Houghton bank building
600 Shelden Ave. Houghton MI 49931
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600 Shelden Ave.

Michigan State Historic Site
Built as the First National Bank of Houghton, 1887-1889
Considered first commercial block building in the Copper Country 
Renovated as The Vault Hotel, 2019

“Nothing equal to their brownstone arched and plate glass front, their massive antique oak counter, doors and wood finish, their long line of side windows, and their great floor space and height of ceiling—can be found in any other banking establishment north of Milwaukee.” Daily Mining Gazette, Aug. 10, 1889 after grand opening.

The First National Bank of Houghton was founded in 1865. Ransom Shelden, founding father of Houghton, served as its first president. In 1885 the bank was reorganized as the National Bank of Houghton and purchased land from the Shelden and Douglass Estates and from Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ruelle, Jr. for $10,200. Within two years, construction began on the northeast corner of Shelden and Isle Royale streets. The imposing three story red sandstone building was completed in 1889. It is considered the first commercial block building in the Copper Country, and a splendid example of a purpose-built commercial building. The rough-cut Jacobsville sandstone block and large arched windows, is typical of the Richardsonian Romanesque style popular at the time. 

In addition to a new home for the bank, the building was designed to house other businesses and initially occupied only the west half of the main floor. W.B. Hoar and Van Mourick dry goods store leased the east half. Within several years, however, the bank expanded and took over the entire level and in 1902 they remodeled to accommodate their growth. An advertisement in the Daily Mining Gazette in December 1908 included photos of an elegant banking room: Dentil crown molding, deep wooden counters, delicate hanging light fixtures, and a mosaic hex-tile floor and marble baseboard. The teller area was separated by elegant partitions and decorative metal grills; the generous entrance featured a deeply arched coffered ceiling.

In 1961, the cages and grills were eliminated “to create a pleasant, friendly atmosphere.” In 1967, the leaded glass fanlights that once graced the arches over the first floor windows were replaced with a granite-like substance. In 1978, the bank was completely gutted: The third floor refashioned into office space, the outside sand-blasted and then sealed, and a sandstone cornice – removed earlier due to deterioration – was replaced with a fiberglass replica. An elevator was installed, eliminating walking the 26 steps between each floor, and two sky-walks were added – one connecting the second floor to the new parking lot across Shelden Avenue, the other across Isle Royale Street.

Houghton’s “bank building” was used continuously by a bank until 2017, when it was re-purposed as a boutique hotel. Though little of the original interior was left after the mid-century renovations, the hotel salvaged what they could. In a nod to its heritage, the safe-deposit vault door is displayed in one of the guest rooms. The original mosaic tile floor, partly unearthed during hotel construction, was recreated in the vestibule. And some of the original ornate crown molding, likewise found, was left exposed in the corner conference room. The hotel removed a clunky outside staircase and restored the previously hidden Isle Royale entrance. They added outside lighting and an elegant black awning. Today, the bank building stands tall and unattached – a testament to the prominence of Houghton’s earliest business community and proof of the resilience of its current community.

Sources: Copper Country Architects; Historic Houghton Walking Tour; History of American Architecture SS422 Spring 2000 Term Projects; Keweenaw Time Traveler; National Register of Historic Places application; The Vault Hotel; Image: University Archives and Historical Collections MTU_MS042-063-999-Z617_

Style:
Richardsonian Romanesque
Architect:
John Scott & Company, Detroit, MI
Contractor:
Wehlman & Gipp, Ishpeming, MI