historical preservation

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A plan to shrink the size of the Carriage Town historic district in Flint is running into opposition from people who live in the neighborhood.

Carriage Town is located just across the Flint River from the city’s downtown core. It’s a mix of neatly restored, large single-family homes and blighted buildings.  

An old barn
User: kendoman26 / Flickr

When is an old structure worth saving? And when does that structure become something that’s dangerous and needs to be torn down?

Those questions are being asked after the city of Ann Arbor recently tore down a 19th century farmhouse and barn that it had purchased in 2003. Some would say it's ironic that the barn was located next to the city's recycling center.

Architect Chuck Bultman is with the Michigan Barn Preservation Network and the National Barn Alliance.

Bultman said it’s unfortunate that some barns are ordered to be torn down, just because "tearing down" is the safest answer.

Detroit Drunken Historical Society's recent meet-up explored the Belle Isle history
User: UpNorth Memories - Donald (Don) Harrison / Flickr

Some organizations these days are having a hard time getting new people involved. Classical music groups have been struggling to appeal to new fans. And plenty of arts and culture groups have a tough time attracting members.

It turns out, historical societies are also having a tough time. And that’s something that Michigan Radio’s Kyle Norris has been looking into.

Norris says the problem is that these societies tend to be older, and getting new blood is not going so well in general.

But that’s not an issue for Amy Elliott Bragg, a co-organizer for the Detroit Drunken Historical Society.

It's a meet-up group that hosts monthly activities at local bars in Detroit for people to come out and learn about history. Bragg says there's no commitment, the gatherings are easy to attend, and all are welcome.

“We have found that there are people who might not be immersed in the library in their historic text all night, but they enjoy history, they are interested in it. They want to weigh in,” says Bragg.

* Listen to the interview with Amy Elliott Bragg above.

Metro Detroit Ethnic Communities Collection/Walter P. Reuther Library

There’s a joke that historical organizations are stuck in the past when it comes to how they do things. You know, like they don’t have a grasp on using social media, and their museums and events are outdated and uninspiring.

And that joke might extend to the people who run historical organizations – many of whom are senior citizens and have often run their group in the same way for a long time.

user VasenkaPhotography / Flickr

DETROIT (AP) - Diego Rivera's murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts have been designated as one of four new national historic landmarks.

Federal officials announced the designation on Wednesday.

The Detroit Industry murals were conceived by Rivera as a tribute to the city's manufacturing base and labor force of the 1930s. The Mexican artist in 1932 and 1933 completed the murals on walls of a court in the museum and they're considered to be among his greatest works.

Credit Goldnpuppy / Wikimedia Commons

As Michigan cities age and populations shrink, some say that demolishing  abandoned buildings is essential to reviving these cities and stabilizing neighborhoods.

Take Detroit, for instance. One estimate puts the number of buildings set to be demolished at 10,000.

But amid the demolition, is there room to preserve historic structures? How do we determine what should be torn down and what's worth rescuing and restoring?

To help answer those questions, Preservation Detroit and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network just completed a survey of six historic areas in Detroit. They're hoping to bring a preservationist's point of view to decisions about blight and demolition.

Emilie Evans is a preservation specialist with the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, and she joined us today.

*Listen to the story above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Some Michigan lawmakers are pushing to create a lasting fund for maintenance of the 135-year-old state Capitol.

Bills that could win approval in December would overhaul the building's oversight, make it a state historic site and create a permanent maintenance fund.

It's been 21 years since a major restoration of the Capitol was finished. Keeping the building in good shape, though, has been tougher than expected.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The steam engine that inspired the children's book The Polar Express and provided sounds for the movie version is back in service after a four-year refurbishment project.

The Pere Marquette 1225 rolled out of the garage Wednesday in Owosso, ringing its bell and spewing steam for train enthusiasts and volunteers gathered to watch the engine take its maiden voyage following the overhaul.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Lansing’s historic Old Town district is getting another boost.

The shopping and dining district is just north of Lansing’s downtown.

Mayor Virg Bernero says a developer plans to spend three million dollars rehabbing and expanding an old building into new retail and residential space.

“Vibrant, thriving cities have great buildings… great places for people to live and work,” says Bernero, “and Old Town increasingly, more and more, is becoming that place.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

An historic landmark in downtown Battle Creek may be rehabilitated. The art deco Heritage Tower was built between 1930 and 1931 to house Battle Creek’s oldest bank.

Over the decades, the building has changed owners and names. In recent years, the building has fallen into disrepair. Its upper floors have been condemned, and it no longer has tenants.

A Grand Rapids company bought the tower earlier this year.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Part of the iconic Irish Hills Towers in Lenawee County is being demolished this week.

Members of a small wrecking crew are slowly dismantling the two observation decks that top the six story tall wooden towers.   The work is expected to take a few days, depending in part on the weather. 

The towers have been a landmark along U-S Route 12 in southern Michigan since the 1920’s and they're on the National Register of Historic Places.  

But age and neglect have taken a toll in recent years.

flickr /Michigan Historic Markers

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - A college prank?

Police at Western Michigan University are looking for a large historical marker stolen from outside the birthplace of the Kalamazoo school.

The marker was discovered missing Thursday at East Hall. Size would make it difficult to hide: Like other state markers, it's 54 inches tall and 42 inches wide.

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If you grew up in southeast or southcentral Michigan any time from the 1920s right through the 20th century and into the early part of this century, chances are you and your family visited or at least passed through the Irish Hills.

Driving along US-12, it's impossible to miss the major landmarks of the Irish Hills, the twin observation towers. Generations of Michigan families have climbed these towers to get a good look at the surrounding countryside.

But the clock is ticking on those landmark towers.

Donna Boglarsky, the president of the Irish Hills Historical Society and former owner of the towers, joined us in the studio.

Listen to the full interview above.

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons

Update: Tours now available of untouched building

Saw an article by Matt Troutman  of the Traverse City Record-Eagle where he reports that tours through the last remaining undeveloped portion of the former state mental hospital and its labyrinth of tunnels are now available.

People lucky enough to land a spot on a tour will start in the Mercato and walk outside toward the north wing of Building 50. Many of the patient rooms are open for exploration, though people are warned to be aware of the peeling lead paint and must put protective covers over their shoes.

Once outside Building 50, the tour will go underground into the brick-lined tunnels that stretch beneath the hospital. The tour ends where it started: inside the new, redeveloped portion of Building 50.

Future tour dates will be announced on The Village at Grand Traverse Commons Facebook page. They cost $25, with the proceeds going toward maintaining and replanting the former arboretum.

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The transformed Northern Michigan Asylum has been up and running as the Village at Grand Traverse Commons for several years.

Ray Minervini has been working on restoring the old state mental hospital for more than a decade.

You could call it a mega-fixer-upper.

Minervini told us back in 2006 that the work being done on the site "equates to the largest rehab project for sure in the Midwest."

The former state mental hospital in Traverse City is a castle-like compound of about 27 buildings.

They were closed in 1989 and vacant for a decade after.

In 2002, Minervini bought all 63-acres of the property for just $1.

After putting in over $60 million, it's now a showpiece for the area. Once it's complete, the owners expect that approximately 1,800 people will live or work there.

Hill Auditorium 100th anniversary

Feb 1, 2013
AndrewHorne / Wikimedia Commons

This Saturday, the University Musical Society at the U of M is celebrating a hundred years since the opening of Hill Auditorium.

The celebration will feature a premiere screening of a documentary about 100 Years of UMS Performances in Hill Auditorium that will teach visitors about history of Hill as a performance hall and as a landmark building in Ann Arbor.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A national planning organization has named Grand Rapids' oldest neighborhood as one of the top ten in the United States.


Homes in the Heritage Hill neighborhood were built mostly in the late 1800s. The homes are carefully preserved, making the Grand Rapids neighborhood one of the largest historic districts in the United States.

DSC/Facebook

Many genres of music have deep roots in the city of Detroit, including punk, rock-and-roll, blues, techno and soul music. A new organization wants to help connect people and groups that have been archiving Detroit’s musical history.  

Carleton Gholz is the president and founder of the Detroit Sound Conservancy. He’s been researching a book about the rise of DJ and hip-hop culture in Detroit. During that time, he’s come across small archiving groups, music journalists, and older musicians. Now Gholz wants to unite them.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder has officially opened the former state fairgrounds in Detroit for re-development, but it’s not clear what will happen to the historic structures on the site.

There are a handful of historically-designated properties on the Michigan state fairgrounds. The most prominent is the Grant House. That’s where former Civil War General and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant once lived (the structure itself is located on the fairgrounds, where it was moved from its original location elsewhere in Detroit).

The state is holding a series of workshops to get the public’s feedback about historic preservation. A meeting is planned in Traverse City on September 21 and in Detroit on October 12. Another meeting will take place in Lansing in January.

People have already attended workshops in Kalamazoo and Midland. Their biggest concern so far is the lack of funding for preservation programs.

Laura Ashlee is with The State Historic Preservation Office.

“As part of the governor’s restructuring of taxes in Michigan for businesses he eliminated the tax credits for historic preservation. There will be a new program, we believe, and we’re going to work with the governor to implement that program.”

Ashlee says historic preservation also makes economic sense. She says people are employed when working on restorations. She also says historic buildings attract people and businesses to that area. 

The State Historic Preservation Office is in the process of writing its plan for the next five years. And the public’s feedback will help shape its plan.