417 Detroit St.

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, January 1990,
January 1990

Author: Grace Shackman

The Ecology Center was once an apple-packing plant

Artnet's and the Sepulchral Monument Industry

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, November 1989,
November 1989

Author: Grace Shackman

After almost a century in eclipse, epitaphs are making a comeback

Saline Valley Farms

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, August 1989,
August 1989

Author: Grace Shackman

An auto heir's vision of the rural good life, it was a social success but a financial flop

Three miles south of Saline, on Milkey Road, a series of boarded-up houses and deserted farm buildings mark the site that from 1932 to 1953 was Saline Valley Farms. "No Trespassing" signs on trees and fences bar visitors from what was once a busy cooperative farm.

Saline Valley Farms was the brainchild of Harold Gray, "a rich man with rich ideas," according to former resident Ruth Hagen. Gray's grandfather was a practical lawyer who made a fortune as the first president of Ford Motor Company. Harold, on the other hand, was a pacifist and economic dreamer who decided to use his large inheritance to try an alternative method of farming. In interviews at the time, Gray said his idea was to show that by combining agriculture with on-site canning and marketing activities, "a group of people living on the land and working in close cooperation could achieve a standard of living and a degree of security above that of the average farm family."

Man Looking at Chicken on Lap

"Man Looking at Chicken on Lap," Saline Valley Farms

Gray developed his ideas of agricultural economy while studying economics at Harvard (he earned a B.A. and an M.A. and did further graduate work) and as a missionary in China. In the early days of the Depression, he decided to try to put his ideas of farming into action, and after a year of searching found an abandoned 596-acre farm that met his purposes: rural enough for low taxes but near to markets and also to the cultural advantages of Ann Arbor.

Gray's first recruit was Harold Vaughn. Vaughn, a former county extension agent who had retrained as a social worker, became the farm manager. "We arrived on barely passable roads," Vaughn later wrote of his first day, April 4, 1932. "The old farm house and west barn stood empty. Loose doors banged noisily in the wind. The furnace was broken, the water system didn't work and the electricity was off."

Together, Gray and Vaughn found people, eventually twenty families, to move to the farm and turn it into a working operation.

With a lot of work, plus a massive infusion of Gray's capital, the farm was soon transformed: roads built, a lake formed by damming the creek that ran through the property, fields laid out, and orchards planted. Houses for the workers were built with the occupants in mind and varied depending on the size of the family.

Hog Barn

"Hog Barn," Saline Valley Farms

The first ones were dubbed "Detroit News" houses because they were taken from plans published in the newspaper, but two of the later ones were designed by U-M professor of architecture George Brigham.

Behind the original farmhouse, a store was built with a recreation hall upstairs that was used for square dances, potlucks, and plays. Attached at the rear of the store was the canning factory; Saline Valley Farms sold its canned goods under its own label, which featured a picture of the twin-siloed main barn.

Gray liked to have the best of everything. The cows were purebred Guernseys that produced very rich milk; the pigs made excellent sausage. The chickens were Plymouth Barred Rocks that Hagen bred carefully, using the trap nest method so he could account for every egg.

The produce and animal products were preserved in the canning factory, the domain of Marian Vaughn, Harold Vaughn's wife. She was a strong force on the farm, organizing cultural events, setting up a summer camp for the members' children, and acting as peacemaker when her husband and Gray, although friends, periodically fought.

J. L. Hudson's food shop was a major customer for Saline Valley Farms products, but the main mode of distribution was through delivery routes that Gray had developed out of his own practice of taking fresh produce to his friends in the Detroit suburbs. Gray himself and several other delivery men would deliver fresh dairy products, produce, canned goods, and meat on a regular schedule.

Although it produced delicious products, Saline Valley Farms was never a financial success, according to Don Campbell, who kept the books. "The whole operation was too expensive to make any money. It never even broke even." Also, although it was called a co-op, it never really was. Day-to-day decisions were discussed at staff meetings, but no one doubted that Gray had the final say. "My husband and the general manager didn't always agree with him," recalls Ruth Hagen, "but he was the boss."

Farm Buildings

"Farm Buildings," Saline Valley Farms

Although inflexible about the farm operation, Gray was tolerant of most other ideas. Political philosophies ran the gamut from anarchism to Republicanism, and religious beliefs from atheism to extreme piety.

During World War II the farm's diversity and reputation for tolerance increased as they made room for Japanese-Americans whom the government had let out of concentration camps but still wanted to keep an eye on, conscientious objectors paroled from the federal penitentiary in Milan, and European Jewish refugees. Says Daniel Katz, a U-M social psychology professor who lived on the farm for a year during the post-World War II housing shortage, "You wouldn't want a more stimulating group to talk to, or kinder."

After the war, wages went up dramatically and Gray had trouble finding workers for what he was willing to pay.

One by one, crops had proved to be uneconomical and were discontinued. Canning stopped during World War II when rationing made it impossible to guarantee orders. The farm became a shadow of its former self, and in 1953 he decided to stop the whole operation.

After selling the farm equipment, Gray continued to live on the farm with his second wife, Meg, in the larger of the Brigham-designed homes. The farm was turned into a youth hostel, the first one west of the Alleghenies. It was run for many years by Johnny Rule, an English-born jack-of-all-trades who had worked in the farm's poultry department, and his wife, May. People from all over the world and local groups like the scouts enjoyed the beautiful scenery, the lake, and the rural atmosphere.

In 1969, Gray, by then seventy-five, sold the farm to Teamsters Local 299 for a park for their members, but they found it too expensive to operate. Gray died three years later.

Many offspring of the farm families still live in the area and cherish memories of childhoods full of freedom and yet busy, helping from maple syrup season to apple picking time. Says Shirley Hagen Grossman, "I had an idyllic childhood, surrounded by an extended family of twenty. If I fell down and scraped my knee, I just ran to the nearest house." Doris Rule Bable agrees, saying, "Maybe it was a failure financially, but it was a great success in living and in personal relationships; very satisfying to the soul."


[Photo caption from original print edition]: Saline Valley Farms manager Harold Vaughn (left) and founder Harold Gray.

[Photo caption from original print edition:]: Gray sold the farm to a union local in 1969, but it proved too expensive to keep open as a park. It's now deserted.

The Three Lives of 1830 Washtenaw

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, June 1989,
June 1989

Author: Grace Shackman

The stately and prestigious Women's City Club started as a simple farmhouse.

Frank Lloyd Wright in Ann Arbor

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, April 2002,
April 2002

Author: Grace Shackman

Design for Living
Thanks to Frank Lloyd Wright, Bill and Mary Palmer raised their family in a work of art.

On a Saturday morning a little over a year ago, a group that included prominent local architect Larry Brink; Doug Kelbaugh, dean of the U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; builder Bruce Niethammer; and George Colone, a heating specialist from Hutzel Plumbing & Heating, met to discuss a failing radiant heat system beneath the concrete floor of a fifty-year-old house. If it had been just any house, the solution would have been obvious: jackhammer the concrete and replace the pipes. But on hearing that suggestion, owner Mary Palmer recalls, “I nearly fainted. It wasn’t acceptable.” The reason so many people shared her concern was that the floor in question was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The group worked out a solution that would preserve the part of the radiant system that still worked, about a third of the total. Hutzel would install a new boiler and radiators to heat the rest of the house--but would hide all the new components behind couches, inside cabinets, and under beds.

Alden Dow's Ann Arbor

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, August 1998,
August 1998

Author: Grace Shackman

Inspired by a teenage trip to Japan, the Dow Chemical heir spurned the family business to devote his life to architecture. From city hall to the U-M’s administration building, he put a quirky modernist stamp on the city.

Judy Dow Rumelhart was walking down Fifth Avenue one day recently when it started to rain. Looking around for shelter, she spotted the Ann Arbor District Library, a building originally designed by her uncle, Alden Dow. “And I thought how lovely it is,” Rumelhart says. “The library is one of my favorites.”

“The library and city hall are two of the ugliest buildings in Ann Arbor, and ISR [the U-M Institute for Social Research] is right up there,” says library board member Ed Surovell, expressing a dissenting opinion on the library and two other Dow designs. “They do not have the kind of imposing presence of a public building that creates civic pride.”

Alden Dow (1904–1983) is an unlikely figure to provoke such controversy. Though Frank Lloyd Wright once called him his “spiritual son,” Dow had none of the older architect’s egotism or self-promotion. Shy and studious, Dow had to be encouraged to take on major public commissions by his devoted wife, Vada. He got much of his work through family connections; his father, Herbert, was the founder of Dow Chemical.

Alden Dow’s entree to Ann Arbor was through his sister Margaret and her husband, U-M physician Harry Towsley. His first residential commission, in 1932, was the Towsley home in Ann Arbor Hills. Over the next thirty-six years, Dow designed seventeen more Ann Arbor buildings; in the 1960s, his work was so highly regarded that both the city of Ann Arbor and the U-M hired him to design their administrative centers: the Larcom Municipal Building (1961) and the Fleming Administration Building (1964).

Like Frank Lloyd Wright, with whom he studied, Dow sought to integrate his buildings into their environment. His motto was, “Gardens never begin, and houses never end.” Especially in his residential projects, he was capable of blending building and landscape brilliantly.

The going was tougher when the commission was a civic building downtown. He sometimes attempted to domesticate these urban settings by specifying massive upper-story planters, but in Ann Arbor, most of these have long since been abandoned as impractical.

Despite the common elements he sometimes used, Dow was no assembly-line architect. His Ann Arbor buildings have evoked comparisons as diverse as “a Mondrian painting” (the Fleming Building) and a “bureau of drawers” (city hall). But especially in recent years, those characterizations have not always been flattering.

Last year, shortly after taking office, U-M president Lee Bollinger announced that he wanted to move his office out of the Fleming Building, which he called “fortresslike.” (Its slit windows, arched entryway, and looming overhangs do give the Fleming Building a defensive look, but the popular belief that Dow designed it to shut out student protesters is unfounded—the plans were completed well before the campus demonstrations of the 1960s turned violent.)

Others have since risen to the building’s defense, including Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, the celebrated “postmodern” architects whom Bollinger retained to develop a new master plan for the university. But Bollinger’s comments are a sure sign of Dow’s declining stature in the city he did so much to shape.

Alden Dow was born in Midland in 1904, the fifth of Grace and Herbert Dow’s seven children. His parents had assumed that he would go into the family business, but they also encouraged his creativity by exposing him to art, historic buildings, and gardens. When he was a teenager, the whole family took a trip to Japan. “They went in a big ship and stayed for three or four months,” relates his niece Judy Dow Rumelhart. The trip exposed Dow to two of his greatest influences as an architect: the exacting simplicity of Japanese design and the striking modernism of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose newly completed Imperial Hotel the family admired.

Dow spent three years at the U-M studying mechanical engineering, but then begged his parents to let him switch careers. He transferred to Columbia’s School of Architecture and in 1930, while still a student, his father got him his first commission: a clubhouse for the Midland Country Club. Upon graduation, Dow joined a Saginaw firm and married Vada Bennet, his childhood sweetheart, in 1931. His sister and brother-in-law, Margaret and Harry Towsley, promptly hired him to design their home.

As originally designed, the Towsley house was basically a three-bedroom ranch, although much more elegant than those that would become ubiquitous after World War II. Its features included clerestory windows, a copper roof, and raised planter boxes designed to blend house and landscape.

Dow designed the interior of his houses in minute detail and even dictated the color schemes. “He loved strong colors, primary colors, and jewel tones,” recalls Rumelhart—“cherry red, cerise, emerald green, purple amethyst, ruby topaz.”

Considering Dow’s great interest in gardens, it’s ironic that his most influential innovation at the Towsley house was the way he designed the driveway: he specified an attached garage facing the street, believed to be the first in the country. “We thought the house looked like a gas station,” recalls family friend Jack Dobson.

Asked whether it was strange to grow up in such an unusual house, Rumelhart replies, “I loved the house. . . . and had a sense of pride of being in it. I thought all architecture should look like that.”

During construction, Dow fought repeatedly with city building inspectors, who he saw as trampling on his artistic license. For instance, he wanted to give the house unusually low ceilings, 7'6" instead of the required 8'. Denied, he recorded his losing battles in a series of four bas-reliefs in the front hall; one shows an architect being stomped by an authoritarian foot while another depicts him strangled in red tape.

Although the house had been planned as a starter home, the Towsleys lived there all of their lives. They just kept asking Dow to design additions, which he did in 1934, 1938, and again in 1960. Dow put his latest ideas into each revision such as a landscaped backyard viewed through a big dining room window and so many built-ins that there was little need for furniture: he provided a built-in safe, walk-in refrigerator, clothes drawers that opened on both the bedroom and dressing room sides, and even metal drawers especially designed to store Margaret Towsley’s extensive collection of linen tablecloths. The original color scheme was vividly patriotic in the main living areas: cherry-red rug and turquoise walls.

In 1933, Alden and Vada Dow spent six months at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio-home complex in western Wisconsin. While Alden studied architecture, Vada completed her own fellowship in painting, weaving, and pottery.

Dow and Wright maintained a friendship for years after the Dows’ time at Taliesin. The two architects visited each other in their homes and Dow even named one of his daughters “Lloyd.” They had a serious falling out, however, in 1949, when Wright lost a commission to design the Phoenix Civic Center because his fee was too high--and Dow agreed to take the job in his place. According to Craig McDonald, director of the Alden Dow Home and Studio in Midland, it was Vada Dow and Olgivanna Wright who finally persuaded their husbands to make peace.

After Taliesin, Dow set up his own firm in Midland. Despite the Depression, Dow Chemical was booming, and he designed homes for an ever-increasing circle of clients. As his reputation grew, he received commissions from as far away as North Carolina (a residence for the president of Duke University) and Texas (an entire company town, Lake Jackson, for Dow Chemical during World War II). But Midland always remained his base: of the 138 buildings he designed in his career, 104 are in his hometown.

Ann Arbor is second only to Midland, with eighteen Dow buildings. Surprisingly, very few are private homes; he built only two more residences here, both for doctors who knew Harry Towsley: the Sibley Hoobler house (228 Belmont Road) in 1949, and the Joe Morris house (7 Regent Drive) in 1962. Hoobler has since died, but Joe and Julia Morris still live in their Dow house and vividly remember the design process.

In the early 1960s, Joe Morris asked Harry Towsley whether he thought Dow would design him a house. Towsley suggested that he write and ask, and Dow responded by inviting Morris to Midland for lunch. During lunch, Morris recalls, the architect “talked about sailboats, about housing--he had an idea about housing for Third World countries by making plastic modular units and dropping them in by helicopter. When we returned, I told his secretary we hadn’t talked about my house. She said, ‘Wonderful. He needs to get his mind off his work.’ ”

The Morrises waited two years before Dow had time to work on their house. When they finally sat down to review the plans, they found that Dow had definite ideas about what he wanted. For instance, Joe recalls, Dow’s original plan did not include room to eat in the kitchen--“He said we would never eat in the kitchen.”

“We insisted we would,” Morris continues. “So he relented and designed a [built-in] kitchen table.” The furniture that Dow didn’t build in, he selected, including daybeds, dining room table and chairs, and the chairs and sofa in the living room. All of the built-ins and carefully coordinated furniture result in a very clean look. Morris calls it “magnificent simplicity.”

Joe Morris was one of many clients invited to visit Dow’s combined home and studio in Midland. A beautiful and unusual building, it was a good advertisement for his artistry.

Like the Towsley house, Dow’s evolved in a series of additions. It began in 1933 as a long train car–like studio. In 1935, he added its most striking feature, a room half-submerged in a pond. Officially called the “floating conference room,” but known informally as the “submarine room,” its ingenious use of water invites comparisons to Wright’s more famous Falling Water.

In Midland, Dow was able to build the low ceilings he was denied in Ann Arbor. “I got a kick out of his studio,” recalls Fred Mayer, U-M’s director of university planning. “He was about 5'6", so the studio was designed for him. I’m 5'8", so it was okay with me.”

The low ceilings and small proportions in Dow’s house reminded Morris of “Beatrice Potter homes in Peter Rabbit. There was the same childhood comfort in his home.” Bill Reish, who visited Midland in the seventies to discuss an addition to Greenhills School, recalls the “sunken room at duck-eye level, with ducks floating by.” Former library director Gene Wilson missed that view--“The pond was leaking the day I was there, so he had it drained.”

People remember Dow’s appearance as slightly eccentric. “He was wearing different-colored shoes, I think yellow,” Wilson recalls. Adds Rumelhart, “He wore his hair longer than the conventional doctors I was used to.”

Craig McDonald, who was Vada’s assistant in the last years of her life, recalls Alden as “quiet and understated. He was somewhat shy, but expressed himself through design.” The late Guy Larcom, who oversaw construction of Ann Arbor’s city hall, remembered him as “a small man, undistinguished--but impressive when he talked about architecture.”

“He could be very intense if he got excited about something,” Rumelhart says. “He could pick a flower and be overwhelmed. He had a creative intensity.

“I loved Alden,” Rumelhart continues. “He said it was okay to be a singer. The medical world was terrified of the arts, but he told my parents, ‘She’s talented. She should be doing what she is doing.’ ”

Dow’s peak period in Ann Arbor came during the 1950s and 1960s when he built six university and three civic buildings. The U-M’s Margaret Bell Pool (1952) was his first college commission; it opened doors, and he eventually worked on nine other campuses in Michigan.

Before it was built, the U-M had two pools reserved primarily for men, while women had only the “Barbour bathtub” in the basement of Barbour gym. Margaret Bell, head of women’s physical education, had long wanted to redress this injustice. According to Sheryl Szady, who has researched the history of U-M women’s athletics, “She said, ‘Before I leave, I’m getting a pool.’ ” Bell organized bridge parties, sold tiles, and organized benefit parties to raise the necessary funds. Margaret Towsley, a friend of P.E. professor Marie Hartwig and a generous patron of progressive causes, probably contributed to the project.

The new pool was state of the art. Designed for synchronized swimming and for Michifish shows (elaborate performances with costumes, lighting, and staging), it had an air flow system that sent cool air over the spectators in the bleachers and warm air over the pool. Underwater speakers allowed the synchronized swimmers to hear the music.

According to Szady, the day before the pool opened, Bell, Hartwig, and another woman “hopped in and played around.” At first, men were allowed to swim at the pool only on Friday nights. The pool became coed in 1976 when the building was enlarged to become the Central Campus Recreational Building. Last year the kinesiology department put on another addition, but Dow’s original building is still discernible, especially the second-story planters, the only ones in Ann Arbor that are still maintained.

In 1964, Dow designing two large buildings just a half a block apart on Thompson Street: ISR, the first new building in the country dedicated solely to social research, and the administration building, later named in honor of Robben Fleming, the university’s tenth president.

The two buildings have striking exteriors, but both have been criticized as being designed from the outside in, sacrificing interior utility to achieve an exterior effect. For instance, as originally designed, the massive white aggregate panels that face ISR would have left the offices behind them with no exterior windows. According to retired psychology professor Bob Kahn, one of ISR’s founders, Dow had to be persuaded to move the panels out slightly so that small slit windows could be added.

Dow planned ISR’s interior in detail. The space was divided into modules, each with a large open area facing a window wall, with two offices on either side of the open area and two slightly bigger offices in the corners. “The offices would be almost all one of two sizes to minimize status,” recalls Kahn. Dow was proud of the egalitarian effect, noting in his 1970 book, Reflections, “All occupants have a similar relationship, through glassed area, with the outside.”

But research projects did not always divide neatly into the modules Dow prescribed. And despite his egalitarian goals in designing the faculty offices, the ISR layout also perpetuated what, in hindsight, looks like a far greater inequity: while the researchers had private offices, the female support staff was assigned to desks that sat in the middle of the central area, without a shred of private space. Room dividers were eventually added--but these in turn blocked out light to the side offices.

Maintenance on the windows also presented a problem. They were locked with special keys and pivoted open to wash. People would open the windows to let in air, then not secure them because they didn’t have the key. Once, “a person on the fifth floor was leaning against the window when it pivoted,” recalls retired ISR administrator Jim Wessell. “He almost fell out. Luckily he was caught by someone nearby.”

The windows on the Fleming Administration Building opened the same way but were arranged very differently: in geometric patterns reminiscent of a Mondrian painting. While intriguing from the outside, the design created some very curious interior spaces, with long, thin windows in unpredictable locations.
Dow’s most unusual campus building, the Fleming Building, is also the most controversial. Ed Surovell calls it “a cube in space” and says of the entrance, “you have to hunt for it like a medieval castle.” People who work in the building complain of the “mazelike” layout.

The Regents’ Room on the first floor is designed with an arched ceiling, which, according to Craig McDonald, was used “to give a feeling of being in a larger space.” Two similar arches take up the rest of the first floor: the middle arch is a corridor connecting the east and west entrances, and the other serves as offices. The cavernous look has caused people to compare the space to a beer vault or a wine cellar, and audiences at regents’ meetings often decry the absence of windows and call it “the cave.”

Rumelhart defends the design, saying, “Alden took the assignment and created a painting. He was a great fan of Mondrian and he fulfilled that feeling.” Also siding with Rumelhart is architect Denise Scott Brown. Asked about the Fleming Building, she calls it “honorable architecture” and says it is “nicely proportioned.” “Taste cycles,” adds Brown’s husband, Robert Venturi. “There was a time when Victorian architecture was thought ugly and torn down. We have to be tolerant of the immediate past.”

Changing taste is one problem with the building, but of the more utilitarian problems, many are not Dow’s fault but are the result of growth. “It was never intended to have as many people as it does now. When there was a big lobby on every floor, it was more aesthetically pleasing,” says Dick Kennedy, retired vice-president for government relations.

“You’d get off the elevator and see a bank of windows onto the plaza,” recalls Kay Beattie, who worked in the building in its early days. “You had the feeling no one worked there.” Beattie also remembers that, in vintage Dow fashion, each floor had its own vivid color theme--longtime employees describe them with names like “Howard Johnson orange” and “football field green.”

As controversial as the Fleming Building is, it could have been even more eye-popping. According to Fred Mayer, university architect Howard Hacken vetoed Dow’s original plans to finish the exterior in white stucco with blue windows and gold trim. “Very rah-rah,” Mayer laughs.

Dow left a strong mark on the U-M campus, but it was nothing compared to his impact across Division Street. In the library and city hall, he defined the two most important buildings in Ann Arbor’s public life.

The library was built first, in 1956. “After the war there was no established library architecture,” recalls Gene Wilson, then a library staff member, later director. “Dow had built the Midland library, and we thought it was grand.”
His Ann Arbor design had all of the Dow hallmarks. Even today, after two additions, one can still recognize his hand in the elevated planter faced with turquoise enamel paneling and the lovely little garden on the south side.

“I always liked it,” Wilson says of the library. “It was state of the art for its time.” But, he admits, there were problems. “Dow was more concerned with visual impact--he wanted it to be noticed, he didn’t let function get in the way. There was a circulation desk but no reference desk, and there was no clear delineation between public and private areas. We had to scramble around to make [the layout] work.”

Like many other clients, the library also found that Dow’s elevated gardens were difficult to maintain. Wilson doesn’t recall exactly when the library stopped tending the second-story planters, but says, “it would have been very early. There never was a way to get to them except by a long ladder put up by the sidewalk--any maintenance was done by the janitor climbing the ladder. One day the ladder slipped and the janitor fell and broke his leg. After that we lost enthusiasm.”

Dow’s other great downtown project, the Ann Arbor city hall, has been a conversation piece ever since it opened in 1961; in addition to a chest of drawers, it’s been compared to “an inverted wedding cake” and “an upside-down carport.” It’s also been called “a poor man’s Guggenheim,” an allusion to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous upward-spiraling museum in New York City.

The building is an inverted stepped pyramid, with the floors growing wider as they go up. The second floor is a large promenade that Dow thought might be used for public meetings or for city council members to step outside to caucus. (Rumelhart has always thought it would be a good place to perform plays.)

Inside, Dow put elevators, stairs, conference rooms, and department head’s offices near the building’s core. The space around the periphery of the building was kept open. “The idea was that there were to be no prestige offices, no best windows,” recalled Guy Larcom in an interview before his death last winter. “It was all open to public view.”

Kathy Frisinger, then the city’s assistant director of central services, oversaw the move into the new building. She remembers that although employees were glad to be together after being scattered at seven different locations, many didn’t like the open floor plan. “You could see from one end to the other,” she explains. “If you talked to someone, everyone could see you talking, see which office you went into.”

The promenade never got much use, and there were serious problems with roof leaks. Switchboard operator Mary Schlecht recalls that when it rained, the police department downstairs had buckets all over the place. The planters Dow specified on the second and third floors also leaked. “The plants grew well on the north side, but it got too hot on the south and you had to water almost every day,” a former employee recalls. City hall’s maintenance people, like their counterparts at the library, eventually gave up on the planters; they’re now filled with rocks.

Dow ordered the building’s furnishings with his characteristic eye for vivid color. “I’ll never forget that day when seven Steelcase trucks came. Big semi trucks drove up with turquoise and orange furniture,” laughs Frisinger, who supervised the unloading. “I saw mine were to be orange and I said, ‘I don’t think so,’ and did a quick switch.” Nonetheless, she says, “I basically enjoyed the building. I liked the big offices, the open spacious feel in the building. Dow was ahead of his time.”

As city hall has become more crowded, its once open spaces have given way to a warren of cubbyholes. Furniture and curtains have been placed in front of most of the big windows in the inner offices to give more privacy. The top floor, recently remodeled after the district court moved to the county courthouse, today comes the closest to the spacious feeling Dow originally intended.

Dow worked up to his death in 1983, but the debate continues on his rightful place in architectural history. The question of whether or not his buildings look good comes down to personal taste, and there can be no global or permanent answer. Setting that aside, a study of his Ann Arbor work shows that while many have serious practical problems, there were always reasons for what Dow did.

Near the top of the list of problems would have to be his flat roofs, a distinction he shared with his mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright. “Talk with any person about an Alden Dow building and they will sing its praises and then remember the trouble they had with the roof,” says Greenhills’ Bill Reish. Dow’s elevated planters were another recurring source of trouble. The only one still in use in Ann Arbor, at the U-M’s kinesiology building, supports a few scraggly plants. Ann Arbor has apparently tended its Dow buildings less carefully than his hometown. Craig McDonald reports that numerous examples of Dow’s elevated plantings are still flourishing in Midland.

Lighting could be listed among Dow’s greatest failures but also among his greatest successes. It was obviously a lifelong obsession and when it worked, it worked gloriously, as in the big windows that both let in light and created splendid views in his private homes. When his plans went astray, however, people worked in dark caverns such as those in the Fleming Building and ISR.

It could be argued that these failures were not so much design errors as a misreading of human nature, especially the need for privacy. “Human nature will confound you if you fight it too much, even with a good idea,” comments Fred Mayer.

Dow seems to have been the most successful in his smaller projects, particularly the private residences where he could think out the use of every inch of space. In the larger buildings, he was most successful in the ones built for a specific use, particularly those associated with family members such as Greenhills or the medical education building.

Some of Dow’s critics complain that he received the Ann Arbor jobs only because of his connections with the Towsley family. Certainly some of his work came directly through his sister and her husband, or as a result of friendships or community contacts made through them. Fred Mayer defends Dow on this score. “Having connections will give you a chance,” he says, “but if you don’t do something good, it won’t save you.”

Most of the serious criticism of Dow is aimed at his multistory buildings. Architects don’t like to speak ill of other architects, even dead ones, but off the record, several express doubts about Dow’s “bulky, boring” multistory designs.

“Nothing is related to human scale in ISR. It’s just a big white space,” says one architect--who goes on to describe the Fleming building as “weird.” But Mayer again comes to Dow’s defense. “He was a talented architect,” he says. “I don’t know if he will make it in the ranks of the great, but talent and creativity are evident in his best buildings.”

Dan Jacobs, who’s designed several additions to Greenhills, agrees. “I’m a great admirer of Dow. I admire the simplicity of his structural system.”

Despite the complaints, it should be noted that all of his Ann Arbor designs, except for one razed gas station, are still being used for their original purpose. Even the Fleming building, threatened during Bollinger’s term with a changed use, is still the administration building. Asked about Bollinger’s dislike of her uncle’s building, Judy Dow Rumelhart lets out a good-humored laugh--but then admits that she has chided Bollinger for his criticism of the building. “He can move out, but I hope he uses it for something else, maybe English classes,” she says. “Let it be used by someone to enjoy.”

An Alden Dow Chronology:
Between 1932 and 1970, Dow designed eighteen Ann Arbor buildings. Details are given only for buildings not described in the main story.
1932: Towsley home, 1000 Berkshire.
1949: Hoobler home, 228 Belmont.
1952: Margaret Bell Pool (U-M).
1956: Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.
1958: Ann Arbor Community Center, 625 N. Main. Dow designed the building at the request of his sister, Margaret Towsley. Towsley not only contributed most of the cost, she also paid for many of the buildings furnishings--even dishes and towels.
1959–1965: Matthaei Botanical Gardens, (U-M). The gardens’ offices and conservatory are instantly recognizable as Dow’s work thanks to the turquoise-faced second-story planters (long since abandoned). Herb Wagner, professor emeritus of botany, remembers fighting to include a lobby and meeting room in the plans; more than thirty years later, Wagner says, it remains “one of the best university botanical gardens in the nation.” Dow also designed the garden superintendent’s house.
1960: Leonard gas station, 2020 W. Stadium. Possibly conceived as a prototype for Michigan-based Leonard, this simple, well-landscaped gas station was Dow’s first commercial work in Ann Arbor. It is the only Ann Arbor Dow building no longer standing.
1961: Guy J. Larcom Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave.
1962: Morris home, 7 Regent.
1962: Conductron headquarters, 3475 Plymouth. Keeve “Kip” Seigel, founder of the high-flying Conduction conglomerate, was a friend of the Towsleys. The low-slung brick building is currently the headquarters of NSF International.
1963: University Microfilms, 300 N. Zeeb. Dow met University Microfilms founder Gene Power, a U-M regent, through the Towsleys. To recycle water used in processing microfilm, he included a moat on the south side of the building, creating what he called “a reflecting pool for office and cafeteria.”
1964: Institute for Social Research (U-M).
1964: Fleming Administration Building (U-M).
1964: Michigan District Headquarters, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, 3773 Geddes. Dow built some lovely churches in Midland, but this is his only church-related structure in Ann Arbor. Its four wings are grouped in the shape of a Greek cross; the teepee-like dome on top symbolizes the church’s early Indian missions.
1966: Towsley Center for Continuing Medical Education (U-M). Dow’s last major job for the university was arguably his most successful. One of Harry Towsley’s specialties was continuing education, and the brothers-in-law collaborated closely on a simple, straightforward building marked with Dow trademarks such as long corridors filled with windows and plants. “It’s state of the art, designed for traffic flow, with an auditorium and four break-out rooms, a huge lobby,” facilities coordinator Robert Witte says. “If I was ever asked to design a medical education building, I would design it off the Towsley Center.”
1967: Greenhills School, 850 Greenhills. Judy Dow Rumelhart was a member of the original planning committee for this private north-side school, and Margaret Towsley was on the first board. Dow laid out the building as a series of clusters, each with classrooms around the edge and a court in the middle. In the middle of each court is a common space called a “forum”; in the corners are areas for quiet activity, called “alcoves.”
Starting in 1968 with grades 9–12, Greenhills gradually expanded to accommodate grades 6–12. By opening alcoves and linking them to new clusters, Dow designed additions that felt as if they were part of the original. Over the years, the brown walls and curiously colored carpets Dow specified have been toned down, and doors have been added to control noise. Still, Bill Reish says, “It works wonderfully as a school.”
1970: 2929 Plymouth. After Gene Power stepped down from University Microfilms, he commissioned Dow to build this small office building just east of Huron Parkway. “I was glad I selected Alden, because my site presented a difficult design problem,” Power recalled in his autobiography, Edition of One. “The zoning regulations stated that floor space could not exceed 40 percent of the land area. There had to be one automobile parking space available for every 110 square feet of floor space, and the structure could be no more than three stories high. Dow met these requirements by raising the building on columns, with only a small entrance lobby and elevator area extending down to the ground-floor level. Most of the area on that level formed a parking lot beneath the rest of the building.”

Power’s son, U-M regent Phil Power, recalls the office as “a lovely place to work. It had a beautiful view of North Campus. It had a fireplace, shelves with Eskimo art, orchids, a nice sitting area, and was lined with bookshelves.” The building—which always reminded Rumelhart of “a giant toadstool”—is now rented to a number of small tenants.


[Photo caption from book]: Dow was proud of his egalitarian design for the faculty offices at the ISR. But he also perpetuated what, in hindsight, looks like a far greater inequity: while the researchers had private offices, the female support staff was assigned to desks in the middle of the central area, without a shred of private space.

The Remarkable History of the Kempf House

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, May 1990,
May 1990

Author: Grace Shackman

Following brass bands around Basel turned Reuben Kempf's career from the ministry to music

The Kempf House, at 312 South Division, a nationally recognized gem of Greek Revival architecture, is now a city-owned center for local history. It is named for Pauline and Reuben Kempf, the husband-and-wife music teachers who lived in it from 1890 until 1953. The Kempfs were guiding lights in the local music community who often loaned the Steinway in their front parlor—Ann Arbor's first grand piano—to the university. It was played in the May Festival, by such luminaries as Victor Herbert and Ignace Paderewski.

The Kempf House was actually built in 1853 by Mary and Henry DeWitt Bennett. The Bennetts came from Stephentown, New York (southeast of Albany), where they had doubtless seen numerous examples of Greek Revival architecture. Henry Bennett, described by contemporaries as a genial and warm-hearted man, served as postmaster and, later, as steward and secretary of the U-M. After Bennett retired, they moved to California.

The house was sold in 1886 to a neighbor, who rented it out for a few years. Then in 1890, Pauline and Reuben Kempf, married seven years and the parents of a daughter, Elsa (Paul was born six years later), moved into the house. They lived there for the next sixty-three years.

Pauline, Rueben, and Elsa Kempf with
neighbor on porch steps of Kempf House

Pauline and Rueben Kempf enjoy sitting on their porch with daughter Elsa, right, and a woman thought to be a neighbor.

Both Pauline and Reuben were raised in Ann Arbor's large German community, and both showed early musical promise. Pauline was the daughter of Karl Widenmann, the German consul for Michigan and owner of a hardware store on the northeast corner of Main and Washington. The family lived in a big house on Fourth Avenue until Pauline was fourteen, when her father was diagnosed as having a brain tumor. He sold his business and moved his family to Whitmore Lake, where he died eight years later. The family could not afford to send Pauline to music school to study singing, but two professors at the university, impressed with her talent, arranged for her to give a recital in the Athens Theater (later the Whitney) at Main and Ann. The proceeds were enough for one year at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Reuben Kempf, born in 1859, a year before Pauline, grew up on a farm in the area now occupied by Briarwood. According to his daughter-in-law, Edith Staebler Kempf, "he learned to play the organ at the Bethlehem Church school, and by the time he was a teenager played the pipe organ quite well. But this didn't impress his parents. They said ‘You will study for the ministry.' In those days they didn't ask you."

Reuben was sent to Basel, Switzerland, in 1877, to the same theological seminary that had graduated Friedrich Schmid, the first German pastor in Michigan and a hero to the local German community. But Reuben had been there only a few months when his parents received a letter from the principal, recommending that they not force him to be a minister but let him follow his own wish to be a musician. Evidently he had been following brass bands around Basel. Edith Kempf says it broke his parents' hearts, but they allowed him to transfer to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Stuttgart, where he studied organ and piano and was a classmate of Victor Herbert.

When Reuben returned to Ann Arbor, he opened a studio on the corner of Main and Liberty, on the third floor above what is now Occasionally Gifts. He supplemented his income playing the organ at St. Thomas Church. In 1883 he married Pauline Widenmann, their common music interests forming an obvious bond. When they moved to Division Street from their first home on the corner of Main and William, they set up a studio in the front parlor where they could both give lessons.

The Kempfs' house was conveniently located: children could walk to their lessons from all over town. The front door was left unlocked so that students could walk in without knocking. If a lesson was still in progress, they would wait their turn on the red sofa. Geraldine Seeback, who was a student of both Kempfs, remembers them as warm and caring, but also very strict. Once, when she did not have her piano lesson prepared, Reuben hit her on the knuckles.

Seeback was a musical prodigy who first sang publicly at age five, standing on three Bibles in church. Her mother paid for her voice lessons by doing the Kempfs' laundry. Seeback still has the metal-wheeled child's wagon, which originally belonged to Paul Kempf, that she used to carry the laundry back and forth. When Seeback finished high school, Pauline Kempf helped arrange for her to go to the Cincinnati Conservatory.

Group portait of Lyra Male Choir

Rueben Kempf organized the Lyra Male Choir to bring town and gown together through the universal language of music. Elsa Kempf served as the group’s mascot.

Besides giving lessons in their studio, the Kempfs were very active musically in the community. Pauline was the first choir director of the Congregational Church, and Reuben was the first organist and choir director at St. Andrew's. He was also music director of the University Glee Club and the Michigan Union Opera, and organist of the Ann Arbor Masonic groups. Because Reuben had connections in both the town and university communities, U-M president James Angell asked him to form a singing society in an attempt to bridge the gap between town and gown. Under Rueben's direction, the group, first called the Beethoven Society and then Lyra Gesangverien (singing society), gave regular concerts for the next thirty-five years.

The Kempfs often entertained, hosting diverse groups from students to dignitaries. A former maid remembers being extra busy during May Festival buying food needed for the many guests. There was always a live-in maid (the present office at Kempf House was the maid's room), and Pauline's mother, the widowed Mrs. Widenmann, also helped with the cooking. She particularly excelled at baking and noodle making. Edith Kempf remembers that “there was lots of good food, all made from scratch."

Reuben Kempf died in 1945 at age eighty-six. Pauline stayed on until her death in 1953, when the house was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Earl V. Parker. When Earl Parker died in 1969, the newly created Historic District Commission spearheaded a movement to convince the city to buy the house.

Today, thanks mainly to the efforts of Edith Kempf, the music studio has been almost entirely re-created, complete with the famous grand piano (which has only eighty-five keys, three less than the modern ones), the red couch, the two mirrors that Pauline's voice students used to check their posture and their mouth formations, Reuben's desk, a music stand, and the Lyra flag. Even the prints of Germany on the walls were there during the Kempfs' occupancy.

The sitting room, decorated to be contemporary with the studio, holds a horsehair couch from Reuben Kempfs parents' farm (in perfect condition because only the minister was allowed to sit on it) and an Ann Arbor Allmendinger organ.

The Remarkable Legacy of Francis Kelsey

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, August 1996,
August 1996

Author: Grace Shackman

At the turn of the century, a U-M Latin professor single-handedly amassed the university’s amazing collection of antiquities.

Who can imagine Barbie dolls as educational tools? The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology can, and did. On family days, held regularly to teach area children about ancient Egypt, kids get to mummify Barbie.

The young students “disembowel” the previously prepared dolls, extracting walnut lungs, gummy worm intestines, raisin livers, and jelly bean stomachs. These “entrails” go into “canopic jars” made from empty film canisters. The children then wrap their dolls in a white, linen-like packing material and place each one in a sarcophagus--a shoe box spray-painted gold.

Lauren Talalay, the Kelsey’s associate director, says the idea of using Barbies came to her in a dream one night after she’d been approached by the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum to develop a program for children. She laughingly says, “Barbies deserve this.” Besides making mummies, the children participate in a sandbox dig, make bead necklaces, and learn to write hieroglyphs.

The Kelsey is unique among U-M museums because it serves both teaching and display purposes. Organized in 1929 to house a collection started in 1893, it now has more than 100,000 artifacts from all over the Mediterranean world, spanning a period from 2700 B.C. to 1100 A.D. Long a great resource for U-M faculty and students, as well as the international academic world, the Kelsey in the last ten years has extended its mission to reach the community at large with lectures, mini-courses, and tours to archaeological sites. To reach more school-age children, the museum created “Civilization in a Crate,” sets of teaching aids on thirteen subjects ranging from the Argonauts to ancient social problems. The idea has been picked up by institutions as far away as Japan.

Photograph of Francis Kelsey's archaeology
team in Egypt

Kelsey (in dark suit) personally chose Karanis in Egypt as the site for the U-M’s first archaeological dig, then persuaded Horace Rackham to finance the expedition.

The day I visit, docent Susan Darrow, a social worker by profession, elegantly dressed in a brown dress with a coordinating scarf, is teaching a group of seventh graders from Southfield about daily life in ancient Egypt. She’s using artifacts from Karanis, the Kelsey’s first dig (1924–1935) and the source of almost half the museum’s holdings. As the children sit around a large table in a windowless basement room of the museum, Darrow, wearing protective gloves, holds up various objects sealed in plastic bags and asks the kids to guess what they are. She begins with items that would be used at the start of a day 2,000 years ago: comb, perfume bottle, kohl mascara container (one of the kids says in disbelief, “They used makeup back then?”), a pull toy, and even breakfast food--a piece of bread, which leads the kids to joke, “It must be kinda stale.” This group is part of the Chavez-King project, intended to interest students considered noncollege-bound to set their sights higher and consider a wider variety of professions, such as archaeology.

When Darrow finishes, she leads the group upstairs, turning them over to docent Tammy Vaughn, a blond, blue-jeaned EMU student. Vaughn takes them on a tour of the first floor, the only public part of the museum; the rest of the building is used for offices, classrooms, and storage. Built in 1891 as the headquarters for the U-M Student Christian Association, the building still has many elegant accoutrements—tiled fireplaces, inlaid wooden floors, even a genuine Tiffany stained-glass window. There is display room to exhibit only about .5 percent of the museum’s holdings at any one time, but exhibits change regularly. Usually Greek and Roman artifacts are displayed on the south side and Egyptian and Near Eastern pieces on the north.

Vaughn leads the group into an exhibit on the north side called “Death in Ancient Egypt: Preserving Eternity.” They watch intently as she shows them the mummy of Djheutymose, ask “Where’s his tail?” about a cat mummy, and then gasp almost in unison when she shows them the mummy of a little boy about five. Vaughn explains that mummifying people was the Egyptians’ attempt to defeat death.

The museum’s fantastic collection was started by Francis Kelsey, a U-M Latin professor from 1889 to 1927. He began the collection as a teaching aid on his first sabbatical and he continued adding to it on every sabbatical and leave of absence thereafter. He moved from buying artifacts with his own funds to raising money for acquisitions and then, after World War I, to conducting his own digs. Kelsey had the advantage of starting his collecting before laws were passed prohibiting the removal of historic artifacts from the countries of origin. But he was far more than a treasure hunter. The Kelsey’s collection testifies to his wide-ranging interests in all aspects of ancient history.

Kelsey was born in 1858 in Ogden, New York, and educated at the University of Rochester. Early pictures show a dark-haired, serious young man, but most surviving photos show a graying, bearded gentleman, dressed formally even on archaeological sites. “He had a heavy beard and rode a bicycle,” recalled the late Charles A. Sink in the book Our Michigan. Sink and Kelsey worked closely over the decades when Kelsey was president and Sink the administrator of the University Musical Society. “He was a bit pompous in manner and exceedingly polite,” wrote Sink.

Reading Kelsey’s papers at the Bentley Historical Library, one senses a continual conflict between his old-world politeness and his drive to secure artifacts for the university. He was relentless in asking for help, yet apologized as he did so. “I cannot tell you how sorry I am to bother you with this matter,” he wrote while seeking more money from W. W. Bishop, the U-M librarian who handled acquisition funds. “My only excuse is that we have here a unique opportunity and it seems to me that duty both to our subject and to the university requires us to put forth every effort.”

Kelsey followed up on any suggestion that might lead to a find or a potential donor, and he went to great lengths to please contributors. For instance, he persuaded Horace Rackham, Henry Ford’s lawyer and U-M contributor (the Rackham building is named after him), to finance the first two excavation seasons at Karanis. Kelsey bought two rugs for Rackham during the dig and begged to be allowed to buy him something more, writing, “I had so much pleasure in hunting out those two rugs, and became so much interested in them that I do wish you would think of anything else that you would like from the Near East.” Kelsey may have gone overboard in his efforts to keep Rackham interested. In January 1923, Rackham wrote from Pinehurst, North Carolina, “Please do not send any more [photos of the excavations]. I am here to play golf and escape business of every kind.”

Kelsey wooed another rich Detroiter, Charles Freer, who had made his money manufacturing railroad cars, as well as local people such as G. Frank Allmendinger, owner of several Ann Arbor mills. (Allmendinger procured funds from the Michigan Millers Association to purchase a Roman mill.) But Kelsey did not use people. Many of the donors he worked with became lifelong friends, and he was always willing to return their favors. For instance, he looked after the sons of David Askren--a medical missionary who had helped him secure Egyptian papyri--when they came to the United States, getting them medical help and scholarships.

Kelsey made his first purchase for the university in 1893, while on leave to study archaeological sites. In Carthage he met a Jesuit priest, Father R. P. Delattre, who took a liking to him and sold him 109 items collected over forty years of excavations there, including lamps, vases, and building materials. According to The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey, “a warm and lasting friendship sprang up between the American scholar and the priest of the Hill of Byrsa. As a lasting reminder of the kindness shown him, Professor Kelsey assigned accession number one in the museum records to a fragment of an ancient Roman lamp. It was the discovery of this lamp that had induced Father Delattre in the early years of his life in North Africa to undertake the careful excavation of the Roman sites at ancient Carthage.” By the time Kelsey returned to Ann Arbor, he had amassed more than 1,000 other specimens from Rome, Sicily, Capri, and Tunis.

Limited by budget and time constraints, Kelsey multiplied his achievements by enlisting others. For example, a colleague, Walter Dennison, while teaching in Italy, heard of a parish priest, Giuseppe de Criscio, who had a large collection of Roman and Greek inscriptions. De Criscio lived north of Naples in Pozzuoli (now famous as the hometown of Sophia Loren), a volcanic area rich with remains of earlier civilizations. When Dennison informed Kelsey that de Criscio was willing to sell his collection to a university, Kelsey went to work raising the necessary funds, buying the collection in three installments starting in 1899. The largest part of it is a collection of 267 inscriptions, mainly marble tombstones. Because these inscriptions include information such as the occupation and nationality of the deceased, they tell a lot about daily life in a Roman seaport more than 2,000 years ago. Today, some of the items from the de Criscio collection are usually on display in the Kelsey’s south gallery.

Kelsey met David Askren in 1915, while sailing to Italy to work on the estate of his late friend Thomas Spencer Jerome (whose bequest still pays for the Jerome lectures in classical studies). Kelsey soon interested Askren in his endeavors, and before they parted, Askren agreed to become a U-M agent in Egypt. During World War I, nothing could be shipped out of Egypt, but Askren bought and saved material for Kelsey. He reported to Kelsey, “I have been gathering odds and ends that I can get cheaply and have now at least 300 fragments of papyri and parchment writing in Greek and Coptic.”

After the war, Kelsey returned to the Near East. The papyri Askren had obtained, supplemented with other purchases Kelsey made on this trip, were the start of the university’s current excellent collection, now housed in the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library. Kelsey traveled around, making further purchases and looking for possible excavation sites. He returned to Ann Arbor with three suggestions: Antioch of Pisidia in Turkey, Carthage in Tunisia, and Karanis in Egypt. After exploratory digs at the first two sites in 1924 and 1925, he chose Karanis as the most promising site.

Karanis, a Greco-Roman farming community about fifty miles southwest of Cairo, interested Kelsey because the area was rich in papyri. In addition to a generous $10,000 grant from Rackham, Kelsey secured donations of a Dodge sedan and a Graham truck, and brought along his son, Easton, as chauffeur. The dig found extensive and valuable collections of papyri, coins, and glass; Kelsey meticulously documented where every item was found to help assign each to its proper historic period. George Swain, a Latin instructor at the university who was also a professional photographer, photographed the excavation. His 12,000 photos form an important part of the Kelsey Museum’s photography collection and are still a valuable resource for researchers.

Kelsey was as interested in spreading knowledge of the ancient world as he was in acquiring its artifacts. He convinced Saginaw lumber baron Arthur Hill (the U-M regent for whom Hill Auditorium is named) to start a fund to publish humanistic studies series and he persuaded Charles Freer to leave a bequest to continue scholarly publications. Kelsey himself wrote textbooks and translated many works, including an edition of Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gaelic Wars, for many years the standard text. (The edition was so well known that Kelsey was introduced at a talk in Denver as the author of Caesar’s Commentaries.)
Kelsey’s contributions were not confined to classical studies. He persuaded Catherine Pendleton, whose late husband, Edward, had been interested in ancient history, to endow a library in the Michigan Union and establish a number of scholarships. An ardent music lover, Kelsey persuaded the regents to locate Hill Auditorium on its present site, and he raised money for it and for its organ. He also secured the Stearns Collection of rare musical instruments for the university.

In May 1927, Kelsey returned early from the third season at Karanis to give a paper on his latest findings, but became very ill. Though he left his bed at Cowie’s Hospital on Division Street to attend the meeting, someone else had to read his paper for him. He died May 14, 1927, of a heart attack. On the very day he died, twenty-two large cases of archaeological specimens he had sent from Egypt arrived in Ann Arbor. Speaking at Kelsey’s funeral, U-M President Clarence Little described him aptly as “combining a rare degree of tact with pertinacity.”

Photograph of the Kelsey Museum

In 1929, two year’s after Kelsey’s death, his collection was moved into what is now the Kelsey Museum, a 1891 building originally home of the Student Christian Association.

Two years after Kelsey’s death, his extensive collections--scattered around campus in his office, the basement of Alumni Memorial Hall (now the art museum), and the campus library--were brought together to their current home in what was then known as Newberry Hall. Kelsey had no doubt been familiar with the building, since early University Musical Society concerts were held in its auditorium. Orma Fitch Butler, who had served as Kelsey’s assistant and was very familiar with the collection, became the museum’s first curator, while John Winter, professor of Latin and Greek, served as the first director. They moved the collections in, but otherwise left the building much as it had been when it was occupied by its builder, the Student Christian Association. The downstairs area was arranged for displays: a site room, a household room, a materials room, and a room devoted to sociological exhibits. The upstairs was converted into offices.

Meanwhile, the excavations at Karanis continued until 1935. Data from the dig form an amazingly complete picture of daily life in a Greco-Roman outpost and are still the basis of much scholarly research. The Karanis artifacts make the museum especially strong in glass, pottery, and textiles. In the early days of excavating, when most archaeologists were looking only for sensational finds like the King Tut tomb found by Howard Carter in 1922, Kelsey realized that information about daily life was equally important. He worked with his team to see that every item was treated carefully and recorded precisely.

Before the Great Depression ended excavations, the university participated in several other digs, including two more in Egypt, one at Sepphoris (Zippori) in Palestine, and--second in importance only to Karanis--at Seleucia on the Tigris in Iraq. Under the leadership of Leroy Waterman, and later Clark Hopkins, the Seleucia dig yielded another 10,000 artifacts and provided valuable information about the town, founded by Seleucus Nicator, one of the generals of Alexander the Great.

After an almost twenty-year hiatus occasioned by the Depression and World War II, the Kelsey Museum began organizing expeditions again in the 1950s. The first of these, in 1956, was Saint Catherine’s monastery in Israel, which is one of the oldest monasteries in existence, with a priceless collection of Byzantine religious art and manuscripts. Rather than removing artifacts for the museum, the emphasis this time was on learning from them, photographing and taking notes on the artifacts found.

Subsequent Kelsey Museum digs, done in conjunction with other universities or museums, have explored sites in Tunisia, Israel, Libya, Syria, and Egypt. Current Kelsey expeditions are at Paestum, Italy, investigating a Greek sanctuary; Leptiminus, Tunisia, where the researchers created a museum to display their findings; Pylos, Greece (a new kind of survey in which researchers are walking across the countryside, collecting signs of past human activity); and Abydos, Egypt, where the museum is doing an archaeological survey in an ancient cemetery. Smaller projects include Lauren Talalay’s dig at Euboea, Greece, and John Cherry’s investigation into digging in Albania, which had been closed off to outsiders for almost forty years.

Although it no longer obtains artifacts from digs, the Kelsey still adds to its collection with gifts and carefully considered purchases. Karanis artifacts remain the star attraction; Francis Kelsey’s findings are still considered the best collection in the world illustrating life in a Greco-Roman outpost. The 10,000 artifacts gathered by Waterman and Hopkins in Iraq are also considered important, especially because it is now much more difficult for Western scholars to enter the country. In many other areas, the Kelsey is considered to have the best collection in North America. Particular strengths are in glass (while the Corning and Toledo museums have more pieces, the Kelsey’s are arguably more valuable because their sources can be documented); textiles, particularly late Roman and early Byzantine; and Latin inscriptions (with the de Criscio collection giving them the edge). Other treasures include 8,000 nineteenth-century photographs, largely of archaeological sites, and all twenty-three volumes of the reports of the scholars who accompanied Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Yet despite the Kelsey’s wonderful collections, the U-M’s budget crunch in the 1970’s threatened to close it, or to merge its collections with those of the university Museum of Art. Ultimately, the Kelsey was saved, and classical studies professor John Pedley, a member of the four-person review committee, was appointed its director. One of the first things Pedley did was to hire a British Museum expert to assess the collection. The assessor reported that the textiles, bronzes, bones, and ivory were in grave condition; he recommended that a conservator be retained, and that the collection be cataloged and records computerized. Conservator Amy Rosenberg was hired, and work began on cataloging the collection. But preserving the artifacts took longer because it required a large amount of money.

Elaine Gazda replaced Pedley in 1986 so he could concentrate on his research in Paestum, Italy. Gazda set the museum on its present course of outreach to the community. She also has been able to achieve the long-desired goal of building a climate-controlled storage area. Located on a newly created third floor in the upper half of the original building’s auditorium, the storage area now holds 85 percent of the museum’s collection. It was funded by a $250,000 gift from New York real estate developer Eugene Grant, a U-M alumnus, and additional contributions from private donors, the university, and the Kelsey Associates, a volunteer support and fund-raising group organized in 1979. In 2005 the Kelsey was preparing for an expansion of their building.

Although he died in 1927, Francis Kelsey’s influence is still strongly felt, not only through his collection, but also in ongoing research. Terry Wilfong, the curator in charge of fieldwork, is making Karanis information available to both scholars and the general public on the Internet. Wilfong also serves as a clearinghouse for other Karanis information, collecting papers from scholars around the world and helping to get them published in scholarly journals. Eventually Wilfong would like to return to Karanis to reassess the original work and do new excavating.

Dixboro

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, May 1996,
May 1996

Author: Grace Shackman

Dixboro, a small village on Plymouth Road just a few miles northeast of Ann Arbor, probably owes its survival to its location. Serving travelers between Ann Arbor and Detroit gave the crossroads settlement an economic basis that sustained it while other nearby towns, such as Brookville and Geddesburg, dwindled to mere names on old maps.

Dixboro’s founder, Captain John Dix, was only twenty-eight years old when he came to the Michigan Territory, but he had already led a remarkable life. Born in Massachusetts in 1796, Dix had gone to sea at age sixteen, fought in the War of 1812, and been shipwrecked in New Zealand. He bought the site that would become Dixboro in 1824, the same year that John Allen and Elisha Rumsy founded Ann Arbor.

Dix laid out his new town on both sides of a Potawatomi Indian trail that was being used by settlers moving west from Detroit. He set aside a village square with sixty-four lots around it and built himself a house just east of there, about where Durbin Builders is today. His house doubled as Dixboro’s post office and general store. As soon as he was settled, Dix dammed Fleming Creek to power a sawmill and a gristmill.

After nine years, Dix left, resettling in Texas. Dixboro continued to function but never rivaled Ann Arbor. Some believe this was because Dix’s departure deprived the town of strong leadership; others point to the fact that the railroad followed the Huron River instead of coming through Dixboro. Dix sold most of his holdings to brothers John and William Clements. They continued to run the store, the post office, and a tavern. Rival stores and taverns started up as well, along with a few other small businesses—two blacksmiths, a cider mill, a cooper shop, and a steam-powered sawmill.

Photograph of Dixboro Methodist Church,
surrounded by fields

The Dixboro Methodist Church, c. 1916, was built in 1858 and has been the center of town life ever since.

Dixboro never incorporated as a city. It has always been governed as part of Superior Township. But for more than a century the village had its own one-room schoolhouse on the public square. The first school, built sometime between 1828 and 1832, was replaced in 1888 with the red brick building that still stands. In 1858, a church, now the Dixboro United Methodist, was built behind the school. The two institutions served as the center of village life. “Everyone took part in the [church] functions, even if they didn’t go to church every Sunday,” recalls Richard Leslie, who grew up in Dixboro between the two world wars. “The church really ran the town.”

Dixboro was surrounded by farmland, and many of the town’s residents were farmers. Lifetime resident Tom Freeman compares Dixboro to a European town where people live in the center and go out to their farms during the day. His mother, Carol Willits Freeman, who wrote the village history, Of Dixboro: Lest We Forget, grew up in a house in the center of town, on Plymouth Road between Dixboro and Cherry Hill roads. Yet her family had three cows, a horse, a few pigs, and some chickens and grew crops to the south of their house.

The Leslie family, who lived on the same street as the church, farmed in many of the fields to the north and kept eight or ten cows. One of Richard Leslie’s jobs as a boy was to take his family’s cows across Plymouth Road to their grazing land behind Oak Grove Cemetery. In the days before automobiles were ubiquitous, only occasionally would a passing car slow their progress.

In 1924, Plymouth Road was paved. The project took two years: one summer to widen and grade the narrow dirt road, and one to pour the cement. Gravel for the project was taken from the Cadillac Sand and Gravel Pit, near today’s Humane Society headquarters, and was transported by a little train, called a “dinky,” that moved on a temporary track. Dixboro men got jobs helping with the road, while their wives earned extra money serving meals to the workers.

Photograph looking east up Plymouth Road
when it was still dirt

Plymouth Road looking east, c. 1916, eight years before it was paved.

Much of the paving was done by convict labor. Carol Freeman, interviewed for a video made by Dale Leslie, the son of Richard Leslie, laughingly recalled, “They all told us they were in for bootlegging.” Dale Leslie himself recalls a story told by his great aunt: when she asked one of the convicts why he didn’t work faster she was told, “Lady, I’ve got twenty years to build this road.”

The paved road gave Dixboro an economic boost. The Dixboro General Store, which was built sometime before 1840, was sold in 1924 to Emmett Gibb. Counting on increased business from the improved road, Gibb modernized the store and put on an addition to the east. The extension created a big room on the second level, which was an excellent place for community dances. “We’d shake Mr. Gibb’s groceries off his shelves,” recalls Harvey Sanderson, who played banjo in the Parker Orchestra. It played for the dances from 1924 to 1930; the Parker family supplied most of the orchestra’s members (Sanderson’s wife was a Parker). The Parkers owned the old Parker mill on Geddes Road, today a county park.

Several other businesses opened in response to the increased traffic on Plymouth Road. The gas station (now Gibbons Antiques) sold Dixie Gas and became an evening hangout for men in the neighborhood. As late as the 1950’s, recalls Gavin Smith, now Superior Township Fire Chief, “it was a fun place to go and get the gossip.” The Farm Cupboard restaurant opened in 1928 in what had been the Frank Bush home. After a fire destroyed the house in 1935, the Bushes’ barn was moved onto the site and converted into a restaurant; it survives today as the Lord Fox. Other road-oriented businesses followed in later years--the Prop Restaurant (now a chiropractor’s office), a second gas station on the corner of Ford and Plymouth (now an empty lot), and the Red Arrow Motel, which is still there, but not used for that purpose. On football Saturdays, traffic was so heavy that residents couldn’t cross the road, and even the church got in on the action. From 1926 to 1961, church women raised money by selling chicken dinners to the passing throngs of U-M sports fans.

For more than a century after the village was founded, most of the houses built were for children or grandchildren of long-term residents. Carol Freeman and her husband, Glen, had a house on Church Street that included five acres of land. Later they rented out the house and built a newer one next door. Their children built houses on the remaining land and have recently been joined by a married grandchild. The Leslies did the same thing with three of their children building homes next to the cemetery on family land.

Photograph of men sitting outside Dixboro
Store, with signs advertising Staroline Gasoline & Firestone Tire Service

An economic boom created by paving Plymouth caused several area businesses to expand, such as the Dixboro Store.

Dixboro’s first major expansion came in 1951, when the Dixboro Heights subdivision was built in what had been a cornfield farmed by the Leslies. Dixboro Heights was filled with veterans starting families and the community soon outgrew its one-room school. A two-room school was built in 1953, and then in 1958 Dixboro joined the Ann Arbor school system. In 1974, after a large addition was completed, the school was renamed the Glen A. Freeman School, after Carol Freeman’s husband. Today Dixboro children are bused into Ann Arbor, and the former Freeman School is used by Little Tigers day care and Go Like the Wind Montessori school.

Traffic on Plymouth Road decreased in 1964, when the first phase of M-14 was finished. While it hurt some of the businesses (the first casualty was the gas station at Ford and Plymouth), it did no harm to Dixboro’s residential attractiveness. Since Dixboro Heights, three other subdivisions--Ford Estates, Autumn Hills, and Tanglewood--have been built, and houses have filled in a few empty lots in the older part of the village. The new Fleming Creek subdivision adjoins the village to the southwest.

The church is still the center of Dixboro life--residents meet there, for instance, to discuss the effect of new developments on the area. And although the population is large enough that people no longer know everyone else, there is still great community spirit. Every winter, townspeople set up an ice rink in the former village green. “There’s no committee,” Tom Freeman says. “Each fall it just happens.” For years, the merry-go-round on the school playground--like the upkeep of the cemetery--was a Boy Scout project. One year Ron Smith, now a township firefighter, repaired it as part of an Eagle Scout project. He has continued taking care of it ever since.

The Story of the Schwaben Halle

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, December 2002,
December 2002

Author: Grace Shackman

On the eve of World War I, German Americans Built a virtual Palace of ethnic solidarity

The Schwaben Halle at 215 South Ashley was sold several years ago, but the Schwaebischer Unterstuetzungs Verein (“Swabian Support Association”), the group that built it, is still alive and kicking. Better known simply as the “Schwaben Verein,” the club was founded in 1888 by recent German immigrants. Although the local German community is by now pretty well assimilated, the Verein survives, in large part because of the fun the members and their families have sharing their common ancestry. “Eat, drink, and dance. What else do Germans do?” laughs member Walter Metzger. At the spring Bockbierfest, says president Art French, “the food is different, but we still eat and drink and dance. Any excuse for a party.”

Swabians, who take their name from a medieval kingdom in southern Germany, began immigrating to Ann Arbor as early as 1825, usually when there were economic or political problems in Germany. The 1880 immigrants were escaping the effects of Bismarck’s rule, as well as an economic depression, choosing Ann Arbor because Germans from earlier migrations were already here. But although other Germans in town helped them get established, the new arrivals felt a need for mutual support in the new country.

Tailor Gottlieb Wild, who was born near Stuttgart and served a four-year apprenticeship before coming to America, brought the idea of a Swabian club to Ann Arbor. His story, as related in Samuel Beakes’s 1906 Past and Present of Washtenaw County, is like that of many other Ann Arbor German immigrants: “He came to America when but seventeen years of age, and made his way to Ann Arbor, having relatives in this city, who had come to the New World in 1835.”

In 1887 Wild moved to Toledo to work as a journeyman tailor. He became involved with a Swabian social group there, and when he returned to Ann Arbor the following year to open his own shop, he encouraged his fellow Swabians to form their own association. (Wild’s tailor shop, like the Schwaben Verein, proved impressively durable--it evolved into a popular campus-area men’s store that survived until 1988.)

The Schwaben Verein’s official purpose was to provide a primitive kind of mutual health and life insurance: members paid a $1 initiation fee and 30¢ a month in dues, and in times of need the group would help out with hospital or burial expenses. But from the beginning, the real attraction was the camaraderie. “It was a way to be with people who spoke their language, followed their customs, who had the same outlook on life,” explains president French.

The group’s first meeting was held June 22, 1888, on the second floor of Wild’s tailor shop. Business was conducted entirely in German, a tradition that would continue for nearly a century. Many of Ann Arbor’s retail establishments were owned and run by Germans, so as the group grew they easily found other places to meet. They moved from Wild’s shop to rooms in Michael Staebler’s hotel, the American House (now the Earle, at Washington and Ashley), and when that in turn proved inadequate, to rented rooms above Arnold’s Jewelry Store on Main Street.

In 1894, just six years after its founding, the group was financially secure enough to purchase a building, the former Wagner’s blacksmith shop on Ashley between Washington and Liberty. All seven members of the executive committee signed the mortgage. They reserved the second floor for their meetings and rented the downstairs to blacksmith Henry Otto (who was better known locally as the leader of Otto’s Band).

In 1908 the Schwaben Verein bought a second property: the Relief Fire Company Park, south of Madison and west of what is now Fifth Street, then on the outskirts of the city. (Since 1888 the fire department had been changing over to professional firefighters, and volunteer companies were phased out.) The park was used for open-air events. “Parades and picnics were memorable occasions,” the Ann Arbor News reported. “Entire families turned out, the children to enjoy games and sports while their elders talked on and on about the ‘old country’ and the occurrences in their lives in their adopted land.”

Hardware store owner Christian Schlenker, who was president of the Verein at the time, is credited with spearheading the construction of a permanent headquarters. “Entirely due to his persistence and influence, they decided to build the new Swabian Hall,” W. W. Florer states in volume 1 of Early Michigan Settlements (1941).

The key was a deal between the group and Mack & Co., then Ann Arbor’s largest department store, at 220–224 South Main. Walter Mack agreed to rent most of the planned structure, including the two upper floors and part of the basement. Mack, though the son of a German immigrant, was not a member of the Verein (“Mr. Mack was never affiliated with any fraternal organizations but has concentrated his energies and attention upon his business interests and family life,” writes Beakes), and he did not help with construction costs. However, he agreed to build a steam heating plant, pay fire insurance for the whole building, and provide water for the sprinkler system.

Photograph of construction workers pausing
from their work to pose in front of the half-completed Schwaben Halle

Construction of the Schwaben Verein, 1914.

In May 1914 the blacksmith shop was torn down, and construction began on the new building. Local historian Carol Mull, who has done extensive research on the building, finds it probable that some of the brick from the blacksmith shop was reused in the new building. Architect George Scott designed the Schwaben Halle, and Julius Koernke, a German immigrant who had settled in Ann Arbor in 1890, served as contractor.

Enclosed walkways connected the third and fourth floors with Mack’s Main Street store, and the buildings’ basements were joined by a tunnel. Mack used the basement for storage and the upstairs for a dining room, a beauty shop (the holes from the plumbing were still there when the Verein sold the building), and a big toy display at Christmas. The Ashley Street storefront was rented to Hagen and Jedel Men’s Clothing.

The Verein reserved the second floor for its own activities. A large front room was used for dancing and banquets; it had a stage at one end for plays and performances. There was a dressing room behind the stage and beyond that the bar and kitchen. Beautiful woodwork, tin ceilings, a fireplace, and a stained-glass front window with the Schwaben name on it all added to the hall’s beauty. In 1988, to celebrate the Verein’s hundredth anniversary, some of the members donated stained glass for the side windows and transoms.

During World War I, when other German groups were fading out or switching to English, the Schwaben Verein kept meeting and didn’t experience any overt harassment. “The society subscribed to war loans throughout the war and helped in every deserving war charity brought to its notice,” wrote the Ann Arbor News in 1922. While admitting a little defensively that the group was “still carrying its German name,” the paper insisted that “the organization is essentially American and stands for everything which is American.”

The war and subsequent anti-immigrant fervor, as well as Prohibition, cut into the activities of many German groups, but the Schwaben Verein emerged stronger than ever. Helping German war victims from the Württemberg area gave it an additional reason for existing. And although Prohibition lowered attendance at the park, the club met the challenge by selling the land and using the proceeds to help pay off its Ashley Street building.

Member John Hanselmann bought the park and divided it into house lots. The club continued having picnics at Hanselmann’s Grove on Waters Road off Ann Arbor–Saline Road or at members’ farms, such as Walter Aupperle’s property on Frains Lake Road. (The German Park organization on Pontiac Trail is a different group, although there is some overlap in membership.)

In 1922, just eight years after finishing the Halle, the group was able to celebrate paying off the mortgage. “On the eve of Thanksgiving day a gathering of 100 men stood in a darkened room of the Schwaben hall and in hushed stillness watched the mortgage on the building disappear in flames,” reported the Ann Arbor News. “The flickering light of the flames showed up solemn faces and glimpses of the Star Spangled banner which decorate the room. As the last shred of paper fell and the flame died out lights flooded the room and 100 voices rose in acclamation.”

The Verein paid off its mortgage just in time to be ready for the next wave of immigrants. “They came from the very same villages as the men of the eighties and of former decades,” writes Florer. “A revival of interest in plays, concerts, and other social activities began and has continued ever since.”

One of the 1920s immigrants was Gottlob Schumacher, who until his death in 2001 was the group’s oldest living member. Schumacher first visited the Schwaben Halle three days after his arrival in Ann Arbor in October 1923. Staying at the American House, Schumacher was introduced to a fellow Swabian named Gottlob Gross, who brought him over to the club. In a 1988 interview Schumacher recalled that since it was Sunday the hall was supposed to be closed, so the men went up the back stairs from the alley. They rang a bell, and the barman looked through a sliding window before letting them in. Although it sounds like a scene from a Prohibition-era movie, Schumacher insisted that the bar offered nothing stronger than hard cider--although even that was illegal during Prohibition.

Schumacher officially joined the Schwaben Verein three months later. One of his favorite activities was acting in plays the group wrote and performed in Swabian dialect. Walter Metzger, whose parents emigrated from Swabia, recalls that a huge crowd always attended these plays, put on near Christmas. “They filled up the Schwaben Halle, sitting in folding chairs and the benches around the side,” he says. The programs would consist of two or three short, sitcom-like sketches: “There would be a married couple. They would bicker and make fun of each other,” Metzger explains. “Then others would come in--neighbors, relatives. They were humorous. You had to laugh the entire time.” In between the plays, the audience could buy sandwiches and beer at the bar.

The cast were all amateurs, just members who enjoyed that sort of thing—Schumacher, Anton Vetter, Hans Meier, Martin Rempp. Bill and Fred Wente, who worked at Herz Paint Store, did the sets. Bill Staebler, who owned a beauty shop, did the makeup, and members’ wives sewed the costumes. Metzger was just a boy then, but he was put to work with his older brother Hans, who could drive, delivering advertising placards to outlying towns such as Manchester and Bridgewater that had large German populations. Metzger also served as a curtain puller and once even had a nonspeaking role.

In 1938 the Schwaben Verein had been in existence for fifty years. One hundred and fifty members and guests celebrated the anniversary at a banquet at the city’s biggest hotel, the Allenel (where the Courthouse Square apartments are now). After dinner they reconvened at the hall for a program that included music by the Lyra Männerchor (men’s chorus), followed by dancing and a radio program of Swabian folk tunes and songs--broadcast live via shortwave from Stuttgart especially for the occasion.

The plays stopped during World War II, but the group weathered the war, just as it had survived World War I. It no doubt helped that many of the young men leaving to fight the war were themselves of German ancestry. Although local German Americans were firmly on the Allied side, they didn’t forget their relatives in Germany. “We had our own CARE program, helping individually in areas we knew about,” explains French.

The war triggered one last influx of German immigrants. The Schwaben Verein continued a full schedule of activities, including Kirchweihe (literally a church dedication festival, observed as a harvest festival, with strings of radishes, beets, turnips, and cabbage serving as decorations), a children’s Christmas party, an anniversary dinner, and the Bockbierfest, featuring a special beer traditionally made for Lent. For years a group of women, headed by Karoline Schumacher, who was chef at the Old German when she and her husband owned the restaurant from 1936 to 1946, would make and serve such German specialties as liver sausage, roulades, goulash, spaetzle, sauerkraut, and German potato salad. And of course beer was the drink of choice for most events.

German bands from Toledo or Detroit with names like Langecker’s Wanderers, Tyrolers, Dorimusikanten, or Eric Nybower provided the music for dancing. Sometimes the Schuhplattler, a group affiliated with German Park, would perform traditional German dances. For its centennial in 1988, the Verein imported a band from Germany named Contrast.

People who regularly attended these functions became very close. Art French met his wife, then Kathy Rempp, at a Schwaben event. And Kathy’s parents, Mina and Martin Rempp (who, like his son-in-law, was a long-term president), met at a Schwaben event in Toledo.

“We still call each other our extended family,” says Marianne Rauer. “We are our own psychiatrists.” Fritz Kienzle, the group’s flag bearer, once dropped out for three and a half years but missed it so much he went back. “You’ve got to have that gravy on your potatoes,” he explains.

The Schwaben Verein has changed as the local German community has become more assimilated. Originally members had to be from Swabia, but later the group accepted anyone who spoke German. Today, members just have to have some German connection.

Most in the group now are American born, although there are still fourteen German-born members. “The meetings were mostly in German until about twenty years ago,” says French. “There are less and less who can converse in German, so we have to keep translating in order not to keep them out. But we still open and close the meetings in German.”

Though the Verein is still officially an all-male group, in the 1970s, with no change in the rules, women started coming to the hall during meetings. Wives of members who drove their husbands to the meetings, or who just didn’t want to be left alone at home, came up and waited in the bar area, visiting and playing cards until their husbands finished the meeting and joined them.

After Mack & Co. closed during the Great Depression, the first floor was rented to other tenants, including a bar called Mackinaw Jack’s, which left the facade covered with fake logs. Most recently, Hi-Fi Studio, an electronics repair business, packed the space with old TVs and stereos. Even the second-floor meeting room was rented out when the Verein wasn’t using it. Over the years it’s hosted everything from the local Jewish congregation (in the early 1920s) to sports clubs, sister city events, and weddings and other private parties.

French says the group currently has seventy members, of whom twenty or twenty-five regularly attend bimonthly meetings. The average age is about fifty. “Lots join with their dads,” explains Harriet Holzapfel, whose husband, son, and father-in-law were all members. “There’s an age gap,” says Rauer, “but once they are married and have kids they come back. They want their kids to have the Christmas party and family events.”

But the group’s desire to keep the large hall waned, especially since the rest of the building wasn’t producing the rental income it once had. Art French says he’d been looking for a long time, but “I couldn’t get tenants. Everyone wanted to buy—no one wanted to rent.” So in March 2001 the Schwaben Halle was sold to Bill Kinley of Phoenix Contractors and Ann Arbor architects Dick Mitchell and John Mouat.

The new owners removed the fake log-cabin siding from the front of the building and restored the facade as closely as possible to its original look. Inside they made changes to meet current standards, such as wider, fire-code-compliant stairs and an elevator for handicap access.

Meanwhile, the Schwaben Verein members meet just down the street at Hathaway’s Hideaway. “We’re still active, still accepting new members, we still have the activities. We just don’t have a building,” says French. For big events they rent space at either Links at Whitmore Lake or Fox Hills golf course on North Territorial.

Many in Ann Arbor’s German community were sad to see a building that encompassed so much of their past sold. “It was like the soul of the German community, such a beautiful place,” says Marianne Rauer. But Fritz Kienzle points out that the Schwaben Verein was always more that just a building. “People said when you sell you lose all your heritage,” he says. “But the heritage is in you, in your memories.”

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