Workers uncover downtown GR history while revamping building

Stripped down 50 Monroe tells tale of two cities

50 Monroe Grand Rapids
Nov. 4, 2016 photos show the stripped down version of 50 Monroe.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A work crew in downtown Grand Rapids is getting an unexpected history lesson as they peel away layers of 50 Monroe.

Last week, crews removed a few panels from the building’s fascade, revealing a brick exterior and stone arches from an entirely different era.

“This is a classic example of the two cities,” said historian Gordon Olson.

Those two cities are the 19th Century Grand Rapids, when the south end of downtown near the Grand River was home to factories and warehouses and the Grand Rapids of the 60s, 70s and 80s, when urban renewal sometimes meant a whole new look. In the case of 50 Monroe, the three buildings were clad in an aluminum fascade, which was in inexpensive solution for a more modern appearance.

Olson says it appears many downtown redevelopers are learning from the mistake of the past.

“Yes we have to and will build new buildings, but when we do it, let’s take a look at what’s around us. Let ‘s not just jam a new building in here. Let’s look around and see what really works together, what we can make work together,” he pontificated.

CWD Real Estate Investments, which now owns 50 Monroe, is trying to determine what layers of history it should keep.

“Now we’re going back and we’re saying, ‘Well, we can make some combinations now that really look great,” said Sam Cummings with CWD Real Estate.

The developer currently has no exact plans for the buildings.