Friday, January 7, 2011

Kramer Building

I just love this building 922 Wealthy SE. Called the Kramer Building it was built in the 1930's in Grand Rapids as a hupmobile dealership. The design is very elegant and the brickwork very attractive. These days in the era of mega car dealerships, it is hard to imagine this beautiful little building as an auto showroom.

There is some original advertising on the building which cannot be removed due to the historic nature of it - you can see this auto-related "advertising" the photo. Also, the brick on the front of the building is inscribed with the name KRAMER.

The hupmobile was originally developed by Robert Craig Hupp who was born in Grand Rapids in 1887.

According to Wikipedia:
The Hupmobile was an automobile built from 1909 through 1940 by the Hupp Motor Company, which was located at 345 Bellevue Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. Its first car, the Model 20, was introduced to the public at the Detroit Auto Show in February 1909. The company initially produced 500 vehicles.
Robert Craig Hupp (June 2, 1877 in Grand Rapids, Michigan – 1931), a former employee of Oldsmobile and Ford, founded the company with his brother Louis Gorham Hupp (November 13, 1872 in Michigan – December 10, 1961 in Michigan) in 1908.

Fast Forward
In 2005, developers built a large addition the West of the original structure to make the building more viable for mixed use. As of a few months ago, the Kramer Building is now in use again. It is a cheery site to see furniture and activity in the building.

Cool Garage in the Back

It was the end of a little dream I had of having a studio in the building and my husband using the cool old garage behind the building to restore his vintage airstreams.

The Old Brick Street is Repaired
Another cool thing happened in 2005. The old brick paving on sections of Wealthy Street was repaired. This and a great deal of vintage charm and ambience to the Wealthy Street Theatre district.

Wealthy Street has become a "destination"
The renovation and repurposing of the Kramer Building is part of an exciting renaissance on Wealthy Street. Wealthy Street has become a destination with good restaurants, bars and shops. Any lunch time or evening of the week finding a parking spot on certain sections of Wealthy Street is a challenge but a challenge that is welcome, especially if you value the history and architecture of Grand Rapids.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wealthy Street Service Stations

Along Wealthy Street from Fuller west to College Avenue, there are old service/gas stations that have been converted to new uses. Some are restaurants (Sandmmans and Wealthy Street Station), one is a car wash/coffee shop, another was an ice cream shop (briefly), and the most modern of the group, a former Standard Oil Station, car repairs are still done on a part-time basis and you can see the imprint of the Standard Oil sign on the building. Once a part of a thriving business district, these service stations, abandoned when the neighborhood feel into decline, are now being repurposed. The decline has been reversed although there are still many buildings that are need of repair and new use and are now part of the thriving urban district that attracts young people to hip new restaurants, galleries, antique shops and forms a natural extension to the trendy downtown condominiums and apartments. There are challenges in this repurposing as exemplified by one owner who had a buyer for his station who backed out when they found out that the Historic Preservation Commission would not okay certain improvements they considered essential for the remodel.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

King Corona Cafe and Cigar Company in Ybor City, Florida

This post is a departure from the history of old buildings in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The building shown in the picture is the King Corona Cafe and Cigar Company in Ybor City, Florida. While I do not know the history of this particular building, I still felt it rated a place in The History of Old Buildings. The King Corona Cafe is located on a street that was designated in 2008 one of 10 of the greatest streets in America by the American Planning Association.

This morning on our way back to Michigan from Sarasota, Florida we realized a wish of my husband Jon. That was to stop at the at the King Corona Cafe and take in a bit of history in Ybor City, Florida. Ybor City is where in 1886, the cuban cigar making industry took root and flourished thanks to the vision of Cuban cigar maker Vincente Martinez Ybor. The work force was made up of Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants. This industry at one time produced over 800 millions cigars per year. As with many urban areas, this area went into economic freefall for many historic and economic reasons. It is now in a period of rebirth. The street - 7th Street - where the cafe is located has a number of interesting restaurants and shops and the buildings have are interesting to look at. Within blocks of 7th street there are many homes that have the shotgun look similar to the cigar workers cottages you see in Key West.

For more information on Ybor City check out Wikipedia:,_Tampa.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hillmount Part 2: Sundial Park

In a previous post, I discussed the Hillmount - an elegant modern structure built from 1949-1952 as an innovative new apartment building and now a popular downtown condominium development. The Hillmount was built on the former site of the Moses Aldrich home which was built originally about 1860. A footprint of the home is shown in the 1895 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps shown above.

In 1926, when the Aldrich house was still standing and would have been about 66 years old, the city was deeded a small portion of the Aldrich property for a park. This park was on 125 square feet at the northeast corner of College and Cherry SE.

Katherine Aldrich, daughter of Moses V. Aldrich, former Grand Rapids mayor (1868-1870) commissioned a statute for the new "Sundial Park." It was designed by Anna Coleman Ladd, a Boston sculptor. The dedication ceremony took place on July 30, 1925.

Sadly in 1939, the house was demolished, according to the Grand Rapids Press, to make room for a Catholic women's residence although there is no evidence that any such building was ever erected. In 1942, the Sundial Park statue had sustained some damage. It could have been related to the demolition of the house, vandalism or just plain neglect. The city determined that it was best to move the statue and one reason given was the possibility that city officials were afraid it would be stolen for scrap during WWII

The statue was finally returned to it's rightful position on the slab still located on the park property in 1952 when the new Hillmount Apartments opened. It had nearly been commandeered for use in at least two different locations, the Zoo and the old public museum! The slab is still there and on it is a beautiful modern sign erected there after the developers began renovating the building as condominiums in 2006. But the statue is gone.

Three mysteries exist related to this house: 1. Why are there no photos anywhere in the historic records located at the Grand Rapids Public Library; 2. How did the City Assessors Office lose the assessor card on this property which would have had a picture of the residence (!); 3. What happened to the statue -- it has disappeared again and was reportedly last seen at the Zoo but now cannot be located?

Hillmount Part 2: Sundial Park

In a previous post, I discussed the Hillmount. The Hillmount was built on the former site of the Moses Aldrich home. A footprint of the home is shown in the 1895 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Hillmount Story

The Hillmount is located at 505 Cherry SE in the Heritage Hill area of Grand Rapids, Michigan on the corner of College and Cherry, a beautiful art deco moderne style apartment building designed and built by Albert Rosa. It is now a condominium development that is part of the downtown renaissance housing empty nesters, young professionals, law school and medical school students. The Hillmount, a 1,000,000 six story apartment structure with 101 units, saw it’s first tenant move in on Friday, December 7, 1951--a Miss Portia H., the personnel director for a local department store . The first tenant wasphotographed by the Grand Rapids Press Building as she moved into her sixth-floor unit. The occasion caught the attention of The Grand Rapids Press as it was the first large apartment building constructed in downtown Grand Rapids for more than 25 years.Ground was broken in 1949 but construction took longer than expected due to materials shortages during the Korean War and initial objections of neighbors. The building is located in what was established in 1970 as The Heritage Hill neighborhood, a national historic district comprised of stunningly graceful and beautiful homes, many of which were built in the late 1800's and early 1900's by leaders in the Grand Rapids furniture trade so it was most likely looked upon with some trepidation by home owners wishing to maintain a single family ambience to the neighborhood.

What came before the Hillmount? If only we had a photo of the house that graced this spot at College and Cherry Streets. Moses Aldrich, Mayor of Grand Rapids from 1868-1870 built his family home on the current site of the Hillmount sometime around 1860. The 1895 edition of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps show the Aldrich home as a two story brick structure. A Grand Rapids Press article regarding its demolition in July 1939 describes a red brick home with a “cupola surrounded by an iron railing...and "14 rooms." The stable was one of the largest private stables in the city and the garage portion is still standing in the parking lot of The Hillmount. So far I have been unable to find a picture of the Aldrich home. The block where it was located is bounded by College on the west, Fulton on the north, Cherry on the south and Union on the east was home to the homes of many of the significant families in Grand Rapids history. These included the Pantlind, Bissell, Ledyard homes. The Waters Mansion is still standing in the midst of the large apartment complex on Fulton and College.Moses Aldrich built one of Grand Rapids important early commercial buildings, the Flat Iron Building at the corner of Ottawa and Monroe in 1860 described in an earlier posting. It is currently being renovated for use as law offices for the firm of Smith, Haughey, Rice and Roegge. Aldrich was known as a civic minded man who had great compassion and worked to improve the conditions of the poor citizens of the city.