Main Street – Through the Ages


Jess Letaw, an architect for Ann Arbor, talks about the history of the courthouses in Ann Arbor. As the students were furiously scribbling down notes, Letaw smiled as she noted that the students weren’t just blowing off the tour.

As Ann Arbor grows to a larger, more popular town, I find it important that we look back upon what Ann Arbor was like when it began, to today’s time. However, because Ann Arbor is such a large area this article will only be focusing its attention on Main Street.
According to Jean Wong – one of the first English teachers at Community High School – when Ann Arbor was founded in 1824, the founders Allen and Rumsey promised to build a courthouse, a jailhouse, and a bridge. This is because Allen and Rumsey wanted Ann Arbor to have the county seat, which would have gone to Ypsilanti if Ann Arbor had not been built when it was.
In addition to wanting the county seat, both Allen and Rumsey were prominent businessmen and saw potential in the Ann Arbor area. They knew that the Erie Canal would be coming in 1825 which would connect them to New York, however, one thing they didn’t know is that the University of Michigan would come to Ann Arbor in 1841, causing a massive influx in the economy of the city.

Jean Wong, one of the first English teachers for Community High School, and Jess Letaw, and architect for the City of Ann Arbor introduce themselves to the group they would be leading through Main Street’s history. While the tour started with the guides talking about when Ann Arbor was founded, the would migrate to talking about the different finical successes of Ann Arbor businesses as they appeared on Main Street.

The Courthouse
The courthouse that people know today, is not the original courthouse built in Ann Arbor. The courthouse built in 1934 stood for 34 years, before the courthouse that people know today was built around that original courthouse. Because Allen and Rumsey declared that if the courthouse would be moved to any other location, the people building the new courthouse would have to deal with their heirs. To avoid dealing with the heirs, the people building the new courthouse built it around the old one, with only six inches separating the two buildings. After it was built, the old courthouse was demolished and turned into a parking lot.

Glacier Building
The glacier building was built in 1908, by Gregory Glacier as a monument to his wealth and success. Because the architecture of the building is fancier than the architecture of the buildings around it, historians have concluded that Glacier wanted his wealth to be flaunted to the people of Ann Arbor. However, while the Glacier building was being built, an investigation was performed on Glacier’s wealth and spent time in jail because he was found guilty of fraudulent behavior.

The group gathers across the street from the Glacier building, talking about the history associated with it. They would continue talking to it, until the conversation naturally turned to talking about the banks of Ann Arbor, which is when the group moved down the block to talk more about the banking institutions of Ann Arbor.

Bank Block
On W. Washington and Main Street lays “Bank Block,” where the First National Bank has held three separate locations, in addition to a local bank being located where Chase is now. The First National Ban’s first location was built in 1828, where Crazy Wisdom Tea Room now stands. But as people developed a desire for more security, the National Bank moved to where Mongolian Barbeque now stands in 1868. For 61 years, the National Bank stayed in that location before they decided to make their bank more visually appealing, so they moved to their current location in 1929, which was unfortunately not the best time to build a bank as this was right before The Great Depression occurred. In 1935 the bank reopened and has remained open ever since.

Pretzel Bell
When the Pretzel Bell closed in 1984, the town of Ann Arbor had felt its closure. The restaurant had been the one place in Ann Arbor that University students and town people came together to eat and have a good time. So several athletes came together to bring back that love of what the Pretzel Bell represented in 2016.
“We wanted to bring back all the excitement that people felt when they came to the original Pretzel Bell,” Greg Lobdell, one of the new owners of the Pretzel Bell, said. “ So we came in and rehabilitated this old building on Main Street, and made it into the Pretzel Bell of today. We had been taking projects like this on before the Pretzel Bell though, we take the places that other developers won’t take, and then give them new life.”
While the new Pretzel Bell is a place that many Ann Arbor residents have visited, and have eaten at, it is not what the original Pretzel Bell was. It strives to keep the atmosphere of the original restaurant while making its own name. The longer that the Pretzel Bell remains in Ann Arbor, the more the restaurant gains its own reputation, and moves away from the original Pretzel Bell.