WMU News

Reception highlights historical architecture book

Nov. 19, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Just hours before her surprise 1896 New Year's Eve wedding to Dr. Augustus Crane, young minister and prominent Kalamazoo resident Caroline Bartlett took photos in her well-decorated Sill Terrace apartment.

Today, the picture at Sill Terrace is very different. The historic building remains at the corner of Rose and Lovell streets where one of its more prominent occupants is a street-level lingerie store.

That's just one of the things readers will discover in "Kalamazoo: Lost & Found," a new architecture book that will be the focus of a special book-signing and reception from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 29, in the Meader Rare Book Room of Western Michigan University's Waldo Library.

Authors Lynn Smith Houghton and Pamela Hall O'Connor will join their editor, Maria Perez-Stable, and local photographer John Lacko in presenting their work. It is the first major book on Kalamazoo architecture to be printed since the early 1980s.

Published by the Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Commission, the first half of the book focuses on buildings that have been torn down. But unlike similar books about Boston, Chicago and New York, there is a second half that celebrates historic buildings that are still standing.

"I hope that when someone reads this book, they'll think about how a community has changed," says Houghton, a local historian and WMU alumna. "Certainly it never ceases to amaze me that so many of these buildings gave way to parking lots.

O'Connor, a preservationist, wants readers to gain a special "sense of place" from the book.

"This has been the most wonderful education I could ever hope to have," she says. "It has firmly attached me to my community, and if other people can get the same feeling, I'll consider my job well-done."

The "job" has lasted seven years. Houghton and O'Connor teamed up in 1994 to research, write and raise money for the book. And before settling on the book's 500 photos -- most of which have never been published before -- the two sifted through more than 100,000 local pictures and negatives, including thousands in the WMU Archives & Regional History Collections.

In doing so, the authors became the first to examine carefully 26,000 negatives in the archives' Ward Morgan Collection. The images document Kalamazoo life from the 1930s to the 1980s and were given to WMU by a local commercial photographer.

"As a staff we haven't had time to look at each of the 26,000 negatives," says Sharon Carlson, director of the WMU archives. "It's all very exciting when you see the images in the book, and just realizing that there are thousands of other images like them in our archives means there are many more books and articles to be written."

The book also examines how some new businesses help preserve the past.

"The American mentality of 'knock it down, build it bigger, build it better' is slowly changing," says Perez-Stable who edited the book and heads Waldo Library's central reference desk. "Communities are learning that it isn't always necessary."

One example is the Oaklands, a 1869 Italianate villa on West Michigan Avenue that once housed some of Kalamazoo's most elite families. Today it is part of WMU and is used for University receptions and small meetings. The book also features the former Grace Reformed Church now occupied by Diekema/Hamann/Architects, and a former gas station that now is the Water Street Coffee Joint.

"We have maintained and restored a number of places in Kalamazoo," says O'Connor, who chairs the city's Historic Preservation Commission. "Hopefully readers will think differently about what we still have and gain a greater appreciation for it."

Because the book was completely funded before it was published, money from sales will go directly to funding local historic preservation projects, O'Connor says. She and Houghton tapped the city of Kalamazoo, local organizations, businesses and individuals for the $100,000 needed to underwrite the project.

Hardback copies are $46.95, and soft cover copies are $34.95. The book is available at the Heritage Company, Athena Book Shop, John Rollins, Michigan News Agency, Norman Camera, Golden Bough Books, Wild Goose Chase and the Kalamazoo College bookstore.

For more information about the book, contact Lynn Smith Houghton at (616) 381-2006 or Pamela Hall O'Connor at (616) 342-4608. For more information about the archives collection at WMU, contact Sharon Carlson at (616) 387-8490.

Media contact: Gail H. Towns, 616 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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