there were some advantages to their bi-racial partnership. Cook, for example, could attend and learn from industry conventions where Baker did not feel welcome.
Neither partner had had an easy time getting established, and both were compassionate men who did not believe in bosses. Instead of hiring foremen or overseers, they worked side-by-side with their employees. According to Jones, "If someone walked in, they wouldn't know who was boss." Nor, he jokes, could you tell who was black and who was white: within fifteen minutes of starting work, everyone was uniformly covered with soot from the smelting furnace.

The work involved a lot of heavy lifting, and was so dirty that the company provided lockers and showers so the men could clean up before going home. But Jones says the work crew was "like family. If you saw someone struggling [with a task], you would help them." At noon, everyone stopped work and sat down to eat together. On warm days, they would eat outside by Traver Creek.

Cook's daughter, Henrietta Sklar, calls the Ann Arbor a "jobbing foundry," one that specialized in small custom orders. If the city wanted a large number of sewer castings for a construction project, for instance, the bid was likely to go to a big company
like the N^enah (Wisconsin) Foundry. On the other hand, if a crew repairing a street needed a single casting, it was a lot handier to pick one up from the Ann Arbor Foundry than send a truck all the way to the Neenah warehouse in Detroit.

The Ann Arbor Foundry did machine castings for American Broach (then on Huron Street just west of downtown) and dies for General Motors. In the early years, one of its most important jobs was casting coal-furnace parts. It also made auto parts, irrigation pumps, old-fashioned door latches, and ornamental items.

The foundry also cast many one-of-a-kind jobs, ranging in weight from one pound to 5,000 pounds. The owners took pride in never turning down a job. "Anything that is hard to make—I like to tackle it," Cook told an interviewer in 1969.

Ruby Baker remembers that her husband and Cook worked very hard. "They were the owners, so they stayed until the job was done—sometimes quite late." But both men found time to be active in the community. Baker was one of the founders of the Wild Goose Country Club, a recreation center in Lyndon Township for black families in the days of segregation. He was also active in his church, Bethel AME, while Cook was active in Beth Israel and a number of Jewish organizations.

Foundry workers could take advantage of what Henrietta Sklar, who worked in the foundry office, called "our free loan association." An employee in financial straits could get an interest-free advance of up to several hundred dollars, which would be repaid in $10-per-week payroll deductions. "One of our employees was always being jailed for failure to pay child support," Sklar recalls. "We would bail him out, pay his back payments, and he would pay us out weekly."

Baker and Cook also supported each other's causes. Minutes of the Ann Arbor Foundry from the 1950's record Baker moving to give money to the United Jewish Appeal, while Cook moved to give funds to the Dunbar Center, forerunner of the Ann Arbor Community Center. Cook was believed to be the first local contributor to the United Negro College Fund.

Neither Baker nor Cook ever retired. Cook was still working when he suffered a heart attack in his early eighties; he died in 1971 at age eighty-four. Baker was one year older, but continued working until the foundry closed the next year. He died in 1978 at age ninety-one.

After Cook's heart attack, his daughter, Henrietta Sklar, tried to take his place. But the team that had functioned for fifty years had begun to come apart. The final blow came in 1972, when the foundry was cited by the Michigan Air Pollution Control Commission.

Buying pollution controls would have cost $100,000. Ernie Jones believes that if Cook had still been alive and Baker younger, they could have solved the problem, but it would have taken more than just pollution controls. Though the foundry had added cinder block wings onto the original brick brewery, it needed to be enlarged again to be competitive.

It also would have had to move out of an area that was becoming increasingly residential. When Jones started work at the foundry, three cows grazed in the field out front along Plymouth 'Road. In the 1960's, they had been replaced by large apartment complexes. While its longtime neighbors accepted the foundry, the new renters hadn't bargained on
being showered by, cinders when they went outside to sunbathe.

The Ann Arbor Foundry closed in 1972. Its building stood empty until 1978, when the Fry/Peters architectural firm took it on as a project. By then it was so dilapidated that Dick Fry had to appear twice before the city's Building Board of Appeals to convince them not to condemn the building before they could line up investors for its renovation.

Fry and David Peters turned the inside space into offices. To retain the historic flavor, they kept the overhead cranes that had been part of the foundry and painted the tall smelter stack orange. They also dug out the basement to reveal the brick vaults where beer had once been stored.

The renovation was expensive, and the space hasn't always been filled (though it is now). But Fry is still glad they made the effort. "Part of what makes Ann Arbor special," he says, "is saving something like this."

The white-collar workers who populate the building these days don't have to worry about soot, injuries, or summer heat (the building is now air-conditioned). But they do hark back to their foundry forebears in one way. As part of the renovation, Fry and Peters built a deck on the back of the building, overlooking Traver Creek. In the summer, office workers eat lunch there, watching the blue heron that lives nearby.


[Photo caption from the original print edition]: Foundry co-owner Tom Cook pouring iron. Cook and partner Charlie Baker worked side-by-side with their employees. "If someone walked in, they wouldn't know who was the boss," recalls foundry worker Ernie Jones. Nor, Jones jokes, could they tell who was black and who was white: within fifteen minutes of starting work, everyone was covered with soot from the smelting furnace.

[Photo caption from the original print edition]: Dave Drumright cleans a machine casting. As a "jobbing foundry," the Ann Arbor made its living on special orders too smaU for its larger competitors.

[Photo caption from the original print edition]: The Ann Arbor Foundry closed in 1972, when it confronted a $100,000 bill for air pollution controls. To continue, the foundry probably also would have had to relocate outside its increasingly residential neighborhood—tenants in nearby apartments resented getting sprinkled with cinders when they sunbathed. Today, the renovated building is rented out as offices.

Chelsea Farmer's Supply

Author: Grace Shackman

Chelsea Farmer's Supply
It’s still got the feel of its heyday

In 1987, Greg Raye suggested that Chelsea Farmer’s Supply be torn down. Two years later he and his wife, H. K. Leonard, bought the building to keep it from being turned into a parking lot. “I had no desire to run a business,” explains Raye. But today he and Leonard are still running it.

Syndicate content