Monday, October 10, 2016

Tuesday Treasures

Tom hosts Tuesday's Treasures.

September 2016 - Kalamazoo MI

It is a ghost sign even though it is freshly painted as the business no longer exists.

In 1870 the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad began service through Kalamazoo with a passenger station on the southeast corner of Pitcher Street and East Main, today’s East Michigan Avenue. The presence of this station, and the countless out-of-town passengers deposited there, had an immediate impact on the neighborhood. Within the span of only a few years, several new hotels and restaurants were built and existing facilities expanded. This building boom created much of what we now call the Haymarket District.

It was during this period that the Columbia Hotel, known today as the Columbia Plaza, was born.

When Adam Ehrman purchased the Columbia, he moved his family into the hotel. As a result, his three sons were literally raised in the business. The eldest son, Frank, began working for his father at the age of twelve, gradually working his way up take over management of the hotel when his father retired 1920.The elder Ehrman eventually passed away in 1940.

This photo postcard shows the Columbia Hotel as it appeared in the first years of the twentieth century. The rear of the building has been expanded and the park added by Adam Ehrman is visible on the left.
Author's Collection. Source
On 1 February 1899 the Kalamazoo Gazette announced further changes. Adam Ehrman purchased the property from Charles M. Stevens the previous December. Pelick Stevens had passed away in 1881. The new owner promptly undertook a number of improvements to the structure, including the addition of steam heat and new furnishings. It was then reopened as the Columbia Hotel, a name that would stick for the remainder of the hotel’s history.

Like his father, Frank Ehrman maintained the Columbia's reputation and continued to expand and improve the facility. But Frank was not the only Ehrman son to figure prominently in Kalamazoo’s hotel industry. His brother John purchased the Rickman Hotel at Kalamazoo and North Burdick Streets in 1925 and ran it for many years. Meanwhile, another brother, Leo, worked with Frank as an assistant manager of the Columbia.

The prosperity of the 1920s was reflected in the improvements Frank Ehrman made to the hotel. The most ambitious of these occurred in 1923 and 1928, when two large five-story wings were added to the rear of the building. A large formal dining room occupied the ground floor of the 1923 addition. Frank did not stop there. In 1931 an extensive interior renovation was carried out, including the creation of a large ballroom capable of seating seven hundred within the former Arlington building, a new coffee shop, and new lobby. When all of the work was completed the hotel offered two hundred guest rooms and some of the finest dining and banquet facilities in Southwest Michigan.

Darn, I wish I'd known the following:

Perhaps as a testament to the Columbia’s popularity, it is said that during the 1960s and 1970s Elvis Presley made the hotel his headquarters whenever he was in town. Even today a room on the second floor has been set aside as his office, officially listed as such on the building’s directory. The room is furnished with Elvis-related memorabilia.

On 13 January 1982 it was announced that the Columbia would cease operations.

Happily, the Columbia was spared the wrecking ball. In 1983 a group of local investors formed the Columbia Plaza Partnership and purchased the building from Topper Johnson. Two years later the group began work on an extensive three million dollar renovation, the end result of which transformed the old hotel into a first-class office building named the Columbia Plaza.


  1. Thanks goodness there are folks out there who have a conscience, sense of history and work hard to preserve the precious buildings of the past. Elvis would have approved, I’m sure!!

  2. Jackie, how neat that this hotel has been restored. I wonder if the great sign is a repaint of the original or a new sign made to look old. Nice find. Thanks as always for sharing. I hope to see you again.

  3. Fortunate that the building has been saved.

  4. So sad to lose this wonderful historic hotel! I love the older history and the Elvis room commemorating his "headquarters" there when he stayed. Very cool bit of history!

  5. I meant to say, lose in the sense of it no longer being a hotel...I am so happy the building was saved!

  6. Beautiful building. Thanks to Columbia Plaza Partnership that the building is well maintained.