WELCOME TO GRAND RAPIDS BUILDINGS!

Ask us about buildings!  We have been researching Grand Rapids architectural history since 2010 and we have great information to share!  The focus area is the Grand Rapids metropolitan area, including neighboring cities, and we feature stories about buildings, architects and builders, as well as virtual tours of buildings of all types.    Check out the website.  Some of our feature stories are shown below. 

Pam VanderPloeg, Architectural Researcher, Grand Rapids Buildings

 

NEW!  THE MID-CENTURY ARCHITECTURE OF E. JOHN KNAPP

E. John Knapp made a significant mark on the architectural landscape of Grand Rapids and West Michigan during the short time he practiced in Grand Rapids.  At age 101, Knapp talked with awe about the rare opportunities he had as a young man from Belding, Michigan.  Knapp’s innate ability, his initiative and architectural skills, and his positive and confident nature won him these opportunities which leveraged with hard work, a tremendous store of creative energy and vision.   He recently passed away on Christmas Day 2017.  Read more about his life and work.  

 

 

New!  Link here to Downtown Grand Rapids Tour

Downtown Grand Rapids is where modern and early commercial buildings meet, creating a beautiful and diverse architectural landscape. The magnificent infill of splendid buildings represents over 150 years of design by talented architects and builders. The VIRTUAL DOWNTOWN TOURS explore buildings on Monroe Center,  Pearl, Lyon, Fountain, Ottawa, Ransom, Division and Library Streets.   

 

 
 Former Michigan National Bank Building on Monroe Center.  Current photo Pam VanderPloeg, 2017.

Former Michigan National Bank Building on Monroe Center.  Current photo Pam VanderPloeg, 2017.

NEW!  BOOK REVIEW PAGE

Designing Detroit:  Wirt Rowland and the Rise of Modern American Architecture by Michael G. Smith.  Great Lakes Series, Wayne State University Press, 2017.

In this first book review, we feature Michael Smith's biography of Wirt Rowland who designed the Michigan National Bank Building on Monroe Center NW in Grand Rapids, a 1928 bank skyscraper with stunning exterior sculpture by Carrado Parducci.  Rowland also designed the Michigan Bell Telephone Building across from FSU's Kendall College of Art and Design, and is known as the architect of the famous Guardian and Penobscot Buildings in Detroit.  

 

 

 

NEW BOOK REVIEW:  The Embrace of Buildings by Calvin College Professor Lee Harvey

Take the Fulton Street Tour  

Did you know that world famous architect of the early Detroit automotive plants, Albert Kahn, designed the Evening Press Building, demolished in the 1960's?  Did you know that Herpolsheimer's Department Store Santa Express Train was featured in the movIe Polar Express?  Or did you know that the first Grand Rapids Art Museum was located in Abram Pike's 1848 Greek Revival home?  There is a lot to see on the Fulton Street downtown corridor.

 

CHERRY STREET TOUR   

On Cherry Street, the rich layers of over 100 years of Grand Rapids history are told through the homes of early prominent builders, apartments and commercial buildings that grace this vibrant street.  

 

 

The Many Styles of Alexander McColl

"He designed what the client wanted," said Anne Forslund.   According to Forslund, her father, the well-known residential architect, Alexander McColl, meticulously researched the various styles his clients requested from historic revival styles like English Tudor to Mid-century Modern.   Follow the link to read more.

 

Link here to learn more about the legacy of Sidney J. and his son Eugene Osgood.

Sidney J. Osgood was born in Rhode Island, but left his architectural signature on his new city of Grand Rapids, with countless churches and commercial buildings, as well as Michigan courthouses and Masonic Temple buildings...

 
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The International style 10-story City Hall, and 3-story County Administration Building, are modern steel structures clad in brown Canadian granite and bronze, is set back from the street on Vandenberg Center’s raised concrete plaza. Symmetrical, dark and rectangular, they share the plaza with the bright red Calder stabile “La Grand Vitesse,” and overlook the mid-century banks and commercial buildings constructed during 1960’s urban renewal. The smaller building, the County Administration Building has a very unique roof.  After it was completed, Alexander Calder agreed to cover it with a unique Calder painting.  The only catch? Many Grand Rapidians don't even know it's there.  A good place for viewing  the Calder painting is on one of the upper floors of the nearby courthouse building.  That's how I took the cell phone photo shown below.   Urban renewal made possible the modern buildings on this stretch of Ottawa NW.

 

It may be just a facade but it is still gorgeous! 

 GRAND RAPIDS CIVIC AUDITORIUM 

GRAND RAPIDS CIVIC AUDITORIUM 

Link here to read about the Civic Auditorium

Just past the Pantlind Hotel on Lyon at the end of the street at the river's edge is the Civic Auditorium.  All that remains of the neoclassical - art deco building completed in 1932 is the facade. The rest was demolished in 2003 to make way for a new modern auditorium and convention center.  You can stop to view the exterior, sit on the grand stairs, enjoy views of the Grand River, and view the iconic Fine Arts Building across the plaza. Robinson & Campau were the local architects working with well-known Detroit firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls on the design of the iconic building.  

 
 

Link here to read about the Grand Rapids Press Building formerly on Michigan but demolished March 2015.  

The Grand Rapids Press Building at 155 Monroe evoked strong reactions from Grand Rapidians.  The Press building made way from the Grand Rapids Biomedical Research Facility for the MSU College of Human Medicine being completed on the site.   But wait, this isn't the only Grand Rapids Press Building that was torn down.

Photo credit:  Grand Rapids Public Library Photo Collection, Grand RapidsHistory and Special Collections (GRHSC), Archives, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

 

Click here for stories about extraordinary mid-century modern homes in West Michigan

West Michigan architects in the post WWII housing crisis began designing homes in a new modern style using the latest technology and materials developed during and before the war. These homes are being rediscovered and renovated.  Many are in developments of mid-century homes that expanded the cities and towns outward from the central core.  Read about some the homes we visited over the past few years here.

 Katydid House in Kalamazoo shown here by  award-winning West Michigan architect Norman F. Carver Jr., F.A.I.A.  Photo by Pam VanderPloeg

Katydid House in Kalamazoo shown here by  award-winning West Michigan architect Norman F. Carver Jr., F.A.I.A.  Photo by Pam VanderPloeg

 Temple Emanuel, April 2015.  Photo by Pam VanderPloeg

Temple Emanuel, April 2015.  Photo by Pam VanderPloeg

Grand Rapids is home to a wonderful example of modern expressionist architecture.  Temple Emanuel on East Fulton Street designed by German-American architect Erich Mendelsohn who came to the United States via London and taught at Berkeley until his death just a few months before Temple Emanuel was completed.  

 

 

 

 
 House on Parade Street NE  designed by Architect Wayne McClure.  

House on Parade Street NE  designed by Architect Wayne McClure.  

Grand Rapids Builders organized the first Parade of Homes in 1959 with a street (Parade NE) full of new homes varying in style from L-shaped ranch home to flat-roofed modern.  We were lucky enough to snag a copy of the original "Parade" brochure and learn more about the homes that were featured on Parade and throughout the city.   Melissa Fox delved into the  homes and builders to find out what that first "Parade must have been like. 

Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Public Library Photo Collection, Grand RapidsHistory and Special Collections (GRHSC), Archives, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

 
 Stocking School in Spanish style, 2016.  Photo by Pam VanderPloeg

Stocking School in Spanish style, 2016.  Photo by Pam VanderPloeg

Link here to read more about the elegant classic schools of Henry H. Turner 1909-1929

An unprecedented wave of school building began in 1909, when Henry H. Turner became the new Grand Rapids school architect.  It was an opportunity for educators to significantly improve the school building stock.   These classic schools are distinctive and monumental. Some are still in use and some have been adapted to other uses.  Read more.

 

 

Furniture was needed for the new modern architecture.  Click here to read about George Nakashima's Origins Collection for Widdicomb Furniture.  Article by contributing writer Melissa Fox. 

Click above to read about the modern line of one of the giants of the furniture industry, Widdicomb Furniture.  Residential and commercial building supported that industry and visa versa.  And so the Grand Rapids furniture companies engaged some of the world's famous designers to create new furniture lines that would become highly collectible today, such as George Nakashima's Origins Collection in 1959 for Widdicomb Furniture.  

Catalog photo courtesy Grand Rapids Public Library Collection, Grand Rapids History and Special Collections (GRHSC), Archives, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

 
 
 GRAND RAPIDS mid-century PARK-SCHOOLS 1951-1961 

GRAND RAPIDS mid-century PARK-SCHOOLS 1951-1961 

 restored and renovated MODERN COMMERCIAl BUILDINGS 

restored and renovated MODERN COMMERCIAl BUILDINGS 

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grand rapids bungalows and prairie style homes

 

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF  CITY CHURCH DESIGN

As you drive through the Grand Rapids central city, the styles of Grand Rapids churches range from modified Gothic to English Tudor to Mid-century modern.  They anchor the architectural landscape of the downtown and east, west, south, north residential neighborhoods.   Here you will find a few examples with many more to follow soon.