Defend the Ann Arbor 7, proposal to demolish Ann Arbor architectural heritage to build a 5 story , 100 unit pud/condominium project, A Big Mistake in the greening of Ann Arbor, let’s ask the Mayor of Tubingen, Germany, our sister city? eh?
May 19, 2008
Originally uploaded by jeff lamb
published in the AA News in March.
March 19, 2008
On January 15, 2008, the Ann Arbor Planning Commission denied an
application to re-zone and demolish seven houses on S. Fifth Avenue for an
apartment complex called City Place. However, the plan to demolish these
houses, just south of the library, is back. It has been renamed Beakes
Place, an ironic slap at preservationists trying to prevent the demolition
of the 1830s Beakes home— the oldest house on the block. This beautiful
row of houses, all more than 100 years old, has long been a favorite of
walkers and makes downtown a more attractive and welcoming place.
Many who drive or walk along this stretch of road marvel at the beauty of
this uninterrupted group of 19th and early 20th century houses, with its
large lots and stands of mature trees. It is a rare block in Ann Arbor
that is not marred by an apartment building from the 1960s or houses
covered in bad siding with wooden fire escapes waltzing over the front.
This block has been noted for the care taken in planting flowers on the
lawn extension and for the high maintenance of the properties. Many of the
walkers I know in town purposely walk down this block because it is
relaxing and pleasant, which in turn is good for your health as numerous
studies have shown. The Planning Commission Staff Report noted that the
houses form “one of the most intact late 19th and early 20th streetscapes
in the City of Ann Arbor.” This streetscape has appeared often on the
covers of various magazines and Annual Guides to Ann Arbor. It obviously
is regarded as a community treasure and illustrates how we want to promote
These houses are also a slice of Ann Arbor history. Three of them were
formerly protected as Individual Historic Properties until this ordinance
was struck down in 2001 by a state court. Thus, their value to the
community has been formally recognized in the past. For example, 415 S.
Fifth is the Beakes house with the oldest section dating to the 1830s when
Ann Arbor was barely a decade old. Two of our mayors lived here, both
named Beakes but not related to each other (long story). It was studied
by UM Professor of Architecture Emil Lorch (Lorch Hall) for the Historic
American Building Survey and he noted its distinctive architectural
features. Beakes Street is named after Samuel Beakes, our mayor from
Further down the street at 427 is the home of another mayor Francis M.
Hamilton (1905-1907). Hamilton Street honors his memory, as does the
Hamilton Fountain on North University which he funded. Next door, at 433
S. Fifth, was the home of Herbert Slauson, the Superintendent of Public
Schools. Slauson School today honors his memory. The others are
connected to local business people from the turn of the 19th century and
are wonderful examples of the architecture from this period.
Why preserve these houses in the face of interest in downtown living and
sustainability? Because a small neighborhood has already been developing
in the area and has become a vibrant community where neighbors know each
other and work together (and walk to work, the theater and restaurants).
Because older homes are the greenest homes, and inherently energy
efficient since traditional builders incorporated sustainable elements
into buildings before the word was invented (this according to the Green
issue of Preservation Magazine, Jan/Feb 2008). And because we all benefit
when a beautiful streetscape, with links to our past, is preserved.
All plans adopted by the city-the Downtown Plan, the A2D2 plan, the
Calthorpe Plan, the Central Area Plan and the Downtown Residential Task
Force—recommend the city protect historic residential neighborhoods that
border the downtown. Changes in zoning, or PUD plans, threaten that
commitment and further encourage development pressures. The city should
make every effort to preserve this wonderful row of houses for the history
it represents, the beauty it affords its citizens and for the potential to
promote real sustainability. To that end, the Mayor and City Council
should appoint a Study Committee to establish this block as a historic
district. At present it borders the William Street Historic District and
an extension of that district makes good sense. It’s the right thing to
-Defend the Ann Arbor 7,
415 S. Fifth Ave
This is one of the oldest remaining houses on the street and is in the Greek Revival style, with portions dating to the 1830s, a mere decade after Ann Arbor was settled. It was built by Clayton Gaskell and through inheritance passed into the Beakes family which occupied it for many years. Later additions were added by Beakes in 1859. The house served as the residence for two Ann Arbor mayors: Hiram Beakes (1873-1875) and Samuel Beakes (1888-18900. It is Samuel Beakes after whom Beakes Street is named. He also wrote an important history of the county entitled “Past and Present of Washtenaw County” in 1906. It was converted into apartment in the 1920s and was studied by Emil Lorch for the Historic American Buildings Survey of the federal government in the 1930s. He noted:”good cornice, refined trim, corner pilasters. Shows preservation of an old type but it has been altered.” It was designated an Individual Historic Property by the City of Ann Arbor in 1988, a designation which was overturned by the courts when that ordinance was declared invalid in 2001.