Pardon Blocks, 1894/1899


Pardon Blocks, 1894/1899

219-223 North Main Street

Pardon Blocks, 1894/1899

An Ann Arbor booster publication entitled Ann Arbor Industrial Edition wrote in September of 1900: "Charles F. Pardon, Dealer in meats, provisions and groceries, 221-223 North Main Street. This business was established 7 years ago as a meat market and in 1898 Mr. Pardon bought the grocery stock of J. H. Miller and added it to this business. He afterwards bought the Eberhart Bakery, which he sold to his brother [Frank">. He also conducted a meat market at South Lyons for 6 years which has given him ample experience in his line. His stock embraces both staple and fancy groceries, meats and provisions, which he sells at prices which cannot be undersold in the city." It appears the family were quite active in the grocery business, for the same publication lists W. E. Pardon as a dealer in groceries and meats at 123 East Liberty.

Charles built his block in three stages, although the casual observer would think it one building. The first and northernmost part, at 223 North Main Street, has a date stone of 1894 in the pediment. The second portion, his brother Frank's bakery at 219 North Main Street, has a date stone of 1899 in the pediment, while the center portion of the building has a slightly higher pediment and a stone which simply reads, "Pardon Block." Though this section is rumored to have been finished last, the Sanborn Insurance Map from 1899 labels the central and southern sections "to be bakery" and "to be grocery," so perhaps they were built simultaneously. By 1916, after Charles Pardon had retired, G. W. Wagner's Meats was located in the corner store.

Charles Pardon was born in Ann Arbor in 1862 to parents who had emigrated from Germany a few years earlier. A 1906 biographer claimed: "no event of special importance occurred to vary the routine of life for Charles F. Pardon who like most boys of the middle class divided his time between play and work." Pardon apprenticed to a butcher and, after working in South Lyon for six years, eventually opened a market in his new building. His addition of groceries to his line of meats allowed him to expand to the second storefront in 1899. "As he has prospered in his undertakings he has wisely placed his savings in property and now owns considerable real estate in Ann Arbor ???_ the safest of all investments," wrote the same biographer.

The Pardon Block (or Blocks) were built of red brick and stone in a Queen Anne commercial style with arcades of round-topped windows on the second floor, square windows on the third floor, and iron cresting on the roof. Remodelings in the past had covered the stone detailing and brick walls with red paint and altered the original shop windows to suit the commercial styles of the 1950s and 60s.

In 1988, new owners Quinn/Evans Architects, specialists in historic preservation, rehabilitated the southernmost building demonstrating proper preservation on this highly visible street. Evans noted that when the building was painted the contrast between the brick and the stone disappeared. "We removed the paint and the stone popped right out." The Historic District Commission presented a restoration award to Quinn/Evans that year for their fine work.

One year later, Duane Renken of Renken and Co., a real estate and development firm which now makes this building its headquarters began rehabilitating the northern two sections. When the renovation was completed, the company invited Frank Pardon Jr., who was born 86 years earlier above his father's bakery, to come and have a look. "It looks real nice," he said. The Historic District Commission agreed and awarded Renken a preservation award in 1989.

Bakeries and groceries have operated out of these storefronts for most of the 20th century, but today the two northern sections support a restaurant while the southern section is for rent. With the recent restoration of the Old Post Office across the street, and the new Johnson, Johnson and Roy building around the corner, this edge of town is beginning to enjoy a renaissance. The Pardon Block has been one of the major catalysts for the revival of this area.

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Photos used to illustrate Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor, Michigan / by Marjorie Reade and Susan Wineberg.



John Keck and Company (Argus Building), 1866-1884


John Keck and Company (Argus Building), 1866-1884

405 Fourth Street

John Keck and Company (Argus Building), 1866-1884

Situated in the heart of the Old West Side Historic District, this red-brick building began as a furniture factory. It was constructed in three phases, beginning with a wood-frame building facing William Street built in 1866 by John Keck and Company and now covered with brick veneer. In 1879 additional stock in the company was sold in order to finance a four-story brick building along Fourth Street. More construction followed in 1884 when the company was reorganized as the Michigan Furniture Company and a four-story building was built at the corner of Fourth and William, thus connecting the two older structures.

Keck came to America from Wurttemberg in 1854 at the age of 15 and apprenticed to cabinetmaker and coffin builder Florian Muehlig. By 1866 he was able to establish his own furniture factory with his brothers Frederick, George and Martin. The 1860s and 70s had been decades of rapid mechanization in the furniture industry. The steam engine had replaced water as a power source and specialization accompanied expansion as machines became more and more specialized. Despite the Depression of 1873, Keck employed 40 to 50 men and became one of the town's major businesses.

By 1879, when Keck formed a stock company, the decision had been made to specialize in bedroom suites (pronounced "suits"). They concentrated on making bedsteads, commodes and dressers and would continue this emphasis until they ceased operations in 1929. Unfortunately for antique collectors, Keck never marked his furniture and thus his products today are, in the words of journalist Mary Hunt, "distressingly anonymous."

Keck's designs were in the then-popular Renaissance Revival style, massive pieces with layers of elaborately carved woodwork, topped by carved pediments. A collection of Keck's drawings, recently discovered in the Grand Rapids Public Museum, gives a sense of the range of designs he produced. In 1884 the prominence of the buildings of the Michigan Furniture Company was noted in a local paper, which asserted that every visitor to Ann Arbor always inquired 'What is that large four-story building?" Keck, who was no longer with the company, had opened another factory on Detroit Street in the mid-1880s. His success there was short lived, however, and he spent the rest of his life working in Detroit and Grand Rapids.

After furniture making ceased in 1929, Charles Verschoor acquired the building and began manufacturing his popular Kadette tabletop radios. Never one to sit on his hands, Verschoor traveled to Germany in 1936 to study camera manufacturing. When he returned, he began to mass produce a small 35mm camera -- the famous Argus Model A. The camera was an instant success, selling 30,000 units in its first week on the market. In 1939 the name of the company was changed to Argus and the Argus C-3 camera was introduced. It remained the staple of the company until 1957.

During World War II, Argus received many contracts from the government for telescopes, binoculars, periscopes, and gunsights. However, after the war Argus was unable to compete with Japanese cameras and the company was sold to Sylvania. In 1963 the building was sold to the University of Michigan which used it for various research institutes including an amphibian lab.

The recession of the 1980s prompted the University to sell the building in 1983 to C-3 Partners who undertook the enormous task of restoring and renovating this historic structure in 1986. Quinn/Evans Architects provided the expertise and the newly renovated space preserves the best of the old and the new. O'Neal Construction, one of the C-3 partners along with First Martin Corp., is now headquartered here and their offices feature the original heavy timbers and red bricks walls that characterized these simple factory buildings.

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Photos used to illustrate Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor, Michigan / by Marjorie Reade and Susan Wineberg.



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