The Knapp's Project: another innovative conversion

Knapp's Building from Washtenaw and Washington Square

Knapp's Building from Washington Square and Washtenaw corner
Knapp's Building from Washington Square and Washtenaw corner | Source

Downtown renovation and conversion

The Knapp's conversion in downtown Lansing, Michigan is one of the more recent projects undertaken with an eye toward historic preservation and reuse in a more updated context. As with other projects previously examined in these pages, this intriguing conversion concerns a historic building site which had fallen into disuse and urban neglect, like Motor Wheel and the Accident Fund headquarters. Once again, the challenge was to give a contemporary upgrade to an historic property without the destruction of core architectural integrity and traditional value and identity. Apparently, the planners have met these worthy goals.

History of the building

The building, at 300 South Washington Square, originated as J.W. Knapp's Department Store in an Art Deco design motif reflective of the style of the 1930's. The parent store also included Smith & Bridgman's store in Flint, Michigan. Knapp's went out of business in the 1980's, and the building then housed state offices until the early 2000's. the Knapp's label itself was rebranded to Marshall Field's in 2001 and to Macy's in 2006. The building, in its unique blue and gold horizontal banded stripes, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Lansing area and has true iconic visibility and value.

The structure today

The present structure encompasses some 190,000 square feet and fronts on the corner of Washtenaw Street and Washington Square. The exterior has been fully restored and to its original glory and looks almost pristine and unchanged. The real story is the interior. On the ground floor are restaurants, while in the middle floors are offices. At the top are apartments with a good view of the downtown area. The building is not of an imposing height, so the view does not offer forever as a prospect, but it is an interesting application of the classical column tripartite order: base, shaft and capital. Federal funds through the Department of Housing and Urban Development were secured for part of the financing. The Eyde Company, a very prominent local developer, contributed private funding. Again, this multilateral partnership reveals what can be accomplished when public and private sector planners come together and devote themselves to a feasible goal.

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