The block of Alabama, Bridge and Seward Street was designated for commercial and industrial use by the train tracks that run across it. The train tracks resemble a link to the world beyond city limits, transport and connection. But in the immediate surrounding they create a significant break in what is otherwise a continuous stretch of businesses and storefronts.
The history of the place is marked by the function of the railroad. Up until the 1960s the block was surrounded by train tracks on both sides, the two tracks united close to the corner to Bridge Street. A three story high tower served to oversee and control the train traffic. The block itself was primarily used for storage of lumber and coal, goods that were brought in by the trains and that had to be stored for further transport or usage.
From the late 1880s to the early 1950s the Grand Rapids Cabinet Company, which designed and produced ice-cream parlors, drinking fountains and cooling cabinets, was located on the other side of Alabama Street. The company operated a large storage unit and lumberyard by the train tracks, between Bridge and 1st Street. As a matter of convenience, goods that would otherwise have to be hauled, could be delivered right to their doorstep and only had to be unloaded from the trains.
With the decline of the industrial era the function of the block changed drastically. Transport of manufactured goods and raw materials shifted mainly to the roads, and the manufactories moved to the outskirts of the city. As a representation of this shift Highway 196 was built only a few blocks away during the 1960s and one of the train tracks was removed because it had lost its purpose. Cars have now become indispensable commodities for everyone and parking lots have replaced the lumber- and coal yards of the past century. Furthermore, the block no longer resembles an uninhabited industrial zone, but is now used and tended by a local restaurant. The owner restored the former railroad tower and turned it into a historical landmark that signifies the area.
New forms of energy use have become common place and have made the handling and storage of materials like coal and wood superfluous. That people only a few decades ago were used to the sight of large piles of black coal in their neighborhoods and actually had to get their hands dirty to keep their houses warm seems now hard to imagine. Coal as a material has lost its meaning and it evokes merely unclear memories and the sense of something historical, from the past.
At present, the block contained within Broadway/2nd Street/ Alabama/ 3rd Street is a stretch of short, sloping hills, tall concrete supports, and Highway 196. From below, one can see the tops of cars and the cabs of semi-trucks, and one can hear the spin of tires and gearshifts. In earlier years, this block consisted of residential houses and a number of small businesses, such as the Folgers Bottling Works and the Cavajuco Fruit Juice Company. It has no real claim to fame, per se, but for years it was the home of Mrs. Belle White, Alex Kapinski, Rose Trinckes, Joseph Katorowski, Theo Niedwiecke, Earl Randall, Daisy Barrett, Mrs. Betty G. Quinn, and Antoinette Worobioff, as well as the workplace of Elmo Del Grano, Merwin Folgers, and Louis M. Turner. This ordinary block, though demolished by freeway construction 30 years ago, is rich with common stories, and exists now still as one of the West Sides many memories.
The block of 2nd, 3rd, Scribner and Turner Avenue consisted of residential structures as well as a Methodist Church and a casino club. Second Street Methodist Church, designed by architect William G. Robinson, was erected in 1871 to house the expanding congregation of Bridge Street Methodist Church. After the demolition, the churchs parish merged with Valley Avenue United Methodist. The land that this block used to occupy now lies beneath the crux of US 131 and I-196.
517 Scribner Ave. NW 49504.
Occupied by the Rothe Family from 1935 to 1960.
Bought by the state in 1960-61 for highway construction.
Destroyed in 1961, highway is built.
Henry J.Rothe- Factory worker.
Bertha Rothe- Wrapper at the Sempray Juvenay Toilet Articles Mfrs.
Amelia Rothe- Assembler at A/C Inc.
Many families were relocated with the construction of the196/131 expressway. John C. Mackie, State Highway Commissioner, justified this temporary inconvenience as a sacrifice for the community as a whole. The State believed it to be more economical to select new routes rather than widening pre-existing roads into highways where businesses and homes already existed. However, this meant that many lower income/working class neighborhoods were selected for demolition in order to make way for the large expressway structure. Yet, because the state offered homeowners a fair cash market value on their homes, many were willing to co-operate. If there were any opposition at all, a hearing would take place. More often than not, the state won through appropriate negotiations.
The barbershop is one of many cultural institutions that have become obsolete following the modern obsession with efficiency. Once a neighborhood forum for social gathering, political discourse, and civic philosophy, the barbershop served a vital role in the community. To the average person, a shave and a haircut were secondary to the sense of brotherhood and kinship that the barbershop provided.
When the barbershop at 407 Scribner closed in 1958, Grand Rapids witnessed the end of an era. The shops owner of over 20 years, Rufus E. Peabody, closed the doors of an institution of civic tradition. He had to. A year later, the shop that was passed on to twelve different barbers since 1889, was bulldozed to make room for the modern convenience of the expressway, Michigan Interstate 131.
In recognition of Mr. Peabody and the lost vitality of the barbershop as a center of civic life, below is a report from the city directory. It is an accurate account of ownership of the barbershop at 407 Scribner since its establishment in 1889.
1889-1897 George Mitchel
Mitchel pioneered the 407 Scribner barbershop. He moved there from a shop located only a block over at 31 W. Bridge. Presumably, he moved to expand his business.
1898-1901 A.J. Kenyon
407 Scribner came under new management. Kenyon stayed for only four years. This was at least his second move. His previous shop was on the same block of W. Bridge as George Mitchels before he similarly moved to Scribner.
1902-1903 Simon Van Winkle
Winkle stayed for only two years, then moving to 39 W. Leonard in 1904.
1904 Jacob Kruizenga
One wonders what circumstances dictated such a short stay.
1905-1907 G.T. Howe
Stays for three years
1908 C.S.B. Mitchel
|Mitchel lived above the barbershop and only stayed for one year. Was he related to the founding barber Georoge Mitchel?
1909 A.A. Grover
Also stayed for only one year.
1910-1911 Earnest C. Huling
Moves in after leaving his barbershop on Sixth Street that he occupied from 1905-1910.
1913-1917 J. Jelsema
Runs barbershop for five years at 407 Scribner. He is the first since A.J. Kenyon in 1901 to stay for any extended period of time.
This is the first vacancy since 1888.
1920-1945 of William Moss
Sticks around for a quarter century. The Moss family had a long history of barbershops in Grand Rapids, dating back to the turn of the century.
1946-1956 Rufus E. Peabody
The barbershops twelfth and final owner moved in after closing his old shop on 315 Bridge. Like the first barber, George Mitchel, this move was presumably a sign of thriving business. in 1955, the city of Grand Rapids began construction on Highway 131. They quickly began tearing up streets and bulldozing local homes and businesses. Peabody was forced to close his doors. The last record of the occupation of 407 Scribner was in 1956.
Rufus E. Peabody dies.
The Chocolate Cooler Company
Alabama Street has been witness to an ongoing entrepreneurial experimentation and development since its establishment in the mid 1800's. The 1868 map of Grand Rapids shows Broadway (next road to the east of Alabama) but not Alabama Street. In the area that is currently a parking lot along the railroad tracks shows a fenced pastureland nestled near homes and businesses. Perhaps this was a grazing area or possibly this was a convention of mapping that was used to show the edge of the city.
In the late 1800's Phillip Fritz began his business ventures on Alabama street. On the 1888 Sanborn map the earliest found Fritz-owned business was a wagon works. The business was name was Fritz and Gissler Wagon Works. It was a partnership between Phillip Fritz and his Brother-in-Law Felix Gissler. There were numerous wagon manufacturers in this part of town all along the river. The majority of the Fritz and Gissler manufacturing appears to have taken place on the west side of Alabama (now a parking lot) with the current building site on the east side of Alabama mostly open lots with a few residential structures. It appears as well that the company occupied the building on the northeast corner of Alabama and Bridge which is now Kales Korner Bar. The railroad tracks were in place by this time and bordered by Lumber sheds. It makes sense that these storage facilities would be near the tracks as moving things must have been especially difficult without large machinery.
The Fritz family was from the west side. Phillip Fritz lived with his family in a large frame house that is still standing at the northwest corner of 4th and Turner. It has a large wraparound porch with glass window with multiple panes. The family attended St. Mary's Catholic Church. The Phillip Fritz family were generous community supporters. The organ in St. Mary's Church and the Peditatric floor of St. Mary's Hospital being notable gifts.
The record shows that Phillip Fritz was an imaginative and energetic entrepreneur. The business seems to change and progress in terms of what it comprised as well as generally grow in terms of scale: wagon building, drafting table manufacturing. cooler cabinets, refrigeration, coke dispensers, and finally specializing in the complete outfitting of ice cream parlors. At one time the Grand Rapids Cabinet Company (one of many names over time) was known as the worlds largest manufacuturer of Ice Cream Coolers. The company was also known at one time as the Chocolate Cooler Company.
In the south end of the current building along Alabama street was a huge drafting room. 4 designers worked full time realizing the plans for fully customized ice cream parlors across the country. After the plans were completed and approved by the customer, every bit of the design was manufactured in the Alabama street facility; Coolers, counters, cabinets, shelves, booths, tables, and stools. When completed the parts would be shipped out for installation. One of the largest accounts was the Bridgeman Company in Minneapolis.
The company also got involved in developing, owning and operating numerous franchise ice cream parlors across the country. There were several in Grand Rapids. The name of the parlors was Joppe.
According to his obituary, on Tuesday May 31st Phillip was leaving the office and crossing Alabama street just as there was a high speed automobile wreck. One of the cars jumped up on the curb and struck Phillip. His son Edward's wife Cecilia was very close to her father-in-law Phillip and happened at the time to be pregnant. On June the 1st John Fritz was born and his grandfather Phillip Fritz died. After giving birth the new mother went into shock over the eventful day.
Phillip and his wife Anna had 4 daughters Frances, Dorothy, Isabel, and Mamey and one son, Edward. The sisters were involved with the business by serving on the board and Edward worked at the business and took over after Phillip's death.
During World War II the company converted to the manufacture of equipment for the military and war effort. Huge refrigeration units were constructed and shipped out. Some of these were for the quartermaster units and likely for perishable goods. Others were used for morgues.
After the war the company got back into the ice cream parlor and soda fountain business. In the early 50's it was proposed that the company invest in the construction of a major new manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Grand Rapids. The struggle with manufacturing in multiple buildings on multiple floors had proven inefficient and the new plan followed the concepts of modernized manufacturing on one shop floor. The board decided against the new plan and the company declined in the next few years. Eventually the company was dissolved but the family retained the property.
In subsequent years it was leased to various enterprises including a Tupperware distributorship and the Ken Tepper Dance Studio. Additional occupant companies include the Superama Merchandise Company (aluminum products), Seal-on Sales (plastic products), Evert Insulating, Home Transfer Moving Company, Knickerbocher Mailing Service, DeJong Furniture Finishing, Michigan Molding, and the Realistic Arts Incorporated, a wholesale picture company. The property is currently owned by John S. Hyatt and Associates.