the north face boots sale Interactive slides show downtown Grand Rapids develop before your eyes
The streets where the people of Grand Rapids once shopped for clothes, took music lessons, visited the dentist, ate dinner and watched movies were transformed decades ago into a center of banking and government.
Between 1962 and 1969, more than 120 buildings downtown died at the hands of wrecking crews; their remains were dumped into Riverside Park as infill. In their place rose taller, modern structures that city leaders hoped would help Grand Rapids shed it pioneer era days and regain its status as the state’s ‘second city.’
Over the next few weeks, MLive and The Grand Rapids Press will showcase this history by exploring the scope, scale and legacy of downtown urban renewal through interviews, photos, videos and a unique resurrection of our archive material, all packaged in a multi part series online and in print.
Below is a sampling of historic and modern images shot from the same vantage point that have been uploaded into a series of interactive before and after slides.
Hold your cursor over the photo, and swipe left and right to see the changes.
Bratt’s House attacked by downtown wreckers
Downtown wreckers demolish Bratt’s House at 33 Ottawa Ave. NW in the mid 1960s. The half demolished office and apartment building in the ‘before’ photo on the right stood about where the front lawn of the current Gerald R. Ford Federal Building next to Calder Plaza is today. It was once home to Hero D. Bratt, a heating equipment manufacturer’s rep known locally for extensive photography of the changing landscape of downtown Grand Rapids during urban renewal. (Historic photo: Grand Rapids Public Library, Hero Bratt Collection MLive photo: Cory Morse)
With the exception of Immanuel Lutheran Church on the right, almost nothing of the old Michigan Street hill streetscape remains today. Both and photos are shot looking east up the hill from the intersection of Monroe Ave. NW in downtown Grand Rapids. MLive reporter Garret Ellison is walking across the street in the modern shot recreation of a popular city archives photo from the 1920s.
In the historic image, the castle like Grand Rapids Brewing Co. facility and smokestack dominates a street filled with a diverse mix of restaurants, retail stores and hotel buildings mostly constructed during a building boom in the 1880s and 1890s. Across the street from the church, on the north side, is the old Michigan National Guard Armory, torn down in the mid 1960s for construction of the I 196 freeway ramps at Ottawa Ionia Avenues. Final demolition of the brewery occurred in 1967.
In the modern image, the development of the city Medical Mile can be seen, with the Michigan State University Secchia Center dominating the streetscape to the left, and the tall, blue circular Helen DeVos Children Hospital behind the church steeple to the right. In the middle ground, the State of Michigan office building has replaced the old brewery. In the foreground, the north face of the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building can be seen on the right, and the former Grand Rapids Press headquarters building, since sold to MSU and slated for demolition, obscured by trees on the left. (Historic photo: Grand Rapids City Archives MLive photo: Cory Morse)
From the vantage point of Crescent Park at the corner of Crescent St. and Bostwick Ave. NE, the changing wrought by downtown urban renewal can be seen in this historic photo from early 1965.
In the foreground, Crescent Street, which presently ends at Ionia Ave. NW, once ran all the way to the Grand River. It passed the old red brick Kent County courthouse and administration building, which opened in 1892 and was demolished in 1967. To the left of the courthouse tower, the steel grid of the Old Kent Bank Trust Co. building (now Fifth Third Center) can be seen rising across the street from the old Grand Rapids City Hall.
The commercial bank building was completed in 1965 and city hall would be torn down in 1969. In the modern photo, the new 13 story Kent County Courthouse building, constructed in 2001, occupies the former city hall site. To the right is the 11 story former Union Bank building, finished at 200 Ottawa Ave NW in 1967 and now called the Chase Building. (Historic photo: Grand Rapids Public Museum MLive photo: Cory Morse)
Viewed from the West Side in this 1962 or 1963 photo, stores facing west along the east side of Lower Monroe Ave. can be seen following the demolition of everything between the street and the river between Bridge Street and the Welsh Civic Auditorium on Lyon Street NW.
Where the DeVos Place Convention Center now stands was once a maze of alley like streets wound between a row of riverfront factories like Bissell Carpet Sweepers and Leitelt Iron Works. Demolitions in the area began in Oct. 1962. The factories and storefronts were replaced by the Hall of Justice and Grand Rapids Police Dept. headquarters, which opened in 1966 and were in turn demolished in 2002 to make way for the new convention center. (Historic photo: Grand Rapids Public Library, Hero Bratt Collection MLive photo: Cory Morse)
It was this stretch of Monroe Avenue NW, then called Monroe, that bedeviled city leaders in the 1950s. The street was considered to be the epicenter of falling property values downtown and business interests downtown were keen to replace what they considered a blighted area with a new civic center complex.
This 1950s photo shows the street before urban renewal wreckers moved into the area in 1962. The original Wurzburgs department store was replaced by the Calder Plaza Building on the street east side. Wreckers would begin tearing down the stores and restaurants on the west side of the street in 1962. Behind them, is the row of factories that once occupied the riverfront.
In the modern photo, the Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. building, erected during urban renewal and now part of Fifth Third Center, occupies the lower right corner. Across the street is the DeVos Performance Hall and DeVos Place Convention Center.
Two survivors of the 1960s demolitions can be seen in the and photos: On the lower left corner is the Windquest Building, a former saving loan bank at 201 Monroe Ave NW. In the upper right corner, Olds Manor, formerly known as the Rowe Hotel, still stands; although it has been vacant for many years. The property is today owned by the DeVos family. (Historic photo: Grand Rapids Public Library, Hero Bratt Collection MLive photo: Emily Rose Bennett)