For five years, the Hidden Kalamazoo tour offered a different take on the history of the city’s downtown. It took people to storage areas, to basements and old apartments. They weren’t traditional historic sites, but they offered clues about how life has changed over the last 150 years.
As more and more buildings redevelop, the future of the tour is in question.
City of Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Coordinator Sharon Ferraro says that when Hidden Kalamazoo started, "There were a lot of empty spaces downtown. Especially the upstairs, and because of the development that's going down there now, we just don't have those spaces anymore."
"I want to make it really clear, none of these buildings are coming down," she added. "The reason we can't look at them again is because they're now rooms, offices, apartments, they're all sorts of different things so they're no longer vacant - which is wonderful, that's what we wanted, but it's harder to get in to tour when it's someone's apartment."
Whatever happens with the walking version of Hidden Kalamazoo, soon you’ll be able to visit all the sites anytime in the Hidden Kalamazoo book.
City of Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Commission member Regina Gorham says that the book, which the group hopes to finish in time for the winter holiday season, will answer questions such as "What is a transom window? Why were there skylights in the center [of many downtown buildings]? Why are all the rooms faced toward the center?"
"Plus we are adding more, as a group of nerdy researchers who love looking things up, " Gorham added. "Many of us, I will include myself in it, went down rabbit holes of researching finding the names of people that lived in the apartments, finding that they had an office up there and did sewing on the side out of their apartment."
"So really bringing to light a few more stories that we didn't know about during the tour," she said.
In an interview with WMUK, Ferraro, Gorham and former Historic Preservation Commission member Tony Holewinski explain what made the sites on the Hidden Kalamazoo tour worth a visit, from the old Montgomery Ward building on the Kalamazoo Mall to the bank vault at what is now the Peregrine Building on the corner of the Mall and Michigan Avenue. We find out why the vault was deliberately placed under the sidewalk.
We also learn about another project getting underway in Kalamazoo, preserving aging gravestones at Mountain Home Cemetery, and the do’s and don’ts (there are some major don'ts) of headstone-cleaning.