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Five Faves – Memorable Images

Calendar moments to remember

If there is one holiday tradition area residents have been able to count on since 1988, it has been the opportunity to get a free Portage Printing calendar courtesy of owner Craig Vestal. The calendars, first made in 1988, originally showcased the printing work the company did. But in 2013 Vestal began featuring historical photographs from both the Portage District Library and the WMU Archives and Regional History Collection. These images never fail to bring up memories and stories from calendar recipients. A highlight of the annual calendar is Vestal’s comments on photos with which he has some connection (of which there are many). From the more than 150 images the Regional History Collection has contributed to the calendar, here are my favorites:

Kalamazoo Municipal Airport, 1955

Believe it or not, this is the Kalamazoo airport almost 70 years ago. Called the Kalamazoo Municipal Airport, it later became the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport. More than 300 people watched the arrival of the first Detroit-to-Chicago flight, with a stop in Kalamazoo, by North Central Airlines on May 1, 1955. It took 18 years for the city of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce to get this east-west service established here. The crew of the airplane was greeted by local dignitaries and received flowers to commemorate the occasion, and 20 Michigan newspapers and two radio stations covered the event.

Ingersoll Steel Co. Summer Picnic, 1943

Picnics held by various local companies in the summer were special events with activities for all ages. Even though these children of employees of what was then the Ingersoll Steel plant in Kalamazoo are not identified, nor can any information be found in the Kalamazoo Gazette describing the location and date of this picnic, the happy smiles and expressions on their faces are contagious. Their laughter somehow might be related to their eating what appear to be crackers in their hands. Ingersoll Steel began producing furnaces and automobile parts in 1937, later producing tanks and amphibious vehicles during World War II.

YWCA Teen Dance, 1949

The accordion in this photograph resonates with me, bringing back memories of my time playing the instrument. In the 1940s and 50s, the YWCA in Kalamazoo sponsored many programs, including Y-Teen clubs for local eighth- and ninth-graders, at what was then its building on South Rose Street, across from Bronson Park. Weekly events were held for teens, including dances, referred to as Coke Dances, so everyone knew what would be served, with dance lessons provided if needed. Other activities and events included ping-pong and talent shows, which may be why this young man has his accordion ready. The accordion was a very popular instrument during these years. Multiple local studios offered lessons, and a band made up of 40 accordionists performed concerts.

Directional Sign, Western Michigan College, circa 1952

This sign at the intersection of Stadium and Oakland drives captured the rapid changes happening at Western Michigan College after World War II as the campus spread to the west. Then-president Paul Sangren realized the need to expand and purchased the land west of the railroad tracks in 1944. It wasn’t long before there were the same number of college buildings on either side of campus, although the number eventually shifted as more were built to the west. The exact date of this photograph is unknown, but the time of year is easy to identify by what these women are wearing on their heads. During these post-war years, freshmen wore beanies from the beginning of the fall semester until homecoming.

Muggs, H.J. Cooper Auto Dealership, 1941

A lion living in a Kalamazoo automobile dealership? Preposterous but true. Muggs, purch-ased from a circus by local car dealer Howard J. Cooper in 1939, took up residence in Cooper’s dealership, which was on the southwest corner of South Park Street and West Michigan Avenue. The lion would lie on desks, sit in chairs and take downtown walks on a leash with Cooper. During World War II, civilian automobile production ceased, so not many people entered the dealership to purchase a car. After the war, that changed, and Muggs left for the South Bend (Indiana) Zoo. He is remembered in photographs and in the memories of those who still talk about the lion that lived in Kalamazoo.

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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