The Gutting of Gratiot Avenue at the Blue Water Bridge

One day I came across a photo from 1893 showing a group of retail/office buildings on Gratiot Avenue (north Port Huron), which was still dirt.  I was very curious about where exactly this block used to be.  Looking at early directories wasn’t very helpful at first, but thankfully, Pauli’s 1894 bird’s eye view map gave a clue.

The group of buildings on a portion of Gratiot Avenue on this map fairly matched the proportions of those shown in the photo.   And then after betting that the photo matched the map in that area, a light switched on in my head.  One of those buildings is still standing today, and it was posted at this site previously.  Why only the one building was saved when all the buildings around (including to the east and west) were razed, is something I’d love to find out.  Some day.  One thing is all too clear, though; much of this area of Port Huron seems to have been demolished for nothing.

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Preservation Laws: How is Michigan doing? Part 1

When reviewing the historic resources in Port Huron that still stand, and those that don’t (along with the how, when, and why of their demise), a person can easily assume that no historic preservation laws actually exist in Michigan.  The non-federally owned properties that are protected to a certain extent here are those that people have simply wished to be protected, and, those persons had some ability to get that protection in place.  What about all the other properties that are worthy of protection, but aren’t?  What about all those that were worthy of protection in the past, but are now gone?  If protection laws exist, why have they been implemented so capriciously or subjectively, at least in the Port Huron area?

Preservation laws and ordinances are based on lots of things, like federal law and enabling laws passed by the states.  A good way to learn about them is to start at the “top” and work “down.”  Often, federal laws begat state Laws, and enabling laws stem from those  (enabling laws are those that allow the legal passage of local, instead of statewide, protective ordinances).

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Sad Note, Happy Note

The Sad

Below is a google image of some small brick office buildings that were just torn down in Port Huron (1900 block Pine Grove Avenue, east side).  This image does not do the buildings and property justice, but I did not get photos of my own before the razing.  In person, they (and the property generally) looked much better.  While they weren’t terribly old, they were quaint, brick, human-sized buildings that you just don’t see that often anymore.  By their presence they acknowledged small business, and they could’ve been even more inviting if the parking lot had been improved with some landscaping.  While new “strip malls” and single-building enterprises are popping up in Port Huron, they don’t have the human-environmental quality that this group of small office buildings had.  There are plenty of ugly retail buildings in Port Huron, and the fresh strip malls could very well be the eyesores of tomorrow.

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Practical Reasons to Save Old Buildings: Thank You, National Trust

One view of the magnificent Mission Inn, Riverside, California. There are many astonishing views to this building. This building took a TON of effort and money to renovate. Worth it? Of course, with all the quality materials and workmanship this group of buildings contain, besides the almost limitless amount of design details.

One view of the magnificent Mission Inn, Riverside, California. There are many astonishing views to this building. This building took a TON of effort and money to renovate. Worth it? Of course, with all the quality materials and workmanship this group of buildings contain, besides the almost limitless amount of design details (elements of “intrinsic value,” as mentioned below). See an interior shot of the multi-level, huge round stairwell, below. And see more at http://www.missioninn.com/photo-gallery-en.html

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is simply a great organization with all kinds of useful information for planners, preservationists, history buffs . . .  Last fall they posted a “Six Practical Reasons to Save Old Buildings” at their site, but I only saw it recently.  It would seem like a place like Port Huron would have learned something by now about the loss of so many of its historic buildings, the built enviornment that made Port Huron what it is–well, what it was.  Most of the buildings lost (including whole blocks of historic commercial structures) have not been replaced by anything better, or even equivalent, in monetary or aesthetic value. (Historically speaking, I remain surprised every time I come across a building that had been moved because someone valued it–the thing had value; buildings used to be moved a lot more than people today realize, I’d wager.)

If a city can be likened to a person, it’s as if Port Huron is an aged lady who hated her own old body, so cut parts of it off, thinking her appearance would then look more appealing (she sought to hide her age, too, by not posting about her past on her website).  But she didn’t add anything to her appearance by slicing away at herself; she was only left with the reality that there was now less of her, and, she didn’t look any better.  There are those who appreciate the weathered, older, and wiser folk, and seek them out.  And despite so many people telling her just this thing, she still can’t seem to like her old self.  She had glory days for sure, and people feel a little bit like they are a part of that, still, when walking through the remnants of those days.  They connect with those who came before, somehow, instead of just blandly passing through a plastic and drywall matrix of cookie-cutter walls.

I want to imagine what it was like when William Jenks walked down the same street that I’m now walking on, and think about what it was like in a restaurant where he and his buddies talked about the growing city, the ship they were building, how the ball was in so-in-so’s house on the third floor the night before, etc.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if there are any buildings left that held a restaurant or lounge that William Jenks might have socialized in, and I don’t know yet if any of the remaining large homes still have their third floor ballrooms.  But, I hope you get the picture.  Perhaps you have different thoughts of the past in Port Huron, like imagining a 1920s scene of beach revelers.

So, what are the practical reasons for saving old buildings?  I’ll provide you a shortened list of what the National Trust provided.

  1.  “Old buildings have intrinsic value.”  I’m going to be a bit jaded here and say that a lot of folks wouldn’t know what “intrinsic value” means.  But here the author talks about the value of the materials and craftsmanship used in older, pre-WWII buildings.  You just can’t get many of these materials any more, and you often can’t reproduce the quality or craftsmanship.  Example:  old building in Tennessee was saved from the wrecking ball after realizing that it’s thick brick walls (five layers!) could withstand the most powerful tornadoes.
  2. “When you tear down an old building, you never know what’s being destroyed.”  Another example from Tennessee (the Daylight Building, built 1927).  A building became an eyesore, as so many altered and then uncared for buildings do.  Someone finally wanted to renovate it instead of demolish it, and it turned out to have qualities that no one knew about:  “drop-ceilings made with heart-pine wood, a large clerestory, a front awning adorned with unusual tinted ‘opalescent’ glass, and a facade lined with bright copper.”
  3. “New businesses prefer old buildings.”  Older buildings are perfect for smaller businesses and start-ups.  Businesses with new and therefore possibly risky, ideas, need the economy of existing infrastructure.
  4. “Old buildings attract people.”  I would say the reasons for this attraction include the human scale and the attention to, and value of, detail.  Those who came before us stopped and looked at the roses, and smelled the roses, and said that the roses were very good.  Today, builders don’t seem to even know roses exist, let alone have value.  But the author had these ideas about it:  “Is it the warmth of the materials, the heart pine, marble, or old brick―or the resonance of other people, other activities? Maybe older buildings are just more interesting.  The different levels, the vestiges of other uses, the awkward corners, the mixtures of styles, they’re at least something to talk about. America’s downtown revivals suggest that people like old buildings. Whether the feeling is patriotic, homey, warm, or reassuring, older architecture tends to fit the bill.  Regardless of how they actually spend their lives, Americans prefer to picture themselves living around old buildings.”
  5. “Old buildings are reminders of a city’s culture and complexity.”  “Just as banks prefer to build stately, old-fashioned facades, even when located in commercial malls, a city needs old buildings to maintain a sense of permanency and heritage.”
  6. “Regret only goes one way.”  Like anything else, once a historic structure is gone, it can’t be resurrected.  We can’t tell the future, and the future might’ve been better with the use of that now-gone building.
Mission Inn, interior stairwell

This building took years to renovate. Many other renovation projects take much less time, expense, and aspirin, but result in appreciated and livable, if now awe-inspiring, spaces just the same.

Mission Inn, Riverside

I couldn’t help it . . . had to add another. The bottom portion of this photo does not represent the bottom floor! This is truly an amazing building, in what seems an unlikely place far outside of Los Angeles. But, people used to take a train here, and elsewhere (the track was a large figure 8) in the desert, before autos changed everything.

Getting the Word Out about PHAHPA

I’ve been busy populating this site’s pages with useful information, researching and helping some folks with historical building questions, and trying to make more connections.  So, I hadn’t been focusing on developing the organization as a nonprofit quite as much.  But to make things clearer in everyone’s mind (including my own), I came up with a one page hand-out about the Port Huron Area History and Preservation Association.  Eventually, when the organization has a new host, pdf’s of forms, informational sheets and brochures, articles, etc., will be made available.

In the meantime, feel free to comment on the contents of this hand-out.  We would appreciate thoughtful feedback and any insights into the local situation that could prove helpful to furthering the preservation of our historic community.  First is an image of the sheet which could be copied and printed out, if desired, followed by standard text.

Port Huron Area History

The background color is quite off in this scan, but it’ll do for now.


Port Huron Area History & Preservation Association  

Community.  Uniqueness.  Home.

cropped-ph-1st-baptist-1867-2.jpg

Bringing the Port Huron area’s history to life.

We’re here to inform and inspire Port Huron area residents about the possibilities of preserving and rehabilitating their historic properties.  We’re here to help those same residents investigate their properties for the purposes of recognition, preservation, and the application for any possible monetary benefit or assistance.

We will do this by developing and presenting (1) data related to regional history, architecture, and planning, (2) historical narratives and contexts, (3) “how-to” articles and ready-to-use forms; by providing (4) assistance with research, technical forms, and report writing, and by (5) recognizing historical resources at the organizations’ web page and via public avenues, and when funds allow, (6) provide permanent informational plaques (to be mounted on the historic building). 

We are still in the development phase of establishing this organization for the greater Port Huron area, with the goal of incorporating and being awarded nonprofit (501[c]3) status.  To find out more and to contribute in any way (including volunteering, or even being on the Board of Directors or an advisory committee), please visit PHAHPA.ORG and/or contact Vicki Priest at 949-449-4731 (or phahpa@zoho.com).  Thank you!


 

Yes, Virginia, Historic Preservation for the Masses Exists

Playful architecture, Port Huron

A historic house of concern, located at 1440 Chestnut, Port Huron. It has an unusual and playful very wide and deep-set tower, which dwarfs the small bay window behind it. There is another home with these same surprising features in South Park, Port Huron.

Against the will of a huge amount of people and their community representatives, monied interests in Michigan are trying their darnedest to–for all intents and purposes–eliminate historic districts (Ellison 2016; Finegood 2016 (1); Finegood 2016 (2)).  So with this dark cloud looming, Stephanie Meeks’ “President’s Note” in the Spring 2016 issue of Preservation (Fighting Displacement) seemed like a sudden burst of sunshine.  To read the entire piece, click the previous link–it’s not a long read.  But here, let me give you some highlights.

For many Americans in cities, the biggest crisis now and in the foreseeable future is a dearth of affordable housing . . . Simply put, the rent is just too high. . . .  Fourteen cities around the country saw double-digit growth in rents last year.

There is sometimes a perception that preservation is driving excessive rents by making older neighborhoods more attractive to well-heeled outsiders, and by ostensibly limiting the housing supply. We have been heartened by recent research . . . that suggests instead that preservation supports existing residents across the economic spectrum . . .

One terrific example of this is in Macon, Georgia, where the Historic Macon Foundation has been renovating homes in the Beall’s Hill neighborhood. Historic Macon never displaces current landowners by acquiring occupied houses [displacement is happening in Michigan, where very nice old homes are being torn down to build “McMansions], and it counters displacement in other ways, such as building houses designed to be affordable for families and operating a robust historic tax credit consulting service.  [emphasis mine – this is a terrific idea]

Rather than exacerbating the crisis, creative adaptive reuse projects all over the country are expanding housing options and helping cities become more affordable.

I wonder what we can accomplish at the local level here in Port Huron, if we try?  Please contact me if you’d like to discuss the possibilities!  vicki@phahpa.org

Problems with anti-historic district rhetoric

Below is a reprint of an article posted by Justin Davidson in the New York Magazine, Daily Intelligencer.  Please go to the article for further citations and the comments section.   I just want to add that a lot of the rhetoric revolves around ideas like:  wealthy people just want to keep their neighborhoods nice (who wouldn’t want that?) and high valued, but, we should be FOR higher density in our communities.  I support historic preservation for lots of reasons, and I’ve never been wealthy.  Historic preservation is about valuing quality materials and design, human scale and unique cultural environments.  It’s not about stopping progress or making our own history, but instead about keeping what’s of human value from our past.  I’m not for dense cookie-cutter communities made out of glorified cardboard, and I’m not for residents losing control of their communities in order that wealthy, powerful, corporate interests can do whatever they please.  I like what one commenter (JamieGlas) wrote:

“It depends.” This kind of nuance seems lost on the CityLab crowd that wants to impress you with Supreme Court decisions and grandiose “rhetorical blowtorches” that break down in almost any case study. There’s only a set of abstract pro-development rules. you kind of get that the authors position is a misguided political one not an architectural or social one. If quality is not a value we preserve, it won’t be a quality we value in future construction either.

The Atlantic’s Anti-Historic-District Argument Is Wrong and Extreme

Over at The Atlantic’s urbanist magazine-in-a-magazine, CityLab, writer Kriston Capps turns a rhetorical blowtorch on the concept of the historic district, particularly in residential neighborhoods. Family homes don’t warrant protection, he argues, because, well, they’re homes, and people should be able to do what they want with them. Whole clusters of homes are even less deserving of protection, he argues, in a multipronged, bipartisan case — none of which I buy.

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Pending Bills Would Greatly Hurt Local Preservation Efforts

Port Huron, Huron Ave post card

House and Senate bills were introduced to the Michigan legislature last month that would deflate community efforts to control their own local historic resources.  The proposed amendments to the state’s historic districts law go against existing and long-standing federal laws and the accomplishments made at the state and local levels.  The bills also totally oppose what citizens desire regarding historic preservation efforts as outlined in Michigan’s State Historic Master Plan, 2014-2019.  Instead of reinventing the wheel, reproduced below is Michigan Historic Preservation Network’s  Advocacy Alert concerning HB 5232 and SB 720.  Links to sample letters for your ease of advocacy are included. ___________________________________

Michigan Historic Preservation Network

Advocacy Alert: Historic Resources in Jeopardy with HB 5232 / SB 720

We need your urgent attention and immediate action. On January 26th, Rep. Chris Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids, and Sen. Peter MacGregor, R-Rockford, introduced identical legislation into the Local Government Committees of the House and Senate. House Bill 5232 and Senate Bill 720 have serious detrimental impacts to historic resources and local historic districts through proposed amendments to Michigan’s Local Historic Districts Act, PA 169 of 1970.

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What We Have Lost

"The Tunnel" GTW Depot, PH, built 1891

This substantial historic railroad depot (Grand Trunk Western) built in 1891, was torn down in 1975, yet the lot remains empty.

By Vicki Priest (enlarged and edited on 3/31/16)

Buildings aren’t people, yet buildings can be unique, beautiful, contain rare materials and can be a face in the community for centuries.  A building can represent a street, a community, a city; it can inspire awe and any number of other feelings or thoughts that make us realize that we can create something beautiful.  Buildings can be the opposite, too.  They can remind us of failing economies and the loss of community pride, as when a school falls into disrepair, or when newer buildings are simple, cheap, cookie-cutter, letting us consider how we now live in a throw-away culture.  For example, 805 Pine Grove Avenue used to be the home of an astonishingly handsome home (Second Empire style), but in its place now is an abandoned gas station.

Pine Grove Ave, PH, 2016

Abandoned gas station at 805 Pine Grove Avenue, Port Huron, today (2016).

Dead house, 805 Pine Grove Ave, PH

An early and astonishing Port Huron home, demolished (!) in 1970. 805 Pine Grove Avenue.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking through images of houses and churches that have been razed in Port Huron, I was negatively impressed by the loss of some of the city’s most notable architecture.  It’s very hard to imagine how it could’ve been thought that tearing such structures down was better than brainstorming ways to repurpose them.  Other structures were lost due to neglect and fire. Below is a very sad example of the urban downscaling that has happened in Port Huron.  The first image is of an undated photo, showing a block of historic buildings on the left (one of them was quite unique), with the second image showing them all to be gone.  (These images will be updated when more information and better quality photos are acquired.)

Military and Wall streets, Port Huron

With the Harrington Hotel at the right, this view is of a block of historic structures at Military and Wall streets (NW corner), Port Huron. The sidewalk and streets are of brick pavers. Undated photo from Gaffney (2006, p 24).

Military street at Wall Street, NNW view, Google

The same scene in 2013 as the historic image shows, though with a different type of lens. No historic buildings at the left remain. From a Google street view image.

Some homes made way for the primary hospital in town.  While time doesn’t stand still and communities grow, the homes torn down for the hospital expansion didn’t have their windows and other structural and architectural components removed for recycling purposes (for use in other historic structures that need replacements).  Below are some examples.  An inventory of lost resources will be listed in the Lost Properties page.

1st Baptist Church, PH, now a parking lot

First Baptist Church, dedicated in 1882 (the church had an earlier building that had burned down). Sold in 1969 to make a parking lot.

The beautiful church structure at left was considered the “crown jewel” of downtown Port Huron (Creamer 2006).  It was sold to the city in 1969 and subsequently demolished; there is now a parking lot in its place.

Maccabees headquarters, Port Huron.

The original Knights of the Maccabees headquarters, built in 1892. It later became the Algonquin Hotel. It met its unfortunate demise in 2000, when it burned down after having been abandoned. Photo from c. 1905.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below are the homes mentioned earlier, demolished in 2006 for the hospital expansion.  They do not appear to have had valuable components removed first.

Razed house, Pine Grove Ave, Port Huron

The 1300 block of Pine Grove Avenue, Port Huron, 2005, prior to their 2006 demolition.

Demolishing 1327 Pine Grove Ave., PH

1327 Pine Grove Avenue being demolished. June 2006. The smashed remains of the regal 1323 home are to the left.

Razed Lauth Hotel, Port Huron

The Lauth Hotel, built in 1902. Date of photo unknown.

Very few of the original hotels in Port Huron remain today.  Sadly, the “skinny” Lauth Hotel (and bar) no longer stands.  “Built to resemble the famed Flat Iron Building in New York City in 1902, it was destroyed in the Urban Renewal Movement of the 1970’s” (Gaffney, accessed Feb 2016).  Instead of creatively integrating it into condominium architectural plans, it was simply razed.  The whole area where it stood used to be an attractive little city center with brick pavers, but not any more.

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PS.  A local authority had told me of this house, and having discovered specifically which house it was in Port Huron, I wanted to append it to this article.  St Joseph Catholic Church had owned it and then demolished it, despite it being in the city’s Olde Town Historic District.  Believers are called to be stewards of God’s creation, and quality buildings are made of choice and rare materials that God provided.  The workmanship required to make such structures may also be considered a gift from God.  Apparently, the community wanted this structure saved, the city offered them free amenities, and there was even someone who wanted to move it.  Yet the church acted ungraciously (from what I’ve been told) and tore the building down anyway.  Why such waste when it could’ve been removed instead?  There is nothing but grass there now.  There are many reasons why The Church has dwindled in the last decades, and this attitude of disregard–for others in the community and for God’s gifts–could be one of them.

317 Seventh St, Port Huron, demolished

1317 Seventh Street, Port Huron. The church that demolished it, which was on an adjacent lot, even took over the address of the disappeared.

Sources

Bromley, Suzette (former curator for the Port Huron Museum), Rootsweb page, which holds scanned images from various collections held by the Port Huron Museum, and the Library of Congress.

Creamer, Mary Lou (and the History and Research Committee of the Port Huron Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, c. 2006), Port Huron: Celebrating Our Past, 1857-2007.

(TJ) Gaffney’s Pinterist page

Gaffney, TJ, Port Huron, 1880-1960 (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2006).

Olde Town Historic District

PhoenixMasonry.org