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In Jim's Opinion Marquette's Parking Lots 01/08/2014

40 years ago, a wise Canadian/American philosopher came up with a line that was, perhaps, more prophetic that she ever could’ve imagined.  And a paraphrase of that line is what might drive you to explore various nooks & crannies of downtown Marquette, and to see what used to be.

The paraphrase of that philosopher’s line?  “They paved history, and put up a parking lot”.

Now, this may come as no shock to people born in Marquette before, say, 1955, but for those of us who grew up here in the 60’s, the 70’s, and beyond, we missed out on a great deal of our city’s history.  During those decades (and in a small part, even today) buildings, homes, and pieces of Marquette’s past were razed to help feed the need to park the ever-increasing number of vehicles we use these days.  It’s just part of evolution--after all, Marquette pre-dated the first car by some 45 years and, as foresighted as they were, the city’s founding fathers could NOT have imagined the need for large patches of land on which to park our shiny metal boxes. 

So while WE grew up seeing parking lots dot the cityscape, our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents knew a different Marquette.  This is my attempt to try and re-create that different Marquette so--at the least--our generation has an idea of what came before us.  You can take this “tour” in one of two ways.  You can just read the article and look at the pictures, seeing what came before you.  Or, if you’d like, print out the article, and take the tour in person.  The walk takes no more than half an hour, and might let you see a portion of downtown Marquette in a slightly different light.

(One more thing, too--be aware that this is not the story of EVERY parking lot in Marquette, just a dozen or so clustered about a small section of downtown.  If you’d like a story on a lot I didn’t cover, let me know.  I’ll be happy to fill you in (if I can) and maybe even write a follow-up column about it, as well.  You’d be AMAZED by some of the stuff I don’t have the space to cover here!!)

Start the tour on the 100 west block of Main Street, in the parking lot next to the old train station.  Many of us remember this lot--

between the Wells Fargo ATM and the old Delft Theater as the home of the old Windmill Bowling lanes, torn down in the 90’s.  But did you know that the bowling alley was only built in the early 60’s?  Before that, for almost 6 decades, this lot held a huge 2 and half story building that housed the Marquette Steam Laundry. 

(photo courtesy of Marquette Regional History Center)

In the early part of the 1900’s, Marquette was home to half a dozen such establishments.  Then dry cleaning (and home washing machines) came along, and the businesses--along with their buildings--were consigned to history.

Next walk over to Front Street, head south a block, and stand in front of Getz’s, facing the lake.  You’ll see this lot--

It’s kind of hard to realize today, but FOUR different buildings used to sit here.  They were, going from left to right in the picture, a building that held clothing and music stores, which was next to the longtime home of the Quality Hardware store.  Next to that was a building that housed, for over 40 years, the Steinglein Printing Company, and finally, on the corner, sat the home of a tavern, the last incarnation of which was (for many people) the legendary Andy’s Bar.  The bar survived until the early 80’s; the parking lot gobbled up the others a decade (or more) before.

Head another half block down Front Street, and look at this parking lot next to the VAST building--

Where the parking lot stands once sat FIVE different buildings, including three restaurants, plus two old sandstone buildings that were victims of what we’re referred to as “The Great Sandstone Purge” of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  In fact, if you’ve ever heard anyone talk about legendary eateries like the Bon Ton or the Central Café, this is where they stood until ”progress” got in the way.  The block also held the city’s first A&P grocery store, and, for at least 50 years, a Singer Sewing Machine store. 

Now go back up to the Spring Street intersection and start walking down Spring.  Looking at all the parking lots on the first block of the street it’s hard to believe, but this was once one of the busiest streets in the city, at times home to bars, restaurants, warehouses, furniture stores, car dealers, a couple of houses, and until the 1960’s city’s first firehouse.  All this AND a railroad ran through it, as well!

Next, look between the Jantzen House and the law office and  see THIS lot

What sat here?  For about 80 years, the Brunswick Hotel. 

(photo courtesy of Marquette Regional History Center)

Yup…the Brunswick and Jantzen hotels sat right next to each other, joined for a long time by both the Merchants Hotel & Windsor House, which both sat right across the street where the Marquette Regional History Center is now located.  Why, you ask, were four hotels within spitting distance of each other?  Well, I answer, think about what used to be right behind the Jantzen and Brunswick Hotels--the DSS&A railroad passenger terminal!!

Now skip across Third Street, and look at the parking lot for the Pathways building.

Did you know that this lot was once a whole STREET?  Maple Street, in fact.  It had a railroad trestle on one side and the old Red Owl grocery store on the other.

Cut through the Pathways parking lot or up the bike path and head up to the intersection of Fourth & Washington where you’ll see THIS lot on the northwest corner--

Most Marquette residents know this was the long-time home of St. John’s Catholic church. 

(photo courtesy of Marquette Regional History Center)

But did you know that the church wasn’t the ONLY building there?  While the church survived through the mid 80’s, most of the others around it weren’t so lucky.  In fact, a newsstand, apartment building, union hall, and store surrounding the church disappeared in the decades leading up to the 80’s.

Head east one block to the intersection of Third & Washington.  There you’ll find THIS lot on the southwest corner--

Did you know that up until the early 1960’s, FOUR buildings sat here?  Among them were long-timers like the Coffee Cup restaurant and Pong’s Chinese Laundry, as well as barbers, candy stores, gas stations, and electrical shops.  Heck, at one time, there was even a Dairy Queen sitting on the corner.  Of course, if you go even further back, it was actually the site of Marquette’s first cemetery.  Whenever I take a group of school kids on a downtown walking tour, that seems to be their favorite story, for some bizarre reason.

Now head up Third Street a few steps, and you’ll see this lot behind the Post Office

Believe it or not, THREE buildings used to sit here until the late 40’s and early 50’s--a Pepsi bottling plant, an office housing doctors and dentists, and an apartment building.  Not quite sure how they all fit in there, but they did!

Finally, hike up half a block up to Bluff and head east down the street.  Next to the big AT&T building, you’ll see this lot:

For 80-some years, this lot held a beautiful 3-story Gothic sandstone building, designed by noted local architect D. Fred Charlton, which began as the Heman B. Ely Elementary School. 

(photo courtesy of Marquette Regional History Center)

That building was yet another victim of “The Great Sandstone Purge”.  And more than anything, I think is a perfect example of what used to be in many downtown Marquette neighborhoods. . .at least used to be there before the lots came!


Many thanks go out to the residents of Marquette who allowed their brains to be picked for this article.  In fact, try what I tried--ask your parents about what used to be located in a certain area.  Not only will you be surprised by what they know, THEY might be surprised by what they remember.  If nothing else, it’s a great way to spend a few hours with them!!  The John M. Longyear Research Library at the Marquette Regional History Center is a GREAT place to do research on old buildings; Rosemary and her staff are among the smartest people you’ll ever meet.  I also want to pass along appreciation to the Peter White Public Library for having a gaggle of old Polk City Directories available.  Those books may be the most under-utilized tools available for ANYONE interested in Marquette history. 

By the way, I take FULL responsibility for any historical mistakes in this epic; PLEASE let me know if you think something needs to be corrected.  And like I said before, if you’re interested in any of the other hundreds of parking lots in Marquette, let me know.  I’ll see what I can find.

After all, you’d be amazed by what was here before we were!!

My e-mail address?


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