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Behind the Facade

Grace Shackman

How an elegant Art Deco front dressed up a plain 1858 building

The Kleinschmidt Insurance building, at 206 East Huron, boasts one of the most striking facades in architecturally conservative Ann Arbor. But the bold Art Deco front was actually an afterthought, added sixty years ago to a much simpler structure built in Ann Arbor's early days.

The building's first occupant was Jacob Haller, a trained watchmaker from Germany. Haller set up shop in 1858, selling clocks and watches, jewelry, silverware, and spectacles. The Haller family (including son Martin, who later founded a well-known furniture store) lived upstairs over the store.

Jacob Haller moved his store to Main Street in 1888, and the Allmendinger Bakery moved in. In 1894, the Heusel brothers, Fred and Sam--also bakers--took over.

The Heusel brothers' partnership lasted until 1904, when Fred bought Sam out and renamed the business the "City Bakery." Sam built a new bakery on the corner of Liberty and Fourth (now Bill's Coffee Cup), which he named "Ann Arbor Home Bakery." The brothers remained in friendly competition, selling similar goods at similar prices (bread 5 cents a loaf and cookies 10 cents a dozen). Fred's white bread was called "butterkrust," Sam's "butternut." People who remember eating them say they tasted the same.

The City Bakery was "a wonderful place," recalls Fred's daughter, Frieda Heusel Saxon. Saxon, now in her nineties, says the whole family worked there as soon as they were old enough. Her brother Fred managed the business, Frieda did the bookkeeping, and her other brother, Erwin, worked in the kitchen and also did deliveries. Her mother, Mary, was known as the "cookie lady"--though she stayed home to manage the house and kids, she did her bit by selling baked goods to her neighbors from their house at 531 South First Street.

Alvin Kleinschmidt, retired owner of Kleinschmidt Insurance, worked in the City Bakery when he was a boy. One of his jobs was to load bread as it came off the wrapping machine (where wax paper was put around the loaves and heat-sealed) to be taken to the train station, where it would be shipped to nearby towns.

In the days before preservatives, quick delivery was an important element of the business, and the City Bakery kept three horse and wagon teams. All were kept in a barn behind the Heusels' house on First Street. Later, when trucks replaced the horses, they, too, were stored there. (Elsa Ordway, who grew up on First Street, remembers hearing, shortly after they switched over to trucks, one of the drivers yelling "Whoa" instead of putting on the brakes.)

Fred Heusel died in 1927. His son, Fred Jr., continued running the bakery a little longer, but the city directory shows the building as vacant by 1929. In 1931 the triweekly Ann Arbor Tribune moved in.

The building's graceful Art Deco facade was added by the Washtenaw Post Tribune. Undertaken at the height of the Depression, it expressed "the confidence the newspaper has in the future growth of our city."

The Tribune added a graceful, airy facade in the Art Deco style then at the peak of its popularity. Undertaken at the height of the Depression, the costly project bravely expressed, as Charles Henderson, then vice president of Washtenaw Gas Company, pointed out, "the confidence the newspaper has in the future growth of our city." The facade was designed by Cuthbert and Cuthbert and built by F. A. Aseltine, both of Ann Arbor.

The Tribune's first issue after the move was filled with letters of congratulation from anyone who was anyone in town, from U-M president Alexander Ruthven to county school superintendent Cora Haas. The paper--after 1935 named the Washtenaw Post Tribune--was descended from Die Neue Post, Ann Arbor's German-language paper. By the 1930's it was no longer printed in German (WWI stopped that), and it devoted itself to covering what the Ann Arbor News left out: sensational stories, such as murder trials, homey local information, such as social events and birthdays, and news of neighboring communities. Art Gallagher, retired editor of the Ann Arbor News, worked for the Tribune from 1932 to 1937. (He started when he was still in college and ended up as editor.) One of his regular assignments was to drive out to Dexter and Saline and find out what was new.

The Post Tribune moved down the street to 217 East Huron in 1939, and Walter Springer moved his insurance and finance business into the building. Alvin Kleinschmidt, who went to work for Springer at about that time, later bought the business. His son Charles owns it today.

Today, the 200 block of East Huron is a busy street with cars whizzing by and very little foot traffic. But there was lots of pedestrian activity in earlier days. In the days of the City Bakery, shoppers came to the street not just for the bakery but for several other food stores, including Eschelbach's meat market and Casper and Rimsey's grocery. The Tribune liked the location because reporters could easily get to their news sources at the courthouse and city hall, and the post office (at Main and Catherine, now the County Administration Building) was a short walk. Art Gallagher remembers taking bundled papers to the post office early in the morning in an old iron cart that made so much noise that he woke up the town as he went. Alvin Kleinschmidt says that even when the insurance office first opened, most people still came by in person to make their payments. He recalls that "more people came in and paid over the counter in one day than now in a month."

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Over its 132-year history, 206 E. Huron has served as a jewelry store (left), a bakery, a newspaper office, and an insurance agency (above).

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Grace Shackman


AA Observer