If these walls could talk: 508 Lake Shore Drive

In the midst of a busy summer, it's been a while since there's been space for a new installment in our ongoing series of 'virtual' walks through significant buildings in the Culver area. Having completed our visit to the downtown area, we're strolling to the western edge of the "uptown" (or is that "mid-town," given that some consider north Lake Shore Drive near S.R. 17 "uptown"?) Culver -- that is, the business district near the town beach which has been a hotbed of activity since the railroad came through in 1883-84.

This week we're at 508 (formerly 504) Lake Shore Drive, a fitting bit of timing since the building is home to today's Culver fire department, at the northwest corner of Lake Shore and State Street, and the department is this year celebrating its 110th anniversary.

On her Maxinkuckee history website, Judi Burns speculates the site may have once been listed at 514 or 610 Lake Shore Drive, in which case as early as 1878, it was listed as The Van Schoiack, presumably a hotel/rooming house. Prior to 1897, it was the D. A. Bradley hotel, which also included a restaurant and grocery (owner Dan Bradley, a prominent businessman here at the time, had purchased the building about 1889 from Celia Van Schoiack).

In March, 1897, D. R. Avery of South Bend purchased the large building from Bradley, having left one of "the leading dry goods houses of South Bend," according to The Culver City Herald of the day.

There are interesting stories too involved to tell here concerning the various business activities of Mr. Avery, but on a personal note, I'll relate that, in 2006 I received a call from Clara Hanson explaining an elderly gentleman was in her restaurant with some old photos and other historical items. He turned out to be the grandson of D.R. Avery, and he had recollections of Culver in its much younger days, and had heard even more from his grandfather. He donated to the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver several one-of-a-kind photos of Avery-owned businesses and a copy of the Maxinkuckee Chatterer newspaper of 1901 (the only copy known to exist).

His grandfather had operated the Avery Park Cafe at the site of today's fire station around 1900.

An April, 1900 report in several area newspapers noted a whole row of businesses, including the lavish Colonnade Hotel, Emmon's Saloon, Avery's Restaurant, Wolford's Saloon, and Keller's Barber Shop "are now in ruins," in a fire believed to have been started by the work of an anti-saloon arsonist. However, the report was mistaken at least as far as Avery's was concerned; it continued to operate, and was under the proprietorship of a Major Anderson as of 1901, when he opted to leave Culver. By 1903, Robert Kreuzberger Jr. had apparently taken on the hotel and restaurant in addition to the brick saloon he operated across the street to the south, in the historic building at the south end of State Street today owned by Jim and Dianne Green.

The Sanborn fire map of 1924 lists the site as the home of the Chasnelle Hotel, which was said to have been known as the Paramount Hotel as well.

By March, 1933, the Citizen reported "one of the landmarks of the town," the Paramount Hotel, was being torn down to make space for a $3,000 "super service station" to be built by Homer Kemple.

In 1946, the present brick building was constructed, and shortly thereafter occupied by Charles Van Meter's International Harvester farm implement store (he also operated a branch of the store in Rochester). In 1952, Omar Hook, said the Citizen, purchased the store and took it over in January of 1953. By the time Van Meter died in July, 1961, the business was known as the Nelson Equipment Company.

In November, 1966, the Culver Citizen reported the town of Culver had purchased the building and moved the town hall and fire and police stations into it, a vast improvement over the longtime town hall in what is today the parking lot of Grace United Church of Christ, between Lake, Plymouth, and Cass Streets. The town hall and police would depart the space in the bicentennial year of 1976, taking occupancy at the former Citizen Press Inc. building at Plymouth and Washington Streets, where the town hall, police, and EMS continue to operate today.

The fire department, of course, stayed behind, making good use of the space in the building for its trucks, and the old office space for its regular business meetings.

In 2003, the department, having purchased the former Kemple home just north of the building, razed the house there and expanded the fire station by way of the present pole barn type construction (they also purchased the lot across the street to the east, but that's a story for another column).

“Culver History Corner” is a semiregular feature sponsored by the
Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver. whose quarterly newsletter is also sponsored in The Culver Citizen.