by Donna Klein
First Floor – Retail Space and Offices
Once I was brought up to speed on the early history of the Centennial Building, Mike and Kate took me on a tour of the building. I was about to embark on a trip back in time as we continued our conversation.
We started on the first floor. The big front room once housed a book store and was the location of Alpena’s first library, thanks to the efforts of Elizabeth “Miss Lizzie” Mason. She believed education was the key to the future of the youth of the area, especially the young women. Mike and Kate are blending the old and somewhat newer in this room. The pew against the left wall as you enter the room comes from an old church in Onaway that was torn down. Thanks to his aunt, they were able to preserve a little of the history of that building, too. Mike’s aunt also donated some books from the late 1800s that have found a home here.
This floor also served as law offices for more than one state legislator at the start of their careers. It also served as space for architects. The last use of this floor was as offices for Hometown Realty through the latter part of 2014.
Mike informed me that he went looking for interior photos of the building from the late 1800s or early 1900s. An historian from the local library told him there were none. When asked why, he replied, “because I’d never seen one.” Mike thinks it is because of the Centennial Building’s association with the Odd Fellows. The Odd Fellows held tightly to the privacy of their meeting place.
Hanging on the wall next to the alcove is an Odd Fellows Certificate of Membership. The most unusual thing about this decorative document is that it is blank. Normally, these documents follow a person throughout their lives and is buried with them when they die. The three links are representative of their creed of Friendship, Love, and Truth.
Between the fireplace and the hallway is a painting by Mike’s cousin, Christopher Moran. He also painted the shipwreck scene in the alcove off the front room.
The ceiling is original and the moldings are original. Clips were attached to the molding that would hold the delicate chains from which paintings were hung. This was the Victorian solution to holes in the plaster walls for hanging things. They were the Command Strips of their day!
We walked through a beautiful wooden archway (not a part of the original design) into an alcove off the front room containing a draftsman’s table and straw hat. This is an homage to Samuel Hitchcock, an early real estate developer and philanthropist. The alcove was once part of the original stairwell that led to the six rental rooms on the second floor of the building. The witness mark of the original stairwell is still visible today. This freeze frame inspired by the birth of this building is visible from the street as you walk down Washington Avenue. Hanging on the wall is the other painting by Mike’s cousin, Christopher Moran. It pays homage to Elmer Bernstead, a 19th century painter.
The back of the building was home to the Music House in the late 1800s, but most recently served as offices to Hometown Realty. This section has been turned into cubicles, and in one of them is an homage to the music store of long ago. There is an old standup bass in one corner that Mike’s brother traded a 1974 Pontiac to acquire, and a vintage xylophone in another. The centerpiece is an 1836 Steinway piano. It isn’t playable in its current condition, but it is oh, so beautiful! The wood has its own story to tell.
Mike’s office is located on the First Avenue side of the building. He has some beautiful stained glass from St. Bernard’s church. It was found in the basement of the church during a remodeling project.
Basement – Strip Club in the 1980s
From there, we explored the basement of the building. Kate led me down the back stairs, past the old shipping dock. The basement was the original location for the strip club that occupied the building during the 1980s. Today, it holds some interesting items, including a screen door that appears in a photo of Mike’s Hardware from the 1890s, and another one with a very vintage Canada Dry sign near the handle. Mike has a home grain mill from the 1800s that he plans to incorporate into the creation of his craft beer. The other side of the basement revealed a beautiful brick archway; a hidden treasure!
In the final installment, we’ll explore the second and third floors of this remarkable building and catch up with Mike and Kate Phillips about their vision of the future of the Centennial Building. So, come on back tomorrow to find out just what is on those floors and what they look like today.
We hope you’ll join us as we celebrate the Sunrise Side through the Lake Huron Discovery Tour this weekend. Recollections will be presenting a heritage celebration at the Centennial Building, on the corner of Chisholm Street (US 23) where First Avenue and Washington Avenue meet in downtown Alpena. The Recollections models will be mingling with the crowd at downtown events from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nathanael Koenig is featured in a classical and jazz guitar performance from 1 to 1:45 p.m. inside the Centennial Building. The Recollections fashion show featuring Victorian and Edwardian fashions starts at 2 p.m. Seating is limited, so come for the music and stay for the fashion show!