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.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
  • Pipeline Spread
    LINED UP—Lengths of pipe were put in place last week along the route of the Rover natural gas pipeline that will stretch from Defiance, Ohio, to Ontario, Canada. Topsoil was removed before the pipes were laid out. The 42-inch diameter pipeline is scheduled for completion in November.
  • Front.grieders
    ONE-TWO PUNCH—Morenci’s Griffin Grieder saved his best for last, running his fastest time ever in the 110-meter high hurdles at the state finals Saturday in Grand Rapids to finish first in the state in Div. IV. His brother Luke, a junior (right), claimed the state runner-up spot. Bulldog junior Bailee Dominique placed seventh in the 100-meter dash.
  • Front.sidewalk
    MORENCI senior class president Mikayla Price leads the way Sunday afternoon from the Church of the Nazarene to the United Methodist Church for the baccalaureate ceremony. Later in the day, 39 members of the senior class received diplomas in the high school gymnasium.
  • Front.F.school
    PROGRESS continues on the agriculture classroom addition at Fayette High School. The project will add 2,900 square feet of space and include an overhead door that would allow equipment to be driven inside. The building should be ready for the start of school in August. Work on ball fields and a running track is also underway.
  • Front.teacher Leading
    PRESCHOOL MUSIC—Fayette band director Jeffrey Dunford spends the last half hour of the day leading the full-day preschool class in musical activities. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Face Paint
    FUN NIGHT FUN—Savanna Miles sits patiently while Abbie White works on a face paint design Friday during the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Gracie Snead watches the progress after having spent time in the chair. Abbie was one of several volunteer painters, each creating their own unique look. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.

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