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GEARY: Architectural styles help to tell Grand Haven's history

• May 25, 2018 at 3:00 PM

We are fortunate to have several architectural gems remaining in the area which offer a look into our community’s past. Many of those gems, representative of varied architectural styles, are found along Washington Avenue in Grand Haven.

One of them is the Grand Trunk Depot located at 1 N. Harbor. Opening in 1870 as the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad Depot, it was almost immediately a busy terminal, serving eight trains a day. The Depot’s arched windows, simple hipped roof and elaborate corbels are features of the Italianate style, popular in the 1870s.

The Depot eventually became the home to the Tri-Cities Historical Museum’s Depot Museum of Transportation. In 2017, the City of Grand Haven and owner of the Depot announced it would become a part of the city's new Waterfront Stadium project.

The Kirby House at 2 Washington Ave. was built in 1873 and also reflects the Italianate style of commercial architecture, though in a more simple form than the Depot. The building’s upper windows are arched and have an elaborated window “crown” above them, a tell-tale sign of its architectural style. Originally built as a three-story building, the upper floor was removed in the mid-1960s, while it was a Win Schuler’s Restaurant.

The former Orpheum Theater at 16 Washington was constructed in 1872. The building’s façade is another fine example of Italianate commercial architecture and is more detailed than the Kirby’s.

Other buildings along Washington Avenue also exhibit exteriors showcasing the Italianate style, such as 100 Washington, at the corner of First Street. It was the second three-story brick building built in Grand Haven and was the city’s first post office. Its façade represents a textbook example of Italianate commercial architecture with beautifully detailed window crowns.

The three-story brick building at 117 Washington, known for many years as Seifert Brothers Recreation, is another prime example. And 206 Washington, historically the home of Ekkens Store, also showcases details reflective of the style.

Italianate was also popular in residential architecture. The home of Dr. Arend VanderVeen at 508 Washington exemplifies this. Completed in 1872 at a cost of approximately $20,000, this two-story brick home features an eye-catching corner tower. The glass-enclosed cupola at the top of the tower was clearly visible from all around town when the home was first built.

At the corner of Washington and First Street stands the old Story & Clark piano factory, now home to Harbourfront Place. The first stage of the factory was completed in 1901. With little need for ornamentation on a factory building, form followed function. Rows of windows line the walls, giving workers access to much-needed natural light. The main entrance showcases what little ornamentation the building has with straight window crowns over the windows and pilasters appearing on the ground level, giving the illusion of a columned entrance.

Floto’s at 123 Washington is representative of a much more recent style known as Mid-Century Modern. The building’s façade showcases clean lines, geometric shapes and a bold color popular in the era.

Two buildings in the 200 block of Washington demonstrate yet a different style of architecture. The original location of the Grand Haven State Bank is at 218 Washington. The entrance framed by two small wooden pillars is a modest representation of the Colonial Revival style. Within 10 years, the Grand Haven State Bank moved to a new location directly across the street at 223 Washington. The new bank, constructed of brick and stone, reflects the Neoclassical style on a grand scale. The two-story pediment archway is supported by Ionic columns meant to show the importance of the building to the community.

Though few remnants remain, the Cutler House Hotel once stood at the corner of Washington and Third Street, at 234 Washington. When built, the Cutler House stood five stories high and was designed in the Second Empire style, also very popular in the mid to late 19th century. The hotel’s magnificent mansard roof, bracketed cornice and central cupola were undoubtedly impressive for guests and visitors to Grand Haven to behold.

A large portion of the hotel was lost in the great fire of 1889. Cutler did rebuild in the L-shape that is visible today, but the defining features of the original Second Empire building were not replaced.

First Reformed Church on the northeast corner of Third and Washington is the fifth First Reformed Church to stand at this corner. Dedicated in 1914, the brick church replaced a structure that had burned in 1913. Its prominent corner tower houses the official town clock, which had also been featured in the third and fourth churches built on this site.

Near to First Reformed Church stands the W.C. Sheldon House at 321 Washington. Sheldon was the proprietor of the Sheldon Mineral Springs and Spa, which at one time stood directly across the street from the Cutler House. Constructed in 1890 in the Queen Anne style, some of the house’s trim features wood panels from the Challenge Refrigerator Co. The Sheldon House remains the last of the great houses that once stood west of Fourth Street on Washington Avenue.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of downtown Grand Haven, consider taking one of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum’s free summer walking tours. Our Downtown Grand Haven Walk will be given in June and July and our new Downtown to Centertown Walk will be given in August. Please check out the museum’s website at tri-citiesmuseum.org for more information.

— Kevin Geary‚Ä® is the curator of education‚Ä® for the Tri-Cities Historical Museum.


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