Communities often forget energetic, bold, and vibrantly creative people in their time, directing their attention to new figures that seem to shine as bright as those who came before. So it has been with the Traverse City’s Jens Petersen, an architect whose designs, innovative ideas, and general approach to architecture live on in the buildings he helped to create.
Historian and writer Julie Schopieray has uncovered the achievements of Petersen in her most recent book, Jens C. Petersen: From bricklayer to architect: the life and works of a visionary Michigan architect. Meticulously researched and documented, the work is much more than a biography: it is a treasure trove of diary entries, newspaper articles and advertisements, advertising circulars, and treasured photographs of Petersen’s family, the man himself, and the vestiges of his architectural work that remain. It is a gorgeous work of scholarship.
Son of a stone mason and trained in that trade, Jens Petersen was born in 1873. The family moved to the Traverse area when the boy was eleven years old, his father having been employed in the construction of the Northern Michigan Asylum. As a young man, Jens worked on other cottages of the Asylum as well as other well-known buildings around town. However, his ambitions exceeded that of being a first-rate bricklayer. He wanted to become an architect.
Through correspondence school courses taken in Traverse City, night school classes taken in Chicago, and apprentice work received in a well-known Chicago firm, he passed the Illinois examination for a license in architecture in 1903. He was one of the first licensed architects to practice in Northern Michigan.
The buildings Petersen was responsible for are well-known to those interested in local history: the Union Street school, the Empire school, the old stone school in Sutton’s Bay, the C.S.P.S. Hall on Front Street in Traverse City, the Bellaire Courthouse, and many residences throughout the area. There is much evidence that Jens Petersen designed Holy Rosary Church near Cedar, Michigan. While some buildings have been demolished, many still stand.
Petersen was known for two innovations, one having to do with his use of concrete in construction, both for interior and exterior design, and the other with marketing architectural designs to the general public. He frequently published articles in a journal aimed at builders and architects called Concrete, ever advocating for the application of that substance in all kinds of construction. In the Little Tavern, a restaurant in downtown Traverse City, he even had counters made of concrete, as well as spreading a reddish layer of it on the floor (something Julie found in a chipped-away spot at the entry to the present business at that location!)
Petersen’s mail-order business for architectural residence designs was very successful. Such plans could always be obtained from builders and lumber suppliers, but few firms would answer correspondence regarding construction problems and considerations in the manner Jens Petersen did. In addition to many local sales, it is said that Petersen-designed houses stand in other states and even in South America and Europe.
Jens was an esteemed member of the Traverse City community, his name appearing in newspaper articles that told about his exploits in bowling, card playing, singing, roller skating, and more. He was such an exciting person to be around, it was a surprise when he announced he was moving to Sacramento, California.
From 1919 to his death in 1939, Petersen designed many buildings in California, some of which remain at this date. Julie Schopieray offers thirty-three pages of his notable buildings, many entries with pictures, from both his Michigan and his California years. The California buildings frequently reflect Art Deco and Modern designs, consistent with architectural styles during the 20’s and 30’s.
Petersen’s life was not without controversy. In California, because he was apparently not familiar with California building codes emphasizing earthquake protection, he temporarily lost his license to practice architecture in that state. Responding to demands to improve his qualifications, he regained licensure within a short period of time, and continued to design buildings until the end of his life.
Thank you to Julie Schopieray who has restored the life and work of a great architect to us all. Jens Petersen lives again!
Jens Petersen: A Biography can be obtained from Horizon Books, Amazon, or directly from the author.
This article was discovered, copied, and notated by Julie Schopieray, regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal and author of the fantastic new biography, Jens C. Petersen: From Bricklayer to Architect. Copies of the book can be obtained from Horizon Books, Amazon, or directly from the author.
To every man who fights, grins and wins, this little story is respectfully dedicated.
Jens C. Petersen
State Bank Building
Traverse City, Mich.
The Boss is Reminiscent
Twenty-five years ago a cross-eyed woman by the name of Borden, taught our school in a little village, and not-withstanding the fact that the years have changed my focus on most things, when I close my eyes to-day, I can still see “Granny Borden,” as we young devils disrespectfully called her, and I realize now, as I could not then, that back of those crooked eyes there was a lot of straight thinking going on, and beneath that old fashioned, cheap, but scrupulously clean plaid waist there beat a warm and honest heart.
Tonight as the whistle blows and the boys and girls, singly, in pairs and in groups, trudged on their homeward way past our office window, there was one in the lot, possibly because her eyes were so hung that she could look around a corner and still see what was going on around her, who brought vividly and instantaneously to mind the old school house, the high platform, the long pine table, and back of it, book in one hand and ruler in the other, the school mistress, Miss Henrietta Borden, (that is the older and more respectful people called her “Miss”), but to the younger generation it was“Granny,” (especially when we had to stay after school).
I had my hands on the desk ready to close it for the night, but those cross-eyes, as they looked up at our office window, and at the same time up and down the street and over in the next block, brought forth memories which stay the hand and force me to sit down in the twilight, close my eyes and for a half an hour, and until Carrie telephoned that the soup was getting cold, I could hear the hum of bees outside the schoolhouse window. I could see “Fatty Matt” diving into his dinner pail for bread crusts, which he viciously threw at Almeda– a way Fatty had of conveying to the said Almeda that she had all the other girls in the room backed off the boards– and I also instinctively placed my hand under my coat as I felt the jab of the pin in the end of a stick, guided by the warty but unerring hand of “Tart.”
And what a delicious half hour that was, sketches and plans for houses, churches, government buildings, and even dinner could go to the dogs, at least they would have to wait for attention from me until my dream was finished.
In the hurry and rush of life, in the trying to keep what we have, and get more, did you ever sit down after banking hours, when you could not be notified of the note that was coming due tomorrow, in a place where no one could reach you from the outside, then from a cubbyhole in your memory bring forth a package, yellow with age, soiled with finger marks of youth, but containing a chapter of life’s history, around which each succeeding year ties a fresh bloom of “Lilies of the Valley and For-get-me-nots?”
It was Friday afternoon, our freshly dug worms were even now safely hid away in an old tomato can under the back porch, and, as tomorrow was a holiday, Percy and Tart would whistle under my window about four o’clock in the morning, and I would jump into my clothes, grab the piece of bread and butter mother had laid out for me the night before, shoulder my pole and hike across the fields and- – – but time flies. I must have another look at that Friday afternoon picture before I receive another hurry up call from home and am obliged to hide it away to be brought out, well, perhaps never, because I find less and less time for everything, except trying to keep from being run over.
Charles has just been called to the platform to speak his piece. By way of inspiration, he rubs a dirty leg with a stone bruised heel and still dirtier foot, and then by fits and starts he laboriously, and to the onlooker, it would seem by main strength, relieves himself or the old-time masterpiece, “The Curfew Shall not Ring tonight.” When he is through the boys snicker as loudly as they dare. “Granny raps vigorously for order, then at a nod from her, Amy our star soprano, sings four verses of “Pull for the Shore,” the whole school joining with her in the chorus.
When school is dismissed for the week, the boys yell, hoot, holler, turn somersaults, engage in an imitation fight or two, by way of showing off to the girls, old “Granny” turns the key in the door, and another one of life’s chapters has been unthinkingly, but nevertheless irrevocably written. Percy and Tart are daring me to go swimming, but out of the corner of my eye I am watching a little Miss with yellow braids, who has carelessly dropped away from her companions, just as I am trying to do from the boys. The other girls notice it and quietly smile and whisper to each other, but not in an obtrusive way to embarrass her. Percy and Tart also see what I am up to, but a smile or a nudge is not expressive enough for them, no, indeed. They all become particularly chummy, throwing their arms over each other’s shoulders and pointing their fingers at me, sing out at the top of their lungs, ‘Jens has got a girl, Jens is going home to cut out paper dolls with his girl,” and more of like effect, but I never faltered, those two yellow braids pulling me harder in the direction of the girl than the taunts and jeers of Percy and Tart could overcome, and I pictured to myself two boys who would, each in their turn, receive a nice licking before school opened Monday morning, and I marched over to little Miss Yellow Hair, and the shy but appreciative look I received not only blotted out Percy and Tart and their stinging words, but so blinded my eyes that my world narrowed itself down to a few trees, a path just wide enough for two, a slip of a girl and an awkward country boy. I wonder where she is now, it cannot be that she is married and has sons and daughters of her own, but why not? We were the same age, and look at my boy and girl, not quite so heavy around the waist but both of them growing to be as tall as their mother.
The years have come and the years have gone, as years have a way of doing, bring me their mixture of joys and sorrows, of successes and failures, but they have left their memories with me.
There are so many roads leading in so many different directions from that little school house that I have lost track of most of my boyhood friends. Some of them I can still place. Fatty Matt, who was, as I remember it, one of our brightest boys, and one for whom a brilliant future was predicted by the entire district, is tending bar I believe in Chicago. Joe, big hearted, warm hearted Joe, I believe died a few years ago in a little town out west. Willie, who was the prize pumpkin in the row, when it came to speaking pieces and showing off on the last day of school, was once Mayor of the little city, is in line for Governor and United States Senator, and will soon be a member of Congress and be helping to make our financial laws.
And what of me, well I am in the architectural business, yes, and successful too, at least from a worldly view point. I have one of the finest offices in the state of Michigan, have a nice force of draftsmen and designers and turn out the best work in our line in the country, but really it makes my heart ache when I think of the hills I had to climb and the many hard bumps I received before I reached a point where I dared speak of an assured success. When I left school at fifteen, of course I must work, so father secured me a job to work with him, learning the art of laying brick, and I put on a pair of overalls and went at it. I served my apprenticeship under a mighty good man. He was not the largest contractor in the country— he didn’t claim to be, but he did turn out honest work, and while the old gentleman is away out in sunny California, over sixty years old and still at it, and probably does not know that I am eulogizing him, I want to say that when he closes his eyes for the last time the world has lost at least one honest, competent and operative mason.
Finally, in one way and another, and I trust without crowding my neighbors into the ditch, I accumulated enough money to take a course of study in designing, then secured a nice job for a few years with one of the biggest architectural firms in the United States, in an office in the city of Chicago, attended night school and the University of Illinois, finally passing the examinations and accumulated enough to make a humble start in an office for myself. The proudest moment of my life was when I had my first sign placed on my office window. That was some time ago, and the office, while large enough to be noticed quite some locally, was small as compared with our present one. Of course at that time I did not have anything like the facilities that I have today for turning out quality and quantity, but it was mine— the thing I had been striving for had come to pass, and for a little while at least I was peacefully happy.
Perhaps I have not received more bumps than come to all of us. In the light of years I have come to believe that I needed them for my development, at any rate I got them, as you get yours. If we use them to our advantage, as I believe we may, well and good, otherwise they may lame us, keep us to the rear, and we go through life nursing our bruises. Just now there isn’t a sore spot on your Uncle J.C., not a single one, because taking everything into consideration, we have the best equipped office for the furnishing of plans for homes by mail in the United States, I realize that this is talking pretty loud, but it is a fact nevertheless.
I believe we can turn out more work of the right quality and at a lower cost than any other institution of its kind in existence. When you visit Traverse City, come up and see us. I will refrain from talking business unless you want to, but I will show you the prettiest little city your eyes ever feasted on. We have miles of paved streets and shady drives, thousands of well kept, happy homes, the finest trout streams and the prettiest little bay in the country, and last, but not least, it would give me pleasure to act as your host, and incidentally take you on a tour of inspection through the cases and files and equipment of what I know to be the most thoroughly up-to-date architect’s office anywhere.
I issue a large and expensive catalog, showing a few of the hundreds of different styles of houses we plan, and if you cannot possibly make a personal visit, write and I will mail you the catalog, also quote some prices for plans for your home which will be just as attractive to you as the plans represented.
I say again, “come if you can, but if you can’t come, write to me about plans for your new home.”
You can remember the place and I trust you will be able to remember the name.
Yours very truly,
JENS C. PETERSEN, Architect,
418 State Bank Building Traverse City, Mich.
NOTE– My book, the Cream of 1000 Plans, is an expensive catalog and cannot be sent free. If you will enclose 50 cents, coin of stamps, in your letter, I will credit you with this amount when you order your plans.
Jens C. Petersen came to Traverse City in 1884, at the age of eleven. Research shows that his parents lived in and were running a boarding house for construction workers, near the site of the Northern Michigan Asylum. The nearest school would have been the Union School between 7th & 8th Streets, where Central grade School is currently located. Petersen talks about his teacher, Miss Henrietta Borden but it’s unclear whether that was his teacher’s real name or if he changed it for the story. I haven’t yet found that there was a teacher in Traverse City by that name between 1884-1889 when Jens would have been in school, however there was a Harriet Borden who taught in Kalkaska for many years between 1880- 1915. It is possible she spent a term in Traverse City as Jens Petersen’s teacher.
He talks about “Willie” who was the prize pumpkin in the row, who goes on to be mayor and further into politics. It’s likely he’s speaking of William D. C. Germaine, locally known in later years, as “Wild Bill”. Germaine was three years older than Petersen, but would have been at the same school. He became mayor of Traverse City between 1908-1910 and again in 1912-1913. Unfortunately, Mr. Germaine did not become the successful man Petersen had envisioned in his 1911 writing– in 1912, Germaine was attempting to make a bid for Congress, but by 1913 was removed from office by the governor for extorting money from a local saloon keeper. Germaine was known locally to have trouble with “the bottle.” In 1916 he was arrested for attempted arson, after trying to burn down his his wife’s house after she filed for divorce. In 1923 he was arrested for bootlegging and arrested again in 1926 for prohibition violations. He died in 1943.
“Percy” would be Percy Holdsworth. He was a year younger than Jens but while Jens only completed the 8th grade, Holdsworth finished high school, graduating in 1892. He then attended the University of Michigan, attaining a degree in mechanical engineering in 1898. Holdsworth died in Chicago in 1925.
You can read more about the life and work of Jens Petersen in Jens C. Petersen: From Bricklayer to Architect. Copies of the book can be obtained from Horizon Books, Amazon, or directly from the author.
I wanted to see if the phrase “off the board” was a commonly used in 1911. The jury is still out, I did find it defined here. In the publishing world, it doesn’t look like it was a common phrase until in mid-1920s, atleast within the monographs scanned in the Google Books Project Ngram Viewer.
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
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.
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 plans. 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 and 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 experimental 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.
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.
Who Nailed That Fudge? recounts a sweet-toothed theft in the State Bank building the day before Thanksgiving, 1908, and was published in the November 25, 1908 edition of The Evening Record:
WHO NAILED THAT FUDGE?
The strange disappearance of a pan of home made fudge, turned out in the fudge factory in the State bank building about 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon, created an excitement in that building which has never been equaled at any time, not excepting the time when the screens mysteriously disappeared.
The fudge was brewed by the Misses Lettie Marvin and Florence Rattenbury, its delectable fumes penetrating the air, floating out over the transom and attracting a horde of gentlemen tenants, who flocked around that door in a manner that reminded one of flies around a honey jar in July. They all came to the fudge factory, but it was noticed that two of them, E. Sprague Pratt and C.L. Curtis, the engineer, looked greedily upon the brewing brown mixture while their noses twitched like those of rabbits when they scent the fresh green things in the spring.
Others came also, among them being Jens C. Petersen, G.W. Power, C.J. Helm, E.S. Williams, E.C. Billings and the greyhound Jack, in fact it is claimed by the fudge manufacturers that every man in the building came and looked longingly at the candy, sniffed the air and swallowed hard in anticipation. But having faith in these gentlemen and never for one moment believing that they could do any wrong, the ladies did not place a guard over their product when it was completed, but set it in the window of the fudge factory to cool, then went down the hall to discuss what they were going to be thankful for on Thanksgiving day.
And now they are looking for that pan of fudge. When they went back to get it, there was no fudge there, not even the pan. It was gone as completely and mysteriously as though it had never been. Search was made for it, detectives were placed on the case, the different offices were visited, the tenants begged threatened, wheedled and bluffed, but none confessed.
A notice was place in a conspicuous place stating that if the pan would be returned no questions would be asked, but even this was ignored. The prosecutor left the city hurriedly, and the ladies believed it possible that the fudge went with him, but this is only suspicion. It is thought that the fudge, pan and all was swallowed by someone, and they are wondering which one off the tenants could have performed this feat. The only one in the building who could make way with the pan in that manner is Jack the greyhound, but he can prove an alibi. The mystery deepens.
The ladies declare that if any of these hungry eyed men had asked them for a piece of fudge, they would gladly have given them some, but to think of being robbed like this of all they had, is hard indeed. When the guilty party or parties are apprehended, they will be dealt with severely.
Nothing has been found that indicates that anyone ever confessed to this crime, so it remains a mystery 107 years later. The writing style of the article is suspiciously like that of Jens C Petersen, a local architect. Two weeks after this incident, the editor began publishing letters to Santa Claus, and many local businessmen submitted their own pleas to Santa. The following letter was sent in by Petersen. His obvious love of fudge makes one wonder if he was the one who absconded with the sweet treat the day before Thanksgiving.
Dear Santa Claus: Bring me a bob sled and some fudge and lots of work and some nuts and candy and more fudge. I have been good and will continue to be. Jensy Petersen. –The Evening Record, December 18, 1908
NOTE: I was curious about the use of the word NAILED in this article and found one definition that applies here: “Nailed- past tense of nail- is seize, or take into custody.” I had never heard the word used that way before!
Contributed by local Jens C. Petersen aficionado, Julie Schopieray.
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