Fate of Ann Arbor's 322 East Kingsley Street to be decided by Historic District Commission
Angela J.Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Ann Arbor’s Old Fourth Ward Historic District was home to the city’s early bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, merchants, and city officials — including seven mayors, according to the city's Historic District Commission.
But no one of any such stature ever called 322 E. Kingsley St. home.
To a man, the residents of the small, white, now-vacant home adjacent to Zingerman's Deli have earned a living with their hands moreso than their minds, bucking the trend for the Old Fourth Ward. Carpenters, machinists, a sausagemaker, a janitor and their widows form the bulk of the home's history.
The house takes center stage tonight when the Historic District Commission again takes up a request by Zingerman’s to raze the burned out structure to make way for a planned expansion of the famed delicatessen next door on Detroit Street.
The home, which was severely damaged in a fire several years ago, has only known two sets of tenants since 1950: the families of Robert and Gertrude DeMarco and of Elizabeth Helper and longtime companion Vincent Bendix Howland.
In the 110-plus years of readily-available history, transience has won out over permanence at 322, as blue-collared men and families stayed for brief periods, perhaps using the small home as a stepping stone to other opportunities.
322 E. Kingsley has been known as such ever since 1898 when Ann Arbor moved to a three-number address system, explained Susan Wineberg, local historian and former longtime member of the historic district commission.
Prior to that it was 22 E. Kingsley, and before the street was renamed in Kingsley's honor in 1889 it was North Street, Wineberg said.
Courtesy: The Ann Arbor District Library
Records at the City Assessor's Office only date the home back to 1901. But as Wineberg explained, "1901" is a traditional placeholder year, used when city staffers can't accurately date the property.
"Whenever I see a 1901 date in the database, I usually assume the real date is something different," she said.
An historic district commission staff report dates 322 E. Kingsley back to "before 1888," but Wineberg believes it was built much earlier. In fact, she said, it might well be the oldest home still standing in Ann Arbor.
In 1834, Wineberg learned, Israel Branch and his wife, who owned the home, sold what we now call 418 Detroit Street. Using census records from 1830, Wineberg determined that Branch arrived in Ann Arbor in 1827. He may have built the home then, she said.
Wineberg uses certain clues to determine age. "I look at the way the beams are put together, whether there's still bark on them," she said. "But all of that's gone now."
On Saturday, July 9, 2006, a fire gutted 322 E. Kingsley and sent 86-year-old Elizabeth Hepler, who'd lived there since 1977, to the University of Michigan Hospital for burn treatment. Hepler was rescued by Zingerman's employees, who found her on the floor near the back door.
The home hasn't been occupied since the fire, but it has been sold. Lawrence Cattran, Hepler's son, first secured the home in a 1977 land contract with the previous owners, Robert and Geraldine DeMarco, for $14,817.83. The transaction was finally completed with the transfer of the warranty deed in 1989 for a grand total of $19,500.
After securing quit-claim deeds from Hepler and Howland for $1 each in the months after the fire, Cattran sold 322 E. Kingsley to Deli Partners, LLC for $195,000 — 10 times what he paid in 1989, and after the fire rendered the home uninhabitable.
Of course, without the fire, it is unlikely that Zingerman's expansion efforts would've gotten all the way to a final hearing on a Notice to Proceed with a demolition project the commission considers historically inappropriate.
(The commission was unmoved by arguments that rehabbing the property would be too expensive, or would compromise its historic fabric, so tearing down a readily-livable property would be a much higher hurdle).
In the end, the commission's choice won't be about the historic value of the home or the occupations of its past residents. Its historical worth has already been determined as a "contributing" structure to the district.
The only question that remains is whether the proposed expansion entails "a substantial benefit" for the Ann Arbor community.
Zingerman's has called its Kerrytown location home since 1982, and has grown into a local business success story, boasting millions in profits annually and several expansions beyond its Kerrytown base. The Kerrytown expansion would shore up its operations in the city center.
Jill Thacher, Ann Arbor's historic preservation coordinator, declined to tip her hand on how the commission might vote when it meets tonight. But the commission has had a number of working sessions with the delicatessen — plenty of opportunities to privately tell Zingerman's that it has no chance obtaining the notice, if that were the case.
"We are well aware of the popularity Zingerman's has in the community, and its longevity in Ann Arbor," Thacher said, "but ultimately, determining something like 'subtantial benefit' is purely at the discretion of the HDC's members."
James David Dickson can be reached at JamesDickson@AnnArbor.com.