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James MacLean remembers Lansing's historic architects

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Early in his book “Lansing’s Young Architects,” author Jim MacLean points out that Eustace Hall at Michigan State University is his favorite structure designed by Lansing architect William Appleyard. The building was constructed in 1888 and was later named for Harry J. Eustace, who chaired the Horticulture Department from 1908 to 1918. It was listed on both the Michigan and National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

It is a remarkable amalgam of Queen Anne, Romanesque and Shingle Style Architecture. It’s remarkable that it still stands, since many of the structures designed by William Appleyard, R. Arthur Bailey and Frederick Thoman, known collectively as “Lansing’s Young Architects,” have been torn down. The three worked in Lansing during the late-1800s and the early part of the 20th century.

As you work your way through MacLean’s book, the frequency of the notation “was torn down” becomes apparent. You can sense the author’s frustration when he looks at another Appleyard project, the magnificent Charles J. Davis home. It once stood at 1326 E. Michigan Ave., just east of Sparrow Hospital, and was torn down in 1949. Davis was a Lansing mayor, entrepreneur and railroad pioneer.

MacLean writes, “When you consider the importance of the Davis home, it is remarkable the site is now a parking lot. Frankly, it is tiring to note that an architecturally significant building or home was torn down to create a parking lot or sterile office building. Lansing offers few significant historical architectural wonders aside from the Capitol. People visit historic sites, not parking lots.”

As you read through MacLean’s book, you realize that he is an accomplished and tireless researcher. Those skills were especially valuable in writing this book, since no archives of the three architects survive, and blurry newspaper photographs of the structures were often all he could find to illustrate the book.

MacLean resorts to mining newspapers, industry publications and secondary sources. There is also no known comprehensive listing of the buildings and projects the architects worked on, so some could have easily been missed. While researching Detroit projects, he learned that no property tax roles for Wayne County survived.

He does give kudos to the Stebbins family real estate records of Lansing, which are on file at the Capital Area District Library, where MacLean is a librarian. MacLean has previously written a book on architect Darius Moon, who is also from Lansing.

In his book, he explores the nexus of the three young architects with James Appleyard, William’s father, who mostly supervised construction of buildings. James Appleyard moved to Lansing to supervise construction of the Capitol. The last building he designed and supervised construction of is the Lansing Women’s Club at 118 W. Ottawa St., which is a testament to his skills. He also supervised the construction of two notable libraries that also still stand:  the Hoyt Library in Saginaw and the University of Michigan Library.

He and his son also worked on the completion of the original Michigan State University Library and Museum, now Linton Hall, on the east end of Circle Drive on campus.

William Appleyard was also responsible for the Kalamazoo Street School, the gothic Liederkranz Hall on Grand Avenue, buildings on the School for the Blind campus, the original Veterinary Building at MSU — all torn down — and several private homes and commercial structures, which can still be seen in downtown Lansing on Michigan and Washington avenues.

Rufus Arthur Bailey’s first work in Lansing was on the iron work of the Post Office and Federal Building, across from the Capitol. MacLean calls the building “an architectural treasure,” which was torn down for the modern City Hall. Bailey was also responsible for a block of stores on North Washington Avenue, torn down in 1967 during Lansing’s urban renewal days. He also was the architect of record for a new foundry at the E. Bement & Sons stove plant located on North Grand, also torn down.

One unusual project Bailey worked on was a row of eight still-standing fieldstone flats on Eureka Street. In the late-19th century, the flats were considered “classy and fashionable.”  He also was responsible for the elegant Capitol Avenue residence of John Herrmann, a successful men’s clothier. Today, the structure has been totally restored for use as the president’s residence.

Bailey was also responsible for the legendary private Iser Clubhouse, which was built on pylons on Lake Lansing, Pine Lake and since torn down, and for numerous private residences in Detroit.

The final architect Frederick J. Thoman was a scion of the family associated with Lansing’s milling entrepreneurs. His first work was the Robert Smith Printing Co., followed by the Wentworth Hostelry on the corner of Michigan and Grand — both torn down. He also was responsible for the small Delta Subdivision, where Michigan and Grand River Avenue form a triangle. Only one of the homes stands today. One of his most notable works was the Detroit Olds plant, which eventually burned down.

MacLean has peppered the book with interesting snippets like the quaint Meteorological Station designed by Appleyard, which once stood the west lawn of the Capitol grounds in 1884.

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