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LA Dave

Why no tall buildings in GR until the Amway Plaza?

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After the McKay Tower was completed around 1925 (the top 13 or so stories having been added to the existing lower floors), no buildings in GR exceeded 12 or 13 stories until the Amway Plaza Hotel was completed in 1981. Why? In Battle Creek, Lansing, Jackson and other mid-size Michigan cities, taller buildings were built during the 1920s and early 1930s. Why not in Grand Rapids?

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I have nothing to back this up with but if I had to guess I would say it was a probably a combination of the Depression, decline of the furniture industry, and suburbanization. Plus Grand Rapids, it seems, was more of a working mans city. I doubt there was a large amount of high finance businesses, the types that would require large office spaces. I wouldn't be surprised if the Dutch reformed mentality of being conservative with money and resources also played a part.

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I have nothing but my failing memory to back this up but I seem to recall there was a height restriction of ten stories that was in place through-out the fifties and sixties. Does anybody remember a Grand Rapids city planner from that era named John Paul Jones. His name keeps bubbling up in my mind as I think about this. If I am remembering right (and I might not be) he had a theory that Grand Rapids was a prarie town that shouldn't have tall buildings. I don't think a restriction would have been all his doing though.

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I have nothing but my failing memory to back this up but I seem to recall there was a height restriction of ten stories that was in place through-out the fifties and sixties. Does anybody remember a Grand Rapids city planner from that era named John Paul Jones. His name keeps bubbling up in my mind as I think about this. If I am remembering right (and I might not be) he had a theory that Grand Rapids was a prarie town that shouldn't have tall buildings. I don't think a restriction would have been all his doing though.

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I have nothing to back this up with but if I had to guess I would say it was a probably a combination of the Depression, decline of the furniture industry, and suburbanization. Plus Grand Rapids, it seems, was more of a working mans city. I doubt there was a large amount of high finance businesses, the types that would require large office spaces.

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I have nothing but my failing memory to back this up but I seem to recall there was a height restriction of ten stories that was in place through-out the fifties and sixties. Does anybody remember a Grand Rapids city planner from that era named John Paul Jones. His name keeps bubbling up in my mind as I think about this. If I am remembering right (and I might not be) he had a theory that Grand Rapids was a prarie town that shouldn't have tall buildings. I don't think a restriction would have been all his doing though.

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How would that have been different than any of the other even smaller and ess developed cities (Lansing, Battle Creek, etc...) mentioned with taller towers, at the time?

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Perhaps Jones was to busy touring with Zep to really think through the height restrictions?

3779.jpg

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Perhaps Jones was to busy touring with Zep to really think through the height restrictions?

3779.jpg

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I'm guessing it was economics. Byron Kluesing proposed his "Rainbow Towers in 1974 but couldn't get financing IIRC. Couldn't find anything about the project with my friend "google" :(

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Just the way it worked out. In the late twenties there was a plan for a 38 storey office tower where the Amway stands now - from renderings, it would have been an impressive building. As expected, the depression killed it. But, GR was always more industrious than even the other mid sized cities in the State. That and the fact that the population was slightly more spread out along the river and up until about 1920's even downtown Grandville was giving GR a decent run for its money.

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Funny you should mention how spread out the city is. Has anyone else ever noticed how Grand Rapids' street grid doesn't extend that far from the core? Compare smaller cities like Muskegon and Holland the Grand Rapids on Google Earth and you'll see our core grid seems pretty small. It might be larger than those cities', but it's not proportionally larger for our size.

Edit for clarification: I'm referring to how small the grid is before the streets become non-gridded suburban streets, not the physical size of the urban area.

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Funny you should mention how spread out the city is. Has anyone else ever noticed how Grand Rapids' street grid doesn't extend that far from the core? Compare smaller cities like Muskegon and Holland the Grand Rapids on Google Earth and you'll see our core grid seems pretty small. It might be larger than those cities', but it's not proportionally larger for our size.

Edit for clarification: I'm referring to how small the grid is before the streets become non-gridded suburban streets, not the physical size of the urban area.

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As far as I know almost the whole county is designed around Grand Rapids, most counties don't do 100th street and so on and so forth.

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As far as I know almost the whole county is designed around Grand Rapids, most counties don't do 100th street and so on and so forth.

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Many neighboring counties use some sort of numbering system for their roads as well. The only difference I see is that they didn't use a busy intersection near the center of the largest city as the starting point like Kent County did.

This is getting a bit off topic, but since it was brought up.....

In Kent County, the center of the numbering system is Division and Fulton. South of downtown, numbered streets run east-west and increase by 8 for every mile. This means that 100th St is 12.5 miles south of Fulton (100/8). The lowest numbered street to use this system is 26th St, perhaps to avoid confusion with 1st - 12th Streets on the NW side, which don't follow the system and seem to be unrelated except that they are in order. North of downtown are the mile roads, which increase, not surprisingly, 1 per mile. However, many people don't realize that these streets are actually an extra half mile from the center. For example, 3 Mile Rd is actually 3.5 miles north of Fulton. This is because Fulton doesn't actually fit on the county grid, it's half way between Michigan and Wealthy which do fit the grid.

Even further off topic, but just in case anyone wanted to know, streets generally run east-west in Kent County, while avenues run north-south. Addresses increase 800 per mile from the intersection of Division and Fulton throughout most of the county, except for within the city limits of the smaller outlying towns like Rockford, Cedar Springs, Sparta, Lowell, and Caledonia. Even numbered addresses are on the south and east side of the road, odd numbers are on the north and west.

Why is this useful??? Well, lets say you were looking for, say, the Alpine Meijer and had only the street address (2425 Alpine Ave NW). Since it is an avenue, it runs N/S, and since it is an odd address, it is on the west side of the road. It is just over 3 miles north of Fulton St (2425/800), and is almost 1/2 mile south of 3 Mile Rd, which would be the 2800 line (3.5*800). Or, let's say you were at Division and Fulton and needed to get to Woodland Mall (3195 28th St SE). You would go 3.5 miles south to 28th St (28/8), then 4 miles east (3195/800). The mall is on the left (north) side of the road.

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LA Dave,

You actually touch on a pretty interesting story that I heard when touring Frank McKay's house on the Heritage Hill tour. McKay had so much political "clout", along with a big stick, that he basically made it impossible to build higher than McKay Tower as he didn't want anyone to outdo him. I heard there are a lot of skeletons in McKay's closet including a murder (I believe it was in the tower) that "went unsolved".

There is some pretty fascinating history here. If anyone knows all of the details, please share (the Heritage Hill association or Gordon Olsen may have some good info on this subject).

Also, the Furniture building that would have been on the site of the Welsh Auditorium was proposed to be 24 or 28 stories, but the depression and the shifting of the residential furniture design world changed that. But McKay also may have had a thing to say about it being built. ;)

Interesting little snippet about Frank McKay from a Gerald R. Ford biography:

From posh offices in an eponymous building that was then the tallest in Grand Rapids, McKay ruled a political fiefdom built on real estate, banking, and insurance. He exerted an iron-fisted control over virtually every patronage job at every level of government in Michigan

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