Saturday, September 15, 2012

Main Street Stories: 327 S. Main

Around 1900, Rochester jeweler Theodor Dahlmann built a store to house his business at 327 S. Main. This property remained in the Dahlman family until 1936, when Theo Dahlmann's heirs sold it to Lyle "Red" Knapp. Knapp opened a restaurant and bar there, known simply as "Knapp's" (and not to be confused with Knapp's Dairy Bar, another of his businesses which opened on the opposite side of the street in 1950). Knapp's restaurant and bar was a Main Street landmark until 1976, when the property was sold to Clarence Kavan of Grosse Pointe.  Kavan, having an entirely different restaurant in mind, had the existing building razed completely, and planned a brand-new building to be constructed atop the old foundation.

As construction on the restaurant continued, Rochester residents were introduced in December 1976 to a new feature on Main Street.  The front of the new Kavan's Colony East restaurant was decorated with two large figures sculpted of wood, leaning on a table over the doorway that was the main entrance to the eatery.  The larger-than-life oak carving was familiar to Detroiters, as it had graced the front of the old Brass Rail bar on Grand Circus Park for many years. After the demise of the Brass Rail, the carving lay in storage until Clarence Kavan acquired it for his new restaurant in Rochester.

The carving is the design of Joseph Freedman, who was one of the partners in the Brass Rail bar. It was executed by the firm of noted Detroit sculptor Joachim Jungwirth, whose company of architectural modelers and wood carvers was very prominent in Detroit. Jungwirth was a talented Austrian wood carver and was the father of sculptor Leonard D. Jungwirth, who created the famous "Sparty" statue at Michigan State University, and also created a bas relief mural at Rochester High School (now hanging in the Harrison Room of the school administration building).  Joseph Freedman patented his design for the sculpture to adorn the bar's entrance in 1940.  The drawing filed with his patent application is shown here.

Kavan's Colony East opened its doors to Rochester patrons in February 1977, and lasted until about 1980, when the restaurant's name was briefly changed to Main Street bar and grille.  The Kruse and Muer organization bought it in 1989.  Names and owners may have changed in the 35 years since the carving was installed, but it has now become an immovable fixture and a noted Rochester landmark. The next time you visit Kruse and Muer on Main, note the initials "BR"  (for Brass Rail) carved in the boot heel of one of the men.

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