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

  • Front.splash
    Water Fun—Carter Seitz and Colson Walter take a fast trip along a plastic sliding strip while water from a sprinkler provides the lubrication. The boys took a break from tie-dyeing last week at Morenci’s Summer Recreation Program to cool off in the water.
  • 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.pokemon
    LATEST CRAZE—David Cortes (left) and Ty Kruse, along with Jerred Heselschwerdt (standing), consult their smartphones while engaging in the game of Pokémon Go. The virtual scavenger hunt comes to life when players are in the vicinity of gyms, such as Stair District Library, and PokéStops such as the fire station across the street. The boys had spent time Monday morning searching for Pokémon at Wakefield Park.
  • Front.drum
    on your mark, get set, drum!—Drew Joughin (black shirt), Maddox Joughin and Kaleea Braun took the front row last week when Angela Rettle and assistants led the Stair District Library Summer Reading Program kids in a session of cardio drumming. The sports and healthy living theme continued yesterday with a Mini Jamboree at Lake Hudson State Park arranged by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Next week’s program features the Flying Aces Frisbee show.
  • Girls.on.ride
    NADIYA YORK and Aniston Valentine take a spin on the Casino, one of the rides offered at Wakefield Park during Morenci’s Town and Country Festival. This year’s festival remained dry but with plenty of heat during the three-day run. Additional photographs are inside this week’s Observer.
  • Front.softball
    Angela Davis (2) and teammate Allison VanBrandt break into a jig after Morenci's softball team won its third consecutive regional title.
  • Front.art.park
    ART PARK—A design created by Poggemeyer Design Group shows a “pocket art park” in the green space south of the State Line Observer building. The proposal includes a 12-foot sculpture based on a design created by Morenci sixth grade student Klara Wesley through a school and library collaboration. A wooden band shell is located at the back of the lot. The Observer wall would be covered with a synthetic stucco material. City council members are considering ways to fund the estimated $125,000 project and perhaps tackling construction one step at a time.
  • 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
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.

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