Patch of History: Downtown Facades Get Facelifts (and Awards) Yet Again

A "Patch of History" is a weekly feature that looks at Royal Oak's rich and amazing history.

401 S. Washington then and now.
401 S. Washington then and now.
"The power saws and hammers, cement mixers and trowels are building a new face for the CBD (Central Business District)," according to the Daily Tribune.

Was the Trib referring to  the Downtown Development Authority's new facade improvement program? 

No. The lead sentence was actually written in 1970 by writer D. Peter Williams who was referring to a flurry of downtown renovation projects intended to fight back against those "formidable upstart foes" of the swinging 1960s, the shopping center and office plaza.

What's interesting about Williams' article is that nearly all the renovated buildings he cites are at it again 40 years later.

History repeats itself

In 1970, then mayor, James Cline, awarded the Meyer Treasure Chest Store at 415 S. Washington and Dobie Jewelers at 502 S. Washington certificates of commendation for remodeling efforts.

David Gabler, executive director of Greater Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce at the time, called the renewed interest in downtown "proof that downtown is coming back."

In a case of history repeating itself, both buildings given recognition in 1970 were recently 2013 recipients of beautification awards from the Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce. The building at 415 S. Washington is now Trattoria & Pizzeria da Luigi; 502 S. Washington is now home to Rail & Anchor and Citizen Yoga.

From enameled steel panels to Italian tile

Four decades ago, Cline also praised Ralph Conselyea for transforming a gas station at the corner of Fourth and Washington into the headquarters for Conselyea's realty business.

"The facade is done in enameled steel panels and dark glass, and the interior is all new," reported the Tribune

Today, the 401 S. Lafayette structure is once again undergoing a transformation, this time for a new venture to be named Bistro 82. Aaron F. Belen is behind the new Europeon-style restaurant, which will feature an Italian tile facade, Spanish flooring and a French bistro concept.

Two other projects received city awards in 1970Klebba's, a stationery store, once located at 401 S. Washington, was praised for its revitalization efforts. Last year,  American Apparel expanded into the space at the corner of Washington and Fourth.

And the Black Forest Inn, a bar-restaurant, earned high marks for its new mansard roof and transformation of a former furniture store at 215 S. Washington.

Two years later, a Federal bankruptcy referee in Detroit approved the sale of the Black Forest Inn to Dr. Donald Lim, a Birmingham dentist. The Peking House is now located where the former German restaurant stood.

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