When roaming around a city or town, an easy way to get a feel for its past and what it is all about today is to walk around and observe all the architecture. Michigan’s second largest city is no exception, please join me as I recount my recent self-guided architectural tour through downtown Grand Rapids.
Blue “Pedestrian” Bridge
The exploration began with going back-and-forth over the Grand River on the Blue Bridge. The “Laker Blue” painted pratt through truss bridge was originally used as a railroad crossing over the river, but since the 1980s has served as a popular pedestrian-only bridge for runners, walkers, and photographers. If crossing on the weekend now-a-days, you might even run into a wedding taking place.
The Blue Bridge dates back to 1868, is one of the largest of its kind in Michigan, and its four metal truss style connects the heart of downtown with several museums and other attractions. Photographers and onlookers alike can marvel at all of the beautiful city and river shots that await no matter the season. To see the color of the bridge stand out even more, visit at night when lighting underneath the bridge reflects off the river’s waters.
Historic Amway Grand Plaza Hotel
A few minute walk from the Blue Bridge on the downtown side stands the iconic Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. You’ll want to enter from the newer part of the hotel on Pearl Street and head over to the concierge desk to ask for a brochure in order to go on a self-guided tour. The tour will walk you through the lobby and quickly into the PantLind Hotel and lobby, the original part of the hotel. The brochure is great to learn more about the buildings while doing your tour.alk around the lobby,
Here you should walk around the lobby to notice multiple overlooking areas and surrounding hallways as well as its English Adams style architecture. Be sure to always be looking up in order to see the gold leaf (painted) domed ceilings and the numerous chandeliers that hang above you and are made of Austrian crystal. When you’re looking straight ahead, you might run into an old grandfather clock, an ageless painting, or a wooden sunburst whose history dates back 150 years coming from Italy. Glance down as you’re walking, and you’ll notice the Verde Antique Italian marble floor that has been a part of the hotel since the beginning. In the center of the lobby, a copper fountain with a pineapple spigot will catch surely catch your eye.
Roaming Around Downtown Grand Rapids
From the hotel, you should head outside from the PantLind lobby entrance and walk on nearby Monroe Center Street to find yourself within the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. Here you’ll find one historic, colorful, Italianate-style building after another. These buildings are among the oldest in the city, many of which were erected in the 1860s and 70s. One that caught my eye due to my love of coffee was the Karl Building which houses MadCap Coffee is within. The wedge-shaped building, which introduced the city to large plate glass windows, recently got a structural makeover inside and is a historic landmark.
Right across the street at the corner of the triangular intersection of Monroe Center Street and Ottawa Avenue, sits the Flatiron Building which is the oldest commercial building in the city and is also on the National Register of Historic Places. This building has undergone recent renovations inside and out in order to preserve its historical significance. Starting as a bank in 1860, various retail stores have occupied this historic space.
As your exploration continues a few blocks down Monroe Center Street until it ends, you will pass by numerous specialty shops and boutiques where you are soon to approach the First Community Bank. As you walk into what was once the tallest building in town, you will have the opportunity to witness the Greek Revival-style architecture.
Once you arrive at the end of the street, take time to walk through Monument Park and over to Veterans Memorial Park. You can capture the First (Park) Congregational Church, a Gothic style building with Tiffany stained glass windows that date back to 1868. Also of note nearby is the Children’s Museum; it’s an early 1900s building made up of expansive plate glass so you can see inside along with a large colorful mosaic on the outside.
Pro Tip: Take some time to check out the numerous statues and memorials within Monument and Veterans Memorial Parks which honor locals who have served during time of war.
View more of what to expect when walking in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, on the Blue Bridge, and around Downtown Grand Rapids:
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What other places and/or parts of Downtown Grand Rapids would you recommend walking around to check out architecture?