If these walls could talk: the Pearl Street apartments


Picking up where we left off in our ongoing series of "virtual" walks through historic buildings of Culver, we're detouring a block off Lake Shore Drive before leaping into its ever-popular "uptown" business district, to 629 Pearl St., often referred to nowadays simply as "the Pearl Street apartments."

This entry in our series has been especially interesting to put together, thanks to the assistance of Bea (Price) Stephenson, whose parents, Harold and Betty Price, bought the building in the early 1950s and did extensive renovation to it, besides giving it their own name during its tenure under their care.

What's more, Bea -- with some able help from Judy McCollough of the Marshall County Historical Society, has shed more light than we previously had, on the origins of the building.

The "history mystery," if you will, pertains to a unique and well-remembered vessel of Lake Maxinkuckee's golden age of tourism, the White Swan floating dance pavilion, which was first launched in June, 1905. The Culver Citizen of the day described it as "30 feet wide and 70 feet long with two decks. The upper deck will be used for dancing while on the lower deck will be seats and refreshment stands.”

The big boat, which was said to have been towed by oxen or horses from the lake shore (although it was also referred to as a steamboat; likely both were true), was quite a sight in its day, which admittedly didn't last all that long. In Sept., 1907, it was announced that Captain Cook was closing the White Swan, "on which many a dance has been held.”

Anecdotal references pointed to the fact that the frame of the old boat was used to build a rooming house or hotel owned by Crook, a well-known steamboat pilot on the lake. For some time it was speculated that the house at the northern end of Harding Court, occupied for several years more recently by the Helber family, was the destination of the White Swan, but the dates don't add up. It's true that the former Helber property was a rooming house or hotel, known alternately as Lord House, Crook's Hotel, Crook's Hall and Cottage Grove Place, but there's a reference to the rooming house, then occupied by Mrs. R.E. Lord, in the Citizen at least as far back as 1896, which predates the White Swan by nine years.

Susan Helber has written that Capt. Lord, also a prominent steamboat pilot, constructed her family's former home from salvaged lumber from old steamers, which is quite likely. The fact that Crook also owned the Harding Court house, of course, makes the confusion all the more understandable.

According to Judy McCollough's research, A.L. Toner owned the Pearl Street property until Elizabeth Crook bought it Aug. 28, 1905.
The Citizen of Feb. 22, 1912, noted, “Captain Crook has raised the frame of his big pavilion on his lot east of Bradley’s Hotel. It is to take the place of the old 'White Swan' which has gone into discard.”

Readers may recall our last "If these walls" installment, in which it was noted the Bradley Hotel sat on the site of today's fire station, at Lake Shore Drive and State Street, which certainly puts Crook's frame, to the east, in the apartment building locale.

James O. Ferrier bought the property in July, 1912, according to the property abstract. The Citizen must have been a bit late to pick up on the news, as it wasn't until Oct., 1916, that it was reported that J. O. Ferrier had purchased “Crook’s Hall,” which the Citizen noted was constructed out of material of the White Swan, with plans to construct it into a rooming house for summer resorters.

Franklin J. Easterday and Anna Crook were both owners as of March 5, 1915 and by Oct., 1916 it was back in the name of James O. Ferrier, McCollough reports.

Any doubt as to the White Swan's relationship to the apartments is nullified by the note in the April 8, 1931 Citizen: "Old timers will remember the 'White Swan,' a double deck float, owned by Capt. Crook which was used as a dance pavilion and largely patronized by the summer residents. It is now the Williams apartment house, providing comfortable homes for several families. Mr. Williams is giving it an up-to-date appearance by covering it with imitation brick."

Later that year, on Dec. 8, a ferocious fire tore through the business district of Lake Shore Drive, destroying the Lakeview Restaurant and Castle Garden dance hall and partially destroying the Louden Grocery store. "Sparks threatened the nearby Williams apartments," the paper wrote, "but a small blaze on the roof was quickly extinguished."

Fire threatened the old building again in Aug., 1934, when $1,000 damage was done to what by then was known as the Oberlin Apartments.
Bea Stephenson, writing to the Citizen earlier this year, explained that Harold and Betty Price purchased it in either 1950 or 1951.

"Dad did a lot of remodeling to the insides," she continued, "redid the porches, railings, roofing -- which reminds me, we had a German police dog named Pat and she actually would go out on the third floor roof and lay down when Dad went on up to the 'top' roof to repair!"

The property was sold to Bea's Great Aunt Pearl Dorsett in 1962 -- or actually the families "switched" homes: "My folks went to her home in Rochester and she came to the apartment building in Culver."

Bea also recalls being the "popcorn girl" at the El Rancho theater just to the south, when Everett and Sadie Hoesel owned it.

The building had various owners prior to the Prices and following Pearl Dorsett, including, up to 1988, Russell E. Allyn, James A. and Sharon Carnes (from Aug., 1988 to Dec., 2003), and James J. and Catherine A. Moleski (from Dec., 2003 to 2009).

Oliver Shilling recalled the White Swan in a letter to the editor in the Culver Citizen in April, 1981, and that Crook’s Hall was constructed from it “in the rear of Hoesel’s theater,” again confirming its connection to the apartment building.

So, today's Culverites (or visitors) may enjoy a stroll past the Pearl Street apartments knowing the legacy of a beloved Maxinkuckee pleasure boat lives on in its very walls.

“Culver History Corner” is a semi-regular feature sponsored by the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver (www.culverahs.com), whose quarterly newsletter is also sponsored in The Culver Citizen.