New faces on old places: Landmark businesses withstand centuries with new forms

The U.P. is home to a wealth of historic buildings living vibrant new lives--in some cases, many times over. Old movie theaters are reincarnated as restaurants and live theatre venues. A corset factory becomes the home of shops and offices. A tiny bakery tucked away in a rural community expands its market around the globe, and a former hardware emporium now serves up lunch with a side order of literature.

Marquette's latest reborn building has a brilliantly lit marquee that sends a glow over the 100 block of Washington Street. The new Delft Bistro combines film and food in a casual dining atmosphere, breathing life into a building that for years stood dark and vacant in the center of Marquette's downtown district.

Delft Bistro co-owner Tom Vear purchased the Delft in 2012. Prior to that time, the theater had been owned by Carmike Cinemas, which renovated the single-screen theater into a five-screen multiplex. When Carmike Cinemas left the area, the building sat vacant for several years.

According to historian Bernie Rosendahl, in the 1880s the building was known as the Peter White Building, and featured a stage for live entertainment. From 1914 until the 1930s, the Delft featured both a stage and a movie screen. In the 1930s, a new, much larger screen was installed. More changes came about in August 1985, when the Delft became a two-screen theater. Its final run as a movie theater was from 1994 to 2012, under Carmike Cinema ownership.

Vear describes the bistro's food as "American cuisine, with a twist. There’s something for everyone. The menu ranges from poutine, steak, fresh fish, octopus, chicken, burgers, and so much more." His initial vision was that of a restaurant. He later decided to add movies, for "a touch of fun." Classic films from Hollywood's golden age are currently slated to run; the Delft Bistro's Facebook page invites the public to suggest more film titles.

A few miles up the road, the Vista Theater in downtown Negaunee is also enjoying a second act. According to the Vista Theater website,  the building was designed by architect David E. Anderson for owner Jafet Rytkonen. The Vista opened in September 1926, offering live vaudeville performances as well as movies. Rytkonen ran the theatre until 1950, when he handed over the management of the Vista to his son, William, and son-in-law, Peter Ghiardi.

The Vista Theater continued operating until 1972, when William Rytkonen died. In 1973, a group of local citizens formed the Peninsula Arts Appreciation Council. They took over the Vista and, in 1975, began using it as a venue for a variety of programs, including amateur theater productions, musical programs and concerts, films, puppet shows, art exhibits, and arts workshops. In the 2000s, the group began restoring the theatre, and in July 2005, the structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sara Perfetti, PAAC vice president, says the theater's history is still a palpable presence. "I feel it. I always think, who was on this stage before me? I wonder which historic performers have performed there."

The Vista is the site of numerous PAAC theatre productions, staging everything from family fare, such as "Oklahoma!," "The Little Mermaid," and its recent production of "A Christmas Story," to more adult fare, such as "Cabaret" and PAAC's frequent productions of local favorite "The Rocky Horror Show."

Although the Vista's structure has deteriorated with the passage of time, Perfetti says PAAC is looking at applying for grants to restore the venerable building. She explains while the building is safe for occupancy, it has suffered some water damage and is in need of repairs to its roof.

For now, the Vista maintains a shabby gentility enlivened by the enthusiasm of the area's performing arts community, in addition to proclaiming that it offers "The best movie theater popcorn and lowest concession prices in Marquette County!"

Along Cleveland Avenue in Ishpeming the Gossard Building, an imposing four-story brick structure, boasts a history that goes back to the 1800s, and roles that have ranged from commerce to corsets and back. The building was originally the home of a department store, Braastad and Co., according to the Gossard Building's website.  In 1906, for reasons unknown, Mr. Braastad put all of his buildings up for sale. In 1920, the H.W. Gossard Company purchased the former department store and opened a corset factory which, at its peak, employed more than 500 people, most of whom were women. The factory remained in business until December of 1976.

In early 1981 a local development group purchased the building and renovated it yet again. The Gossard Building is now home to a variety of locally owned shops, groups, and agencies. Displays along its hallways pay tribute to those who earned their wages within those walls as employees of the Gossard Factory.

The Trenary Home Bakery is another historic and still vibrant U.P. fixture. The modest, single-story building is tucked away in the small rural town of Trenary in Alger County. The bakery has had only one life, and maintains the purpose it was founded on: Making and selling the distinctive sugar-cinnamon hard toast that generations of Yoopers have cut their baby teeth on.

The bakery was opened 1928 by Jorma Syrannen. According to the Trenary Home Bakery's website, Syrannen, along with his wife and three sons, ran the bakery until 1950, when they sold the business to Hans and Esther Hallinen. Andy Riker, the bakery's current owner, took over in 2015.

"I was in the right place at the right time," says Riker, an Army reservist who has seen multiple overseas tours. Working with the Michigan Small Business Development Council, Riker kept an eye out for the right business opportunity, checking in with the MSBDC between deployments.

When the bakery became available for purchase it was a natural fit for Riker, who has 20 years of experience in the food processing industry. "What's not to love? It's an unusual product, the facility has been here for 88 years, and it's kind of ingrained in the local community." Also, he adds with a laugh, "I love the product. I like it buttered, and I like dunking it."

The bakery continues to offer its signature toast and fresh-baked bread, as well as jams and syrups. Riker has expanded the toast flavors to include vanilla, cinnamon raisin, and Riker's own recipe, cardamom. Books, gifts, and souvenirs are also for sale, with an accent on humor and U.P. pride.  Riker says improvements to the bakery building are ongoing, and that even more new products are in the offing, complementing--but never eclipsing--the original, beloved Trenary Toast.

Another landmark building in Alger County offers nourishment for both mind and body. The Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore's menu offers everything from gourmet coffee to smoothies, and grilled cheese to whitefish--with a variety of Jilbert's ice cream flavors for dessert. And everything is served with a side of books. Books line the walls from one end of the cafe to the other, spanning gently used titles on just about any subject imaginable for children and adults, as well as a special section for local authors. If that isn't enough to fill one cafe, the Falling Rock also offers a selection of Michigan-made art and jewelry, fresh ground local coffee, and souvenirs, and hosts a regular series of live music events.

The Falling Rock began its life in 1896, according to information from the cafe and bookstore's website. The building was first the home of the Smith and Lapham Hardware Company, and Jeff and Nancy Dwyer, transplants from Florida, purchased the building in 2002.  They performed extensive renovations that uncovered the original tin walls and maple floors. The Dwyers lovingly preserved and restored as much of the historic structure as they could. Serendipity led them to a surprising find on eBay: window glass from the original store. The prismatic glass, patented by Frank Lloyd Wright, is now part of the cafe's reconstructed transom. The Falling Rock comfortably mingles its historic structure with modern-day hospitality.

In Marquette and Alger counties--or anywhere in the U.P.--a tourist or a native Yooper can enjoy a tour of recycled structures reimagined for modern times. New generations adapt old to new, allowing historic buildings to continue living on.

Deb Pascoe is a freelance writer in the Marquette, Michigan area.
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