Ever on a mission to applaud historical preservation and forewarn of impending danger to existing buildings, Benton Harbor’s Morton House Museum recently hosted their 2020 Preservation Awards ceremony, fittingly enough inside one of the award winning project buildings.
The biennial Preservation Awards are designed to recognize owners who have preserved existing buildings in the City of Benton Harbor and keep an eye on endangered buildings at risk of destruction in the city.
Ceremonies were conducted in social distance fashion at The Secret Garden at the Harbor, a newly preserved building at 209 W. Main Street in the city, and one of three winners of the awards being presented.
The awards committee, which is sponsored by the Morton House Museum, also chooses buildings that are most endangered, on the brink of being lost. The preservation awards have been a staple of the community, given out by the museum since 2010.
The buildings noted for their preservation this year include:
The Secret Garden at the Harbor, owned and restored by Bryan Seckelmann. The building has a long history stretching back nearly 100 years. It was a Willys/Overland Jeep dealership in the 1920s. In 1929 it was the site of Heustis Motor Sales, selling Oldsmobiles. In 1930 the Meacham Body Company used the building to manufacture auto bodies. Through much of the Depression in the 1930s, the building was the home to Wm. L. Olds Autos, which sold Hudson and Terra Plane model cars. In 1940 the building was occupied by Chester Gold Auto Repair and then taken over by Martin N. Boomstra Auto Repair in 1945. In 1947 Fred Crowhurst ran a cream station there, later selling wholesale poultry and eggs. Industrial Equipment and Supply Company took over the building from 1954 to 1962. Peoples’ Plumbing Supply used it from 1964 to 1969 and the building was vacant after 1970.
Seckelmann has converted the building into a wedding and events venue. He is a three-time Preservation Award winner, having won for the Edward Stewart building in 2010 and the Austin building in 2016.
Pipestone Indoor Country Club, located at 259 Territorial Road. The building was rehabilitated by Shane Franks and GreenSpan Construction. Adam and Dustin Lester converted it into its current use, offering indoor golf simulators, a putting green and conference rooms.
The building was originally Veit Auto Parts in 1947, run by Charles and Anna Veit, and taken over by their son Harold J. Veit until 1966. From the mid-1990s until 2005 the building was occupied by Kimball Products, Inc., which rented utility vehicles.
A Private Home, located at 873 Territorial Road. Ben Neidlinger rehabilitated the house in 2019. It was built in the early 1920s and occupied for the next 35 years by Nathan and Martha Dodson. Nathan was a World War 1 veteran and a perennial, but unsuccessful, Socialist candidate for local offices in Benton Harbor. Their son, Vernon, went on to be an instructor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan.
Later residents of the home included Andrew and Ole Guidry, J.C. and Lillian Fowler, Robert and Cherry Anderson, Jesse and Ula Moore, Celestine Parker, and Hamlett Stockstell. The home was vacant from 1990 until Neidlinger restored it.
The Morton House Preservation Committee also choose three buildings that are endangered. All three buildings are currently empty. They include:
Dr. Robert Regan Medical Clinic building (also known as the Anthony Medical building), located at 925 Pipestone Ave. and built in 1955. The clinic was designed by the renowned architectural firm of Keck and Keck. Those brothers made their mark by designing “The House of Tomorrow” and the “Crystal House” at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. They were associated with the famed Bauhaus School of Architecture. Keck and Keck designed hundreds of buildings and houses in the Midwest from 1935 to 1979.
The building was occupied by medical offices until the late 1990s. In the early 2000s, it was the site of the Kids’ Place Day Care.
Roxy’s Drive-In, at 287 East Main Street. The restaurant was at that site from 1965 to 2001. The committee feels it’s important for any future restoration to retain the original elements of the drive-in design.
Voice of Music (V-M Corporation) building at 353 West Main Street. V-M Corporation manufactured record players and other audio equipment from 1952 to 1977. The latest use of the building was as the Iron Gate, which was a home decor store.
The Morton House Museum, the Home of Benton Harbor History, is located at 501 Territorial Road and is the oldest building in the city. This year, due to the pandemic, visits are by appointment only at the museum.