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Five Faves – Standing Historic Buildings

Favorite historic buildings that are still standing

Many things make a community unique, including its institutions, natural features and various events. A community’s buildings are another characteristic that denotes its individuality. Houses, churches, schools and other structures can make an area stand out and even add a lot to its skyline. Kalamazoo has been lucky that many of our older buildings remain standing due to a variety of factors. Some continue to be used for the purpose they were built while others are being used for something other than what was originally intended. Although there are many candidates, here are five of my favorite historic buildings:

326 West Kalamazoo Ave.

This imposing building is a good example of the industrial structures that were once abundant to the north and east of downtown, many of which are now gone. Built between 1906 and 1921, this four-story brick building was originally the home of the Kalamazoo Loose Leaf Ledger Co., which made blank binders using paper manufactured in the area. For close to 70 years, paper-related companies occupied this building, including the Saniwax Co., which made waxed food wrappers. In the 1970s the building became home to light manufacturing companies as well as artists and craftspeople, which still is the case today.

333 South Park St.

For over 145 years, this unique brick building has stood as a testament to the power of women in this community. The Ladies’ Library Association, begun in 1852, was the first such organization in Michigan and the third in the United States. A dream to have its own headquarters came to fruition when the group raised sufficient funds and hired Henry Gay, a Chicago architect, to design this building, the style of which is called either Venetian Gothic or Queen Anne. It is filled with stained glass, woodwork and art and provides a permanent home for the association’s library and a place for the members and others to gather. Over the years, the Ladies’ Library Association has spearheaded additions, renovations and restorations to the structure, which help it continue to contribute to the organization and the community.

251 East Michigan Ave.

When this building opened in 1886 in what is now called the Haymarket Historic District, it was known for what was inside: the wholesale grocery firm B. Desenberg and Co., established by Bernhard Desenberg before the Civil War. The building’s fame today is not because of the grocery, but because the Chicago architectural firm that designed it was Adler & Sullivan. The firm was founded by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, the latter of whom became one of the most influential American architects of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In its reporting on the building at the time, the Kalamazoo Gazette paid little attention to the architects and concentrated more on the building’s construction, which boasts unique ornamentation at the cornice and between the windows. The building now has offices and an event center on the first floor and was previously home to various retail stores.

227 W. Michigan Ave.

Since 1837 there have been three courthouses on Courthouse Square, as the spot was named in one of the first plats of the city. This third structure, dedicated in 1937, received funding both from the federal government through a Public Works Administration grant and from county voters and originally held both the courts and all county offices. Local architect Milton C. J. Billingham designed this Art Deco-style building that harmonized with the Art Deco Kalamazoo City Hall, located across Bronson Park. Along with its distinctive geometric shape, the courthouse also features a great deal of exterior and interior ornamentation, including sculptures by Detroit artist Corrado Parducci found at the cornice, doorways, windows and corners of the building. Kalamazoo County opened a new justice facility on Eleanor Street in December 2023. The plans for the old courthouse, now owned by the private developer Plaza Corp., had not been disclosed as of press time.

404 South Burdick St.

For many years in this community, if you wanted to see a theatrical performance, a vaudeville act or even a movie, you would go downtown, since a number of theaters, both big and small, could be found up and down its streets. The greatest one of all, and the one that still remains, is the State Theatre, which was completed in 1927. John Eberson, known for his atmospheric theaters, designed the building, choosing what has been described as a Spanish or Mediterranean courtyard motif for both the exterior and interior. It is especially evident in the auditorium, with its stucco walls, sculptures, balconies and wrought iron, along with a blue ceiling with stars and a cloud machine. It continues to be a wonderful venue for concerts, movies and other events.

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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