Ann Arbor / Washtenaw County - History

Building Matters: Kahn Arbor

Albert Kahn is one of the most famous and prolific architects ever to be based out of Detroit.

Known internationally for his radically modernizing approach to industrial architecture, Kahn’s Ann Arbor buildings continue to define the city almost a century after they were built.

Learn about some of his well-known (and not so well-known) Ann Arbor buildings. If you’re already a Kahn fan, feel free to bring up your own.

Jessica A.S. Letaw enjoys working on, thinking over, and telling stories about architecture. Her past day jobs included design/build and construction firms. She lives in Ann Arbor with her rescue hound, Henry, and keeps herself out of trouble by volunteering for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and other local events. She enjoys reading, gardening, and well-made White Russians.

Old News Way Back Day: December 17, 1935

This month Old News travels back 80 years to December 17, 1935. Local news dominated the front page that day with the major announcement of the merger of three banks, Ann Arbor Savings Bank, the Farmers and Mechanics Bank, and First National Bank and Trust Co. The merger, in the middle of the Great Depression, was seen as reassuring move in an otherwise shaky banking industry. Economic conditions dominated other local news as the Ann Arbor Public School announced federal funding for nursery schools and adult education. The WPA plan for a "practice house" where girls from relief families would be trained as housemaids was also unveiled. Even the Letters to the Editor were concerned with the Depression as a citizen called on neighbors to drop their opposition to a home for orphan children in the 7th ward. Perhaps related to the dire economic conditions (or not), the Courts took up the case of the stolen hog.

Many of the holiday traditions familiar to Ann Arborites took center stage in 1935. A front page article predicted that thousands would listen to the University Choral Union's Messiah at Hill Auditorium. The Community Sing, begun in 1931, was promoted with a full-page display complete with lyrics to all the favorite Christmas songs for the expected 10,000 carolers. The University of Michigan's Subscription Dance was becoming so popular organizers had to limit ticket sales. The local schools were not to be outdone with the Tappan School students putting on a production of Dicken's Christmas Carol. Check out the list of players and you may recognize a Townie. The annual Yule Lighting Contest deadline was extended to give citizens plenty of time to decorate their yards.

Amateur sports were big, really big, in 1935. Amateur boxing nights at the Armory drew big crowds and prominent coverage in the News. Mill Marsh, the News sports columnist, mused on the growing popularity of Wolverine hockey and basketball. Intrepid wrestling coach Cliff Keen regaled the Ann Arbor Kiwanis with a description of the drama of Big Ten conference matches.

So what kind of routine news would you find in the Ann Arbor Daily News in 1935? Plenty. Birthdays were celebrated, marriage license announced, deaths noted, weather data recorded, and the ever-present promotional contests, with readers competing for prizes with funny verses. Readers looked to the radio listings for their favorite programs and the theater ads for the latest films from Hollywood.

Much has changed in Ann Arbor in 80 years but it's amazing to note how many business are still around. Moe Sport Shop, celebrating 100 years in 2015, had a gorgeous display ad to tempt holiday shoppers. Kroger Co. gave cooks a list of the most-needed holiday items. Arbor Springs reminded readers to stock up on water for the holiday dinners. Stay tuned to Old News for more Way Back Days.

December 1, 1974 ~ Ann Arbor's Biggest Snowfall

It was 41 years ago on Sunday, December 1, 1974, that the snow started falling, and falling, and falling. By the time the storm stopped on December 2nd, Ann Arbor had recorded it's biggest snowfall since records began in 1880 -- a total of 19.8 inches. Thousands of travelers were stranded throughout Washtenaw County. US 23 was a mess and cars were stuck on all county roads. City, County, Schools and organizations sprang in to action, housing folks, providing bed, blankets and meals for the weary voyagers.

In Ann Arbor, buses were waylaid, the University of Michigan closed and townies handled the storm with typical aplomb , true grit and seasonal humor. The Lopez kids got down to work, the University of Michigan students got arty and cars stayed buried for days.

We went to THE source for weather records, Dennis Kahlbaum, and he provided the up-to-the-minute list of Ann Arbor record snowfalls since 1880:
1) Dec. 1- 2, 1974: 19.8 inches
2) Jan. 26-27, 1967: 17.0 inches
3) Jan. 3- 4, 1999: 15.9 inches
4) Mar. 18-19, 1973: 14.6 inches
5) Jan. 30-31, 2002: 14.5 inches
6) Feb. 1- 2, 2015: 14.1 inches
7) Jan. 25-26, 1978: 13.6 inches
8) Dec. 11-12, 2000: 13.1 inches
9) Jan. 14-15, 1992: 12.5 inches
10) Jan. 1- 2, 2008, 12.3 inches

Check out all the photos and articles on Weather at Old News -- we're always adding more weather-related content.

Friend of AADL's Old News, Wystan Stevens, Dies at 72

Wystan Stevens December 1981

Old News lost a vital member of the team this week with the passing of Wystan Stevens, the dean of local historians. Wystan generously shared his deep knowledge and love of Ann Arbor with Old News since its inception in 2010. He named unknown people, identified unknown buildings, streets and venues, gave context to hundreds of photos, corrected mistakes made by Ann Arbor News reporters and photographers as well as Old News staff.

Just last week Wystan helped us in trying to identify where a group of 1930s photos of bowling teams were taken. We had no names, places, or specific dates on the negative envelopes but Wystan was able to identify people, teams, venues. Here’s an example:

"The man with necktie number 3, second from right, is a very youthful Jerry Hoag, longtime manager of the Michigan Theater and other Butterfield theaters in Ann Arbor. His presence here strongly suggests that the venue is the Michigan Recreation Lanes, which was located in the Michigan Theater Building's basement." ~ Wystan Stevens

Wystan loved to include nuggets of history and the more controversial the better, like this one about the Wolverine Barber Shop:

"Like the old Dunbar Community Center, this building figured largely in the history of Ann Arbor's African-American community. And when it was a hotel, in 1902, it played host for a few days to anti-drink crusader Carrie Nation, on one of her lecturing and saloon-smashing excursions." ~ Wystan Stevens

All we had on this photo envelope was “House Being Demolished, September 1969.” We sent it to Wystan knowing there was simply too little to go but, once again, he knew exactly the where, what and why of the photo:

"Demolition of the former home of piano teacher Geraldine Seeback, who sold it to Comerica Bank for installation of their drive-up banking window branch office and driveway on the site, which was across the street from the 1925 Michigan Bell Telephone headquarters. The brick house next door now belongs to Peter Heydon." ~ Wystan Stevens

He was at his best detailing the history of buildings. The Haven Hall fire photos illustrates just how deep his knowledge of a building could go:

"The Law Building, completed in 1863 north of Mason Hall, was expanded and remodeled several times -- extensively in 1893, and again in 1898 following protests over the 1893 makeover, which had added a useless tower. After the beautiful new Cook Law Quadrangle was completed in 1933, the old Law Building was renamed "Haven Hall" -- it provided offices, classrooms, and library space, until it was destroyed in an arson fire on August 6, 1950. (After the fire, nothing ever again was built on the site.) ~ Wystan Stevens

When it came to making sense of an old aerial photos, which is always hard, Wystan could sort out the direction we're facing, as well as what was to come. Check out his unbelievable commentary for the photos of Tappan Junior High School and Stadium Blvd.

Wystan's contributions to local history go far beyond Old News. He contributed photographs to and research for the Downtown Historical Streets Exhibit Program as well as narrating the video introduction to the Streets Exhibit. And he donated his time and materials to the Ford Gallery of Ann Arbor Founders Exhibit. He even made makes it into our Old News UMS archive of historical programs as narrator in a program from 1979.

Wystan authored, introduced, or had been a consultant for numerous books on Ann Arbor history in the AADL collection. He did workshops on books set in Ann Arbor, led tours of the city's landmarks, including his most famous and popular tour, the Forest Hills Cemetery. He was a favorite subject of Ann Arbor News photographers and his sense of humor came through in every photo. The official historian of Ann Arbor and the unofficial Old News historian will be greatly missed by all of us at Old News.

Thanks for the memories, Wystan.

ArborWiki Blogwarts

You can earn Summer Game points just for attending one of the ArborWiki Blogwarts sessions! And while you're there, former Ann Arbor Chronicle editor Dave Askins will lead you through the steps to become an ArborWiki contributor and begin to earn Summer Game badges for making useful edits to ArborWiki, the community-edited resource for all things Ann Arbor. Feel free to bring your laptop or tablet - there will also be computers available at the event.

ArborWiki Blogwarts

You can earn Summer Game points just for attending one of the ArborWiki Blogwarts sessions! And while you're there, former Ann Arbor Chronicle editor Dave Askins will lead you through the steps to become an ArborWiki contributor and begin to earn Summer Game badges for making useful edits to ArborWiki, the community-edited resource for all things Ann Arbor. Feel free to bring your laptop or tablet - there will also be computers available at the event.

ArborWiki Blogwarts

You can earn Summer Game points just for attending one of the ArborWiki Blogwarts sessions! And while you're there, former Ann Arbor Chronicle editor Dave Askins will lead you through the steps to become an ArborWiki contributor and begin to earn Summer Game badges for making useful edits to ArborWiki, the community-edited resource for all things Ann Arbor. Feel free to bring your laptop or tablet - there will also be computers available at the event.

Were You There?

bikes and aapd

On Saturday, April 19, 1958 the Ann Arbor Police Department held a bicycle auction that drew a big crowd of bidders of all ages. The Ann Arbor News took a lot of photos of the event but only three made it into the April 21st edition. The human interest story concerned then eight-year-old Douglas Hehr and his almost-didn't-happen winning bid.

We've published many of the photos that didn't make it into print and hope you recognize someone, maybe even yourself, in one of them. If you do, share your memories with Old News through the Add New Comment feature at the bottom of this blog. Don't forget that you can earn all kinds of cool prizes in the Summer Game when you share your local history knowledge with Old News.

Ann Arbor Police Department: History On The Front Page

Old News has published another trove of photos and articles on the Ann Arbor Police Department that were digitally "ripped from the front pages" of the Ann Arbor News. In June, 1950, Haven Hall was set ablaze by arson. The AAPD investigation led to a graduate student, Robert H. Stacy. Fingered by a girlfriend (who briefly disappeared during trial), Stacy confessed in October, recanted, and was convicted in December, 1950. Many of the photos published on Old News never made it into the Ann Arbor News.

That's also the case with photos involving the murder of nurse Pauline Ada Campbell in September, 1951. The brutal homicide shocked the community and put everyone on edge. It took the AAPD only three days and a good tip to arrest three youths for the slaying. Crowds gathered daily outside the courtroom and legendary News photographer Eck Stanger was granted photo privileges unheard of today.

The Ann Arbor Police Department Online History Exhibit houses hundreds of photos from the AAPD and Ann Arbor News including badges, weapons, and memorabilia from the men and women who were and are the AAPD. We're continually adding to the collection of Ann Arbor News articles about the department, the personnel and policing. There are three full-text histories including Mike Logghe's True Crimes and the History of the Ann Arbor Police Department.

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Archive Launched on Old News

radnerradner

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre is celebrating 85 years and AADL has launched a new website detailing the history of this award-winning local theater company.

View hundreds photos from the rehearsals, backstages and performances of the plays including never before seen shots from noted photographer Fred Beutler as well as the staff photographers at the Ann Arbor News. The Archive also includes hundreds of posters and programs from plays and over a thousand articles from the Ann Arbor News.

Old News will be adding more programs, photos and documents from the extensive collection at the Civic Theatre in the coming months but we need your help . . . can you identify any of the people in the photos where we don't have names? Everyone knows someone in Ann Arbor who worked in or for a Civic Theatre play, so browse the photos and add your knowledge in the Add New Comment feature. We have identified the lady at your left, that's Gilda Radner.

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