Historic gem or eyesore? Lincoln Park preservation group seeks developers for Mellus Newspaper building

Built in 1941, the Mellus Building, wrapped in porcelain enamel, is an example of streamline modernep
Built in 1941, the Mellus Building, wrapped in porcelain enamel, is an example of streamline moderne

Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance is racing against the clock to secure a developer interested in purchasing and revitalizing two historic buildings within the city.

A September 1st deadline has been set by Lincoln Park’s Downtown Development Authority for any interested parties to submit a development plan as well as financial proof of ability to purchase and renovate the Mellus Newspaper Building, located at 1661 Fort Street in Lincoln Park, and the neighboring Pollak Building, located at 1667 Fort Street. Otherwise, the two buildings will face the wrecking ball. The buildings will also be a topic for the city’s August or September Dangerous Building Board agenda.

Saving history

In 2005, the Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance (LPPA) was successful in getting the Mellus Newspaper Building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The organization’s vision has been to see the Mellus building turned into a retail incubator composed of a coffee house, art gallery and several small businesses. They’d like to see the Pollak building occupied by a sandwich or bagel shop, or similar style eatery.

“The buildings would be cheap to acquire with the Mellus also being cheap to renovate,” says Leslie Lynch-Wilson, Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance president.

“The open floor plan of Mellus lends itself quite nicely to building studios or retail space.  The  LPPA has had two architects in the building within the last two years that will back up the premise that the buildings could be cost effectively renovated.”

Expert opinion

According to Lynch-Wilson, Tom Roberts toured the buildings  two years ago, and Mike Kirk did so in April. Both Roberts and Kirk are architects and members of the American Institute of Architects.

Purchasers of the two buildings will be eligible for Brownfield Tax Credits and possibly the New Markets Tax Credits states Lynch-Wilson. The Mellus Newspaper Building, a single-story structure wrapped in porcelain enamel, a facade technique popular during the mid-20th century,  qualifies for the 20% Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit.

“If the buildings get torn down, it will be years before a developer is found due to the current economic climate and [the fact] that there are no tax credits for vacant land,” says Lynch-Wilson. “From a planning standpoint, if the buildings are demolished, it will leave a void in the downtown area.”

Mellus – a big part of Lincoln Park and Downriver history

1942 photo of Mellus Newspapers founder William Mellus
1942 photo of Mellus Newspapers founder William Mellus

Owned by newspaper publisher William S. Mellus, the Mellus publications served as the local newspapers for most of the Downriver communities. The Lincoln Parker was distributed to residents of Lincoln Park and the surrounding areas from 1933 to 1985. In 1985, the paper merged with Heritage Newspapers. In 1986, the Mellus Newspapers moved their headquarters to Southgate, and the original offices have been vacant ever since. In 1994, the buildings were purchased from the Mellus family.

Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance, has organized several  fundraising events with hopes of raising enough funds to purchasing the buildings.

“Although the Pollak Building isn’t recognized as historic like [the] Mellus, it doesn’t make sense to tear it down if the Mellus can be saved,” says Lynch-Wilson.

A Mellus publication, The Lincoln Parker covered the Downriver community for decades
A Mellus publication, The Lincoln Parker covered the Downriver community for decades

“The Mellus is a wonderful streamline moderne building built in 1941. The Pollak building is your typical one story store front.”

The Mellus Building is 4,080 square feet with the bulk of it’s square footage on the first floor. A rear two story addition was added in the 1950s.  The Pollak Building  is a 1,620 square foot, one story structure. Once home to Pollak Jewelers, the building was  acquired by the Mellus Newspaper at some point to use as an annex for their operations.

“I understand that the male writers sat in one building, and the female writers in the other building,” says Lynch-Wilson. “Many of the writers went onto other newspapers such as the Detroit News and Free Press. Two former Mellus writers, Craig Garrett and Dennis Niemic, went on to write for the Detroit News and Free Press, respectively, and now work for Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano.”

“The cost to acquire the buildings is unknown,” adds Lynch-Wilson. “But the Lincoln Park DDA bought both buildings earlier in the year for $90,000 as a package deal.”

LTU architecture students propose plan

The LPPA has lined up three prospective business owners who are interested in leasing space inside a renovated Mellus building. The organization is still seeking a coffee house proprietor.

The revitalization of the Mellus and Pollak buildings are more than a pipedream for LPPA. Students at Lawrence Technological University, under the direction of Professor Jim Stevens, prepared a plan showcasing building and block redevelopment as a project for their graduate level adaptive reuse class. The students’ findings were featured in an online article written by Jon Zemke (click here to read) for the April 2009 issue of Metromode. Professor Stevens presented the plan at the June DDA meeting.

City leaders say tear it down, there’s nothing historic

“A developer is desperately needed, because the mood amongst most of the DDA including our mayor and city manager is that they want the buildings torn down,” says Lynch-Wilson.

“The city manager states that there is not a building in Lincoln Park worthy of restoration!”

Lynch-Wilson continues: “The DDA attorney states the buildings are a health and safety hazard. He bases this on a feasibility study by engineering firm Dzuirman Associates PC . However, two years ago architect Tom Roberts looked at the buildings. He felt that the Mellus was structurally sound.

“Preservation architect Mike Kirk with Neumann Smith Architects was in the buildings in April. He said that Mellus is structurally sound and that as buildings go it’s not all that bad. He’s seen worse, he said”.

The only difference in condition since Roberts’ visit and Kirk’s visit are two roof leaks in the front of the building. According to Lynch-Wilson, those leaks  developed sometime between the  end of the 2008 and the  the beginning of 2009. She states no leaks where present when she toured the buildings with Detroit Free Press reporter  Zlati Meyer on a stormy evening in October.

For further information on purchasing the buildings or to lend your support to the preservation cause, contact Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance President Leslie Lynch-Wilson at 313.598.3137.

Note from Hometown History Tours Director Karin Risko: For many of us, local Macy’s stores are still called Hudson’s. That’s the same with our local newspaper The News Herald. While the News Herald has been the official paper covering Downriver news for many years, for many of us Lincoln Parkers, it’s still called  “The Mellus“.

Also, William Mellus was good friends with mid-century innovator and automotive manufacturer Preston Tucker. Read more in my HHT article: Lincoln Park kid cop becomes automotive icon: Preston Tucker’s local story

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s