514-524 Shelden Ave. Houghton MI 49931
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514-524 Shelden Ave.

National Register of Historic Places
Shelden-Dee block, built 1899-1900
Designed by architect H.L. Ottenheimer
Currently houses businesses and apartments

The large transoms windows, made up of a grid of prismatic glass, helped project sunlight to the dimly lit back of the stores.

In 1890, George C. Shelden, son of Village founding father Ransom Shelden, paid $8,500 for the property on the northwest corner of Shelden and Isle Royale streets. He reportedly intended to erect a sandstone block, but did not live to see it through. Instead, his widow, Mary (née Edwards), and prominent local businessman, James R. Dee, commissioned the Shelden-Dee block in the late 1890s for an estimated $75,000. It was designed by architect H.L. Ottenheimer who designed several other buildings in Houghton including the Douglass House addition, the Leopold building, the James Dee block, and 918 College Ave. The local newspaper noted, "the building will be equipped throughout with all the latest devices of a modern building and will be one of the finest in finish and construction in the Upper Peninsula.” The partners each took possession of half of the building – Dee the west and Shelden the east. 

One of the key architectural landmarks of central Houghton, the Shelden-Dee provided elegant commercial and office space in Houghton's prosperous downtown. Rising three stories above Shelden Avenue, it was constructed of smooth, red, Jacobsville sandstone. The protruding arched doorways are edged with small lions heads and acanthus leaves carved in the stone. A deep overhanging roof features a prominent copper cornice ornamented with acanthus leaves. Two upper story balconies, not intended for access, are supported by elaborately decorated brackets. Classical Revival details include the carved sandstone pilasters that flank the doorways and separate the upper windows.

The street level was divided into four commercial spaces each with its own entrance. The sizable storefront windows and large transoms of prismatic glass helped project sunlight to the dimly lit back of the stores. A copper projection runs across the top of the transom windows and is decorated with acanthus leaves -- echoing those on the upper cornice and doorways. Demonstrative of the variety of businesses in Houghton at the time, the original occupants of the storefronts were a drug store, a shoe store, a dry goods store, and a café and saloon (likely the original Board of Trade which later moved around the corner and eventually became The Library). There was a barbershop in the basement. The upper two floors contained office suites leased by local business professionals such as the Paine, Webber & Co. brokerage firm, and physicians Albert Wheeler and William Jackson.

Businesses still occupy the street-level stores, but the upper floors have been converted into apartments. In 1982 the building was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. The Shelden-Dee underwent 1.38 million dollars’ worth of renovations between 1986 and 1988, partly funded by Houghton City Councilman, James Vencato. Consequently, it is now sometimes referred to as the Vencato Block.  

Sources: Copper Country Architects; Historic Houghton Walking Tour (c.2000); History of American Architecture SS422 Term Projects (Spring 2000); Keweenaw Time Traveler; National Register of Historic Places registration (1987); R.L. Polk & Co.’s Houghton County Directory (1907-1908, 1916-1917.) R.L. Polk & Co., Publishers.; Image: Michigan Tech University Archives and Historical Collections Book E726-M6-08-20

Mixed Renaissance and Neo-Classical Revival
Henry L. Ottenheimer
Paul Mueller, Chicago; local superintendent, Herman Gundlach