Pam VanderPloeg c. 2019 See this on Vamonde.


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This is a quick tour of seven interesting and historic buildings in Grand Rapids from Neoclassic Revival and Art Deco buildings to Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style and cool Mid-century Modern design.  Check out the oldest commercial building dating from the civil war era and take shade under city's bright red symbol, the Alexander Calder Stabile " La Grand Vitesse."  Look out over the Grand River from the stairs of the 1930's Civic Auditorium and enjoy the architectural treasures of the Heritage Hill Historic District on your way to a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meyer May House.

Grand Rapids is known for its rich and diverse infill of meticulously maintained historic buildings and sleek modern architecture.  Five of the seven buildings listed here are in easy walking distance from each other.  Enjoy this self-guided Grand Rapids tour from ARCHITECTURE GRAND RAPIDS.


Enjoy the river view from the grand stairs. Check out the stunning art deco lobby beyond the portico.


Climb the grand stairs to get a close up of the Civic Auditorium  located on a plaza west of Monroe Avenue, slightly hidden from view behind the Pantlind hotel where Lyon Street meets the Grand River.   

BUILDING DETAILS:  The Neoclassical building has a facade of Indiana Limestone with fluted columns and dramatic stair approach.  The interior lobby features a combination of burnished wood paneling, large glass windows, gleaming tile floor, and decorative ornamental metal balcony and stair railings.  The rest of the building was demolished to make way for the DeVos Place Convention Center.

" The building is neoclassical in style with art deco features and consists of "six massive columns, the grand stair approach, and recessed entry and impressive sets of double doors leading to the lobby."   Grand Rapids Spectator, September 19, 1931.

The Detroit architectural firm of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls designed the building,  Local architects Frederick Sloan Robinson and Antoine Campau were associate architects on the project, and the venerable Grand Rapids firm of Owens, Ames, Kimball were the contractors.  Detroit sculptors Corrado and Rudolph Parducci carved in cut stone the building's classical figures and motifs including the seal of Grand Rapids, signs of the zodiac, and allegorical figures representing the arts, science, sports and commerce. 

William R. Moore, at the time the President of the American Institute of Interior Decorators, led the interior design.  

HISTORY: The 1932 Civic Auditorium was often referred to as the Welsh Auditorium in honor of the former Mayor George Welsh who, despite the economic challenges of the Great Depression, made the construction of the building possible by using the "scrip" system.  Under this system, workers were paid not in cash but in "scrip" that could be exchanged for groceries and goods in special Scrip stores.  After the original building on the site was torn down, the Scrip workers scraped the mortar off the remaining bricks so they could be used to construct the pool house at Richmond Park on Grand Rapids westside.  



Step inside the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel lobby to glimpse the past in the luxurious former Pantlind Hotel.

Since 2012, the Amway Grand Plaza has been designated one of the Historic Hotels of America due to its famous history as the former Pantlind Hotel constructed when the economy of Grand Rapids was booming and the city was becoming known as the furniture capital of the world.

BUILDING DETAILS: The new hotel was designed in the neoclassical style of the Scottish architecture Robert Adam, a style employed by New York City architects Warren & Wetmore who also designed Grand Central Station.  The hotel was considered an elegant gathering place for visiting dignitaries and affluent business people.  The facade is a rich brick with an elaborate stone cornice, entries and window trim.  The monumental building is located at the intersection of Monroe and Pearl in downtown Grand Rapids, at the apex of the angled streets platted by Louis Campau and the grid section platted by Lucius Lyon, both founding but competing fathers of the city. 

The hotel's historic interior includes in the lobby with three magnificent Czechoslovakian chandeliers of Austrian Crystal each weighing about 4,000 pounds, and a gold-leafed domed ceiling that is the largest gold leaf installation in the United States. The lobby also boasts a wooden-gilded sunburst that originally hung in the palace of a Venice merchant. (Lobby description from the hotel website.)

HISTORY: Established in 1913 on the site of the former Sweet's Hotel by Boyd Pantlind,  the hotel opened to the public in 1916 and was known by 1925 as one of the finest hotels in the country.   In 1981, the Amway Corporation restored and refurbished the hotel and added a modern Glass Tower.   Adjacent to the Grand River, visitors to the hotel can take the bridge across the historic Grand River and walk to Grand Rapids Public Museum and to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.



The soaring 1928 Art Deco skyscraper bank is decorated with sculpture carved in the Terra Cotta exterior.

The Grand Rapids Trust Building is notable for its dramatic exterior of sculpture and Terra Cotta facade, and for its interior marble staircase leading to a restored ballroom popular for special events. 


The soaring, nearly uninterrupted, vertical lines of the Art Deco Grand Rapids Trust Building are a contrast to the Italian Renaissance details of the rounded window and entry openings that soften the building's verticality. Like many Grand Rapids buildings, this building is a hybrid of styles.  The light-colored terra cotta facade is a standout in the midst of the surrounding banks designed with stone and rich, darker red and brown shades of brick.  Though scaffolding covers the building at present, the lobby is worth seeing with its elaborate marble finishes. 

The handsome and iconic Native American motifs and sculptural elements, including most notably the American Indian that shapes the corner of the building, give the building a strong historic flavor.  The sculpture was designed by Corrado Parducci, an Italian immigrant and popular Michigan architectural sculptor.   

HISTORY: Wirt Rowland, the lead designer at the Detroit firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, had already designed the colorful and decorative Penobscot Building in Detroit when he started work on the eleven-story tower of the Grand Rapids Trust Building on Monroe Center.    The Native American details are similar to motifs decorating Rowland's Penobscot Building, named for a Native American tribe from Maine.    The interior was designed by the Wilmarth Company, a Grand Rapids firm that specialized in elegant modern commercial interiors.  Today the interior marble staircase still leads to the elegant ballroom that can be rented for special events.


Don't miss two of the city's modern architecture icons behind the bright red Calder "La Grand Vitesse.”


Beyond the brilliant red Calder stabile (non-moving sculpture), there is a set of modern icons of Grand Rapids architecture, the City-County Administration Buildings are best viewed from Ottawa Street between Lyon and Michigan, even though the real address is 300 Monroe NW. 

BUILDING PLAZA DETAILS:  The symmetrical and rectangular International style 10-story City Hall, and 3-story County Administration Building brought modern architecture to the city in 1966-68 with these two steel structures clad in brown Canadian granite and bronzed glass.  Both buildings are placed far back from the street and raised on a monumental concrete plaza on Vandenberg Center where festivals happen and marchers gather.

URBAN RENEWAL HISTORY:  The buildings were completed between 1966-1968 during an especially pivotal historic time in the city.   The location of the new buildings was the epicenter of urban renewal. Two beloved late 1800's monumental buildings, the Grand Rapids City Hall and Kent County Courthouse, were demolished.  The courts had already condemned many older buildings downtown to make way for a new modern downtown, but the city hall especially struck an emotional chord with residents. After a late, unsuccessful campaign to save the historic Romanesque-style city hall, on October 27, 1969, Mary Stiles Kimmel, sporting an orange snowmobile suit, straddled the wrecking ball while clutching a sign that read "Save Our Tower." The Grand Rapids Press photo was reprinted in newspapers around the globe and it became a symbol of the new historic preservation movement that was beginning to call out the urban renewal demolitions that were happening in cities across the nation in the 1960s. Although the building was not saved, today the clock from the clock tower is preserved and on view in the Grand Rapids Public Museum.


Grand Rapids oldest (1860) commercial building displays whimsical sculptures in the ground floor window.

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The restoration of the Flat Iron Building for the law offices of Smith, Haughey Rice & Roegge was focused on turning Grand Rapids oldest commercial building constructed in 1865 into an example of downtown environmental building.

BUILDING DETAILS: Grand Rapids is home to several classic mid-to-late-Italianate-styled buildings on Monroe Center.  The 1860 Flat Iron Building draws immediate attention because of its attractive bullnose shape and stone-trimmed rounded corner entry at Monroe Center and Ottawa NW.  Defining features include elaborate roof brackets and window trim. Varying paint shades delineate the different building sections.

The Monroe Center street level floor has always been a mixed-use space showcasing commercial wares with large plate-glass windows.  Today the window of the main floor lobby of the legal offices of Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge draws the attention of passersby with two beloved sculptures - the law clerk balancing a pencil on his nose and the disapproving older partner looking on.

HISTORY:  The Flat Iron Building was constructed 1860 by Moses Vail Aldrich, a well-respected businessman and community-minded public servant who was Grand Rapids Mayor from 1868-1870.  It was built originally to house Ledyard & Aldrich, the banking enterprise of Moses Aldrich and his father-in-law William B. Ledyard.  The main level of the building has, for over one hundred and fifty years, been the home of various retail operations.  The upper floors were vacant from about 1940 until its recent restoration.


Explore Heritage Hill Historic district to tour the restored Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meyer May House.

One of the best-restored Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the nation can be found in Grand Rapids, Michigan.   Keep scrolling down for details on touring the house. 

BUILDING DETAILS:  The Meyer May House is notable for its rare Prairie style and its low horizontal profile and cantilevered balconies and porches.  They are style is a contrast to the tall Victorian, large Colonial Revival and quaint English cottage style homes of the historic neighborhood.  The oversized planters are also classic Wright features. During the restoration, a new tile roof was installed by the home's original roofing firm that still had the early plans on file. 

The home is distinguished by the abundance of stunning patterned art glass that gives the home's interior a stunning luminescence. 

The unique fireplace is ribboned with mortar speckled with golden glass.  During the restoration patterns for the original carpets and furniture were used to recreate Wright's original interiors.


A lovely restored hand-painted mural covers the dining room partition wall, but as yet the artist's identity has not been confirmed.  The dining table is said to be modeled on the dining room of Wright's Oak Park Home and has four piers featuring electrified lamps with glass shades.  Obviously, these are just a few of the home's highlights.  There are far too many features in this amazing home to list here. 


HISTORY:  The Prairie style Meyer May House, 450 Madison SE in Heritage Hill, was commission by Meyer and Sophie May and completed in 1909.  Sophie died not long after the home was built and Meyer's second marriage began an era of home modifications and including an addition that became apartments.  The home fell into disrepair along with much of what is today a Historic District.  Luckily, just like so many Heritage Hill properties, with the Historic District status came stability and the Meyer May House was saved.  It was purchased in 1985 by the Steelcase Corporation at the urging of David Hunting.  What followed was an amazing and meticulously restoration that took two years and brought the house back to its original Wright vision through the enormous work and generous financial support of Steelcase.

TAKE THE FREE TOUR led by informative docents. An informative video shares the history and restoration story.   The Meyer May House is open for free tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.  And while you are in the Heritage Hill check out some of the other interesting historic homes in the neighborhood.


This beautifully restored building led the way in innovative child welfare programs when founded in 1908.

If you are on Cherry Street it is impossible to miss the monumental restored D.A. Blodgett Home for Children on Cherry Street that now houses the offices of the ICCF, or Inner City Christian Federation, known for its Grand Rapids housing initiatives and historic building restorations.   The restored building is located in the iconic heart of one of Grand Rapids trendiest neighborhoods known for food, beer, ice cream, books and more.  On summer evenings, concerts are held in the gardens filled with native plantings.

BUILDING DETAILS:  The D.A. Blodgett Home for Children was completed in 1908 through the generous contributions of Delos A. Blodgett, Grand Rapids philanthropist.  The building has the reconstructed three-story classical columns of cream-colored terra cotta and rich red brick exterior in neoclassical revival style. The interior features the original terrazzo floors, refinished woodwork and orphans' assembly hall.

When it was designed the two important priorities for the building were 1. creating a fire-proofed structure and 2. using the best advances in plumbing and sanitation of the day.  This required the unusually high level of generosity shown by Mr. Blodgett who ensured that nothing was left undone both in the elaborate structure of the home, the interior furnishings and in making this a facility that provided the best possible conditions for the orphans of the city.

HISTORY:  The D.A. Blodgett Home for Children was designed as a state-of-the-art orphanage that became a national leader in the field of child welfare and was first to use the practice of foster care to place children with families in the community.  It pioneered Camp Blodgett on Lake Michigan to give orphans and underprivileged children an opportunity to attend summer camp. In 1949 the building was given to the Mary Free Bed Guild which used it as a hospital until 1976.  After a number of tenants, the building was finally empty and deteriorating when the ICCF bought it to restore for their offices which they occupied beginning in 2007. When the restoration began, the large addition had to be torn off the front to expose the original front structure.  New replacement columns were fashioned using old photographs. The original porch was restored and the woodwork refinished.