As Herman Krapf's Planing Mill, it Made Fancy Trim for 19th-Century Builders
The Treasure Mart resale shop is a ritual stop for many Ann Arbor-ites, one that's been drawing people to Detroit Street since long before there was a Zingerman's—or a Kerrytown, for that matter. It is housed in a very old building with an interesting history of its own. It was built as a wood planing mill, specializing in "sash, doors, blinds [shutters], moulding and scroll work." An engraving of the mill and the miller's house (still standing next door at 521 Detroit Street) appears in the 1874 Atlas of Washtenaw County. It was constructed in 1869, after an earlier mill on the site burned down.
Detroit Street hummed with industrial activity in the mid-nineteenth century. Connecting the railroad depot to the county courthouse, it was the main gateway to the center of town. Other industries on the street included two buggy factories (one where Auto-Strasse is now, another on the site of the Old Brick) and Luick's Planing Mill, now the old part of the Kerrytown complex.
American woodworking underwent an industrial revolution in the last half of the nineteenth century. Steam planing mills—of which the Treasure Mart and the Luick Building are Ann Arbor's remaining examples—freed woodworking from its historic dependence on waterpower. The newer mills could be located in industrial districts close to their raw materials, and they utilized elaborate labor-saving machinery. This allowed them to produce economical finished products for the home building industry, which boomed after the Civil War.
Mills like these specialized in details—fancy brackets, cut shingles, doors, moldings, and the ornate ornamentation known as "gingerbread." A distinct American architecture, lavished with such wood detailing, climaxed at the end of the century. With a paucity of labor and an abundance of raw product, America gained world prominence in the design and production of woodworking machinery. A British team visiting the U.S. in 1854 was astonished at the specialized machinery for mortising and tenoning, boring, slotting, edging, and grooving.
John G. Miller operated the original mill (at first with a partner, John Reyer), beginning in the early 1850's. He rebuilt it after the 1869 fire, and finally sold it in 1878 to Herman Krapf, who operated it as the Detroit Planing Mill.
According to O. W. Stevenson's history of Ann Arbor, Krapf's mill was one of three that for many years supplied a good share of the lumber and interior materials used in constructing the growing city. Krapf was an Ann Arbor native, born five years after his father immigrated from Germany in 1836. He fought in the Civil War and married a local girl—which may explain why he became a Presbyterian, highly unusual among Ann Arbor's overwhelmingly Catholic and Lutheran nineteenth-century Germans. He served as an officer of the Old Fourth Ward from 1895 to1900.
Krapf remained in business until 1905, when he closed the mill and retired. By then, Michigan's lumber was almost gone. Without cheap local wood supplies, small mills like Krapf's found it hard to compete with trim produced by bigger operations in prime lumber areas, like the American South. The building was used as a machine shop in 1910, but by 1920 the City Directory listed it as vacant. The Barnard Toy Company occupied it for a short while, but by 1930 it was again listed as vacant. By 1940 it was the Warehouse Furniture Store, and in the 1950's it was the home of Ann Arbor Fruit and Produce, which moved in 1960 and rented the building to Mrs. Demaris Cash. Her Treasure Mart has been there ever since.
The idea of a retail consignment shop came to Mrs. Cash as she groped for ways to cope with a series of family troubles, including a daughter diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a mother with a broken back, and a husband with a heart condition. Several "miracles" followed: the idea of a resale shop was suggested by a friend; Mrs. Cash was able to buy display cases and open the store on the same day; she prayed for and found a business partner, Mrs. Grace Bigby; and her first customer—who bought a crystal chandelier—appeared after she prayed for one.
Mrs. Cash bought the onetime mill, and the Miller's house next door, in 1983. Now finishing her thirtieth year of business, she is an active eighty-something. Her store, which some call resale shop and she calls a "junk shop,"is on many visitors' lists of places to see and is an addiction for many of its regular customers. (I allow myself to go only once a week.) The Treasure Mart is still a family enterprise, with Mrs. Cash's daughter, Elaine Johns, as its manager.
[Photo caption from original print edition]: Detroit Street was a bustling industrial district when this engraving appeared in the 1874 Atlas of Washtenaw County. Moribund for much of the century, the street began a comeback when Demaris Cash rented the one-time mill as a resale shop in 1960. Above: the Treasure Mart today.
Behind its modest storefront was the classiest interior decorating firm in Ann Arbor
Frequenters of downtown have enjoyed watching the recent transformation of the Cracked Crab building at 112 West Washington back to its nineteenth-century appearance. William Herz erected the building about 1880 as a paint store, and his family continued in business there for more than eighty years. Under Herz's ownership, and later that of his son, Oswald, the Herz Paint Store became the premier painting and decorating firm in town.
William Herz, a Prussian, learned his trade in Berlin. Born in 1849, he began his apprenticeship at age fourteen, learning painting, frescoing, varnishing, and sign painting. He emigrated at age twenty to join his parents, who had preceded him to Ann Arbor.
Herz opened his own business shortly after he arrived. Working fourteen-hour days, six days a week, he sold paint and related supplies and also decorated many private homes and public buildings. Within ten years, he had nine employees and was able to replace his small store with the two-story brick building on West Washington. He and his wife, Sophia Muehlig, (they married in 1874) also built an impressive house at 603 West Huron, joining other prosperous Germans on that street. He served on city council for eight years, representing the Second Ward (approximately today's Old West Side). Since Ann Arbor had not yet built its first city hall, he probably hosted some of the council meetings in his store.
When William Herz died in 1913, his son, Oswald, took over. Alice Godfrey remembers Oswald Herz as "aristocratic in manner, always dressed up, and very polite and gentlemanly." Professionally, says architect David Osier, Herz was "the painter and decorator of Ann Arbor."
Herz didn't dazzle his customers with fancy displays. Bill Dettling, longtime cook at the Old German next door, says the store looked "like an old-time grocery store, with shelves on all sides." On one side, glass cases displayed paint brushes. Along the other side, rolls of wallpaper were stacked like rugs. Morrie Dalitz owned Varsity Laundry and delivered clean towels and linens to the store. He remembers it as mostly inventory, not displays; "like himself, Herz kept the place neat."
Herz didn't need to display his inventory, because he worked so well from memory. Mary Culver remembers going to the store with her mother to pick out wallpaper for the bedroom she was taking over from her brother, who was serving in World War II. After they described what they had in mind, Herz simply reached up to the shelves and brought down several appropriate samples. Angela Dobson Welsh remembers that Herz always had the latest thing, including "very modern" wallpaper designs from California.
Herz's paint, like everything else he sold, was top quality. Welch, whose parents often used Herz's services, remembers that his paint jobs seemed to last forever and could be washed without damage. Osler likens hiring Herz to buying a Mercedes. His workmen would first clean and sand the walls and then apply six or seven coats of paint.
Bill Wente, a longtime employee, supervised Herz's crews. Most of the dozen or so employees lived on the Old West Side and walked to work. The firm's single truck was used to deliver the crews and their supplies to jobs. If Herz wanted to check on them during the day, he rode his bicycle.
Home owners trusted Herz and his crews, even turning over their house keys so work could proceed while they were off on vacation. Herz, in turn, would help out in their absence by accepting packages, arranging to cut the lawn or shovel the walk, or even sending forgotten clothes.
Herz had a reputation as an autocratic interior designer. Morrie Dalitz recalls that if Herz said a red chair was needed and a customer objected to red, Herz would order a red one anyway. Welch remembers that he worked in many styles, from traditional to modem, and that the final results were "different looking, something you didn't see anywhere else." Herz was also a potter. He had a kiln on the second floor of his store and offered classes several nights a week.
Like his father, Herz did at lot of work for the U-M, and he also worked closely with Goodyear's department store. Most of his private clients were from the east side, where many professors and successful business people lived. Jesse Coller, wife of surgeon Fred Coller, had a knack for decorating and often helped her friends with their houses. According to Welch, she was a great champion of Herz and sent all her friends to him.
Herz never married. When he died in 1954, he left the business to four faithful employees, including Wente, who continued to run it. But according to Osler, the paint business was changing drastically by then. With the advent of mixing machines and ready-mixed colors, department and discount stores were moving in on the turf that had once belonged exclusively to local paint stores.
At the end of 1963, the partners closed the business and sold the building to Herman Goetz, who changed it to a bar and grill. In 1971 the Cracked Crab took over and did a major remodeling that covered the facade, added a phony first-story roof, and lowered the entrance by removing the stepping-stone with Herz's name etched in it. (It can be found embedded in the sidewalk by the Del Rio's side door.)
The Cracked Crab expanded into the adjacent storefront in 1978. Both buildings are now owned by the same partnership that owns the former Old German building at 120, now the Grizzly Peak Brewing Company. Using old photographs found by Susan Wineberg, managing partner Jon Carlson is restoring the building and recreating its nineteenth-century appearance. He has removed the Cracked Crab's facade and white paint to reveal the original deep-orange brick. In consultation with historic paint expert Rob Schweitzer, he is painting the building's non-brick details in red, yellow, green, and brown, historically accurate colors that also complement the Grizzly Peak.
Carlson's new tenant will be the Cafe Zola, run by Alan Zakalik and Hediye Batu. They chose the name because it had the sophisticated, international ring they were looking for; because the Z picked up on Zakalik's name; and because Emile Zola was writing around the time when the building was put up. They hope to open sometime in January.
—Grace Shackman, with research assistance by Susan Wineberg
(Above) Within ten years of opening his Ann Arbor paint store, William Herz built this two-story brick storefront on West Washington.
(Right) After years of neglect, it's being restored to its nineteenth-century appearance.
From 1915 to 1943, Osias Zwerdling ran a fur store at 215-211 East Liberty. Sometime in the 1920s, he had an Art Deco sign—a twilight scene of a wolf baying at the moon—painted on an exterior wall. Zwerdling always took pride in the fact that the sign was painted by a professional artist, and its "painterly quality," says architectural conservator Ron Koenig, is probably the reason no one ever painted over it. But the main reason a group of people recently raised $12,000 to restore it is Zwerdling's role as patriarch of Ann Arbor's Jewish community.
Schneiders' corner has been a fruit farm, a gas station, and a haven for hungry police officers
In 1903, blacksmith John Schneider sold his shop on Washington Street near Ashley and bought a fruit farm and a farmhouse on South Main Street. The family remained in business on the corner continuously until last summer.
From harness making to work clothes
Soon after Herman Ehnis opened his harness shop at 116 West Liberty, he realized he had gone into a dying field. But by adroitly shifting his focus from horses to the workmen who cared for them, Ehnis created a business that is still here eighty-two years later.
When Walter Mast went into business for himself in 1942, there were nine shoe stores on the street. Today, Mast's is the sole survivor.
When Walter Mast opened his shoe store on Main Street in 1942, friends warned him he would never make a go of it. Not only were there eight other shoe stores nearby, but he sold only one line. Now, forty-nine years later, Mast's is the last shoe store on Main Street.