Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tienken Road Widening - 1940s style

There's been lots of coverage of the proposed work on E. Tienken Road in the news lately (if you aren't up to speed on this issue, check out this story from today's Oakland Press), so it's no wonder that the following item caught my eye while I was scanning a copy of the Rochester Clarion from 69 years ago. The article is quoted in its entirety from the October 11, 1940 issue of the Rochester Clarion:

County Makes Repairs on E. Tienken Road

Narrow Bridges Are Torn Out; Curves Cut and Road Widened

East Tienken road from the Van Hoosen farm store to Rochester road M-150 is closed to traffic. The road is under construction by the Oakland County Road Commission and is undergoing great improvements.
Near the Van Hoosen store the road is being ditched on both sides to give better drainage off the road bed. The two narrow bridges that have been in use for many years at the entrance to Stoney Creek have been torn out and the one bridge is being replaced with a much wider structure and in place of the small bridge a large culvert will be placed to take care of the water.
Furthur up the road near the Gehrke pond the sharp curves are being cut down and will improve visibility for the motorists. In some places the road is being widened and shoulders built up so as to properly drain the road and ditches. [end quote]

If you are wondering where I come down on the current Tienken Road controversy, here's my two cents. I'm all for safe roads and bridges, and East Tienken and the Stoney Creek bridge definitely need some work. That said, the integrity of the Stoney Creek Historic District has to be maintained and the village needs to be recognized for the treasure that it is. That means some accommodations will have to be made by motorists. Tienken cannot serve as an east-west throughway into Macomb County. Traffic looking for that kind of avenue can take a short detour to the south and use M-59. That's what it's there for. End of soapbox.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Rochester Elevator

One of the last remaining icons of Rochester's agricultural heritage will get a fresh coat of paint on Saturday, June 6 when the Rochester Avon Historical Society will partner with the building owner and other community members and organizations to hold an old fashioned painting bee. The purpose of the project is to help stabilize the historic structure and protect it from deterioration. A professional paint contractor has prepared the building and will apply a primer and first coat over the entire building, and a finish coat on the upper portion of the building. Community volunteers will gather on June 6 at 10 a.m. to apply the finish coat to the lower ten feet of the building and the door and window trim.

Most of the historical assets of our community are privately owned, but the entire community owns the heritage that is associated with them. We can all take pride in helping to make the elevator shine; by doing so, we help to make sure that it will stand for generations to come.

Residents of the Rochester area are invited to join the Rochester Avon Historical Society and all community friends of history in painting the Rochester Elevator. You can read more about the elevator project in this news article. To learn more about the elevator's history, play the short video accompanying this post.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Memorial Day

This coming weekend, there will be plenty of opportunity for fun and recreation in our area. If you are in town, be sure to check out the 32nd annual Rochester Area Heritage Festival, held in the Rochester Municipal Park on Saturday, May 23 and Sunday, May 24. The festival offers a wide variety of activities for the whole family, including food, music, a pioneer village, Civil War re-enactments, crafts, vintage baseball and car shows. While you're there, don't forget to stop by the Rochester Avon Historical Society booth! (A full schedule of events is available on the Festival web site.)

The Rochester community has faithfully observed Memorial Day ever since it was first set aside for the purpose of honoring the memory of the nation's war dead. Summer fun is great, but Memorial Day in our town is more than just the official opening of the summer season. On Monday, please take time out to participate in the community's formal observance of this solemn holiday. The Memorial Day parade will depart from Mt. Avon Cemetery at 10 a.m., after a brief wreath-laying ceremony. The parade route will follow Harding and Livernois Roads to the Veterans Memorial Pointe at Avon & Livernois, where a Memorial Day service will be held. I urge you to attend if you are in the area.

I am a military wife. During my husband's 20 years of active duty with the United States Air Force, neither I nor any member of his family had to accept a folded flag from an honor guard member, offered with the thanks of a grateful nation. But I am keenly aware of all of the military spouses and parents who have done so, and it does not seem like too much to ask of me to set aside a small portion of my time on Monday to remember the sacrifice of their loved ones in defense of my liberty. I hope you will join me in doing the same.

If you can't make it to the parade or service, try to stop by the restored World War II Honor Roll at the east end of the Rochester Municipal Building, and spend a few minutes reading the names of the members of the Rochester community – more than 1,100 of them – who served in uniform during that war. Take special note of the names marked with a gold star, denoting those who lost their lives in the conflict.

Remember them and their sacrifices.
Respect their final resting places.
Reflect on this.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Main Street Stories: 405-407 S. Main

The merchant block at 405-407 S. Main has been standing since Chester A. Arthur was President of the United States. Jeweler Louis E. Palmer broke ground for the building in the spring of 1883, not long after he moved to Rochester from his childhood home in Lenawee County and established his business here. After reporting a few weeks earlier that the brick for Palmer's new building was being laid up quickly, the Rochester Era commented on June 28, 1883 that “Palmer's cornice is being put up on his new brick block, and it 'beats 'em all'.” Vintage photos of the building, such as the one displayed here, show us the ornate, medallion-crowned cornice that was long ago stripped from the facade.

In 1896, Louis Palmer decided to build a new building up the block at 415-417 S. Main, and moved the jewelry store to that location. After Palmer moved out, 405-407 S. Main hosted a wide variety of tenants. The 405 address was home to Hiram H. Stalker's shoe store, then in the 1920s, Zimmerman's Shoes occupied the space. McNally & Clark's Men's Wear followed the shoe stores, and in the 1950s and early 1960s, Gebert's Hardware was located at 405. Since 1969 the address has been the home of Molnar's Tuxedo.

The Wilcox & LeBlond Pool Hall occupied 407 S. Main during the 1920s, and in 1950 it was Harold's Tavern. In the mid-1950s, Pontiac Federal Savings & Loan moved into the building, and remained there, under various successive names, until it failed in 1991 and was bought out by TCF Bank in 1993. 407 was most recently home to Michael Foran Interiors and is currently listed for sale.

The building at 405-407 S. Main celebrates its 126th birthday this spring.

Photo: A view of 405-407 S. Main as it looked about 1910

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Earl Borden Award Ceremony

Each year, the City of Rochester Hills Historic District Commission acknowledges historic preservation efforts within the community through the Earl Borden Awards for Historic Preservation. The award is named in honor of the memory of Earl Borden, the first mayor of Rochester Hills. Borden was a long time public servant and was Supervisor of Avon Township during the transition period when the township became the City of Rochester Hills.

This year, the Earl Borden Award for Historic Preservation will be presented to Mark and Micki Kowal for the restoration of their home in the Stoney Creek Historic District. The Earl Borden Award for Historic Preservation Leadership will be presented to Deborah Larsen for her book, Home Town Rochester: A History of Rochester, Avon Township and Rochester Hills, Michigan, recently published by the Rochester Avon Historical Society.

The Earl Borden Award ceremony will be held at the Rochester Hills Municipal Offices at 1000 Rochester Hills Drive on Monday, May 18, 2009, at 7:00 p.m. Anyone interested in historic preservation is invited to attend.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Vanished Rochester: Hotel St. James

Predating the Home Bakery building by two years, the Hotel St. James was erected in 1847 by John V. Lambertson and was originally called the Lambertson House. The hotel was located at 439 S. Main, on the southwest corner of Main and today's University Drive, known in those days as Fifth St. J.V. Lambertson came with his parents to Avon in 1834; in addition to the hotel, he also ran a mercantile business with his brother, Hiram.

The Lambertson House was one of two commercial houses operating in nineteenth-century Rochester, the other being the Pavilion Hotel at the corner of Third and Main. An 1888 directory of hotels tells us that the room rate at the Lambertson House at the time was $2 per day.

One of the Lambertson's claims to fame was its role as the birthplace of Rochester's government. It was within the parlors of the hotel that the official organization of the village of Rochester took place on April 12, 1869, when the eligible townsmen met to conduct the first village election and voted to incorporate the village and govern it separately from the Township of Avon.

James W. Smith, a Dubliner who had settled in Avon in 1880, bought the hotel in 1892 and renamed it the Hotel St. James. The St. James offered 21 guest rooms, and if the promotional literature of the day is to be believed, it was “famous all through Michigan for the excellence of its cuisine.” Smith was a prominent business leader in Rochester; he built a merchant block at 436-440 S. Main (known today as the Crissman block) and erected the Idle Hour theater adjacent to the hotel. Jim Smith also fancied himself a lookalike of President William Howard Taft and once entertained himself by posing as the chief executive when Taft was expected to make a visit to the Hotel Ponchartrain in Detroit in 1914. According to a Detroit Tribune account, Smith sauntered around the lobby of the Ponch before Taft was scheduled to arrive and enjoyed being greeted as "Mr. Taft" and "Mr. President."

Smith's widow continue to operate the hotel for a time after his death in 1933, but by the 1940s the hundred-year-old structure was showing signs of neglect and decay and was home mostly to some small businesses. A lunch counter, appropriately named Rochester Lunch, served as a local hang-out there, and the waiting room for the Martin Bus Lines was also located in the hotel. By the time the once-proud building's demolition was ordered in 1962, it was generally considered to be an eyesore, and there was little interest expressed for saving it.

After the St. James fell in December 1962, a new brick building replaced it, serving as home at first to the Frank Shepard real estate offices, and later the Weisman medical offices. The new building was substantially rebuilt and expanded in 1996, and housed a Starbucks coffee shop for a time. The Bean & Leaf Cafe is the current occupant of the former hotel site.

Photo: My Dad took this photo, documenting how the hotel looked on the day it was demolished, December 4, 1962.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Floatable Boatable

During the summer of 1969, Rochester marked the 100th anniversary of the incorpora-tion of the town with a gala centennial celebration. There were events and activities for young and old and the town took on a bit of a carnival atmosphere, with women in hoop skirts and men in whiskers on the streets. One of the first big events of the season was a regatta on Paint Creek called the Floatable Boatable. Contestants manned their homemade boats and rafts and floated them into Avon Park, where a large crowd lined the banks of the river to cheer them on. Everyone had such a good time that the Floatable Boatable was turned into an annual Memorial Day weekend event for the next 16 years. Unfortunately, it had to be discontinued in 1985 when liability insurance for the race became prohibitively expensive.

Photo: My Dad took this photo of the 1969 Floatable Boatable from the banks of Paint Creek in Avon Park.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Main Street Stories: Detroit Edison Building

The first electric power provided to Rochester came with the streetcar lines in October 1899, but only a few weeks after, the Rochester Electric Light & Power Company was incorporated. A decade later, on May 14, 1909, the Rochester Era announced that “the Edison people are in full possession and control of the Rochester Light & Power Co.” and that they had purchased a lot at the corner of Third and Main on which a power station would immediately be built. Two weeks later, the newspaper reported that ground had been broken for the promised substation. The building plan was described as having three parts: a high tension room, a machine and switchboard room, and a front office. The $12,000 stucco-over-concrete block building went into service in October 1909.

Rochester residents visited the Detroit Edison office to pay their electric bills, to have small appliances repaired, or to exchange spent light bulbs for new ones at no charge. The light bulb service (it wasn't really free – Detroit Edison actually factored the cost of the bulb replacements into its electric rates) was ended by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1976. In Cantor v. Detroit Edison Co., a druggist who sold light bulbs in his store argued that Detroit Edison violated federal anti-trust laws and restrained his trade by its monopolization of the light bulb market. The high court found in his favor.

Detroit Edison used the building at 234 S. Main as its office until the late 1980s, after which a number of retailers occupied the space. It is currently home to The Beauty Corner, Ros's Cabinets and some professional offices. The Detroit Edison building celebrates its 100th birthday this year.

Photo: This circa 1912 postcard from Rochester Hills Public Library's online collection shows how the Edison building looked not long after it was built.

Friday, May 1, 2009

This Month in Rochester History

Seventeen years have passed already, but it seems like just yesterday that I came home from work on a sunny spring afternoon to find Main Street closed to traffic and choked with emergency vehicles and debris.

On Wednesday, May 20, 1992, downtown Rochester was rocked to its foundations by a powerful natural gas explosion that killed one man and reduced to rubble the J.W. Smith/Crissman block at the corner of University Drive and Main Street. Construction crews had been working on a streetscape beautification project and were digging in the area when they accidentally punctured a gas line. The building was destroyed in a violent explosion before gas company crews could arrive.

James Nelson, a civil engineer for the firm of Hubbell, Roth & Clark, which had designed the project, had stopped by the site minutes before the explosion. He was believed to have been assisting construction crews in evacuating the building when he was killed in the blast. Seventeen other people in the immediate area suffered lacerations and other injuries from flying debris.

The building, which had been built in 1901 by James W. Smith of the St. James Hotel, was more commonly known as the Crissman block after the family which still owned it and had operated the Crissman pharmacy there until 1966. The southernmost portion of the block, housing the Paul R. Haig jewelry store, was spared, but the remainder of the building was a total loss and was immediately razed. The building was rebuilt with careful attention to its original design, including the ornamental stepped-out brickwork on the facade. Although its capstone says 1901, the portion of the building comprising the addresses 438-440 S. Main was actually built in 1992-93. The portion of the building at 436 S. Main, now occupied by Morley Candy, is part of the original 1901 structure.

Photo: This image was lent to me by my uncle, who snapped it minutes after the 5:20 p.m. explosion occurred.