Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Sense of Place: The Sill Building

The demolition of the Sill Building in downtown Flint, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Amy Peterson)

A postcard of the Flint P. Smith Building, later renamed the Sill Building.

Downtown Flint during flooding in the 1940s.

Memories of another Flint landmark that is no more by Pat McFarlane Young, who has written about Flint bands, the I.M.A., old friends, and etiquette lessons.

I was puzzled by the recent photo of downtown Flint shot from the sixth floor of the Durant Hotel. The skyline didn’t quite look right. Then I realized the tall, narrow building that stood like a sentinel overlooking Saginaw Street near the river was missing. The Sill Building was gone.

The northern end of downtown always seemed more exciting to me than the rest, home to Thompson’s restaurant, the penny arcade and the Greyhound Bus station crowded with interesting characters, most of whom were not waiting for a bus. Across the street were the forbidden Rialto Theatre and an upstairs pool hall where boxer Jock Leslie hung out.

But my most vivid memories are of the Sill Building because my father’s office was on the third floor overlooking Saginaw Street. As a child my mother and I got to “visit” the office and view every parade from the windows of Darby & Son Realtors. Another not so pleasant memory was watching the historic Flint flood waters flow through downtown.

As a teenager I felt important going into the Sill Building. It was like I was marching to the Cheers theme song, headed “where everybody knows your name.” The elevator operator sitting on her little pull down stool greeted me with “Hello Patty, going to see your Dad?” I’m sure she probably guessed I was planning to ask him for a few bucks to go to the Honey Dell for a parfait and then catch the Lewis St. bus home so my mother would think I had walked straight from Central High School. Dad always came through with the parting words, “You don’t need to mention this to Mama.”

He never had to worry about that as Dad was my gentle hero all my life. I didn’t appreciate what my sometimes dour Scottish mother instilled in me until many years later. Their love, and growing up in Flint, made me into a person that could handle tough times and appreciate what really matters. I have faith that my hometown will now do the same.
Verne McFarlane hard at work in the Sill Building.


  1. One of my first real jobs was in the Sill Building, working for Braun and Braun Insurance Agency in the late seventies and early eighties. I'd spend my lunch breaks at the Coney Island, attending St. Matt's 12:13 Mass, or shopping. I registered for fine china at MaGill's. Though I was sad to see the Sill Building come down, the University's expansion downtown has been a positive step. I, too, have hope that the toughness and perseverance of those who love Flint will have enough of an impact to attract business and industry AND will inspire all of our sons and daughters who have left the area to return home.

  2. Hello Elizabeth,We worked together at Braun & Braun.

  3. Where did all the records of the Flint B. Smith building go to when the building was destructed? I am trying to backtrace the history of an organization that originated out of the Flint B. Smith building back in 1928 - the Houghton Lake Syndicate. I am reconstructing the history of LaMona Beach in Houghton Lake Any info is helpful!

  4. Torrey Hammerberg XIIJune 24, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    I saw this here or somewhere else before. I will contact someone who I know who spent time in such an area on Houghton Lake when she was young and fairly recently. Not sure if it was the same beach or a similar set up. When she went up after being absent for decades a few years ago, everybody still knew her! It seems it was some kind of very restrictive association with very complex rules on family succession.

  5. The way that I heard it, it was a subdivision with a common beach access. Over the years there was controversy about too much access polluting Houghton Lake, and it seems like they tried to limit ownership to original owners and direct descendants, and it seems like the agreement has a sunset clause where they no longer can own it or have shared owner access to Houghton Lake. Sounds heavy handed, but these types of problems are common. JWilly might know some more about it. Everyone has a different perspective.

  6. This is why I love Flint Expats. How else would I have found this?

    Mackin and Lavelle represent! Hooverhood!


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at