An architect's view of 'The Circle'

In the fourth article in a Catalyst Community series, we’ll learn about the intent of the original Circle in the center of Midland. 
Paul Haselhuhn is the President of WTA Architects.
Our guide is Paul Haselhuhn, a Midland resident, and the president of WTA (Wigen Tincknell Associates) Architects, a general practice firm founded in Saginaw in 1947. They specialize in architectural design including commercial, education, healthcare, governmental and more. He's has been with WTA since 1998. He’s been a project manager on a wide variety of projects and now specializes in higher education and commercial facilities. 

The Circle

Talking about Ashman Circle, or “the Circle” as it’s commonly known, really isn’t a new topic if you’re a longtime resident of Midland. As a matter of fact, our own Catalyst Midland published an article in September of 2018 discussing the current and future development of the Circle located in the heart of Center City. It’s a nice article, but that’s not what I’m here to pontificate about. No, let’s return to the mid 1960’s, when the Circle was still in its truest form of what it was intended to be.

The Ashman Circle in 1966The Circle was intended to engage Midlanders. By engage, I don’t mean driving by the local businesses with their neon signs on the street, behind which lies a sea of parking, filled with forests of SUVs. And then, where is the entrance? Ah, no. The Circle in its day was much more than this. It was a lovely, well-thought-out path where you could actually see the business (Yes, the actual business!) and maybe even the merchant who was just inside the front window behind the counter or out front sweeping the sidewalk. This was a time when vehicles didn’t accelerate and corner like they do now, but rather sort of meandered through town on their pilgrimage to the drugstore or to see the latest spaghetti Western film. A time when the automobile wasn’t necessarily king — parking was in the back, and people were in the front. But I guess we have our priorities straight now.

So now, let’s move ahead a few years, when all that mattered was efficiently moving people from point A to point B as quickly as possible. When the journey ceased to be a priority and the destination was all that mattered. That circle had to go. It was causing too many people that additional half a dozen seconds to their drive time to and from work. And thus, in typical fashion, the simplest thing was not just to get rid of the circle but divide it up like mom’s apple pie. That certainly worked. And work it does! Unless of course you make even one mistake and miss your turn, and now must figure out how to get back to the store you just passed.

The former Midland Theater, a landmark in the Circle.And lest I forget, I’m an architect, so let’s discuss those stores and wonderful buildings that made up the original Ashman Circle. Many buildings are still there. A big thank you to all the wonderful businesses that have made the circle their home, including Midland Furniture Garage, Amish Reflections, and the Midland Area Community Foundation for saving our history. I do miss the beautiful, white-glazed brick and yellow fascia of the old Community Drug Store. I know it screamed mid-century modern, but wow, what a statement! Architecture should take opportunities to make statements and become a point of conversation. Gone though is the wonderful Midland Theater, and yeah, I know, it was a bowling alley in the end. But what potential there was for a creative entrepreneur to imagine what it could have become while honoring our past. It would have even made a nice pharmacy.