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Email: david@maxamarchitecture.com

Maxam Architecture

557 Crescent NE

Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Saving Mid-Mod GR

March 11, 2011

 

 

153 Lafayette Avenue was built in the early 1960's as the business men and women of Grand Rapids walked around dressed like characters from Mad Men. Depending on who you ask, the building is either an abomination, or a Mid-Century Modern diamond in the rough. It has certainly seen better days. It's suffering from leaks, broken glass, mold, and a recent fire in the lower level.  However, at a recent meeting of the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission, we voted that the building was contributing to the Heritage Hill Historic District, based on the criteria that it "Embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values...."

Its still not a sure thing that this building will be saved, but its unique retro charm just might be it's salvation. The definitively modern setback from the street creates a courtyard behind it's decorative concrete block walls.  It could use some cleanup and pruning, but restored it would make a great space that anyone would be lucky to have outside their office. The groovy glass mosaic tile pattern with orange accents on the facade is a theme carried through into many of the Saint Mary's buildings in the area. The lobby of the former nurses lodge building (now replaced by the new Neuroscience building) also featured a similar mosaic tile pattern.  The semi-translucent glass panels filter the incoming sunlight, acting as sunshades that limit the solar heat gain in a way that any modern green building would be proud to sport.

Saint Mary's is looming large around the building, and the Preservation Commission's demolition criteria states if "The resource [building] is a deterrent to a major improvement program that will be substantial benefit to the community,"  then it still could be torn down to make way for new development.  The building is at that age where it is most at risk. It's old enough to be in bad condition and out of style, but not quite yet old enough to be seen as historic by most of the public.  What sort of development 'of substantial benefit to the community' that might allow this building to demolished remains to be seen, but if if the Lafayette Avenue Medical Building can be restored and survive the decade, Heritage Hill will have a mid-modern gem.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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