Darius B. Moon is familiar to readers of these pages as one of Lansing's best known Victorian era architects. While most of his works were in the domestic residential sphere, he occasionally branched out into other areas, including ecclesiastical and commercial ventures. An outstanding local example of the latter may be found on Ottawa Street in the heart of the downtown governmental offices area. It is very well preserved, and offers a rare glimpse into another side of this gifted local genius.
The building is somewhat "shoehorned" into a corner of the block approaching Capitol Avenue. It is rather overshadowed by the Michigan House of Representatives office building from 1999 (an otherwise fine example of postmodern construction ingeniously arched over Ottawa Street). It cannot, therefore, be fully appreciated except by passersby from across the street. The structure itself features arched windows, a turret and a composite of building materials, including brick and stone. It does bear a vague resemblance to some of Moon's domestic examples, with obvious commercial modifications. It helps to define the entire block and its only flaw is that it is dwarfed by its ambitious neighbor.
History of the building
The structure was initially erected to house the Michigan Millers Fire Insurance Company circa 1890. It served in this capacity until the late 1920's, when the company moved around the corner to the Mutual building on Capitol Avenue. The company remained downtown until the mid-1950's, when it again relocated to the northeast side of the city, as previously noted in these pages (see the article at www.examiner.com). Somewhat later, the building was chosen for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, and currently houses a Biggby Coffee shop on the ground floor. It has become a favorite central rendezvous for office workers in the area.
Another great preservation lesson
Here again is a lesson to be learned from the preservation and reuse of historically valid properties. This structure could have easily been lost in the transformation of downtown in the 1970's, when much of Lansing was razed to make way for government office and parking lot expansion. Instead, the building provides a contemporary reuse example that should be followed more often. With so much of Moon's finest work already gone, it is to be hoped that this edifice will survive and inspire future urban planners to think about alternatives to simple demolition.