Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, January 25, 2004, Pg. 5
We continue from last week. The front of the Eslow Block contained two first floor businesses at 216 and 218 S. Superior St. respectively. The latter on the corner originally contained the drugstore firm of Johnson & VanOstrand through the 1870s, which was replaced by the John G. Brown drug and book store during the 1880s. John was the same person who later became the first president of the Commercial & Savings Bank when it was organized in 1893. On the second floor was the jewelry store of R. Elwood during the 1870s, and the clothing store of Miss Ann M. Edick in the 1880s.
During the 1890s the 218 spot was the first location of the George T. Bullen Dry Goods store, a longtime Albion merchant. He moved in March, 1904 to the huge Brockway Block (now Sander’s Furniture location). Mr. Bullen and his workers can be seen standing in front in the 1894 photo pictured in last week’s article. Following that, the Rosenthal Clothing Store was a fixture in the corner location in the early 20th century, and operated into the early 1920s. Upstairs at 218½ Mr. Eslow and son William operated their real estate and insurance business, and later in the 1920s it was occupied by the American Beauty Parlor operated by Mrs. B.E. Collier.
The 216 location was originally the Fletcher & Brother clothing store through the 1870s. The furniture store and funeral director business of John Miller was located here in the 1880s. In the early 1890s the site was the home of a firm called the A. E. Davis & Co., as shown in the 1894 photo, and the Samuel Reed Dry Goods in the late 1890s. In 1909, James Eslow opened the Bijou Theatre here, which was managed in the early 1910s by Thomas C. Whitehead. Silent movies would be shown, followed by one or two vaudeville acts. Eslow sold the Theatre to local saloonist George McGuire in 1915. He continued to operate it until it was closed in October, 1923. For details concerning the 1919 fire, see previous articles about the subject by this author on the www.albionmich.com website. Type in “Eslow Block” in the search engine.
It was during the 1920s that the first floor was combined to become one big room at 216 S. Superior St. As mentioned in our column on December 28, the John J. Thwaites Furniture galleries (which came in 1923) expanded into the Eslow Block. The business subsequently became the Bishop-Porter Furniture Company by 1928, and operated at this location into the mid-1930s when it moved elsewhere. The Great Depression took its toll, as the Eslow Block main floor was vacant in the late 1930s.
There was also a 216½ S. Superior St. One might think this address would be on the second floor. Nope. This was one of Albion’s few downtown basement businesses! On W. Porter St. was a stairway going down from the sidewalk into the basement. There Frank M. Pierce operated his barber shop for over 20 years from 1926 until October, 1949. The sidewalk entrance was removed and covered in the early 1960s. There were also upstairs apartments in the Eslow Block through the years, although none were located on the fourth floor which was never finished.
From the 1940s until the mid-1950s, the Eslow Block was the home of Kroger Grocery, which had moved from its 225 S. Superior St. location. Unable to compete with the new supermarkets that opened in 1954, Kroger closed shortly thereafter. The 216 location briefly became the home of Albion Home Appliance, listed only in the 1957 directory. That directory also shows the Albion Sportsman Shop operated by Dale Nutt and Leon Poirier, Jr. in the back of the building at 106 W. Porter St. They are subsequently listed in the main front 216 location beginning with the 1958 directory.
In the mid-1960s the Western Auto Store moved here into larger quarters from its 314 S. Superior St. location, and remained into the early 1980s. For those of us who grew up in Albion during the 1960s, this was the place to get your bicycle tires, sleds for Victory Park hill, and those “Western Flyer” wagons. The store was managed by James G. Kennedy.
During the 1980s the Goodwill Industries store was located here until it moved to 305 S. Superior St. Next came the Sleep Factory which was here in the early 1990s, followed by the Albion Outdoors sporting goods store. Since that time, the Eslow Block has contained various second-hand stores, the latest of which, Rick’s Furniture, moved out during the month of December, 2003. The building was purchased from George Caines in 2000 by the Albion Building Authority for the sum of $80,000.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of the August 31, 1919 fire in the Eslow Block, which resulted in the removal of the 4th floor. Rosenthal’s Clothing Store is on the corner, with the Bijou Theatre on the right. It was showing the film “For Life.” The popcorn stand is on the left. There certainly will be a big “hole” in downtown Albion once the Eslow Block and the adjacent Kilian building are demolished this year. Viewers should then be able to get a clear view of the alley behind the old Albion Recorder building.
August 31, 1919 fire in the Eslow Block
All text copyright, 2014 © all rights reserved Frank Passic