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Historic Photos

South Burdick Street, looking north from West South Street, 1913. Courtesy photo
History curator picks favorite photos of Kalamazoo’s past

Choosing my favorite historic photographs of the Kalamazoo area is a hard task for me. I have looked at a lot of these photos during my career, and many have amazed and interested me. A photograph can give so much information about the who, what, when, where, why and how but still sometimes leave you with more questions than answers. I especially enjoy photographs with people of all ages who help make these buildings, streets, businesses and sites living, breathing places. Fortunately, in the case of some historic photographs, we also know who took them.
Here are a few of my favorites:

Kalamazoo Airport

May 1955

So, what brought this crowd, some in their best clothes, to the city-owned airport on the first day of May? More than 300 people of all ages came to see the arrival from Detroit of the first North Central Airlines flight into Kalamazoo, midway to its Chicago destination. The City of Kalamazoo and the Chamber of Commerce had spent 18 years working to get air service from Kalamazoo to these two cities. Local dignitaries greeted the crew, and a large number of newspapers and radio stations covered the event. I’m not sure what is more interesting, the number of people who showed up or the terminal building behind them. Then-Mayor Glenn S. Allen took the opportunity to announce that the building soon would be replaced.

South Burdick Street

Looking North from West South Street, 1913

This is one of my favorite photographs because it documents so well this part of South Burdick, now the Kalamazoo Mall, and captures many details. Look to the right and see the sign for the Majestic Theater, which points to its location on East South Street. In the distance you can see the Kalamazoo Building and, if you look closely, the Hanselman Building, then newly completed (but taken down 60 years later for the Kalamazoo Center). There are both automobiles and horse-drawn wagons and, crossing the street, a solitary woman on her way somewhere, never knowing she would be captured for posterity wearing the typical outfit of the day — a white linen dress, gloves and a wide-brimmed hat.

National Driving Park

Circa 1880

The appeal of this image taken by an unknown photographer is its rarity. It is a stereograph of the National Driving Park, Kalamazoo’s fairgrounds from 1856 to 1893. Located in the Edison neighborhood, it encompassed 64 acres south of the intersection of Portage and Washington streets. It became the site for both county and state fairs, circuses like those of P.T. Barnum and the Ringling Brothers, and horse racing on a one-mile track that attracted nationally known trotters. During the Civil War, several regiments drilled here before heading to the front.

After 1893, the fairgrounds moved to its current location on Lake Street and was called Recreation Park. The National Driving site became a neighborhood filled with a variety of houses and businesses.

Muggs Celebrating His Birthday

H.J. Cooper Auto Dealership, 1941

Sometimes photographs become favorites because they are beyond belief. This is one of them. Meet Muggs, owned by auto dealer Howard J. Cooper, who purchased the lion cub in 1939 from a circus that came to Kalamazoo. Muggs lived at the dealership, located on the southwest corner of West Michigan and North Park streets. When Muggs was young, Cooper would walk him around downtown on a leash, and at times the lion cub slept on the desks at the dealership. Because Muggs lived in Kalamazoo during World War II, when there was a ban on auto sales to the general public, it never was known if his presence discouraged customers. Wanting Muggs to have more room, Cooper gave him to a zoo in South Bend, Indiana, in 1946.

Kalamazoo Stove Co.

Circa 1935

In the late 1930s, photographer Mamie Austin took this image of the Kalamazoo Stove Co. for a series she did for the Kalamazoo Public Library’s art collection documenting the city. The images were available for circulation, particularly for classroom teachers. Austin worked at and later owned her father’s photographic studio in Kalamazoo and came to the library through the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal program. Her photographs, taken between 1936 and 1943, cover a wide variety of businesses, industries, schools, parks, buildings and other sites in the community. I have many favorites among hers, including this one showing molten metal being poured into a frame at the stove company. You can see Austin’s photographs on the Kalamazoo Public Library’s website.

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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