Saturday, July 30, 2011

Memory's Eye: East Fourth Street

Today's Memory's Eye photo is a look at East Fourth Street.  Earlier this week, I took this photo of my father standing on the sidewalk in front of the lot where his childhood home once stood - an apartment house at 131 E. Fourth (now a city parking lot). Sixty-three years earlier, my grandmother had taken a photo of Dad and his sister standing in almost the same spot, with the camera looking west up Fourth toward the intersection of Main. The old photo is visible in this mashup as the image on the tablet screen.  Notice that the south side of Fourth (left side of the photo) hasn't changed that much - the bank building and Opera House building are visible in both views.  The north side of the street, however, looks much different today.  The former village hall, visible in the background of the old photo, was demolished in 1962, while the old apartment house at 131 E. Fourth - just out of range of the camera - came down in the 1980s to create more parking space.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Main Street Stories: Opera House Block

Postcard view of the Opera House block about 1910
There has been a pharmacy operating in the Opera House block on the southeast corner of Main and Fourth streets ever since the building opened its doors in late 1890.  John T. Norton was the first drug store proprietor there, and his store was followed by the pharmacies of Zeno Schoolcraft, T. Kenneth Fetters, Richard J. Morley, and Robert A. Lytle.

The man behind the construction of the Opera House block was Charles A. Burr (1857-1934). Burr was one of eight sons of German immigrants Louis and Eliza Gendrick Burr, who came to America in 1850 and soon thereafter settled in Sterling Township in Macomb County.  Charles Burr was truly a "man of all trades" and had a varied career that followed several occupational paths. He started out as a school teacher, traveled to California in 1876 to mine gold for three years, then returned to the Utica area to run a hardware business. He brought his hardware business to Rochester in 1882 and also served as the town postmaster for a time. Among the other businesses he engaged in while in Rochester were undertaking, men's clothing, real estate, and fire insurance; he also served as an agent for the local express company.

C.A. Burr's diversified business interests must have served him well.  He built the substantial business block at Fourth & Main in 1890, providing retail space on the first floor and an entertainment and public meeting venue, known simply as the Opera House, on the second floor. He also founded the Bank of Rochester along with partner A.F. Newberry, and was financially interested in several other banks in the greater Detroit area.

At the same time that Charles Burr was building his new block, his brother Frank H. Burr, was building a two-store block immediately to the south of the Opera House block.  At the close of 1890, the two Burr brothers controlled the first four storefronts south of Fourth on the east side of Main.  Ten years later, in 1900, another of their brothers, George Burr, would join them as members of the merchant community in Rochester.

The Opera House block, with its signature Richardsonian arches which were restored by owner Robert A. Lytle in 1986-87, is still one of the most recognizable structures in any image of Main Street.  The building was listed on the State Register of Historic Places and received a Michigan Historical Marker in 1991. The Opera House block celebrates its 121st birthday this year.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bygone Business: Petker's Place

1975 Clarion ad for Petker's Place
This week's post is a blast from the past for those of you who grew up in the Rochester area in the 1970s and '80s. The Campus Corners shopping plaza on the southeast corner of Walton & Livernois held its grand opening on July 19, 1975, and one of the charter businesses in that shopping center was Petker's Place, a restaurant and bar owned by Steve Petker. A former teacher from Lake Orion who had also operated a restaurant in Florida, Petker debuted his restaurant several months ahead of the Campus Corners grand opening, and wasn't able to sell liquor at the beginning.  That was just fine with Steve Petker, however; he wanted his establishment to be thought of as a restaurant that also served liquor rather than a bar that also served food. He wanted it to have a reputation as a family restaurant, and boasted that a family of four could have pizza and soft drinks at Petker's for a total tab of about six bucks.

Petker's location directly across Livernois from Rochester High School made it a natural hang-out for the high school set during my teen years. As I recall, it was the bar of choice for senior class members who were of legal age (eighteen in those days) and looking for a liquid lunch. It was also the favorite after-rehearsal watering hole for a certain church choir that I know of.  If you have memories of Petker's and would like to share them, please post a comment.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bygone Business: Gebert Hardware

In the days before the big box warehouse stores, downtown Rochester had plenty of hardware merchants to serve the home repair and home improvement needs of the community.  One of these was Gebert's Hardware, located at 405 S. Main, in the building now occupied by Molnar Tuxedo. Mr. and Mrs. Walter Gebert opened the hardware business in 1948, but they were already known to area residents as the operators of the former Metz & Buchanan Coal Yard on Diversion Street.

Gebert Hardware closed in the mid-1960s, as did competitor Burr Hardware, a few doors up the block; a devastating fire did in Case's Hardware in 1968.  Hardware chains soon took over the territory once owned by these family-operated stores.

The accompanying ad for Gebert Hardware appeared in the 1957 Rochester area telephone book and is provided courtesy of Rod and Susan Wilson.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Main Street Stories: Masonic Block

Masonic Block as it looked in 1978
The building on the northeast corner of Main and Fourth Streets is known as the Masonic Block, as the second floor of the building housed, in its early years, the rooms of the local Masonic lodge. The block was built in 1899 by the Rochester Building Association on a subscription basis, and the Rochester Savings Bank was one of the early tenants on the ground floor.  Edward R. Prall (1857-1913) of Pontiac was selected as the architect for the building, which is designed in the Romanesque Revival style and features rock-faced sandstone trimmed with limestone.  Architect Prall was well-known in his day; among the buildings he designed are the Traverse City Opera House (now on the National Register of Historic Places) and some of the State Hospital buildings at Traverse City.

Not long after it was built, an addition was made to the rear of the Masonic block to house George Burr's implement warehouse; this space later became the location of the Rochester Post Office, and was used for that purpose until a new building was erected on the corner of Walnut and Fourth in 1937.  Over the years, the Masonic block has housed the Rochester Savings Bank, a Kroger grocery store, Carpenter's Men's Wear, the Lucille Shoppe, the Bright Ideas home furnishings store, and a number of boutique businesses on the first floor.  After the Masonic lodge departed the second floor it was used for professional offices (Justice of the Peace Luther Green had his law office there for many years), and the Rochester School of Ballet, among other things.

The Masonic Block was listed on the State Register of Historic Places in 1987 and has a Michigan State Historic Marker on the south wall.  The building celebrates its 112th birthday this year.

Friday, July 1, 2011

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, the Rochester Clarion was telling its readers about the latest exploits of a Rochester resident who was a very familiar face to the community's youth.  Lt. Col. Leroy Clark Felton came to Rochester in 1948 to accept a position as industrial arts teacher at Rochester High School. Felton had enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1942 and spent fifteen months in the Pacific theater flying the P-51/F-51 fighter. In 1951, he joined the 403rd Troop Carrier Wing, U.S. Air Force Reserve, at Selfridge Air Force Base, where he served as the unit's Director of Operations, and he later went on to serve as commander of the 911th Military Airlift Group.  Mr. Felton retired from the Air Force Reserve at the rank of full colonel in 1979 and relocated from Rochester to Florida, where he died in 2006.  In recognition of his long military service, his ashes were inurned at Arlington National Cemetery.  If you remember Mr. Felton and would like to read more about him, click here.