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Lost Buildings of Kalamazoo

The old Kalamazoo Public Library used to sit on the corner of South and Rose streets. Courtesy of WMU Archives and Regional History Collections and the Kalamazoo Valley Museum
Historian picks lost buildings worth remembering

In 1981, while working at the Kalamazoo Public Museum, I created a program called “Lost Kalamazoo” that described a variety of local buildings that were once part of this city. This program formed the nucleus of the 2001 book Kalamazoo Lost and Found, which I co-authored with Pamela Hall O’Connor. It was published by the Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Commission and is still available for sale. The book features not only local buildings that were lost, but also buildings that have been preserved and reused and new buildings that are good additions to our built environment.

Here are five of the many lost buildings of Kalamazoo that I admire:

Kalamazoo Public Library

Southeast corner of South and Rose streets

The Kalamazoo Public Library began as a library for the Kalamazoo Public Schools in 1860, and opened to the public 12 years later. In 1893, a structure funded by Dr. Edwin and Cynthia Wendover VanDeusen opened, replacing the library’s two different downtown locations. The VanDeusens gave close to $70,000 for both the building and the site they chose, at the corner of Rose and South streets. It was the largest philanthropic gift for the library at that time. There was no grand opening for this Romanesque building, which is what the VanDeusens wanted, although they did request that the reading room be open on Sundays for those who worked six days a week. The building came down in 1958 to make way for a newer building, completed the next year, and that building underwent a major remodeling in 1996 and 1997 to become what is the current library.

Academy of Music

East side of South Rose Street, between West Michigan Avenue and West South Street

By the 1880s, Kalamazoo had grown into a prosperous community, which led to calls for a proper public opera house to hold a variety of events. Citizens formed a company that raised funds and chose a Chicago architect named Dankmar Adler to design the building. When it opened in May 1882, much information could be found in the newspaper describing its cherry woodwork, frescoed ceiling and velvet-embossed walls. Seating 1,500, it held a variety of performances and events. In 1916, the venue became a vaudeville and movie house called the Regent. A fire in 1930 destroyed much of the building, except for the front portion. That portion held offices until 1967, when it came down to make way for the Industrial State Bank (ISB) Building, now the Comerica Bank Building.

Temple B’nai Israel

South side of East South Street, east of the Kalamazoo Mall

Completed in1875, this was not only the first building for Temple B’nai Israel, located on East South Street just past South Burdick, home for Kalamazoo’s earlyJewish residents, but also the first synagogue in Michigan. Although there are no interior photographs, the newspaper gave detailed information on the rooms and how they were decorated. By 1910, Temple B’nai Israel moved to a new home on South Park Street and is now located on Grand Prairie Avenue. The original Temple, hidden by another building in front, remained until its demolition in 1976 to make way for a parking ramp. The building is featured on the cover of the book Kalamazoo Lost and Found.

Severens House

East side of Thompson Street

One photograph remains of this house, built in 1871 for lawyer and later judge Henry Severens, his wife, Sarah, and their family. The house, which was located on the east side of Thompson Street, in the center of the Kalamazoo College campus, was a Second Empire structure with a tower covered by a mansard roof. The house had long, narrow windows and tracery on its gables that gave the structure some texture. Lemuel D. Grosvenor designed this residence as well as some other local houses and the Lawrence and Chapin Ironworks, a building on the northwest corner of North Rose and West Water streets. The Severens House, owned by only two different families, came down in the early 1960s to make way for a parking lot.

Michigan Female Seminary

Southeast corner of Gull Road and Riverview Drive

My interest in lost buildings started with this structure, as its name and its size fascinated me. Michigan’s Presbyterian Church supported this private secondary school for young women from across the Midwest. It opened in 1867 and held classes in a variety of subjects, in addition to requiring regular exercise, church attendance and daily chores of its students. An addition to the original building in 1892 doubled its size. College-level classes were added, but a lack of students and money led to the seminary closing in 1907. The buildings came down in the 1930s. Some of their materials were repurposed for the original St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which acquired part of the seminary land and is still there today.

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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