Lawrence Tech students create vision for Mellus building

Architecture graduate students from Lawrence Technological University have a vision for not only the Mellus Newspapers building, but the whole block it sits on in downtown Lincoln Park.

The class is part of Lawrence Tech's College of Architecture & Design. It used the historic structure as an example of adaptive reuse and advocated for its renovation. City officials are pushing to demolish the building, but a grass roots group of local residents, the Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance, is advocating that it be reused and invited the class to use it for their semester project.

The 15 Lawrence Tech students came up with recommendations for the entire stretch of downtown along Fort Street. The plans call for creating a variety of art spaces, from galleries to youth art centers.

"You couldn't think about that building without thinking about downtown and that block around it," says Jim Stevens, an assistant professor of architecture at Lawrence Tech.

Suggestions included adding more trees and green space, along with renovating the block of buildings (80 percent of them are vacant) into modern, open spaces that respect the original architecture and urban attributes. The idea of adding more community-based organizations would attract more foot traffic and customers to the adjacent businesses.

The class also advocated making Fort Street friendlier to pedestrians by reducing the speed limit, adding more on-street parking, planting more trees on the sidewalk and median and installing crosswalks. The street is so large and car-dominant that it bisects a surprisingly intact traditional downtown.

The Mellus is now a vacant structure at 1661 Fort Street. The 1940s building originally housed the local community newspaper, The Lincoln Parker. It's named after William S. Mellus, who owned a number of community newspapers in the downriver area. The front of the single-story building is wrapped in porcelain enamel, giving it is a mid-20th century feel. It earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

One of the ideas
the preservation alliance is floating for the building is to turn it into a retail incubator for businesses like a coffee house, art gallery and/or deli. Another adjacent structure, the Pollak Building, is often lumped together with the the Mellus. It originally housed Pollak Jewelers before becoming part of the newspaper's offices. It's also a typical mid-20th century retail building with a terrazzo entrance sidewalk.

Source: Jim Stevens, an assistant professor of architecture at Lawrence Technological University
Writer: Jon Zemke