In February, 2014, the Ypsilanti City Council was meeting to discuss the further development of their Water Street Project. When a member of the audience made some references to Ann Arbor, one of the council members responded that “Ypsilanti is no Ann Arbor.” This comment bothered me since I can remember a time when Ypsilanti was greater in reputation than Ann Arbor. I immediately set about writing an article on the Ypsilanti that I remembered and grew up in during the 1940s. At that time, it was my recollection that Ypsilanti was the gem of Washtenaw County, with a unique teacher’s college, an outstanding school system and a reputation as a quaint village that most people envied. As a result of that article, I received a communication from Barbara Hamilton Cornish in which she commented about the Ypsilanti of that day, and she sent me the following statement. “Wow! You sure captured the slippery slope that Ypsi has experienced. I remember the beautiful tree-lined streets, Washtenaw Avenue. (much narrower than it is now), being proud when I boasted about being from Ypsi, feeling excited to go shopping downtown - Mellencamps, Haywards, Nissleys sewing shop, Terry Bakery (free cookies for kids), creaky old floors in the two “dime stores” (Kresge’s and Woolworth’s), Cunningham’s Drug Store on the corner of Washington and Michigan Avenue with their soda fountain, Seyfried’s Jewelry store where Bill bought my engagement ring, The Dixie Shop, Willoughby’ Shoe Store, Buster Brown Shoe Store (the x-ray machine for your feet), Marsh Office Supply and gift shop, the Martha Washington Theater where Disney movies created lines of patrons that wound around the corner from Washington Street to Pearl Street, The Coffee Cabana behind the theater (greatest hamburger ever), The Wuerth Theater on Michigan Avenue, old Cleary College where my grandfather, sister and brother used to sit on the lawn and eat ice cream cones, two banks, The Casanova Restaurant (across from Haab’s, the post office on Michigan Avenue and the library on Huron Street. Lots of memories as my sister and I rode our bikes from our house east of Prospect Park to the downtown area and then flying down the four hills behind the classic City Hall building hoping that we would be able to stop before we braked by the river’s edge. On the corner of Huron Street and Cross there was a small Gordon’s food store (building is no longer there). Walking to the older Ypsi High from our house on East Cross Street we would pass the pond and the cannon in Prospect Park where we used to be on the iced tennis courts every evening and weekends playing crack-the-whip during the winter, then visiting Weber’s Drug Store before we would be leaning over the Cross Street Bridge at our beautiful Huron River.” These nostalgic comments got me to thinking about the downtown that I knew in the 1940’s, and I decided to try to verbally recreate the Michigan Avenue of those days. To help me, I turned to Harold and Marlene Moffett Britton who were raised in Ypsilanti and were a significant part of the Ypsilanti business community. We met for several hours and compiled a list of the places we could remember. I also shared my list with several other people in order to fill in some of the names which we had been unable to recall. I received a great deal of help from Doreen Binder who had a wonderful recollection of the area called Dutch Town of which she had written in “The Gleanings” in the summer of 2004. It is very likely that the list is not complete. I still receive calls from my sources who remember something else about Main Street. However, it is probably complete enough to get some of you “old timers” to thinking about those wonderful days when Ypsilanti was the “Gem of Washtenaw County. There were many areas of commerce in Ypsilanti in the 1940’s. There was the area on Cross Street around Michigan State Normal College. There was the historic area called Depot Town. There was another area along Ecorse. There were also many individual businesses in neighborhoods throughout the City. This list deals only with the area along Michigan Avenue from Ballard Street to Grove Street. The businesses listed are in the blocks described but not necessarily in the order they existed. There was an area we called “the point” at the intersection of Ballard and Michigan Avenue. On that site was a Standard Gas Station owned by Badaluccos. THE BLOCK ON MICHIGAN AVENUE FROM BALLARD TO HAMILTON -North side: McClure’s Mobil Gas Station, Brook’s Grocery. -South side: Jones’ Blue Sunoco Gas Station (where the current Police Station is now), Krogers, Dr. Williamson’s office (a house). THE BLOCK ON MICHIGAN AVENUE FROM HAMILTON TO ADAMS -North side: Meyers Restaurant, Greyhound Bus Station, Cleary College. -South side: Shell Tire, Chamber of Commerce. THE BLOCK ON MICHIGAN AVENUE FROM ADAMS TO WASHINGTON -North side: Ernies (soda shop), Wolverine Restaurant, Greystone Hotel, Wuerth Theater, Jack Sprat’s Restaurant, Moffett’s Shoes (Buster Brown), Michos’ (soda shop), Grinnell’s Music Store, Carty’s Music Store, Richardson’s Drugs, Spiegel’s Catalogue Store, Miller Jones Clothing Store, Augustus Furniture, Western Union, Kresge’s Dime Store. -South side: Post Office, Gas Company, Dawson’s (hardware and lumber), Mack and Mack Furniture, Cigar Store, Avon Restaurant, Tap Room. THE BLOCK ON MICHIGAN AVENUE FROM WASHINGTON TO HURON -North side: Cunningham’s Drugs, Family Radio, Hartman’s (women’s clothing), Sally Shear Clothing, Freed & ? (tailor?), Wild and Company Men’s Wear, Allison’s Clothes, Mellencamps‘s Clothes, Shaffer Hardware, Weimann and Mathews Drug Store, Sports Store, Webb and Mars Sewing Needs, Seifried’s Jewelers, Shoe Market, Brian-Steven’s Shoe Store, A.J. Green Jewelers, Landy’s Furniture. -South side: National Bank of Ypsilanti, Dixie Shop (men’s and women’s clothes), Campus Shoes, Giddes Hat Shop, Willoughby’s Shoe Store, M and S Hardware, Snappy Joes Restaurant, The Apparel Shop, Campbell’s Jewelers, Terry’s Bakery, Restaurant. THE AREA ON MICHIGAN AVENUE FROM HURON STREET TO RIVER STREET - North side: Haab’sRestaurant, Furniture Recovered, Moose Lodge, Bowling Alley, Schriner’s Barber Shop, White Palace Restaurant, Chapman’s Auto, Packer’s Outlet (grocery), Miller’s Ice Cream. -South side: Ypsilanti Savings Bank, Markham’s Restaurant, Moorman’s Lumber Yard, SerbayMotors, Silkworth’s Gas Station and Auto Repair, Sesi Lincoln Mercury. THE AREA ON MICHIGAN AVENUE FROM RIVER STREET TO GROVE STREET (DUTCH TOWN) -North side: Lounsberry’s Standard Gas Station, Woodruff Elementary School, Ken Brokaw’s Gas Station, Dolph Thorne’s Tire and Appliance Store, A & P Grocery Store, A & W Root Beer Stand. -South Side: Thompson’s Dodge and Chrysler Dealer, Michigan State Police Post, Carrie Chadwick’s Piano Store, Clarence Tyrell’s Plumbing Shop, Bomber Restaurant, Emil Batcheler’sMeat Market, Max Bitker’s Dry Goods, Al Holzhauer’s Print Shop, Parkview Pharmacy (McLlhargie and Binder), C.F. Smith Grocery, Russell’s Bakery, Steffe’s Gas Station, Herzbergs Processing (junk dealer), Otis Tooze’s Barber Shop. There were also many businesses on the cross streets and parallel streets to Michigan Avenue. For example, on Pearl Street there were the following businesses: Condon’s Hardware, Bill’s gas station, Huron Hotel, Freeman-Bunting Insurance, Manakis’Shoe Repair, Weidman’s Ford Dealership, a Restaurant, and Hunt’s Gulf Station. Perhaps someone with a vivid memory and a historical interest will wish to compile a list of these businesses and organizations. These were Golden Days for Ypsilanti, a thriving community, and a wonderful place in which to live. It was a place where residents of Ann Arbor wished that their community could be like Ypsilanti. This is hard for rookie residents of Ypsilanti to believe, but “old timers” know this as a fact. Oh how wonderful it would be if we could recapture life in Ypsilanti as it was then. (Jack Minzey is an active member of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)
Photo 1: The North side of Michigan Avenue in 1941 looking West from Huron Street.