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A grand history
As Grand Rapids Magazine celebrates
its 50th anniversary, we look back at
five decades of the city’s history.

By Ann Byle

Grand Rapids Magazine celebrates 50 years this month, a Golden Anniversary that symbolizes both the growth of Grand Rapids and the need for its people to have a magazine all its own.

The magazine began as a publication of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce in 1964. John Zwarensteyn became vice president of communications for GRACC and in charge of the magazine. By 1979, he had formed Gemini Communications with several partners and brought the magazine under that roof.

The company is now Gemini Publications and home to Grand Rapids Business Journal, Grand Rapids Family and a host of niche publications.

In honor of the magazine’s 50 years, we look back at some of the city’s highlights of the past five decades.

1960s: Urban Renewal
Grand Rapids Magazine was launched in the 1960s in a city rocked by racial tension and changed by the growth of its suburban areas and an influx of businesses into the Greater Grand Rapids area.

While the suburbs were burgeoning, downtown was getting a facelift. The urban renewal so much a part of that time led to the demolition of hundreds of buildings, including the Gothic Victorian City Hall.

The city’s first public housing project, Campau Commons, opened in 1969 at the corner of Division Avenue and Antoine Street, which was named after the brother of Grand Rapids’ founder Louis Campau. Antoine had farmed that corner, located just south of Franklin Street, in the early days of the city.

Included in the urban renewal was Vandenberg Plaza, which in 1969 became home to what would become Grand Rapids’ most enduring symbol: “La Grande Vitesse” by sculptor Alexander Calder, who attended the installation ceremonies. “La Grande Vitesse” means “great swiftness,” a French translation of “Grand Rapids.” The Calder, as it’s usually called, was the first piece of public art in the country to be jointly financed by private and federal funds.

 

Construction of I-196 in the early ’60s.

The 1960s were grand years for growth. Kent County officially opened its $9 million airport in Cascade Township. The gala opening had been set for Nov. 23, 1963, but the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the day before forced the event to the following June, though the airport was open for business in the interim. Grand Valley State College also opened in 1963, with help from a $50,000 grant from The Grand Rapids Foundation.

Drivers found commuting easier after the I-96 and I-196 expressways were completed in the early ’60s. The Hall of Justice in downtown Grand Rapids was dedicated in 1966, which also saw the completion of the modern addition to the Ryerson Library, which had survived the decade’s urban renewal.

Another building to survive was Baxter Christian School, started in 1884 by Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church. The school, at 953 Baxter St. SE, merged with Oakdale Christian School in 1963 and closed its doors in 1969 after its student base had moved to the suburbs. The building is now the Baxter Community Center, which opened in response to the needs of the area’s population and continues to serve the community today.

The core city, mirroring that of the country, was in upheaval in the 1960s. Racial tensions mounted when blacks were continually denied buying homes outside the boundaries of Hall Street on the south, Cherry Street on the north, Fuller Avenue on the east and the Grand River on the west. Despite work by the Human Relations Committee and the Urban League, riots broke out July 24, 1967, and lasted two days. When the crowds dispersed and the city settled down, there had been 348 arrests, 44 injuries and $175,000 in property damage.

It would be years before blacks were routinely allowed to buy homes in other areas of the city, but one bright spot existed in the form of the Auburn Hills neighborhood on the northeast side. Despite opposition, four black men purchased 20 acres of land from the city in 1962 to develop a subdivision of 50 to 60 homes specifically for black families. The diverse neighborhood still exists today.

The Roosevelt Park neighborhood along Grandville Avenue became home to many Latino immigrants who used the area as an entry point into Grand Rapids. Central and South American natives, as well as Cubans fleeing Castro’s regime, began to populate this vital area once home to Dutch immigrants. These days the Grandville Academy of the Arts, a neighborhood library and Clinica Santa Maria operated by Mercy Health anchor the neighborhood.

The 1960s also were a time for dramatic civic growth in Grand Rapids. The first woman was elected to the Grand Rapids City Commission and sworn in in 1961. Evangeline Lamberts defeated Robert Blandford in the second ward by 1,000 votes. The West Michigan Opera Association (now Opera Grand Rapids) was founded in 1967, and the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids was incorporated in 1968. In November of that year, the first E-unit for the Grand Rapids Police Department hit the streets. Also in 1968, Herman Miller introduced what it called the world’s first open office system: its Action Office line.

Perhaps it was a huge fish kill in 1966 — apparently brought on by cyanide in storm drains connected to two metal-finishing plants — that prompted Charles R. Evenson, a businessman and devoted fisherman, to organize the West Michigan Environmental Action Council in 1968. WMEAC’s first action brought about Grand Rapids’ first ordinance regulating what could be dumped into the Grand River.

Grand Rapids in the ’60s was on the cutting edge when it came to shopping centers. Rogers Plaza was the area’s first suburban shopping center to open — in August 1961 — and one of the first enclosed shopping centers in the state. Breton Village Mall opened in 1962, followed by Eastbrook Mall in 1969, and Woodland and North Kent malls in 1970. Congressman Gerald R. Ford was on hand to cut the ribbon at Eastbrook Mall Sept. 27, 1969, with Steketee’s and Wurzburg’s as anchor stores. Media coverage also was extensive for the August 1966 groundbreaking ceremony for the new Sears, Roebuck and Co. that would anchor Woodland Mall.

Grand Rapids saw visits from political candidates throughout the decade. Robert F. Kennedy visited in April 1968 to speak at a political rally, and Sen. Edmond Muskie came later that year. The first U.S. serviceman from Grand Rapids was killed in the Vietnam War in 1965; eventually, 131 names of local men would be added to the “The Wall” in Washington, D.C.

The 1960s were years of tumult and growth, but also of commerce and suburban sprawl. In August 1966, Jack Loeks’ Studio 28 on 28th Street in Wyoming — which would become the first megaplex theater in the world — offered a Ladies’ Matinee for 50 cents and advertised the last night for the film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Jack Loeks’ Midtown Theatre in downtown showed “The Sound of Music” and the Plainfield Drive-In showed “Stagecoach” and “The Flight of the Phoenix.”

A cottage with access to Reeds Lake, called “a very private double lot,” was priced at $8,500, grocery stores advertised cigarettes for $2.49 a carton, and Wurzburg’s offered boys’ no-iron western jeans for $2.97

1970s: Proud Moments
The 1970s were a time of civic responsibility and expansion in Grand Rapids. Neighborhood associations began to form, with the first, the Ottawa Hills Neighborhood Association, established in 1970. Next in line were the Heritage Hill Association in 1971 and the Eastown Community Association in 1972.

Heritage Hill was in danger of destruction as the downtown urban renewal began to creep up the hill. Many of the beautiful homes that showcased so much of the city’s history would have been destroyed had not the Heritage Hill Association taken action. In March 1971, Heritage Hill was established as a National Historic District, the largest urban historic district in the country at the time. Two years later, the city designated Heritage Hill its first historic district, and the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission further helped prevent demolition of homes. Heritage Hill now stands as a testament to the hard work of grass-roots organizations.

Lots of things were happening in 1971. The Grand Rapids Economic Development Corp. was founded and the Civic Ballet began under founding Artistic Director Sally Seven. Grand Rapids swore in its first black mayor when Lyman Parks was elected.

Urban renewal couldn’t save Wurzburg’s, which closed its downtown store. The 99-year-old department store had installed the first escalator in Grand Rapids. All Wurzburg’s stores closed by mid-decade.

Vandenberg Plaza, with its large red sculpture, became home to the three-day Festival of the Arts in 1970.

The dedication of the Fish Ladder sculpture took place in 1975. Built along the Grand River by local artist Joseph Kinnebrew, the sculpture was created to aid spawning fish in their struggle to swim upstream. The salmon had recently returned to the river after environmental groups pushed for cleaning it up.

Grand Rapids again became synonymous with the furniture industry, thanks to Steelcase, which spent six months in 1973 installing its office furniture in 44 floors of the new Sears Tower in Chicago.

By mid-decade, however, unemployment was at 14 percent, rising inflation threatened, and the 1973-74 OPEC oil embargo put gas prices up sixfold. Car prices jumped 70 percent, new home prices had doubled from a decade earlier, and food prices had doubled, as well.


The city experienced its proudest moment in August 1974. Native son Gerald R. Ford became the 38th president of the United States, assuming the office after the resignation of Richard Nixon.

The city experienced its proudest moment in August 1974. Native son Gerald R. Ford became the 38th president of the United States, assuming the office after the resignation of Richard Nixon. Ford had been appointed vice president by Nixon after Spiro Agnew resigned.

In 1975, Susan B. Lovell and three other East Grand Rapids moms started Cadence newspaper. Lovell, Mary Abbott, Susan Ryan Bowers and Gini Mulligan wanted a newspaper that publicized children doing the right things, instead of the usual media focus on the rise of the drug culture and crime.

As the nation celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, Grand Rapids celebrated, as well. The Apollo Space Capsule, which now sits in front of the Van Andel Museum Center, was sealed as the city’s official time capsule, to be opened July 4, 2076. As part of the local celebration, the Calkins Law Office, Grand Rapids’ oldest surviving building (1836) was restored and moved to its present location at Washington and State streets near Mercy Health Saint Mary’s.

Also in 1976, The Grand Rapids Press, along with seven other Michigan daily newspapers, was sold to S.I. Newhouse, a New York communications company. The $300 million sale was the largest transaction in newspaper publishing history to date.

The national bicentennial year also saw the organization of the Grand Rapids Area Transit Authority and the founding of El Matador Tortilla Chip Co. by immigrants Miguel “Mike” and Isabel Navarro. El Matador chips are now found on grocery shelves around the country.

As the decade entered its second half, personalities and events moved to the forefront. The city mourned the death of Paul I. Phillips, who had become the first African-American elected to public office in Grand Rapids in 1951 when voted on to the Grand Rapids Charter Commission, and the first African-American on the Grand Rapids Board of Education in 1952. Phillips advised President Ford on minority issues and helped guide whites and blacks through perilous racial tension in the 1960s.

Other notable events in 1978:

The first Old Kent River Bank Run got underway May 13, with more than 1,000 runners.

The Grand Rapids Civic Theatre was given a permanent home in the old Majestic Theater at the corner of Division and Library.

Mary Seadorf, who with her husband owned Seadorf Plumbing and Heating, became the state’s first licensed woman plumber.

During the final year of the decade, Duncan E. Littlefair retired as senior minister at Fountain Street Church, a job he had accepted in 1944. For a time, the church was unique in the country as a large liberal and non-denominational church in a notably conservative city.

The Grand Rapids Press fashion pages touted the renewed popularity of fake furs; simulated mink was the most popular for knee length fur coats for both men and women.

And 28th Street was ranked the busiest highway in the state of Michigan, with more than 45,000 motorists each day traveling the 11 miles between Wyoming and East Beltline.

1980s: Civic Growth
The 1980s was a decade of nearly unprecedented civic growth and involvement for long-time donors and a time for residents of Grand Rapids to become involved in the city’s many activities and initiatives.

The first Celebration on the Grand took place in September 1980, in part to mark the opening of the Grand Center, which included DeVos Performance Hall and Welsh Civic Auditorium. DeVos Performance Hall, with its 2,400 seats, is still home to Grand Rapids Symphony, although the Welsh Auditorium was replaced with DeVos Place convention center.

The first year of the decade also saw the opening of the Monroe Avenue Pedestrian Mall, which turned the busy downtown thoroughfare into a car-free walking mall designed to draw people to the businesses that lined the street. Stores such as Downtown Books, Herkner Jewelers, Steketee’s and Herpolsheimer’s were part of the downtown scene.

City workers — garbage collectors, maintenance workers, zookeepers, cemetery workers, etc. — made national news Nov. 3, 1980, when they ended an 88-day work stoppage, the longest municipal strike in U.S. history. A three-day strike earlier in the year foreshadowed the longer strike over wage increases and benefits. “The strike was not unusual for the nation and was in keeping with the times,” said local labor expert Michael Johnston. “What was unusual was the length.”

Grand Rapids Press film critic John Douglas listed his top 10 movies for 1980, which included “The Black Stallion,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Fame.” On his list of worst films were “Friday the 13th” and “Caddyshack.” Fiction bestsellers of the year were “The Covenant” by James Michener, “Firestarter” by Stephen King, “Unfinished Tales” by J.R.R. Tolkien and “The Key to Rebecca” by Ken Follett. The nonfiction bestseller was “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan.

In July 1981, the city adopted the Grand River Edges plan, which called for uninterrupted and connected green spaces on either side of the Grand River. The counties, townships and cities that border the river became a key part of the plan.

Grand Rapids held one of its biggest parties ever in September 1981 when several pivotal events occurred the same week. The dedication and renaming of the new Amway Grand Plaza — renovations cost $24 million — occurred Sept. 15. (The hotel was completed two years later when the 29-story west wing opened.) The dedication of the Grand Rapids Art Museum in the Federal Building that once had housed the post office took place Sept. 17, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum was dedicated the next day.

The city was flooded with dignitaries for the events, including Mr. and Mrs. Gerald R. Ford, Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Carter, Lady Bird Johnson, President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, Vice President George Bush, and leaders from several foreign countries. Grand Rapids’ citizens joined in the events, which coincided with Celebration on the Grand and ended with food, entertainment and fireworks at Ah-Nab-Awen Park Sept. 19.

In another first, Amtrak made its appearance in Grand Rapids in 1984. The Pere Marquette train, named for the Pere Marquette Railway and the train that ran between Detroit and Grand Rapids in the early decades of the century, still runs daily between Grand Rapids and Chicago.

The middle of the decade saw the national economy begin to pick up, with the local economy following suit. During the last three months of 1985, unemployment stood at 6.5 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in Michigan had reached a high in 1982 of 16.8 percent.

Grand Rapids proper was worth more than ever. City assessors made an unofficial estimate of the value of Louis Campau’s original plot, which ran from Michigan Street on the north to Fulton Street on the south, and from Division Avenue on the east to the Grand River on the west. Campau had paid $90 for the plot, which in 1985 was estimated to be worth $25 million.

Perhaps in keeping with that value, The Right Place was established by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce with $3.7 million in funding from area employers and local governments. The regional nonprofit economic development organization has since assisted thousands of local businesses and created tens of thousands of jobs.

1986 saw several key events take place in Grand Rapids:

Steelcase completed its $48 million plant in Kentwood and began work on a research and development center in Gaines Township.

The Greater Grand Rapids Open was played for the first time, with players from the PGA Senior Tour.

Kent District Library celebrated 50 years.

The National Association of Realtors said the median resale price of a home in Grand Rapids was $51,600.

Extensive renovations to modernize the St. Cecilia Music Center building were completed in 1986, bringing the venerable institution back to its original glory. The original St. Cecilia Society building, completed in 1894, was the first structure of its kind to be built, financed and operated entirely by women at a total cost of $53,000. A Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass window was added in 1895. Major repairs were made in 1901, renovations were made in 1925 and 1974, and a final restoration project was completed in 1998.

The Grand Rapids Symphony made national news during its 1986-87 season when Catherine Comet was named music director and conductor. She was the first woman ever hired to direct a symphony of GRS’s size and influence. Also on the arts front, the Ladies Literary Club celebrated its centennial in 1987 in the same Sheldon Avenue building where it began — which boasts its own stained glass window designed by Tiffany in 1915.

The Sesquicentennial Committee, formed to celebrate the 150th anniversary in 1988 of Grand Rapids’ original charter, raised funds to light five bridges in the downtown area.

In 1989, John Ball Zoo became county property. The acreage, called the Ball Forty, had been given to the city by John Ball, a Grand Rapids pioneer, before the turn of the last century

1990s: New Landmarks
The early years of the decade saw their share of openings and closings. In 1990, Lazarus Department Store, anchor for downtown’s City Centre Mall, closed that location and at Wyoming Village Mall. The move angered City Centre management, which tried to block the closing in court, as hopes of a revival of the downtown commercial district seemed to wane.

Grand Rapids Public Museum decided to sell one of the boyhood homes of Gerald R. Ford after it sat empty for nearly 20 years waiting for funding to either renovate or turn it into a museum. Ford had lived in the home on Union Street from 1923-1930.

 

Van Andel Arena, home to Grand Rapids Griffins ice hockey team, opened in 1996.

Aquinas College, however, saw the recreation, in 1990, of its Holmdene Garden, located next to Holmdene Hall, which had been built in 1906 for Edward and Susan Blodgett Lowe. The estate was purchased by the short-lived University of Grand Rapids in 1939, then by the Dominican Sisters in 1945 as the new home for Aquinas College. Nuns cared for the garden until they moved out of Holmdene in 1980. The renovated garden contained 2,000 perennials, 300 shrubs and 50 trees, all labeled with scientific and common names.

In 1991, ground was broken at the corner of Pearl Street and Front Avenue for the new Van Andel Museum Center, the main facility of the Public Museum, which also includes the Voigt House, Chaffee Planetarium and other sites. The original museum was founded in 1854 and had the honor in 1971 of being the first ever to be accredited by the American Association of Museums. The $40 million Van Andel Museum Center opened in 1994.

More ground was broken during 1991, this time for the Helen DeVos Women and Children’s Medical Center in a parking lot along Barclay Street behind Butterworth Hospital. The addition expanded the services offered to children at Butterworth, including specialized pediatric care. When it opened in 1993, it was the only children’s hospital in West Michigan.

In other hospital news, in 1991 Blodgett Memorial Medical Center signaled a desire to move to the corner of Knapp Street and East Beltline Avenue. The hospital wanted the city of Grand Rapids to annex the Grand Rapids Township property, but township residents and lawyers fought the plan. While Blodgett’s plans failed, Meijer Inc.’s plans did not. The Knapp Corner Meijer opened in 1997 and the nearby Celebration Cinema North complex in 2001.

Yet another downtown landmark came into being in the 1990s. Plans for the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum were announced in 1992, thanks to the vision of Robert and Aleicia Woodrick, the owners of D&W grocery stores, and their daughter, Georgia Gietzen, who became the museum’s first president. The museum opened in August 1993 at Woodland Shopping Center, then moved downtown in 1997 to 11 Sheldon Ave. in the old Monument Square building that had been purchased and donated by the Woodricks. More than 2 million children and their guests have visited the hands-on play mecca.

Other events in the decade:
1991—Amway sales top $3 billion.

1991—The first Legacy celebration takes place in concurrence with Women’s History Month. The tri-annual celebration is sponsored by the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council.

1993—Bridgewater Place, a 17-story office building in downtown covered with reflective blue glass, opens.

1994—Grand Rapids creates its Pothole Hotline.

1994—Patterson Ice Arena opens, making Grand Rapids the No. 1 ice city in Michigan; the arena had a full-size NHL rink and a bigger Olympic-size rink.

1996—Jay and Betty Van Andel establish the Van Andel Institute with the goal of having a worldwide impact on biomedical research and science education.

1998—The short-lived West Michigan Grand Prix races through downtown streets in the first of its two-year run.

1999—RiverTown Crossings mall opened in Grandville with five anchor stores.

The middle years of the decade included national and local events of note. Baseball fans whooped for joy when in 1994 the West Michigan Whitecaps made their home at the beautiful new Old Kent Park in Comstock Park. The stadium was renamed Fifth Third Ballpark in 2001.

In September 1995, the city celebrated the 50th anniversary of the fluoridation of drinking water. Grand Rapids played a pioneering role beginning in 1945, and by 1960, fluoridation was widely used in the U.S. To commemorate the occasion, a white marble monument was erected at the west end of Louis Campau Promenade along the Grand River.

The Van Andel Museum Center became home in 1995 to a historic bell that had stood along Monroe Mall for 17 years. The bell was cast in 1878 and hung as an alarm in a wooden fire tower at Pearl Street and Ottawa Avenue, then moved in 1888 to the new City Hall clock tower on Ottawa and Lyon Street. It rang on the hour until 1969 when the building was razed.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park opened in April 1995 after 13 years of planning and fundraising. Indoor and outdoor gardens enchant visitors, and sculptures by world-renowned artists grace the permanent collection and visiting exhibits.

In fall 1996, the Van Andel Arena opened downtown. Home to the Grand Rapids Griffins AHL hockey team, it has welcomed millions of visitors to concerts from Barry Manilow to Motley Crue, and from GVSU graduations to appearances by Cirque du Soleil. Billboard Magazine ranked it the sixth highest grossing arena worldwide in its seating capacity.

In perhaps one of the biggest events in local health care, Butterworth Health Systems and Blodgett Memorial Medical Center merged to become Spectrum Health. The 1997 merger paved the way for Grand Rapids to emerge as one of the top medical centers in the nation.

The arts played big roles in the waning years of the millennium. In November 1997, Grand Rapids Art Museum hosted the landmark exhibit “Perugino: Master of the Italian Renaissance.” Thirty-five original works by the 15th century artist were part of the exhibit, nine of them making their first-ever journey from Perugia, Italy — a Grand Rapids sister city.

In 1998, Wealthy Theatre reopened after years of standing empty. Built in 1911 for vaudeville and live theater and named the Pastime Vaudette, it closed before the end of the decade but reopened in the ’20s as a movie house called Wealthy Theatre. It closed again in the 1970s, decaying for more than two decades until the South East Economic Development neighborhood association launched a campaign to fund its restoration. Today, it is part of the Community Media Center.

2000s: Accelerated Growth
The new millennium, despite forecasts of disaster, arrived without computer glitches or worldwide power outages.

New Year’s Day 2000 was nearly heaven for college sports fans. The University of Michigan Wolverines played in the Fed Ex Orange Bowl, beating Alabama. The MSU Spartans played Florida in the Citrus Bowl, winning by a field goal in the final three seconds.

Election 2000 came early to Grand Rapids when Calvin College hosted a debate Jan. 10 between the six Republican presidential candidates. Gary Bauer, George W. Bush, Steve Forbes, Orrin Hatch, Alan Keyes and John McCain vied for top spot in the debate hosted by NBC’s Tim Russert. WOOD’s Suzanne Geha and Rick Albin asked the questions.

The S-Curve on U.S. 131 closed Jan. 16 for a $145 million rebuilding project scheduled to be finished Dec. 1. In October, the Interurban Transit Partnership became the governing body of the city’s public transportation system, taking over from GRATA. The ITP added ride-share programs, the Go Bus for seniors and the disabled, and the DASH shuttle bus service from outlots into downtown.

In June 2000, renowned sculptor Maya Lin — well-known for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. — came to town to oversee her redesign of Monroe Mall Amphitheater. “Ecliptic” features a concert and event venue in warm months and an ice rink in winter. Below the ice are 166 fiber optic lights representing Michigan’s sky as it appeared at midnight Jan. 1, 2000.

The area was later named Rosa Parks Circle in honor of the Michigan resident who was key to the Civil Rights Movement. A sculpture in her honor was installed in 2010. The space made Guinness World Records history in 2012 when it was the sight of the largest swing dance gathering ever achieved: 756 participants, organized by the Grand Rapids Original Swing Society.


Rob Bliss and friends launched 100,000 paper airplanes from skyscrapers in downtown Grand Rapids for the first ArtPrize in 2009.

Also in 2000, the Browning Claytor Health Center opened at Hall Street and Madison Avenue SE. Dr. Robert Claytor, son of former slaves, served the local African-American community in the early 1900s and was among the first to purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood. Dr. Eugene Browning began his practice in Grand Rapids in 1905 and pioneered the idea of well-baby clinics.

In 2003, the Civic Auditorium, part of the Grand Center, was imploded to make way for DeVos Place Convention Center. The new structure kept the Civic’s façade and lobby as part of its Steelcase Ballroom.

Throughout the 2000s and beyond, the now famous Medical Mile began to take shape on Michigan Street hill in downtown. Visionaries and donors saw Grand Rapids becoming a center for research, education and patient care. Major additions include buildings on Michigan Street and elsewhere in downtown:

2000—Phase one of the Van Andel Institute’s building, designed by famed architect Rafael Viñoly and including many unique features, was completed. Phase two, LEED certified at the Platinum level, would open in December 2009. The expansion added 240,000 square feet to the more than $1 billion in life sciences investment already in place along the Medical Mile.

2000—Grand Rapids Community College’s Calkins Science Center opens, named after 25-year president Richard W. Calkins.

2003—Grand Valley State University’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences opens. Classrooms, teaching and research labs, a 150-seat auditorium and conference rooms provide a learning environment for undergrad and graduate programs.

2004—Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center opens. The 300,000-square-foot center combines the heart programs from Spectrum Health’s Blodgett and Butterworth campuses.

2008—Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion is developed to bring all cancer research and patient care in Spectrum Health under one roof. The land was purchased in 2002, thanks to a donation from Fred and Lena Meijer. The facility is named after two employees who worked for Meijer and worked their way to the top of the company.

2008—Women’s Health Center of West Michigan opens its doors off Michigan Street, offering health care for women via a variety of services.

2009—The Mercy Health Hauenstein Neuroscience Center opens in February at 220 Cherry St. SE, thanks to a donation by Ralph Hauenstein, entrepreneur and WWII veteran. The center treats Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, stroke, memory disorders and a host of other neurologic diseases.

2010—MSU College of Human Medicine Secchia Center becomes home to 400 MSU medical students. A $10 million donation was made by Peter Secchia of Grand Rapids.

2011—1-11-11 saw the first children wheeled through the doors of the new Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, thanks to a $50 million donation in honor of Helen DeVos.

The emphasis on health-related endeavors didn’t preclude other events during the 2000s. The city mourned its native son Gerald R. Ford, who died in December 2006 and was laid to rest at the museum bearing his name, following full presidential honors. His beloved wife, Betty, who raised awareness of both breast cancer and addiction, died in July 2011 and was laid to rest next to her husband.

In 2007, a monument honoring the labor movement in the city was placed near the Ford Museum. Titled “Spirit of Solidarity,” it was created by local artist Roberto Chenlo. Labor expert Michael Johnston organized the effort.

In perhaps one of most innovative experiments Grand Rapids has ever seen, Rick DeVos announced he would give away the world’s largest art prize based on public vote. ArtPrize was open to any artist in the world, and any visitor could vote for their favorite. The 2009 inaugural event drew more than 200,000 visitors to downtown to view entries from 1,262 artists, and has continued to grow.

Two great estates came together in 2011 when Aquinas College received a gift of the Brookby Estate, built in the 1920s by John W. Blodgett Sr., whose sister Susan Lowe owned Holmdene just across Robinson Road. The gift helped mark the 125th anniversary of the college.

The local art world got a shot in the arm when the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts moved to its new facility at Division Avenue and Fulton Street. The UICA had moved several times since its inception in 1977, this time becoming the anchor for the Avenue for the Arts.

In 2012, Grand Rapids tied with Asheville, N.C., for the title of Beer City USA, thanks to the prominence of its craft breweries. The competition was held by casting votes online for cities around the U.S. In 2013, Grand Rapids won the competition as an outright victory.GR

 
   
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