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Kalamazoo Construction Crews Unearth Historic Arches

Wed April 26, 2017 - Midwest Edition
Mike Krafcik

City officials say such arches are found beneath the ground of many buildings built before the 1930s.
City officials say such arches are found beneath the ground of many buildings built before the 1930s.

A bit of history has been uncovered in downtown Kalamazoo as construction crews unearthed arches that date back decades.

The discovery was made under a parking lot at the corner of Rose Street and Michigan Avenue, where construction of the new 15-story Exchange Building is underway.

Kalamazoo's Public Works Director says it's not surprising that the vaults were uncovered, it was once an important part of older, brick buildings.

“I love seeing things like this because it's like a time machine,” said Kalamazoo's Historic Preservation Coordinator Sharon Ferraro, “you can look back and say what was there before.”

The 100 block of West Michigan, the Exchange Building site, has been nothing more than a surface parking lot since the 1960s.

Ferraro says the arches or vaults that were uncovered belonged to one or more of a cluster of brick buildings that were built there in the early 1900s. They may have been part of the J.R. Jones Department Store, that operated for more than 50 years.

“Pretty spectacular fires took down all but one of them and the final one came down in the early '60s,” said Ferraro. “Where the arches are, those might have been windows, those might have been ventilation shafts, they might have been for delivering coal.”

City officials say such arches are found beneath the ground of many buildings built before the 1930s. Similar arches were uncovered in 2001 when work was done to revamp the old Gilmore Department Store.

“Which is where the Union is,” said Ferraro, “we saw the same things underground.”

The city says in the past it has worked with owners to properly remove or restore the arches. In this instance many believe it's more than likely that the arches will be removed.

“As much as I love the old brick, old material, it was designed and put in place for a three story building,” said Ferraro.

Site plans at the corner of Rose and Michigan call for a fifteen story tower.

The Assistant City Manager says the discovery of arches like these generally doesn't impact the construction process.

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