My Heart Belongs to Lansing

20 04 2008

Last Saturday, I was in Lansing, Michigan, home of my undergraduate years. Okay, so the more suburban East Lansing was home to my undergraduate years, but I spent quite a bit of time in Lansing proper through the course of my schooling. I’m unsure if it’s the diverse architecture of the downtown; the mixture of people from various locales, backgrounds, and economic statuses; or simply the fact that I spent some really wonderful time there but there’s something about Lansing that absolutely charms me. After the conference last week, I had some time to wander around the downtown area a bit, which has changed dramatically since Joanna and I first took the #1 from campus to the capital building.

The Hollister Building is the oldest building in the whole of downtown, having been built in 1893, and one of my favorite buildings to stop and stare at. The mixed-use lowrise looks amazing, having been cleaned up and repainted, but still isn’t fully remodeled on the business floor. The facades of the lower two floors are going to be redesigned to their 1950’s glory – definitely one of the better decades for this particular building.

The Boji Tower is the tallest building in Lansing, at twenty-five stories, is an iconic landmark. Built in 1929 and financed by R. E. Olds, the man behind the now defunct Oldsmobile, it housed the Michigan National Bank and was known by locale residents as Michigan National Tower. Above the art deco clock, the Michigan National Bank neon sign used to provide something of a beacon for the city; it was removed in 2001 when the Michigan National Bank merged with Standard Federal and the building needed to be re-branded. Ron Boji, who had owned the tower since 1998 and owns the above Hollister Building, renamed the building in 2005 after his father. He maintains his name will not manifest itself in neon above the clock any time in the future.

Despite the massive GM plant closings in Lansing, there are signs of growth, like this mixed use space across from the baseball field named the Stadium District Building. Businesses will occupy the bottom floor of the building, which is spread across an entire block, while the second floor will contain a mix of office space and apartments. The remaining floors will have apartments save for the top floor, which will house 18 condos with rooftop patios. This project is somehow connected to the Cool Cities initiative, which has funded some pretty lame projects, like the park in my hometown of Norway, Michigan on the corner of two of the busiest roads in the city and the Hipsilanti PR campaign in Ypsilanti. (Seriously, who could take Hipsilanti seriously? Who thought that was a fundable idea?) On one hand, I’m excited to see the downtown area revitalized with new spaces for people to live and participate in urban living; unfortunately, these changes continue to cater to a very specific demographic: those with the money to purchase condos with rooftop patios.

No trip to Lansing is complete without a stop into The Peanut Shop. Originally a Planters store, The Peanut Shop opened in 1937 and encountered some initial business troubles. Enter Floyd Melser, a manager for Planters from Indiana, who was asked to relocate to Lansing in 1947 to sort out the store there. Planters offered him the store in 1960 and he operated it until 1994, when he retired. Two of his daughters continue to operate The Peanut Shop, offering up a variety of special nuts in a great, small, crowded atmosphere. Almost as famous as the store itself is the peanut roaster, original from 1937 and still in use.

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