Map by the author, based on Newman, 1915.
On March 3, 1899, Chester D. Woodbury, Judge Edward Cahill, and Dr. Johnson W. Hagadorn purchased a portion of the Manly Miles farm which fronted Grand River Avenue from Abbot Road to the former Valley Court entrance across from Central School, and extended north to where Burcham Drive has its western end today. Two months later they sold an undivided one-fourth interest to Arthur C. Bird, secretary of the State Board of Agriculture. They employed Professor H. K. Vedder to design “Oakwood,” comprising eighty-two lots of about one-quarter acre in size, plus a large lot, № 83, west of Evergreen and south of Oakhill, which prior to modern drainage was swampland. The plat was filed on June 17, 1899. (Lot 83 was partially subdivided on October 29, 1903. Its largest remaining lot is now Valley Court Park.)[Towar, p. 70]
Oakwood was named for a stand of native oak trees that stood north of the aptly named Oakhill Avenue. Most of the trees were later cleared, though one massive oak was retained, overlooking the valley. In 1976 it was estimated to be nearly 300 years old.[Kestenbaum, p. 33] By 1992 the tree was gone, but its huge, eight-foot-diameter stump, near 316 Oakhill, was still evident in 2011.
Oak stump on Oakhill Drive, November 2003. Photo Credit: Kevin S. Forsyth.
Before it succumbed to its inevitable role as the main commercial axis of East Lansing, Grand River Avenue (briefly called Miles Avenue along the south side of Oakwood) was lined with an impressive collection of houses in the late-Victorian styles of the period—mainly Queen Anne style with its asymmetrical planform, wraparound porches, and elaborate details in variegated wood siding and ornamentation. Very few of these mansions are still standing, and none of them remain along Grand River Avenue.
The first house to be supplanted by commercial construction was that of J. W. Hagadorn, whose enormous Queen Anne house was built in 1904 on the northwest corner of Grand River and Evergreen Avenue. When the East Lansing State Bank was incorporated in 1916, it constructed the first commercial building in Oakwood, at that corner; to accommodate it, Hagadorn’s house was moved to the back of the property, where it became 215 Evergreen. The “imposing new ‘bank block’ of dark brown and white glazed brick” was completed in 1917 and is still standing, barely, one hundred years later. However, Hagadorn’s house was destroyed by fire in 1972. A restaurant later occupied part of the site.[Kestenbaum, pp. 10, 21]
Former J. W. Hagadorn Mansion, shortly after the destructive fire of 6 June 1972.
View from Albert Avenue west, with the Peoples Church addition and bell tower in the background (and a 1971 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser in the foreground).
Photo Credit: Lawrence Kestenbaum. Reprinted in Kestenbaum, p. 10.
The Woodbury home, built in 1903 but owned since 1911 by the Hesperian Society, was on a double lot facing Grand River between Abbot and Evergreen. As the young city grew, this house at the very center of downtown was seen as an impediment to commercial growth. The East Lansing Development Corporation was formed in 1926 with the express purpose of acquiring the property; it soon did so and moved the house to 323 Ann Street. (The Hesperians used the proceeds to build a new, fancier edifice at 810 W. Grand River, now the Psi Upsilon house.)
Hesperian Society House, formerly the Woodbury Mansion, circa 1913. Photo Credit: Beal, p. 198.
Construction soon began on “The Abbott,” a $500,000 commercial building designed by Edwyn A. Bowd. It opened in 1927 and provided a new home for the East Lansing State Bank, retail space for several other businesses, and the movie house known as the State Theatre. The Abbott* (sans theatre) is still standing, although its façade was replaced with a modern design in 1969.[Kestenbaum, pp. 26–28]
“The Abbott” circa 1929. The column-flanked entrance to the East Lansing State Bank is near the front corner. The State Theatre marquee is at right, while the preceding bank block of 1917 is in the left distance. Photo Credit: City of East Lansing. Reprinted in Miller, p. 53.
To the west of Hagadorn’s home (and later the 1917 bank block) stood the home of A. C. Bird, who built his Queen Anne on the former site of the log house that was home to D. Robert Burcham, the original settler of the farmland.[Towar, pp. 45, 70] At the time of Bird’s construction the house faced the apex of the Delta at the eastern end of Michigan Avenue. An addition to Peoples Church replaced the house in 1965.[Kestenbaum, p. 10]
Phi Delta Society House, formerly the A. C. Bird House, circa 1913. Photo Credit: Beal, p. 201
The southeast portion of Oakwood, today known as the “Park District,” is now the subject of a $148 million redevelopment project. Several buildings, many of them vacant for years, are slated for demolition. The former Evergreen Arms apartments at 340–344 Evergreen Avenue and a two-story bank building at 303 Abbot Road were demolished in summer 2016. Both East Lansing State Bank buildings, the original from 1917 and the “Abbott,” from 1927, were expected to be torn down before the end of 2016 but have been delayed by litigation. Also included among the sites to meet the bulldozer is the Justice William W. Potter House at 334 Evergreen Avenue, which is listed among the East Lansing Historic Commission’s Significant Structures. The planned mixed-use development includes “hotel, retail, apartments and condominiums.”
|James DeLoss Towar House, 507 Abbot Rd. (1904)|
|Charles B. Collingwood House, 526 Sunset Lane (1905)|
|Warren Babcock House, 437 Abbot Rd. (1907)|
|W. O. Hedrick House, 220 Oakhill Ave. (1909)|
|Justice William W. Potter House, 334 Evergreen Ave. (1909)|
|Peoples Church, 200 W. Grand River Ave. (1924)|
|Old Post Office, 327 Abbot Rd. (1933)|
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