Michigan St NE

As much as any other area of town in Grand Rapids, Michigan St NE has been transformed in the past 20 years, particularly with the “medical mile” from Eastern Avenue to Monroe Avenue. Hospitals, clinics, medical research facilities, and health education associated with Grand Valley University and Michigan State, plus apartment complexes, pubs, and more for the staff (and students) associated with all of this.

When I look at the buildings that have been torn down and replaced, or renovated and updated, or likely soon will be, I see a transformation from a city shaped by blue collar work, especially manufacturing, to one where economic growth has been in professional services of various sorts, notably in medicine. These images tell the story of change and continuity.

First are a few images that hark back to the classic blue-collar places I associate with the Michigan (the street and the and state) that emerged in the decades before and after World War II, defined especially by the automotive industry centered in Detroit, with satellite production in other parts of Michigan. Plus, furniture, of course, in Grand Rapids.

The first two images are a branch of the American Legion and a pub. The legion building is classic Midwestern architecture, in this case dating to 1914. The American legion has been vitally important in towns and cities in West Michigan for veterans. The bar in the second image, Dukes Bar, hints at continuity and change. Dukes has been around as long as I can remember in Grand Rapids. It’s still a bar, and still feels old school, selling buckets of familiar big brewery cheap beer and burgers. But its old brick exterior, with small windows set at a height that made it hard to see in–into a dark interior–has been renovated with big windows. The interior is brighter, and they have craft beers and poutine.

The next four images show the story I’m telling. In places like Dukes (above) and the Birch Lodge (in the four images below), we see continuity and change. Birch Lodge is a neighborhood bar with old style small windows, a darkish interior, and a mix of classic pub food with some modern additions, and a mix of “traditional” corporate beer and craft beer. Like Dukes, it’s a classic pub.

The big building that butts up against Birch Lodge has retail businesses on the ground floor, including a couple of pubs and a fitness place (if I remember it right). The upper floors are lofts. A perfect space for students in the various medicine programs and young staff in the hospitals and clinics of the medical mile. The gallery has a photo I made paired with an image of the Birch Lodge from about 70 years ago.

The last image is more continuity and change, but with the emphasis on change. The “Friesian” (named after a breed of horses from Friesland, in the Netherlands) is a “gastro pub”–i.e., a place that serves eclectic food and drinks with a 21st century American “foodie” sensibility. (Not a critique. I enjoy that sensibility.) For years it was empty, and before that it was the Lord’s Chapel.

For all the changes, there are other continuities to mention too. If you drive by Logan’s Alley (not pictured) early in the morning, you’ll see cars in the parking lot. It’s an old house, perhaps one that had an attached business, that has been converted into a local bar with a huge craft beer menu, pub food, and sports playing the TVs. Early in the morning it serves breakfast food–and presumably beer–to nurses and other medical staff on their way home from over night shifts at the nearby hospital. Whether at a factory or a hospital, a quick breakfast and a beer might help the transition from overnight work to a morning of sleep.

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