Saturday, January 29, 2011

Main Street Stories: DeBaene Building

The building at 419-423 S. Main Street was completed in late 1926 by local businessman Camille J. DeBaene on a lot that for half a century before had been the location of the offices of Doctors Jesse and Jerry Wilson. A native of Belgium who came to the U.S. with his family as a child, DeBaene settled in Rochester after his marriage in 1905. In 1926, the Clarion announced that a new, one story stone and brick building was going up on the Wilson site and would house the A&P grocery store when complete. The DeBaene building was part of a mini building boom on Main Street that was sparked in anticipation of the construction of the South Hill bridge, scheduled for the summer of 1927.

Over the years, the DeBaene building has house two or three businesses at a time in its three sections. Among the tenants have been the A&P, DeBaene Lunch Room, DeBaene Tax Service, The Thimble Shop, Martin's Men's Wear, Cap' Tele-Tec TV Service, Avon Printing, Avon Recreation, Shepard's Bar, Birmingham Camera, Boulevard Bridal, and most recently, Mr. B's Food and Spirits, and the Spy Shop.

The DeBaene building celebrates its 85th birthday in 2011.

This 1940s postcard view of the DeBaene building is from the collection of Rod and Susan Wilson.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Subdivision Stories: Woodward Heights

There are several places in Rochester named in honor of pioneer farmer and businessman Lysander Woodward, and one of them is the Woodward Heights subdivision located west of North Main Street between Woodward Street and the northern city limits. The property on which the subdivision was laid out was formerly part of the farm of Lysander Woodward, which totaled nearly 400 acres and included land on both sides of Main Street.

In 1920, Woodward's daughter, Emma, and her husband, noted Detroit architect John Scott, sold a part of the Woodward estate to the Rochester Development Company. Local business leaders William Clark Chapman and Milton H. Haselswerdt were the officers of the development company, and William J. Fisher, a partner in the Fisher Brothers architecture and engineering firm of Pontiac, was the surveyor who laid out the streets.

One of the street names shown on this plat of the Woodward Heights subdivision has changed; Sugar Avenue, so named for the Detroit Sugar Company factory built upon in 1899, was renamed Woodward Street by the village council in 1927. Also notable among the subdivision's street names is Scott Street (highlighted in red on the plat), a very short street - now an alley, really - between Glendale and Ferndale, presumably named for proprietors John and Emma Woodward Scott.

When the lots in Woodward Heights were offered for sale, lot #1 was purchased by Rochester businessman A.R. Dillman, and lot #2 was purchased by Milton H. Haselswerdt. The fine homes these two men built upon those lots still stand today along North Main.

The Woodward Heights subdivision celebrates its 91st birthday this summer.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

At Home in Rochester: The George Flumerfelt Residence

The home on the southwest corner of Walnut and Fourth streets was built in the summer of 1895 by George M. Flumerfelt (sometimes also spelled Flummerfelt). Flumerfelt was born in Oakland Township in 1838, one of nine children of pioneer Oakland farmers William and Esther Flumerfelt. After seeking his fortune in an extensive tour of the western United States as a youth, George Flumerfelt returned to the Rochester area where he farmed a large tract of land. He also invested in the local banks, and served as officer and director of several local businesses. He was also active politically and served as village clerk, village councilman, and member of the school board.
Flumerfelt's first wife, the former Rebecca Cummins, died in 1890 and two years later he married Clara E. Crissman. The couple built their new home in Rochester at 339 Walnut Street, on the corner opposite Fourth Street from the Baptist church. The Rochester Era of May 24, 1895 reprinted this announcement from the Pontiac Gazette:
Fisher Bros. have completed plans and specifications for a very fine modern frame house for G.M. Flummerfelt, of Rochester. The structure will be 56x40 feet, two stories and an attic, with octagon corner tower.
The basement will be divided into furnace and coal rooms, vegetable cellar, etc., with cement floors, with outside and inside entrances.
The ground floor will have a parlor, hall, sitting, bed and bath rooms, kitchen and summer kitchen, pantry, dumb waiter, etc. The hall and front stair case will be of panel work; the sitting room with have mantel, grate and tiled hearth, and the whole first floor is to be finished in oak; and the dining room floor to be of inlaid beech and oak. A colonial porch will extend across two sides, divided by a corner tower.
The second floor is to be divided into four chambers and store room, with closets throughout, all to be finished in Georgia pine, and have balconies over porches. Attic unfinished.
The roof will be hipped, with gables and dormers and of slate and with galvanized iron crestings and finials. All windows to be of double thick American glass and doors of double polished plate and art glass.
This will be the finest residence in the village, and reflect credit upon Mr. Flummerfelt, as well as its young designers.
The Fisher Brothers, Charles and William, had just launched their architecture and engineering firm in Pontiac in 1895. The company went on to great success and designed many buildings that were prominent in Pontiac in their day. They also designed the granite fountain donated to the village of Rochester by Samuel Harris in 1917.

George Flumerfelt died in 1917, and in 1929 his residence became the location of the Alanson C. Hobart Funeral Home. After William R. Potere bought out Hobart in 1950, he made several additions to the house to accommodate the needs of his growing funeral and ambulance business, but the features of the original house are still clearly visible today. John and Mary Modetz purchased the funeral home from Potere in 1986 and continue to operate it in the former George Flumerfelt residence.

The George M. Flumerfelt residence will celebrate its 116th birthday in 2011.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Vanished Rochester: Old St. Andrew

St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church is one of Rochester's largest congregations today, and has most certainly not "vanished," but the building that served as its home for nearly half a century has, indeed, disappeared from Rochester's landscape.
The congregation had celebrated its first mass in Rochester in 1912, and two years later purchased a lot on the southwest corner of Walnut and Third streets. In 1923-24, construction of a new church facility was begun with the excavation of the basement. The congregation used the enclosed basement for several years and completed the construction of the church building on a pay-as-you-go basis over the next several years.
As Rochester experienced robust population growth in the post-World War II era, so did the St. Andrew congregation, and the church on Walnut Street became increasingly inadequate for its needs. A new site in the northeast corner of town was purchased and the parish began using its new facility there in 1969, placing the Walnut Street property on the market.
The old church was first optioned by a developer who envisioned placing boutique businesses in the building, but those plans fell through and the City of Rochester purchased the site with the intention of adding much-needed parking spots for the downtown business district. The planned demolition of old St. Andrew sparked a major public outcry, and an effort to stop it was led by a local architect. More than 500 petition signatures were gathered during a two-day demonstration on Main Street, complete with a parade and band music, and letters of support were gathered from local industrial leaders. The Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society weighed in as well, calling the impending destruction of old St. Andrew an "irreparable loss." On the other side of the argument, city council members were firmly convinced that their duty lay in solving downtown's critical parking shortage, and after some last-minute legal wrangling, gave the order for the bulldozers to roll. On July 24, 1972, old St. Andrew passed into the pages of vanished Rochester.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

Happy New Year to everyone and welcome to the third year of Remembering Rochester!

This year, I've decided to make a small change in my "This Month in Rochester History" posts. On the first day of each month in 2011, I'll look back fifty years in Rochester's history to find out what was making big news in town during the corresponding month in 1961. Those readers who were in town at that time are encouraged to post comments with their own memories of these events.

So, here we go - in January 1961, this is the Rochester Clarion story that caught my eye:
New Group Offers Help to Library
A group of volunteers moved this week to ease the strain on facilities of the Avon Township Public Library.
The newly-formed "Friends of the Library" will hold its first general meeting at 8 p.m. Friday in the library, 210 W. University Drive.
Persons attending the meeting will be able to become charter members of the group.
Today, this half-century-old organization is known as the Friends of the Rochester Hills Public Library, and it continues to support the library's programs and services with grants made possible through fund-raising efforts such as used book sales and the Friends' Library Store.

Happy 50th birthday, Friends of RHPL!