Renovation: Historical appearance maintained in renovation project 2012.01.18

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

front.subwayBank, grocery, liquor store.

Newsstand, barbershop, game room.

A real estate office and a building full of pet birds.

Those are a few of the businesses that have operated in the red sandstone building in downtown Morenci, and a new one is scheduled to open next month.

Ketan Patel of Mason, Mich., bought the building from members of the Knoblauch family in 2011 with the aim of opening a Subway restaurant. He owns Subways in Lansing and Hudson, and the Morenci location is expected to open its doors in February.

Patel said once he made the decision to open a store in Morenci, he took a look at several possible locations, including the former video rental building.

But it was the old Bank of Morenci building that really caught his attention.

“As soon as I saw this building,” he said, “my first thought was that this building and location is like the heart of Morenci.”

He knew a lot of work would be required to bring it into shape, but he was successful in winning a Michigan Economic Development Grant to help pay for renovation.

“The building was in bad shape, but Jake Hurlbut, my contractor, and I had a vision to see a renovated building,” Patel said.

The city’s parking lot rehabilitation project was just icing on the cake, he said. The parking lot now has space for parking directly behind the store and a walkway along the rear of the downtown buildings.

Patel says he will soon provide “the best brand name food at the best building in a lovely town.”

Historical features

When Michigan was covered by seas in past eons, iron-rich rock deposited red sand  in some areas. Through countess centuries, the deposits were compressed under the weight of additional layers and eventually red sandstone was formed. Sandstone has long been a popular choice for building blocks.

The red sandstone used in the bank building isn’t so common in this area. There are several buildings in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula constructed of red stone where it was quarried. Additional quarrying took place in the Ionia area.

The source of the rock used in this building is now unknown and it remains the city’s only red sandstone structure.

Patel’s desire to retain the integrity of the original structure led to the decision to remove a cement block add-on building that was attached to the rear of the former grocery store.

An overhead door had been cut into the back of the bank building and Hurlbut’s crew from All Around Construction in Adrian set about rebuilding a large portion of the back wall, from the basement up. 

Brick was shipped from Colorado for a near match with the original brick. Features such as the brick arch above the original window space was incorporated into the renovation.

Hurlbut said the floor could be seen sagging when it was walked across, and that led to new supports in the basement.

A new roof went over the top to stop several years of leaking, new windows were installed and lower front of the building was rebuilt to replace the original wood from nearly 120 years ago.

The decorative spindles on the sides of the front windows were re-created and the original mosaic tile in the entryway remains.

Patel is hoping to open the restaurant in February and he’s looking for a renter of the side of the building adjacent to the Subway. The office space remains in a raw form with the intent to build to suit someone’s needs.

Patel also has plans to rebuild the upper story into a pair of two-bedroom apartments.

While old buildings in small towns are often unused and fall into disrepair, this one has been rescued from its poor condition and is nearly ready for business.

Past businesses

The red block building at 203 and 205 W. Main St. in Morenci was built in 1892 for the Bank of Morenci. Wilma Fink remembers doing business there as a child when the name had been changed to the First State Savings Bank.

In later years, Earl Reppert operated a grocery store in the building. In 1948, Herb and Twila Knoblauch took over ownership and the grocery for 31 years until 1979.

Twila remembers a liquor store nearby because she recalls using boxes from the store.

“They got their deliveries in good, strong boxes and we used them for deliveries,” she said.

That didn’t go over so well with one customer. When he received his groceries in a liquor box, he never asked for a delivery again.

Pete and Patti Casteel took over the grocery from Knoblauchs, but when they closed, the grocery business ended at that location.

Other businesses in the two locations included Al Renner’s barbershop, Jack Smith’s newsstand, Paul Cunningham’s real estate office, the Foster’s variety store, Arlen Hile’s bird store and David DiCenso’s Quartermania game room.

icon Additional photos

  • Homecoming Court
    HOMECOMING—One senior candidate will be chosen Morenci’s fall homecoming queen during half-time ceremonies Friday at the football field. In the back row are seniors Mikayla Price, who will be escorted by Mason Vaughn; Madison Bachman, escorted by Kiegan Merillat, and Mikayla Reinke, escorted by Griffin Grieder. Senior Ariana Roseman is absent from the photo. Her escort is Garrett Smith. In the front is sophomore Abbie White, who will be escorted by Ryder Price; junior Madysen Schmitz, escorted by Harley McCaskey and freshman Madison Keller, escorted by Jarett Cook.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.
  • Front.starting
    BIKE-A-THON—Children in Morenci’s Summer Recreation Program brought their bikes last Tuesday to participate in a bike-a-thon. Riders await the start of the event at the elementary school before being led on a course through town by organizer Leonie Leahy.
  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016