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Architects and Builders

The Elite Theatre (pictured in gallery), formerly at 315 S. Burdick St., was designed by Rockwell Leroy.
Who built that? Historian Lynn Houghton answers

When you study the buildings of a community, you learn a great deal about architecture, but also about the people who designed and built these structures. There were many individuals and companies who did that over the years in Kalamazoo, going back to the 1830s, when the city was still very young. Whether these architects and builders came from Kalamazoo, elsewhere in the state or other areas of the country, these individuals left their mark on our community, as many do today.

Here are five of my favorite historic architects and builders of Kalamazoo:

Lemuel D. Grosvenor

Not much is known about Grosvenor, who designed several houses and a prominent industrial building in the city. He was born in Massachusetts but was working as an architect in Jackson, Michigan, by the 1860s. Of the five houses he designed in Kalamazoo, two remain: the Johnson House, at 211 W. Woodward Ave., in the Stuart Historic District, and the Hall House, originally located on the site of the Park Club, on South Street across from Bronson Park, but now at 725 Academy St., having been moved there in the late 1880s. In addition to these Italianate and Second Empire homes, Grosvenor designed the Lawrence and Chapin Iron Works (pictured in gallery), on the northwest corner of North Rose and West Water streets, also in the Second Empire style.Rockwell LeRoy

Rockwell LeRoy

After spending his teenage years as a cowboy in Nebraska, LeRoy moved to Coldwater to work as a contractor, coming to Kalamazoo in the 1890s to supervise construction at the Michigan Buggy Co. For more than 40 years, he designed buildings in Kalamazoo, including several schools and vaudeville/movie theaters, such as the Elite Theatre (pictured in gallery), formerly at 315 S. Burdick St. He was the architect for the bandshell, auditorium and entrance for Oakwood Park, on Woods Lake. Some of the buildings he designed that remain are Lincoln Elementary School, on North Burdick Street; the Haymarket Building, on East Michigan Avenue; the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, on West Michigan Avenue; and Chenery Auditorium, part of the former Kalamazoo Central High School, on South Westnedge Avenue.

Frederick Bush and Thomas Paterson

These partners were builders during the 19th century, and their long list of structures includes many still with us today. Bush first came here at age 12, working as a clerk and apprentice carpenter. He left four years later but returned in 1855, having met Paterson in New York. Bush convinced Paterson to come here, and they formed a partnership in 1855 that lasted for close to 40 years, employing up to 100 workers. Known for their quality workmanship, they built a variety of buildings, at least eight of which are still standing, including the Ladies’ Library Association building, at 333 S. Park St. (pictured in gallery), the Michigan Central Railroad Station, on Kalamazoo Avenue; and the Wood-Upjohn House, at 530 W. South St.

Ernest Batterson

Batterson, who was born in Battle Creek, worked with his father, a carpenter, and later received his architectural training through a correspondence course. He worked with Kalamazoo architect Rockwell LeRoy, and in 1919 opened his own practice covering southwestern Michigan. The list of his buildings in Kalamazoo includes houses along Oakland Drive (pictured in gallery),, and in the Hillcrest, Orchard Hills and West Main Hill neighborhoods. He designed several elementary schools in the area, including South Westnedge Elementary, now Paramount Charter Academy, in addition to the former Salvation Army building on the corner of North Rose and Eleanor streets. His largest building is the First United Methodist Church on South Park Street, completed in 1928 with Gothic Revival features like the prominent arched window that also can be found on other some of his other structures.

Milton C.J. Billingham and Leslie Cobb

Their firm may have been one of the busiest in the 1920s, designing schools, houses, factories, libraries and other buildings in the Kalamazoo area. Billingham attended Western State Normal School and worked for engineer Daniel Albertson and later architect Frank Shoemaker, who also employed Cobb. Billingham and Cobb’s eventual partnership, beginning in 1919, led to the design of nine local elementary schools, six of which are still in use, including Woodward Elementary and Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary (pictured in gallery), as well as the Marlborough Apartments, Kalamazoo Public Library’s Washington Square Branch and the A.M. Todd Co. headquarters on Douglas Avenue. Even though the two men split in terms of their business partnership early in the 1930s, many of their collaborations continue to be a part of this community.

Photos courtesy of WMU Archives and Regional History Collections, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Local History Collection.

Lynn Houghton

Lynn Houghton is the regional history curator of the Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection. She leads the Gazelle Sports Historic Walks, a series of free architectural and historic walks at various locations in Kalamazoo County that happen during summer and fall, and she is the co-author of Kalamazoo Lost and Found, a book on Kalamazoo history and architecture. She also participated in the PBS documentary series 10 That Changed America, about the history of architecture and urban planning. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from WMU and a master’s in library and information science from Wayne State University.

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