Tag Archives: architecture

Investigating an Urban Legend: The origin of twin brick houses on Seventh Street

By Julie Schopieray

Have you ever noticed the “twin” brick residences on the corner of Division and W. 7th St. and wondered about their history?   It’s obvious that they are constructed of Markham bricks, the same material as the Northern Michigan Asylum (later known as the Traverse City State Hospital). With their proximity to that building, it makes sense that there might be a connection.

Brick house at 704 Seventh Street, on the northwest corner of Division and Seventh Streets. Image courtesy of Amy Barritt, April 2017.

One story told about the origin of these houses goes something like this:  During the earliest years of construction, there was a tramway built to haul the millions of bricks from the Markham brick yard north of Greilickville to the Asylum construction site. The tale continued that the tramway ran down Division, then made a sharp turn to the right down 7th Street, finally reaching the Asylum.  At the point the tram veered, it was said, bricks often fell off the flat cars on the curve, but, since they were not to be used at the Asylum, simply remained there. The “Markham brothers” later built their twin houses on the site using those dumped bricks.

Detail on window of brick house at northwest corner of Division and Seventh Streets. Image courtesy of Amy Barritt, April 2017.

After hearing this tale, some fact-checking was needed.  City directories, census records and newspaper articles were searched, and it was confirmed that there were no Markham “brothers” in Traverse City. James Markham, the owner of the brick-making business, lived near the brickyard west of town. Though very little is written about the tramway, it highly unlikely that it traveled down Division St. as that route would have been out of the way.  Besides, the old Boardman millpond still covered the land where Division St. would later be, that pond existing as late as 1883.  No documentation has been found that describes the actual route of the mule-powered track, but a route following the flat land along the Bay, then turning south down Elmwood St. to the construction site is more direct, and seems more likely than the supposed Division Street pathway.

Detail on window of brick house at 703 Seventh Street, on the southwest corner of Division and Seventh Streets. Image courtesy of Amy Barritt, April 2017.

The 7th Street houses do have a connection to the Asylum. They were constructed by two men who were master brick masons employed at the Asylum as early as 1884, John Bilsky and John Sivek, both Polish/German immigrants. The common denominator in this story seems to be a man named Christian H. Petersen. Petersen was a master brick mason who, in 1880 was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When the Northern Michigan Asylum was being planned, a call went out in the region for skilled masons and in 1884, he moved his family to Traverse City and went to work.

The 1884 village directory shows C.H. Petersen head of a boarding house for masons and carpenters.  Among the men listed in this residence is mason John Bilsky, who also had resided in Milwaukee.  It can be assumed that John Sivek came from there as well (the pages with the names starting with S are not yet transcribed). His obituary states that he too, lived in Milwaukee prior to coming to Traverse City, where he was employed at the Asylum. These three men likely knew each other in Milwaukee and all took the opportunity for long-term employment.

Brick house at 703 Seventh Street, on the southwest corner of Division and Seventh Streets. Image courtesy of Amy Barritt, April 2017.

Bilsky and Sivek must have been good friends. Each had immigrated in the early 1880s, and their common heritage, language and skills as masons tied them together. They were in the local mason’s union as early as 1900, when, that year, they refused to walk in the muddy street during a Labor Day parade and were fined by the labor union for not participating. Their twin houses were constructed some time between 1889 and1894, the reasoning being that Christian Petersen’s 1889 Elmwood Avenue residence (309 S. Elmwood) was said to be the first brick home in the city: the two homes must have been built after that. The 1894 City Directory shows Bilsky & Sivek at 703 and 704 Seventh St., with subsequent sources such as the 1900–1930 census records and directories showing these men living at those locations. Both had sons who  took possession of their respective family homes after their fathers passed away.  John Sivek died in 1932, his son Thomas, also a brick mason, remaining at 703 W. 7th until his death in 1966.  John Bilsky’s son John Jr., another second generation brick mason, lived in his house at 704 W. 7th until he died in 1956.

The real story of the twin houses isn’t as entertaining as the “Markham brothers” tale but these lovely brick homes still standing after 125 years is testament to the brick-laying skills of these two men.

Julie Schopieray is a regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal. She is currently working on a biography and architectural history of Jens C. Petersen, once a Traverse City-based architect, who made his mark on many cities in Northern Michigan and California.

Reader Solves Mystery of Central Grade School

The architectural style of this school has sometimes been called “Collegiate Gothic” for its pointed arches and interesting ornaments.  One school in the Traverse area illustrates this style better than all others: what is it?

Thanks to Cornelia for successfully answering October’s “Mystery Photo!” Indeed, the school depicted is Central Grade School, located on Seventh Street in the Central Neighborhood.

The Latin inscription above the door on photograph below reads “Magnum Est Veritas et Prevalebit.” It may be translated “Great is the truth, and it shall prevail.”

The school reflects the times and the values of the community in the year of its construction, 1936. Its exterior ornamentations carry meanings about what schools are for and what kinds of knowledge are important. Certainly, a classical education was valued at the time of the construction of the building.

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Eagle

Gargoyle

Entrance

You didn’t miss it! Reader identifies the ornamentation on Hannah Lay Building

What downtown Traverse City building features this beautiful ornamentation?

Thanks to reader Charlene, we have our answer!:

“The building at the NE corner of Front and Union…the old Hannah & Lay Mercantile building.”

The building was erected in 1884. Its construction was covered heavily by the newspaper at the time, the Grand Traverse Herald. If you are interested in reading more about it, copies of the newspaper are available in print and microfilm at Traverse Area District Library, thanks in large part to the recent donation of archival materials made by the History Center of Traverse City.

A World First in Architecture: The Park Place Dome– is it doomed?


In honor of all the architects who have built Traverse City, and their buildings that have been demolished in the name of progress.

by Julie Schopieray

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“Park Place Hotel, with Annex,” picture postcard, ca. 1940. Image courtesy of the author.

The city’s landmark Park Place Hotel has undergone many changes over its long history. The first major change was the construction of the building we all know today. After standing for more than fifty-five years, the 1873 hotel first known as the Campbell House was replaced in the name of progress. In 1929, R. Floyd Clinch, president of the Hannah & Lay Corporation, hired prominent Chicago architect, Benjamin H. Marshall to design a new, modern 9-story structure. Since then, the hotel has had several owners, gone through many renovations and has struggled with financial difficulties, yet it has survived. It is once again considering another dramatic change.Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 8.47.54 AM

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Slides from a presentation made to the Traverse City City Commission on the proposed changes to the Park Place Hotel. Notice of this development proposal was first released to the public at a City Commission regular meeting on April 13, 2015.

Among several controversial development proposals currently being discussed in the city is a new conference center attached to the Park Place Hotel. This development would involve demolishing two mid-century buildings, including the 1965 Park Place Dome. Before this happens, it is important to inform and remind the public of the significance of this building, both architecturally and historically. Some will question whether a mid-century structure could be considered historically significant– it’s only fifty years old. Many may look at the Dome building and think it isn’t worth saving because honestly, it may not be the most attractive building in town. But, do they know that when it was built, it was ground-breaking technology?

By the early 1960s, it was determined that the city needed a convention hall. A couple sites were proposed, but the overwhelming opinion was that it should be located in the downtown area. At first, a city-owned hall was proposed in cooperation with the Park Place Hotel, but the bonds were voted down. That plan changed when the financially strapped hotel was sold In December 1963, to Traverse City native Eugene Power of Ann Arbor. Under his ownership, it would be re-opened under the name, Park Place Motor Inn. He was determined that the updates he planned would once again draw tourists and conventions to the hotel and stated that “all-out efforts will be made to re-build the convention business” [Traverse City Record-Eagle, 5 December 1963].

But first, the thirty-five-year-old hotel needed to be brought up to date. The expansion proposal was not without controversy. It included the need to close to through traffic, the section of Park Sreet that ran between State and Washington streets. At first, there was strong opposition and the city commission denied the request. It would mean the few remaining structures on that section of Park Street would become “land-locked” and lose value. It also drew criticism from the representatives of the three churches on Washington Street whose congregations used the street. Eventually, compromises were made which freed up the hotel to complete their $_52plans. By January 1964, the renovations were finally under way. Power’s goal was to make the inn once again, “a credit to Traverse City.” [Traverse City Record-Eagle, 5 December 1963]. He hired local architect Paul Hazelton and the extensive updates were prepared. Hazelton first designed a 100-room motel addition replacing the old Annex building. The raised building allowed for doubling the parking for the hotel. Other improvements included a top floor dining room and cocktail lounge, a complete redesign of the lobby and a dining room, a bar, coffee shop, room renovations, indoor competition-type swimming pool and eventually a convention hall. The convention center was the last structure to be added. For that, Hazelton conceived an extraordinary design. It complemented the unique dome which covered the swimming pool. It was to be circular in shape s-l1600and covered by an 80‘ dome. When the plan was revealed, an article in the paper described the new Park Place Dome as “A world ‘first’ in architecture,” as the roof of the building was being constructed of a material never used before. Hazelton described it as “a completely new concept in world building history.” He was working with Dow Chemical Company engineer Donald Wright, who developed the lightweight plastic styrofoam that covered the building. Wright came up with the idea and worked on the project in secret for several years before he and Hazelton convinced Eugene Power to give the go-ahead on the Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 2.13.45 PMexperimental project. Hazelton explained that it was the first time a plastic was actually used as a “structural form rather than as a cover supported by some other material.” It took only about 12 hours to place the dome on top of the structure. The architect continued by explaining that “the unique use of plastic has tremendous potential for future building throughout the world. It is ‘monolithic’ in that one material is used, the process is fast, the structure is easy to maintain and repair, and the overall cost can be as little as one third that for conventional construction” [Traverse City Record-Eagle, 24 October 1964].  The dome weighed only two pounds per cubic foot, compared to concrete which would have weighed 150 pounds per cubic foot. Even though the dome was experimental at the time, it has withstood fifty years of use.

The innovative concepts used in the design are important to our town’s history. At the time, this building was seen as a much needed step forward and was built to improve not only the hotel but the community as well. If we are to lose this unique structure, we, at the very least, need to remember the significance it held for our city just one generation ago.

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Hazelton’s 1965 Chamber of Commerce building, which was replaced with a new structure in 2001. Image courtesy of the author.

As a side note about the architect: Paul Hazelton is also well known as the architect for the 1965 Chamber of Commerce building which was replaced with a new structure in 2001. His 1957 design of the Oleson’s food store on State Street won an award for Architectural Achievement of Merit from the Western Michigan Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He also designed the 1969 airport terminal. It was the first building (and only) in town to have an escalator– another of Hazelton’s many “firsts” in Traverse City architecture. That building was demolished in 2007 to make way for a new terminal.

You will be able to read more about the architecture of Traverse City in an upcoming book by Julie Schopieray, author and regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal.

Iconic Dairy Lodge a Specimen of the late 50s

This Traverse City landmark and staple of summer fun was recently recognized in a historical survey of Division Street (part of a Michigan Department of Transportation study), and has been proposed to be included on the National Register of Historic Places. What can you readers tell us about the structure?  Any idea when it was constructed?

Any avid read of The Ticker should know the answer to this one! Our favorite landmark for creamy desserts opened in 1958. Be sure to get over there before they close for the season, and get a double scoop of history while you’re there!

The Mission Table Restaurant of Bowers Harbor: A Splendid Building, But Not a Residence for a Ghost

by Julie Schopieray, local historian and writer

Nestled in the pines on the Old Mission peninsula overlooking Bowers Harbor is a gem of 1920’s architecture that has gone unrecognized for its unique style and quality design.  Now called the Mission Table (formerly the Bowers Harbor Inn), the original farm residence was designed by a dynamic architectural firm from St. Paul, Minnesota in 1929.  The design team of Bentley-Worthen was made up of two talented architects. Percy Dwight Bentley (1885-1968) trained at the Armor Institute in Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century.  His early work reflected the Prairie School style of Frank Lloyd Wright, though Bentley most likely never met the man.  He spent several years in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, designing many houses in the Prairie School style, but worked with period revival idioms as well.  Even without formal architectural training, Kenneth Worthen was already well known in St. Paul, having designed over one hundred buildings there by 1929 when he and Percy Bentley designed the Bowers Harbor home.  Starting his career in architecture around 1921, he had great success beginning at a very young age.  A compendium of St. Paul architecture, St. Paul’s Architecture: A History, notes, “Still barely twenty-one years old, he began to create some of the city’s most distinctive period-revival homes. He was so successful that within two years he was supported by a corps of some of the city’s finest draftsmen… Worthen became both specialist in and master of period-revival design for the midsize house… a position he would occupy for the duration of his nine-year St. Paul career.” (1)

Architectural drawing of the front elevation of Old Mission Table, ca. 1927.
Architectural drawing of the front elevation of Old Mission Table, ca. 1927.

The Bowers Harbor project was larger than most of Mr. Worthen’s homes. It was designed in what one architectural historian described as a stylized period house, typical of the design team’s work in the late 1920s. Paul Larson, co-author of St. Paul’s Architecture, described the house’s design in detail.  “The front elevation of the house looks all Bentley — clean lines, balanced fenestration, sharp color demarcations. But the details … look all Worthen — picturesque mix of materials, loads of historicisms. So it must have been a joint design effort.”   The home has many unique features and wonderful details in tile work inside and out. One feature is an elevator which was probably the first one installed in a residence in the entire region.  A Lion-like gargoyle at the peak of a stained-glass widow was a signature piece of Kenneth Worthen’s work– a detail he had used in other homes. Several stained glass windows add more creative flair to the home.  There are two large fireplaces, one on each end of the structure and three smaller ones in the upper bedrooms, each with unusual tile or stonework. The chimney of one fireplace is built of stone and irregularly placed bricks, typical in several of Kenneth Worthen’s St. Paul structures.   A stucco type wall, on one end of the home encloses a small courtyard, and is imbedded with colorful tiles, seashells, and stones collected by the owners. A large, graceful, curved iron hook once held a grand lantern near the front door. Cost to build the house was approximately $175,000, a sum well exceeding two million dollars in today’s money.

The partnership of Bentley-Worthen was brief, lasting about one year, with both men going on to do other projects.  The Bowers Harbor home may have been the last one Kenneth Worthen designed in the East before he relocated his family to California in the latter part of 1930, where he continued his career as a successful architect until his death in 1947.

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Tile work on an original fireplace surround.

The Bowers Harbor home was built for Kenneth Worthen’s aunt, Jennie E. (Worthen) Stickney and her husband Charles F. Stickney.  In 1909, Jennie purchased the Chester and Anna Hartson farm which was established in the 1860s.  Wintering in St. Paul with Jennie’s sister Clara Mann, in Chicago with Charles’ sisters (or in warmer climate), the couple arrived in the spring, staying well into the fall. When their house was damaged by a fire in 1927, Jennie hired her nephew Kenneth to build a much larger home around the shell of the old farm house.  Here they entertained family, friends, and fellow businessmen.  Charles started in the shoe and boot manufacturing business as his father and grandfather had. He used his business skills to promote local farming, the business of harvesting, and food processing.  Partnering with J.C. Howe, he established the Howe & Stickney canning company in 1910.  The Bowers Harbor home was a working farm with the Stickneys hiring local men to run the farm and ladies to help in the house.  Jennie enjoyed creating jams, jellies, brandies and pies from the fruits harvested on their farm and made it a point to serve them whenever they entertained.

As they aged and their health began to decline, the Stickneys hired a personal nurse to care for them. Jennie suffered from diabetes, heart disease and–in her last years–possible early stages of dementia. Their nurse and her children lived with them in Bowers Harbor in the summers and  accompanied them wherever they spent the winter.  Mrs. Stickney died in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the Pantlind Hotel in March 1947, where they had a suite for the winter.  Mr. Stickney, though confined to a wheelchair, continued to enjoy their Bowers Harbor home for two more years until his death at Munson Hospital in Traverse City, in August 1949.

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Colorful floor tile work.

Numerous newspaper articles beginning in the 1970s report that the Stickney summer house is “haunted,” claiming that Mr. Stickney died first and that Mrs. Stickney took her own life in the house. These claims concerning the Stickneys’ deaths are unsupported by historical research. Another story has it that Mr. Stickney had an affair and donated all of his wealth to a caregiver, causing a jealous Mrs. Stickney to hang herself in an elevator shaft in the house. Whether or not Mr. Stickney had an affair, Mrs. Stickney did not hang herself in an elevator shaft in the house!

The legends associated with the house vary, but are all unsupported by evidence. The bare truth holds less intrigue than tales of vast lumber wealth, infidelity, vanity and suicide that have spread locally over recent years. The real story is about two elderly people who needed help from their widowed nurse, a person to whom Mr. Stickney did leave his worldly possessions, but only out of respect and gratitude. With no children of his own, Charles felt his nurse was a perfect recipient of what was left of his estate. She had two children to raise and the Stickneys had come to care about the entire family. Others connected to the Stickneys and left out of the will may have felt entitled to some of the estate, that bitterness leading to jealous rumors about an alleged indiscretion between Charles and his caregiver. However the false stories started, they are nothing more than rumors and unsupported gossip.

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Tile work on the exterior of the structure mimics the colorful tile inlays found on the interior floors.

It is widely reported by former owners, employees and visitors, that there is something unusual about the house. Some claim to have experienced phenomena pointing to Mrs. Stickney’s ghostly presence, often referring to her as “Genevieve.”  Birth, marriage, will and passport documentation proves that her name was never Genevieve, but Jennie. The only document with the name Genevieve is her death certificate, signed by a physician who did not personally know her.  He could have assumed Jennie was short for Genevieve, or, in her state of dementia, she might have started calling herself by that name.  For 80 years she went by the name of Jennie, her given name.

Perhaps the  “ghost” experienced by many at Bowers Harbor is not Jennie at all.  It could be Chester, Anna, Nida Hartson, who all passed away in the old farm house before the Stickneys arrived.  Or, more likely, there is no ghost at all.  If it is Jennie, however, it can only be because she lingered about her dearly loved, beautiful, unusual home–her one permanent residence, designed by her only nephew, the sole surviving child of any of her siblings.

The fabricated myths need to be dropped. Perhaps if they do, Jennie’s “ghost”—the twisted memory of an honorable woman–can finally be put to rest. It is a shame that Mrs. Stickney, a woman with no one to defend her legacy, has had her life story so completely tarnished.  Throughout the last few decades, the ghost stories have been a lure to bring people into the restaurant–as a glance at the Mission Table website reveals.

Unique details, such as the stained glass windows, sets the Stickney home apart from other local residences.
Unique details, such as the stained glass windows, sets the Stickney home apart from other local residences.

Mrs. Stickney deserves redemption.  It is the hope of the author that with the real story told, the house itself will be a new reason to draw customers. When people can finally look at the house—its true history and its glorious design–with new eyes, when they can study the quirky, exceptional details of its architecture, and when they forget the ghost legend, this splendid building will become recognized and respected for the showpiece of 1920s architecture it is.

Footnotes:
(1) Thank you to Donald Aucutt, architectural historian, who has studied the work of Percy Dwight Bentley, as well as other Midwest architects of this period.

Julie Schopieray is a local historian and writer. Julie is currently working on a project concerning Jens C. Petersen, a Traverse City architect who practiced in this city from the early 1900s to 1918.

The Eagle Has Landed Solved!

Recognize this imposing figure? I am sure you have seen him looking down at you from his perch on a building! Hint: Know of any surviving Art Deco buildings in Traverse City?

Thanks to the Kiwanis Club of Traverse City, we have our answer! This imposing fellow is perched above the entrances to the US Post Office on Union Street in downtown Traverse City. Next time you’re walking past, remember to give him a friendly wave; it’s always lonely at the top!