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GRDadof3

Grand Rapids Urban Renewal in Slides

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I thought this might interest pretty much everyone on this site. The Grand Rapids Historical Society is hosting a slide presentation of photos of the Urban Renewal period in Grand Rapids, from 1955 - 1970. It's believed that this is the most comprehensive collection of images of every building that was affected by urban renewal in GR, in about 50 slides.

http://therapidian.org/historic-slide-show-citys-1960s-urban-renewal-set-thursday-night-premiere-showing-50-never-seen-phot

Might be pretty sad, but is probably important to see what havoc good intentions can create.

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I thought this might interest pretty much everyone on this site. The Grand Rapids Historical Society is hosting a slide presentation of photos of the Urban Renewal period in Grand Rapids, from 1955 - 1970. It's believed that this is the most comprehensive collection of images of every building that was affected by urban renewal in GR, in about 50 slides.

http://therapidian.org/historic-slide-show-citys-1960s-urban-renewal-set-thursday-night-premiere-showing-50-never-seen-phot

Might be pretty sad, but is probably important to see what havoc good intentions can create.

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I would love to go to that event. I have only vague memories of the time before the urban renewal; what I mostly remember is the northern half of downtown looking like Berlin in 1945.

It is incredible that the most vital part of downtown Grand Rapids is the collection of late 19th century and early 20th century, non-urban renewed buildings in Heartside and environs, while the area between Lyon and Michigan is basically a ghost town after working hours.

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I thought this might interest pretty much everyone on this site. The Grand Rapids Historical Society is hosting a slide presentation of photos of the Urban Renewal period in Grand Rapids, from 1955 - 1970. It's believed that this is the most comprehensive collection of images of every building that was affected by urban renewal in GR, in about 50 slides.

http://therapidian.org/historic-slide-show-citys-1960s-urban-renewal-set-thursday-night-premiere-showing-50-never-seen-phot

Might be pretty sad, but is probably important to see what havoc good intentions can create.

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In the hours just before the slide show begins the Holiday Inn across the street is having its Grand Opening open house, so you might want to make it a double-header. ...

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As expected, this was an interesting presentation. Donald Bratt has a fun sense of humor and good timing. He'd put up a new image, and the (mostly boomer + aged) crowd would murmur in recognition.

Someone asked if he'd be turning the slides into a book, and he answered, "at my age, it's hard enough to get here." He has a point (he's 77); I've done some media outreach to see about getting his presentation documented.

The photos of Old City Hall were simply amazing.

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As expected, this was an interesting presentation. Donald Bratt has a fun sense of humor and good timing. He'd put up a new image, and the (mostly boomer + aged) crowd would murmur in recognition.

Someone asked if he'd be turning the slides into a book, and he answered, "at my age, it's hard enough to get here." He has a point (he's 77); I've done some media outreach to see about getting his presentation documented.

The photos of Old City Hall were simply amazing.

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His recurring theme of "parking lot" made me wonder if he doesn't lurk on here...

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I attended as well. I had never seen such a comprehensive collection of photos of that area before urban renewal.

As Raildudes said, there were reasons for it. Misguided, perhaps, but it seemed to make sense at the time. I'm still not sure we've (collectively, not just UPers) learned our lessons though, judging by the poor quality of urban infill built in recent years. The JW Marriott and the GRAM are beautiful buildings, but both are pretty hostile to the urban environment.

Now that I think about it, tearing all this stuff down would have been less of a shame if it were replaced with better, more worthy structures. But they weren't. More efficient, yes, but less human.

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Definitely a great presentation. A woman from the GRHS said they're going to give them all to the library, but getting them into digital form is something they just don't have the manpower to do. She did say that she thought the library would certainly welcome volunteers to do it. Apparently there are even more that weren't shown last night (4x more or so?)

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I enjoyed the presentation.

My family came to Grand Rapids in the early eighties, so all of these images and stories were completely new.

The crowd, though, was a little silly.

Too much righteous indignation for my Gen Y stomach.

How many of these attendees live in the suburbs and shop in malls?

Do they realize there are stores and restaurants downtown that need their business today?

Sure, they are sad when they see pictures of Monroe light-up in full glory.

But I blame them for its demise as well.

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Some 1500 slides in total, I think I heard.

One thing I've been pondering..

Assuming that the same volunteer effort were to arise as did when people tried to restore the city hall.. and that full architectural plans still exist for it.. would people welcome a reconstruction of the old city hall? Or would it be seen as something which should be left as a memory to an ageing generation?

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Some 1500 slides in total, I think I heard.

One thing I've been pondering..

Assuming that the same volunteer effort were to arise as did when people tried to restore the city hall.. and that full architectural plans still exist for it.. would people welcome a reconstruction of the old city hall? Or would it be seen as something which should be left as a memory to an ageing generation?

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How many of these attendees live in the suburbs and shop in malls?

Do they realize there are stores and restaurants downtown that need their business today?

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Volunteering to rebuild city hall would be a lot more expensive than offering to repaint the old one, or re-do the plumbing. Actually, all of those volunteers back then may have been sitting around a barber shop or a bar throwing out free service, before they actually saw the Millions of dollars it would have taken.

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Volunteering to rebuild city hall would be a lot more expensive than offering to repaint the old one, or re-do the plumbing. Actually, all of those volunteers back then may have been sitting around a barber shop or a bar throwing out free service, before they actually saw the Millions of dollars it would have taken.

I'd guess a brand new building like that would be $100 Million +, comparing it to the similarly very ornate dorms under construction at UofM right now. And what would reside in it?

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The crowd, though, was a little silly.

Too much righteous indignation for my Gen Y stomach.

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Finding some good stuff in the "GR Then & Now" thread.

http://www.grpl.org/photocoll?cat=onclick&keynum=340

Not to defend the generations ahead of us, but you guys have to realize what was going on back then.

The indoor mall was introduced, and they were sleak and new,

The jet age arrived, and influenced everything from cars (big gull wings) to clothes, to architecture, to movies, to everything,

People thought that we were never going to go back to the old, that we would be in flying cars and personal rocket jet packs, :rofl:

Suburbs were strarting to take off, promising new frontiers of safe neighborhoods,

The civil rights movement and unrest in the inner city began,

If you look at those photos of the ugly panellings on the older buildings, they look strangely like Woodland Mall :huh:, for a reason. The Italianate architecture downtown that we so love was associated with crime, dirt, old, bad!!! I'm with Nitro, at least they had the foresight to just cover it up and hope people would come back to their senses.

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More treasure.

Pics down Monroe (Center), before and during the ped mall era

What I'm looking for is the ironic magazine ad (for aluminum?) hawking the many benefits of "modernizing" one's "outdated" downtown buildings. Pretty sure it was here on UP.

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It is all in your expectations I guess. Having lived through the era, I was half afraid that it might turn into an angry mob of aging preservationists. Mr. Bratt was understandably passionate but otherwise I thought the crowd was pretty mild.

I never heard about the free renovations either. It could have been just casual barbershop talk as GRDAD suggested, or a story that grew over the years. On the other hand the Grand Rapids Press was one of the stronger advocates of urban renewal as well as one of its major benefactors, so there was not as I recall always a free flow of information about it in their pages. As best as I remember how these federally funded urban renewel projects worked, a mapped area was designated to be renewed then everything within its borders was demolished without exception. While there might be some gerrymandering along the borders, properties within the designated area could not be surgically excluded. Once the land was cleared it could then be sold to developers for private businesses for very low prices as an incentive for redevelopment. Think, Grand Rapids Press, Old Kent Bank, Union Bank, Michigan Consolidated Gas, and Michigan Title Co.. Today, of course, we still give incentives for redevelopement but they are more subtle then clear-cutting large area. One thing that was interesting in the renewal area was that there was no retail. This was partly because mixed use was unfashionable in planning circles in the fifties and partly because the retailers along what is now Monroe Center did not want competition and did not themselves desire new retail buildings (at least not downtown.)

By the time the city hall was torn down in 1969 I was in my early twenties and had done business in all three of those buildings. I cannot remember any organized effort to save either the police department building or the county building and by the time there was any kind of effort to save city hall, which was the last of the buildings in the urban renewal area, the game was just about up. At the time I was indifferent to saving them myself, probably largely for the reason that Raildudes Dad mentioned, the places – particularly city hall – were dumps. What once had been public areas had been cheaply partitioned off into offices and the buildings had been poorly maintained for decades. I imagine the lack of maintenance started during the depression then WW II due to lack of funds and shortages and then continued into the fifties due to benign neglect in anticipation of the buildings being torn down. I do not think for most people there was any more passion for saving those buildings than there would be today for saving an old wing of Butterworth Hospital if it were scheduled to be replaced by a shiny new hospital building, especially if it involved bringing in big cranes to do it.

All true. Remember, this all was set into motion in the mid-fifties not long after the end of WW II. After the war most people were not all that enthusiastic about preserving relics of the past, particular European style architecture and streetscapes. Big city Sunday newspapers of the time along with popular picture magazines like Look and Life were often filled with artists renderings of the cities of tomorrow, and those renderings when they included people at all, showed strong well groomed handsome people walking on tree lined boulevards or driving their modernistic cars down wide streets. I never saw a rendering with a line of people waiting at a mission or lying in a doorway. The Grand Rapids Press printed renderings like that too that showed what our urban renewal area would look like when it was all done and that was the world we wanted to live in too.

What we did not realize at the time was that those wide open plazas and streets would be such wastelands for people, whether they were handsome and strong or not.

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Thanks for the walk through time walker. This summed up something I was going to say in response to Paramaribo's response. Many of the people in the audience gasped in horror at some of the mass clearing that went on, but urban renewal was so popular back then to "save" downtowns that it swept the nation. Many well-meaning people, who were probably in the audience, probably nodded their heads in agreement back then that the 40 acre area in downtown Grand Rapids had to go, and it was the only way to "save" downtown from becoming completely deserted. To this day, I'm not sure if it was wrong-headed policy or not. Can anyone think of a city that was not part of the federal program? That has its downtown almost completely intact from pre-1950's?

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When this thread opened up, I figured it would bring out an outpouring of nostalgia for the old downtown & city hall & etc.; I wasn't in town to attend the slide show, but more than anything else it seems to have reminded us of the fairly reasonable logic behind the urban renewal program (With the exception of the Gerald Ford Federal Building. There is no justification for that awful structure).

What's still frustrating for me after all this, isn't so much that the 40-acre plaza was created, but it left us with very little to improve upon. The blank walls facing the sidewalks on Monroe and Lyon pretty much have to stay that way, unless we're willing to design and pay for another radical alteration (unless anyone has some thoughts on improving those two corridors, please share).

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About Old City Hall:

Not really looking at the logistics, it's obvious without even looking into it that it would never happen. Just assuming that hypothetically there were funds and a purpose for it, would reconstruction be welcomed or would people want it to be left a memory?

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When this thread opened up, I figured it would bring out an outpouring of nostalgia for the old downtown & city hall & etc.; I wasn't in town to attend the slide show, but more than anything else it seems to have reminded us of the fairly reasonable logic behind the urban renewal program (With the exception of the Gerald Ford Federal Building. There is no justification for that awful structure).

What's still frustrating for me after all this, isn't so much that the 40-acre plaza was created, but it left us with very little to improve upon. The blank walls facing the sidewalks on Monroe and Lyon pretty much have to stay that way, unless we're willing to design and pay for another radical alteration (unless anyone has some thoughts on improving those two corridors, please share).

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