Rebirth of the Union

At the very head of 5th street and the start of Calumet’s business district sits the Union building. Built in 1889 on land donated by C&H, this brick and sandstone building signified the goodwill between the company and its people. Its purpose was to serve Calumet’s many secret societies and fraternal organizations, most notably the Free and Accepted Masons and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The buildings name referred to the spirit of cooperation between these benevolent societies (and not to organized labor which C&H so despised).

For over 80 years the building held secret meetings for over 20 of Calumet’s fraternal groups and benevolent societies. With the death of the copper empire, however, the Union Building fell into the same state of abandonment and neglect as most buildings along the once vibrant 5th street. The building managed to survive for over a century, long enough to get a second life through the help of the Keweenaw National Historic Park. A few years back the building underwent a $1.9 million dollar exterior rehabilitation project which stabilized the building and refurbished its facade. Through rebirth, the Union building can now safely face another century of life.

The upper two floors of the Union Building held the meeting halls for the two organizations which shared the building. (See the big picture) The second floor must have catered to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows – since this inscription sits above some windows on the second floor. (I.O.O.F.)

In the same vein as the picture above, this inscription atop the windows of the third floor seems to denote this hall for the Masons (F&AM – Free and Accepted Masons) This one is a little more elaborate then the Odd Fellows inscription – I wonder why?

On the remaining windows along the upper two floors is this design, accented by sandstone. This is from the third floor, on the second floor these arches are filled in by the windows themselves. Another interesting detail that seems to make no sense.

Along with the window treatments, the floors were also marked with decorative lamps. The original lamps have long since disappeared (probably stolen), but the park made sure to create replicas. Except for the original society logo’s, the park added theirs instead. These lamps did not seem to be a decorative touch, since they aren’t placed symmetrically along the building (the two sit on the same side, without a balance on the opposite side). These must have served some practical purpose. My guess is that they were lit when a meeting was in order so that people on the street would know.

While the upper floors held secret meetings, the first floor was devoted to retail space. One of the first tenants was the Merchants and Miner’s Bank for which this sign above the main entrance was installed. (it says bank if you can’t make it out) This served as only a temporary home as the bank moved to its own building on the corner of Portland. (See the big picture)

Besides the bank, many other businesses called the Union building home. These included a beauty salon, US Post Office, and the Keweenaw Printing Company whose logo is seen here. (sign originally said: Keweenaw Printing Company, Publishers of the (unreadable) Miner) The store also sold office supplies as another sign under this one states. During rehabilitation the park intentionally left these old advertisements on the side of the building for historical reference.

On the opposite side of the building stands a new fire escape and an old looking lamp which is most likely a reproduction. This side of the building once sat a few feet from the Y.M.C.A. building next door and did not receive the same attractive finish as the Keweenaw Publishing side. In the Y.M.C.A.s place now sits the sales lot for Parkway Chevrolet.

Along the buildings rear sits a rather attractive looking entrance, most likely an original freight entrance (due to the large double door). The large metal water spouts were added to properly drain the roof and stop any further water damage to the buildings 3rd floor, which had been extensive.

While the building’s original cornice was still intact atop its south wall, the street facing cornice was missing. This is a reproduction built not from tin (like the original would have been) but from a more modern composite material. Interesting to note that the building gives a date of 1888, but the park says it was built in 1889. Perhaps it was started in 1888 and finished in 1889.

As a closing note, part of the rehabilitation work involved refacing the bricks. Instead of replacing the bricks with new ones (which would have been expensive) the workers simply removed the existing brick, turned it around, and put it back in place. Because the side of the brick facing into the building was protected from the elements over the last century and looked almost as good as new, turning them to face the street gave the building a facelift without costing a great deal of money. They did not do this, however, on the parts of the facade which carried an old advertisement such as the publishing company sign. You can see line in the buildings south wall between the bricks they turned around and those they left alone in the top photo.

You can read more about the Union Building and its rehabilitation from the Keweenaw National Historic Park web site here. Its a good overview of the building and provides some detail on it’s rehabilitation.

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