Sunday, January 26, 2014

Flint Photos: Milner Arcade

Thomas Wirt (a.k.a. Jar With Most) is a photographer who captured the essence of Flint starting way back in the seventies. Here's a 1977 view of the corner of South Saginaw and First Street from the parking structure of Genesee Towers. Smith-Bridgman's looms in the background to the right, behind a wall of bricks. The Book Stall is visible in the lower right corner. For more of Wirt's photos, go here.

A close-up of Milner Arcade by photographer Gordon LaVere shortly before demolition.

A collection of Model B Buicks when in front of Milner Arcade in 1904, before it got a faux Tudor facelift, when Billy Durant took over the company. (Photo via Kevin Kirbitz)

The first Flint Buick returns to Vehicle City on July 12, 1904, after a test drive to Detroit with engineer Walter Marr (left) and Tom Buick, son of founder David Buick, behind the wheel. Milner Arcade, a few schoolboys, and the horse and buggy the Buick would replace are in the background. (Photo via Kevin Kirbitz)

Before you enjoy the warm, nostalgic glow too much, remember that this is Flint, and parking lots must be created. (Photo by Kevin Kirbitz)

Smith-Bridgman's and Milner Arcade face the wrecking ball. The Mott Foundation Building survives. (Photo by Kevin Kirbitz)

A more recent photo of South Saginaw near First Street, with the ghostly, enshrouded statue of G.M. founder Billy Durant awaiting its unveiling. And, of course, a parking lot in the background. (Photo via @RebeccaFedewa)

The statue of David Buick at its unveiling in front of the parking lot once home to Smith-Bridgman's and Milner Arcade. The recently demolished Genesee Towers is visible in the top right corner. 

A comment from GaryG offers some perspective on the fate of the buildings that once defined South Saginaw Street near First Street in Flint:
I’ll not forget the day these demolition photographs were taken. I was driving down Court street early that Sunday morning, glanced north, and noticed the crane in the middle of Saginaw street. It could mean only one thing; after starting from the river and tearing down everything in sight between Saginaw and Harrison streets for the proposed Water Street Pavilion and its giant surface parking lot, the demolition crew had finally gotten to the Smith-Bridgman building.

There was a group of preservationists, of which I was one, that had been trying hard to save the historic facades on this block. I had advocated for a modified version of a scheme used in other cities, where the building faces were kept, while new structures were constructed behind them. In this case, the plan would be to salvage the front thirty or so feet of all of the buildings on this block, essentially converting them into shallow lease spaces, similar in depth to the Milner Arcade building, which would also be saved. But it was just one of many creative ideas rejected by the powers that were, even though they would have still gotten their parking lot.

Few people seemed to know how magnificent the original front elevation of the Smith-Bridgeman building, in particular, had been, since acres of teal colored sheet metal had been placed over it decades before. It made sense that the contractors were demolishing the façade first, early on a Sunday morning, so as to reduce the chance that too many people might discover what they were losing. I turned and drove up to the site in time to find that the metal had been stripped away to indeed reveal what I had longed to save: the original, finely proportioned, cut stone and brick façade, none the worse for wear, with every wood framed plate glass window intact, each still complete with their wooden venetian blinds. I was struck by how pleasingly gracious and beautiful it was, a symbol of a more discerning time.

The shadows are a testament that it was late in the day when these pictures were taken; only hours after Flint’s finest architectural facade poignantly succumbed to yet another case of unmitigated short-sightedness. 

5 comments:

  1. These are great photos, and they make me sad. That arcade and the little Book Stall were so sweet. Too bad we lost those little niches of architectural charm. I know, I know, life goes on, but still…charm and quirky architectural nooks and crannies, where we might feel happy just by walking by or through, are hard to come by.

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  2. Anyone know anything more about the tunnels under the sidewalk in the basement of the Milner Arcade? There were transparent blocks in the sidewalk to let light in, but patching covered them up for the most part. I believe that part of Hatfield's Record Shop's back room was under the sidewalk, but I don't know how far back it went. There had been another stairwell at the other end of the Milner Arcade. Speaking of outside stairwells, there was one next to Rube's Bar when it was on the Flushing Road side.

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  3. Everything has a downside. Someone on the Facebook Page compared the Milner Arcade to the Nicklels Arcade in Ann Arbor. The first time I ever was in that arcade around 1970, I ate in an old restaurant whose space I believe was eventually renovated for a McDonalds. In the dingy restroom, which had no functioning light, there was a spoon and a book of matches on the floor where someone had been shooting up heroin. The image still lingers in my mind, one of my first impressions of Ann Arbor, and not a good one.

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  4. I’ll not forget the day these demolition photographs were taken. I was driving down Court street early that Sunday morning, glanced north, and noticed the crane in the middle of Saginaw street. It could mean only one thing; after starting from the river and tearing down everything in sight between Saginaw and Harrison streets for the proposed Water Street Pavilion and its giant surface parking lot, the demolition crew had finally gotten to the Smith-Bridgeman’s building.

    There was a group of preservationists, of which I was one, that had been trying hard to save the historic facades on this block. I had advocated for a modified version of a scheme used in other cities, where the building faces were kept, while new structures were constructed behind them. In this case, the plan would be to salvage the front thirty or so feet of all of the buildings on this block, essentially converting them into shallow lease spaces, similar in depth to the Milner Arcade building, which would also be saved. But it was just one of many creative ideas rejected by the powers that were, even though they would have still gotten their parking lot.

    Few people seemed to know how magnificent the original front elevation of the Smith-Bridgeman’s building, in particular, had been, since acres of teal colored sheet metal had been placed over it decades before. It made sense that the contractors were demolishing the façade first, early on a Sunday morning, so as to reduce the chance that too many people might discover what they were losing. I turned and drove up to the site in time to find that the metal had been stripped away to indeed reveal what I had longed to save: the original, finely proportioned, cut stone and brick façade, none the worse for wear, with every wood framed plate glass window intact, each still complete with their wooden venetian blinds. I was struck by how pleasingly gracious and beautiful it was, a symbol of a more discerning time.

    The shadows are a testament that it was late in the day when these pictures were taken; only hours after Flint’s finest architectural facade poignantly succumbed to yet another case of unmitigated short-sightedness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment, GaryG. It's good to know more of the history and learn about the efforts of people to preserve these buildings. Feel free to add any more details. I really appreciate it.

      I've tried to find any photos of the original facade of Smith-B's on the web but come up empty.

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