Historic Designation Sought For Curtis Block

Curtis Block

14501 - 19 Detroit Avenue

The next time you are walking down Detroit Avenue, just east of Lakewood Hospital, stop for a minute and look up. What will you see? Above the store fronts and beyond the clay tile roofs on the second and fourth bays windows, you will be able to glimpse horizontal stone tablets inset in the parapet that read “CURTIS” and “BLOCK.” Diamond-shape stones are inset in raised brick surrounds further ornament the parapet.

Bet you never knew the building you’ve driven and walked by hundreds, perhaps thousands of times, had a name.

It’s probably an even better bet that you never realized as you strolled down Detroit to have a quick lunch or shop at one of the stores in the area of Marlowe Avenue, that you are surrounded by a remarkably intact part of Lakewood’s early history.

An application to designate the Curtis Block as a local historic landmark has been reviewed by Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board and submitted to the Lakewood Planning Commission for review to help ensure that this little slice of history remains intact for future Lakewoodites to use and enjoy.

“Located at the only remaining intersection on Detroit Avenue, in the downtown Lakewood district, with original streetcar-era commercial buildings on all four corners, the Curtis Block is one of the most architecturally significant and intact buildings in Lakewood,” shared Jeanne Mackay, who along with her daughter Devon, has applied to have the structure considered for historic designation. “We are proactively working to make sure that, with all the changes occurring in that area due to Lakewood Hospital’s re-invention, the Curtis Block is protected and put back into productive use.”

Occupying the eastern half of the block along the south side of Detroit Avenue between Marlowe and Belle avenues, the Curtis Block defines the corner and holds the street line adjacent to the green space to the west in front of Lakewood Hospital. Designed by Charles Pennington, the building was constructed in two phases - three storefronts built in 1913 by J. T. Hahn, and two on the western edge seamlessly added by the H. E. Klefman Co. in 1925.

The Curtis Block building has a direct historical connection to the early settlement of Rockport Township (later Lakewood). Joseph and Sarah Curtis Hall arrived in Rockport Township in 1837 from England with five small children and one on the way.  Joseph purchased a strip of land on Detroit at Marlowe. He built a stone house, completed before winter set in but not before the birth of his sixth child. One year later, their last child Mary was born in the house. All seven children were raised in the stone house, which was about the same size as the Oldest Stone House.

Records show Albert C. Hall, grandson of Joseph Hall, deeded two lots fronting on Detroit, depth 175 – 180 feet, to his wife Matilda Curtis (his second cousin) for $10 in May, 1915. The Lakewood Historical Society’s property transfer records show the land eventually went to Joseph Curtis Hall, Jr., who also resided in an apartment in the building. Lakewood City Directories show that one or more Hall family members lived in the 2nd floor apartments from 1949 – 1980, including Matilda Hall. Joseph Curtis Hall, Jr., nephew of Albert C. Hall, along with his family, lived in the apartments for many years, and became full owner of the property in 1959.

Even after 102 years, the Curtis Block retains nearly all of its original historic building fabric and has very few, minor alterations, according to Lakewood Historical Society research. Constructed of red brick with stone appointments at the building base, brick pilasters and parapet, the Curtis Block is in a vibrant commercial area boasting popular stores such as Cosmic Collectibles, Paisley Monkey, TJ Butcher Block and the Aladdin’s restaurant. As it was more than a century ago, the Curtis Block is a two-story, mixed-use commercial block built over a full basement with five storefronts on the first floor and five apartments on the second floor.

“Four storefronts retain the original height of the bulkheads, as well as the original inset storefront entrances, wood and glass entrance doors, display windows and transoms. The original bulkheads and transoms, which have been covered over with wood, are visible on the inside of the building,” shared Heather Rudge, a member of the Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board (LHAB). LHAB is a volunteer board of the city charged with administration of Chapter 1134 of our local ordinances. LHAB reviews applications for the nomination of historic properties before forwarding to the Planning Commission for final consideration.

Adding visual interest to the historic building, an original, ornate box bay window with inset wood panels and a clay tile, hipped roof appears on the second floor elevation above each storefront. Each box bay retains the five original double-hung wood windows, a nine-over-one window flanked by six-over-one windows on the front of the bay, and narrow three-over-one windows on each side of the bay. On the second floor, nine-over-one windows on stone sills appear above the first-floor doors that provide access to the interior apartment stairs.

While the interior of the building is not being considered as part of landmark designation, it should be noted that the retail spaces retain their original tin ceilings and other historic details. The apartments are nearly original, with historic interiors that include fireplaces, kitchen cabinets, oak floors, quarter-sawn oak trim and claw foot tubs.

Application to consider the property under Chapter 1134 was reviewed by LHAB at their March meeting and was deemed appropriate and complete. It has been forwarded to the Planning Commission for their consideration. The matter will first be heard at the May 7th meeting. It is at this meeting that the Planning Commission will determine whether the application has met the appropriate criteria and if they agree with LHAB’s recommendation. If it is approved at this initial meeting, the owner is notified and the matter will appear on the following month's agenda, June 4. At this second meeting the issue of official designation is voted on. Public comments are welcome at both meetings.

“We hope by obtaining landmark designation, that consideration is given to preserving this very important and vital link to Lakewood’s disappearing history,” said Mrs. Mackay. “The Curtis Block is a brick and mortar connection to our past. Without this connection, we will forever lose another piece of Lakewood’s unique identity. I see other neighborhoods leveraging their historic assets to revitalize their communities and believe we should be doing the same.”

Hilary Schickler

Hilary was born and raised in Lakewood and currently serves on the Lakewood Historical Society Board of Trustees, as well as the Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board.

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Volume 11, Issue 8, Posted 6:10 PM, 04.14.2015