Sunday, May 1, 2016

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, Rochester took a big step forward in the redevelopment of the old Chapman mill pond lake bed.  The property lying east of the railroad track in downtown Rochester had been under water until June 1946, when a spring storm caused the bermage around the Western Knitting Mills dam to fail, thereby draining the pond.  The dam was never rebuilt, the old lake bed was filled, and the property lay vacant for two decades before plans for the parcel began to take shape in the mid-1960s.

In 1966, the former mill pond area was undergoing development and the Rochester Elks Club planned a $300,000 lodge building on the property.  The single-story building would include a dining room, banquet room, cocktail lounge, and two meeting rooms, plus an office and lobby.  A patio overlooking Paint Creek was also planned.  In May 1966, the official groundbreaking for the new Elks Club building was held.  The building stood until about 2003, when it was demolished to make room for the construction of the Royal Park Hotel, which now stands on the site.

Friday, April 1, 2016

This Month in Rochester History

It was a half century ago this month that Rochester residents first learned about the development planned for the former Great Oaks Stock Farm on the west side of the village. Slavik Builders of Oak Park unveiled their concept for the 400-acre development that included 600 homes, 900 apartments and a 9-hole golf course, plus a shopping center to be built later. It was announced that the homes in the new subdivision would be priced starting at $30,000.

The former Howard L. McGregor home on the property was designated to be re-purposed as a clubhouse for the Great Oaks Country Club. The entire Slavik plan was scheduled to take 7-10 years to complete.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

This Month in Rochester History

Half a century ago this month, the citizens of Rochester were watching a labor dispute play out on Main Street.  In March 1966, workers at the Jim Robbins Seat Belt Company plant located in the old Yates Machine Works building on South Main staged a wildcat walk-out.  The Rochester facility was one of several locations of the Jim Robbins Company, which was headquartered in Royal Oak. The labor action in Rochester was called to protest what the employees called unbearable working conditions, and was not authorized by their union leadership.  It was followed the next week by a vote of the 200 workers calling for a sanctioned strike.

An authorized strike action began in May, two days after workers learned that the company owner Jim Robbins planned to close the plant and move the work to one of his southern locations. Employees picketed the plant on South Main Street to protest the move and their working conditions, but Robbins remained firm about closing the Rochester location.  He was also quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying that the workforce at the Rochester plant was mostly "hot-headed working wives to whom the strike is a lark," and further commented that he did not believe that many of the women who worked in his Rochester factory "needed" the money from their jobs.

The company owner followed through with his decision to close the Rochester plant, and it never opened again after the strike. Owner Robbins, along with his wife and son, were killed in September 1966 in a private plane crash in South Dakota.

Monday, February 1, 2016

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, the Rochester First Church of the Nazarene moved into its new building at 1520 Walton Boulevard.  The congregation had been founded in 1920, and purchased the former Universalist church building on Walnut Street in downtown Rochester. Services were held in that building until the new church on Walton was ready for occupancy in February 1966.

In those days, the congregation paid $40,000 for the land and $75,000 for the construction of the new building, which had a seating capacity of 300. In 2002, the congregation was once more in need of a larger facility and built a brand new church  at 1799 Walton. The 1966 building at 1520 Walton was razed in 2009.

Friday, January 1, 2016

This Month in Rochester History

The local news of fifty years ago this month wasn't a lot different than the local news of this past summer.  In January 1966, Rochester area residents were talking about the upcoming paving of Tienken Road. But rather than a rebuilding project, the 1966 work proposed to pave Tienken for the very first time. And not everyone was in agreement about what ought to be done.  The Rochester Clarion reported as follows:
A motion to proceed with the paving of Tienken Rd. from the North Hill Plaza Shopping Center to the New York Central Railroad was approved by the Avon Township Board last week.
. . .
Paving of Tienken Rd. as far west as the railroad will still leave less than a half mile of unpaved road between Rochester Rd. and Livernois Rd. It had been proposed to pave the entire mile so that the route could be used for a bypass around the Village of Rochester.
Avon Township Supervisor Cyril Miller said this week that he personally would have liked to have seen the entire one mile paved.
The recommendation to pave only as far as the railroad was made by the Township Board's Road Committee, chairmaned [sic] by Trustee Donald Campbell.
Campbell said that the estimated cost of the project to the railroad is $35,000, with the Township and the County sharing the cost equally. He added that the lack of funds prevented paving the entire one mile at this time, but hinted that the remainder may be paved before another year goes by if funds are available.

In related news, a traffic signal that had been requested for the intersection of Rochester & Tienken was denied by the state highway department.  Officials who had conducted a traffic study reported that there was simply not enough traffic through the intersection to warrant a light - only 328 vehicles crossed that point between 6 & 7 a.m. on weekdays.  The Clarion responded by awarding the highway department a bouquet of poison ivy for its decision (see photo above).

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

The Avon Playhouse celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this month.  It was on December 3, 1965, that the brand-new theatre on Washington Road opened its doors to audiences for the first time. The inaugural play for the new facility was the Avon Players' production of Inherit the Wind.

The Avon Players were organized in 1947, but had no permanent home for the first 18 years of their history.  The members rehearsed in the American Legion hall and in private homes, and gave performances in various venues such as school auditoriums.  After saving $30,000, funding another $30,000 through bonds and raising another like amount through a fundraising drive, they were finally ready to build a stage of their own.

Member Ted Stratton designed the new playhouse, with the assistance of architect Bob Edge.  A local builder donated his services as general contractor, and much of the manual labor on the building project was done by volunteer members of the Avon Players.

Much more about the history of Avon Players and the Avon Playhouse may be found on the organization's web site.  Happy birthday, Avon Playhouse!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

Fifty years ago this month, the Rochester area was preparing to welcome a new industry to the community.  Holley Computer Products Company moved into a brand-new facility on the southeast corner of Tienken and Rochester roads.  Holley Computer was a manufacturer of computer printers and had been founded in 1962 by Control Data Corporation and Holley Carburetor.  By 1965, the company had already outgrown its original plant in Warren, Michigan and began looking for a new location for expansion.

A 13-acre site in Avon Township was chosen for a new 60,000 square foot plant that was expected to employ 350 people immediately and eventually employ as many as 800.  The Rochester facility was later renamed Computer Peripherals, but was still a subsidiary of Control Data Corporation.

The company later closed the Rochester plant and the building was razed in 2004 to make way for the City Walk lifestyle shopping development that now occupies the site.