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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Furniture Exhibition Buildings in Grand Rapids

by Henry H. Masten & GRHC

published: November 23rd, 2007

Henry Masten (1882-1977) was active in the local furniture wholesale market. He was Manager-Treasurer of the Furniture Exhibitors Building, 1913-1930; of the Waters Building, 1930-1950; and president of Grand Rapids Furniture Dealers Association and the Grand Rapids Furniture Market Association. The descriptions and histories of the buildings were written by him in November 1964 for the The Story of Grand Rapids by Z.Z. Lydens.

In the 1880s several furniture lines were shown in hotel lobbies and mezzanines, lofts, basements, vacant stores, and even in the Owashtonong Club on Reeds Lake. Philip J. Klingman of Portsmouth, Ohio, was a young man in his twenties when he came to Grand Rapids, showing a couple of lines in a furniture factory. He was aggressive, a master salesman, an entrepreneur disregarding tradition and advice, and visualizing a center where manufacturers from many states could display their wares, attracting smaller as well as larger dealers. Grand Rapids could not have become a national wholesale furniture market without bringing in outside lines to supplement the local product in variety and price range. (Find more information to your right in Related Items)

The Blodgett Building--Built in 1889 by Delos A. Blodgett, a local financier, as a multi-occupancy building. However, it gradually filled up with furniture lines and was recognized as the pioneer furniture exhibition building. Mr. Klingman rented two floors for his lines, and later, in partnership with Charles P. Limbert, the Klingman & Limbert Chair Co., leased the entire building. With a new face, it is now a portion of the Wurzburg store at Ottawa Ave. and Louis St.

The Furniture Exhibition Building (Waters Building)--Before his lease on the Blodgett Building expired, Mr. Klingman interested the Daniel H. Waters Estate in erecting a five-story building on Ottawa Ave. from Pearl to Lyon Sts., to be used for samples of out of town manufacturers. For many years it was the largest display building in America. It was built in 1899 and a few years later a sixth floor was added. At the close of the markets Mr. Klingman purchased many of the samples and formed the Sample Furniture Co. to sell them at retail. Between seasons he rented the first floor for auto, hardware and other shows, continuing until the erection of the Convention Hall. The Waters Building is being converted into an office building.

The Klingman Building--In partnership with Dudley E. Waters, local banker, a property at Ionia, Fountain and Division was acquired and a four-story building erected to take care of additional furniture exhibits. The building was also used as a retail store, Klingman Sample Furniture Co. He had branches in Toledo and Milwaukee. This building is now leased to Klingman Furniture Co., a home furnishing store. Mr. Klingman died in 1913 at the age of 50, but lived to see his vision of a national furniture market come true.

The Manufacturers Building was born of success of the Klingman ventures, which encouraged other people to enter the field. Two manufacturers, William C. Grobhiser of Sturgis and Charles O. Skinner of Greenville, puchased land on Ionia Ave. between Pearl and Fountain Streets and erected a seven-story building. When fully rented, they purchased property in the rear facing Division, connecting it to the original building.

The Furniture Temple--This nine story building on Lyon St. between Ionia and Division Aves. was also promoted by Grobhiser and Skinner and financed by selling stock to the exhibitors in proportion to the floor space occupied. Then vacated by tenants it was renamed the Association of Commerce Building and became an office building.

The Furniture Exchange Building--was built opposite the Manufacturers Building on Ionia Ave. It burnt down about 1911 and was rebuilt. It is now used as a ramp garage.
The Leonard Building--Located on Ottawa Ave. near the tracks, it was used for a few years as a furniture building. It has been remodeled and is now known as the Helmer Office Building.

The Keeler Building--Constructed in two sections by the Keelers of the Brass Company, it was ready for occupancy for the 1912 and 1914 markets. It was designed so it could be used for other occupancies and is now an office building. It is located on Division Ave. at the corner of Fountain St.

The Rindge Building located on Ionia Avenue at Louis and Fulton Streets was formerly a shoe factory. It was converted by Henry Heald into a furniture exhibition building and two stories were added. 

The Fine Arts Building--This was a property opposite the Pantlind on Campau St., formerly used by a belting concern [Raniville]. It was also purchased by Mr. Hendricks who gave it a terra cotta face lifting and named it the Fine Arts Building. It made its debut at the January market of 1926. The tenants were largely lines taken from other buildings located farther from the Pantlind Hotel.

During the depression the Fine Arts Building was taken by the city for unpaid taxes and later purchased by a local group and renamed the Exhibitors Building. Part of the structure is now used by local concerns who maintain area showrooms for the convenience of West Michigan dealers and decorators.

In addition to the Fine Arts and the Pantlind Exhibition buildings Gustav A. Hendricks planned to build the largest structure the city of Grand Rapids had ever seen, the thirty-four-story Furniture Capitol building for the "furniture capital." It represented an expected cost of $6,000,000 in 1927, but due to disagreements with the city regarding the obstruction of Lyon St. and the economic depression following 1929 it remained a dream. In just a few years the Civic Auditorium (later renamed Welsh Auditorium) was built on the proposed Furniture Capitol site.

Furniture Men

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Grand Rapids Historical Commission and the Community Media Center present "Glance at the Past". Today meet Grand Rapids' own Furniture Hall of Famers!


Books available at the GR History and Special Collections, Grand Rapids Public Library

  • Carron, Christian G. Grand Rapids Furniture: The Story of America’s Furniture City. Grand Rapids, MI: Public Museum of Grand Rapids, 1998.
  • Lydens, Z. Z. The Story of Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1966.
  • Ransom, Frank Edward. The City Built on Wood: A history of the Furniture Industry in Grand Rapids, Michigan 1850-1950. Ann Arbor: Edwards Brothers, Inc., 1955.
  • Scrapbook About Gus Hendricks and Fine Art Building
  • Many books, artisan magazines, and trade catalogs are located in this section of the library

Books available at the GR Public Library

  • Carron, Christian G. Grand Rapids Furniture: The Story of America’s Furniture City. Grand Rapids, MI: Public Museum of Grand Rapids, 1998.
  • Many books about the Grand Rapids furniture industry are available and may be found by a Subject search, Grand Rapids Furniture, of the library catalog


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