MAXAM ARCHITECTURE/FORMER CRESCENT FLORAL BUILDING
West Michigan Modern Tour Date October 6, 2019. Reservations requested. Details coming soon.
text and photos by Pam VanderPloeg copyright 2019. HISTORIC photos provided by owner.
Architect David Maxam is restoring the former Crescent Street Floral Company building, 557 Crescent NE at the corner of Crescent and Union, now the offices of Maxam Architecture. The two-story commercial building costing $10,000 in 1940 was constructed of load-bearing concrete block walls with a flat wood-frame roof and a two-bedroom apartment upstairs.
The building’s iconic Art Deco style and glazed tile exterior naturally stands out in its Grand Rapids Midtown neighborhood, a collection of homes built primarily in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries.
Maxam, a Grand Rapids based registered architect is a former City Historic Preservation Commissioner and has a special interest in these rare moderne commercial buildings. He has spent a significant amount of time researching ways to repair the building including how to replace the broken and missing tiles. He has even considered buying extruding equipment to make the matching tiles himself.
This is a building of historic importance because of its moderne-style characteristics that include the metal roof trim over the doors and windows and the multi-paned steel casement windows and transoms. One very special building detail is the unique concrete cap inscribed with a floral motif. According to David Maxam, the base of the building is comprised of blue-black glazed architectural terra cotta block “tiles” similar to the rest of the tile blocks on the building. Terra cotta tile became a popular building material in the early 1900s for its fireproof properties and because it was easily installed when hung on a steel frame and it eliminated the need to add a finishing coat of plaster or stucco (“The Rise and Fall of Terra Cotta,” in The Architect Newsletter). David has a couple of the building’s original clay blocks in the office because, “as the story goes, a car smashed into the front entrance once upon a time and so there is an area where some of them were replaced with faux painted concrete replacements.” Doing his homework on the building included locating a catalog featuring a similar style tile though not the exact tile Arketex Terra Cotta catalog.
It is quite amazing really that the Crescent Street Floral Company owners came up with this unique design for their building—and that it has survived intact. At this point no information has been uncovered to document either the architect or builder. Although it’s fun to speculate. Several Grand Rapids architects designed moderne style homes and commercial buildings between 1928 and 1941. Few were ever built after World War II.
The counterpoint to the historic exterior is the modern interior. Maxam created a well-light stylish interior where he can both work and meet clients. The space features light-stained high-gloss wood floors, trendy Herman Miller-style chairs, glossy white cabinets and work surfaces. As we looked around the building, we speculated on how the space was originally used by the floral shop and where the big floral refrigerator had been kept.
Then the refrigerator was found! The current owner of the Crescent Floral Shop, now located in East Grand Rapids, is a floral designer who left Kennedy Floral to take over the business. She proudly uses the original refrigerator moved from the Crescent Street building to the current Gaslight Village building, and also displays this photo of the beautiful early 1900’s delivery truck.
As for the Crescent Street Floral greenhouses, once attached to the back of building, they were razed in the 1960s and the vacant property was split with a portion sold off. Today the remaining vacant property on the Union Street side is awaiting a creative reuse. David Maxam muses on the many ideas he has for the future of this rare vacant property in Midtown. So stay tuned….
A LITTLE HISTORY OF THE CRESCENT STREET FLORAL COMPANY
The first Crescent Street Floral Company structure was a wood frame building on the current site and was owned by Peter Kunst, a Dutch immigrant who eased himself into the floral profession by first proclaiming himself a gardener in the 1887- 1888 City Directory with the address 387 Bronson. By 1881 Kunst had become a “Florist,” and in 1885 the street name changed to Crescent NE. In 1912 Grand Rapids city addresses changed and 387 Crescent NE became the current address of 557 Crescent NE.
Crescent Street Floral Company frequently ran newspaper advertisements. In 1903 Grand Rapids Press ran an ad in the descriptive/flowery language of the day, “We have 500 extra fine Chinese Primroses. They are perfect beauties, mammoth flower, all shades; white, print, red, etc. And a fine lot of White Narcissus, the finest we have ever had; three to five stalks to a plant. The are very sweet-scented. Sold for 25 cent each and five for $1.00”
From 1915 - 1919 the paper ran ads proclaiming “Special Sale of Garden Plants” and “Special Sale of Carnations $1.00 a dozen for all colors including green carnations to order.”
In 1922, the prosperous post-WWI days, the company advertised cut flowers, potted plants of tulips, daffodils, Hyacinths, Primroses, Cinerarias and extra fine Boston Ferns, saying “If you want to buy clothes, go to a clothing store - if you want to buy flowers buy directly from the Grower and you are assured fresh flowers at all times.”
The natural growth the business made it necessary to build the greenhouses on the adjacent lot fronting Union Street. The family also had a wholesale plant business with greenhouses at 1440 Union Street NE.
And in 1928 the Kunsts built an addition to increase the size of the greenhouses. Then in a stunning zigzag move, they offered the whole business for sale for $12,000 which they described as less than just the property alone was worth. However, perhaps because of the economic crash of 1929 followed by the Great Depression, the owners were unable to sell the business and held on.
Crescent Street Floral was one of the sponsors of the 1934 Fall Floral Show was held at the Civc Auditorium sponsored by Grand Rapids Florists with presentations on fall flowers and Thanksgiving table decorations. A 1939 advertisement on “Funeral Flowers” ran in the same Grand Rapids Press issue that featured a photo of Vivian Leigh who had recently been given the role of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.
Finally in 1940, the owners took out the permit for the building shown above and featured in this story. The business went on as usual until in 1983 when Louis Kunst, ancestor of the founder Peter Kunst died in the shop of a heart attack while working. The obituary stated that the family at that time had operated greenhouses for 109 years. A few months later in December 1983, the same year, his father Louis Kunst Senior died. As mentioned earlier in the story, the business continues today at its current location in Gaslight Village, making it in the ballpark of 138 years old, give or take a few years.