Prosperity Lost (p3) – the Marta Block

As we continue our tour along Laurium’s main commercial district, we come across one more name to add to our list of whose who for the old village of Calumet’s – Dominick Marta. Mr. Marta was an Italian baker who set up shop in the young village of Calumet soon after Vivian’s arrival. Mr. Marta’s success enabled him to invest a great deal of money in the erection of one of Laurium’s most handsome buildings – the three story sandstone Marta Block.

At a cost of roughly $12,000 the Marta Block joined a prestigious group of large building blocks to follow in Vivian’s footsteps. The Marta Block is three stories in height, featuring a pair of storefronts on the first floor, office space in the second, and space for a hall on the unfinished third. The building was built to house Mr. Marta’s bakery, which occupied the left storefront in the picture taken above. Marta and his wife Catherine lived in a small wood home built behind the building. Only 9 years after the building was built, however, Mr. Marta died and the building and bakery within was left to his wife.

Catherine would end up continuing her husbands business, running it well into the 30s before handing it over to her kids. Even then Catherine kept a close eye on the operation and continued to serve as the bakery’s head baker well into the 40s. The building and bakery within would become a integral ingredient of the Laurium commercial district, serving the community up until her death in 1960. By then the bakery had changed names to Kentala’s, but today the Marta name continues to grace the building’s nameplate.

Unlike most of Laurium’s surviving structures, the Marta Block is amazingly well preserved and continues to exhibit a rather grandiose impression to those passing by on the street. Most notable is the rough-faced sandstone and round-arched window openings on the third floor. You could tell at a glance that this building was not your normal old business block, but was designed to be something a bit more.

Then there’s the little details and flourishes that inhabit the building’s exterior, items such as these small medallions scattered across the facade that hint at a certain level of detail and craftsmanship that usually only accompanies a building of distinction.

Perhaps the least impressive part of this building is its main entrance, which no doubt has been seriously altered from the structures original configuration. Though I can’t be sure, I doubt that the building’s original entrance features a large alcove in its center as we see on the building today. In addition to the altered opening the building also has been scarred by the presence of a large amount of wood infill in areas original dedicated to large storefront windows. But as long as you focus your attention to the building’s upper floors, these slight blemishes shouldn’t detract from its beauty too much.

With the towering Richetta Block to the south reduced to a single story, the Marta Block now serves as an anchor to Hecla street’s west side – denoting the beginning the village’s main collection of business blocks to the north. Two of these blocks can be seen in the photo above, a pair of two-story stone buildings that comprise the majority of Laurium’s remaining inventory. Neither has faired as well as the Marta Block, however, and are a bit more worse for wear..

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  1. I would think the alcove entrance is original. The center door and wood framed panel style could very well be original though it has lost it’s character over the years with new doors and some window changes.

  2. The front facade dates back to the 50s as far as I can see, but it just doesn’t look “right” when it comes to the rest of the building. According to Sanborn maps don’t indicate such an alcove entrance (and the maps do indicated such entrances in other buildings). Also the maps denote two equal 40 foot storefronts, but with this configuration the right storefront is much larger. Also the central doorway presumably for access to the upper floors is not centered under the central windows of the building, which looks odd when viewed face on. It also doesn’t match the rest of the building in scope or style.

    I think the alcove seen here has been part of the building for a long time, possible at least since the war. But I still don’t think its original as built. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the building to verify this.

    But in the end both of you could still be right. It’s really just conjecture on my part.

  3. Not to be critical of peoples intentions but a lot of downtown building facades are “modernized” or “updated” at the expense of the buildings character. A new facade might be new or different but new or different does not mean better it just means new or different. Buildings and houses should be maintained as built not modernized or updated.
    P.S. why does the screen go dark when entering a note here?

  4. Mike – I don’t see how it can be “Two equal 40 foot storefronts”? In looking at the center section and using the doors as a unit of measure (about 3 feet wide) I see the center section as about 22 feet wide. (Post to Post) Being as the right and left sides are each not as wide as the center section.. I don’t see how it could be two 40 foot storefronts… I think 45-50 foot total… Just sayin…

  5. I think it maybe equal 20ft offices, when I looked at the Sanborn map, I think they show the footage for the front of the buildings, this shows 40ft. Even then I think the office space would be less being the staircase in the middle. So 15ft for the offices and 10 for the stairwell?

  6. My grandparents Domenico (Dominic) and Catherine Marta built the Marta Block. The house which is behind the building was originally on Hecla St. and was moved back to its present location when the sandstone building was built. The original bakery oven is in the basement of the house. It is a wood fired, stone hearth style. Catherine was involved with baking until the 1920s. Two of her sons, John and Adolph worked in the bakery until 1933 when John and his wife Mary continued the business. They purchased the bakery from Catherine. The Kentala family purchased the bakery in 1951. The alcove is original. In the winter a removable wood and glass wall with two doors would be installed to reduce the entry of cold and snow into the building. Of the three doors, the middle one may be original, it has been there since at least the early 1930s. It leads to the stairway to the second and third floors. The other two doors were identical and removed during post bakery remodeling. The sides of the alcove had plate glass windows as did the front of the building. By the 1930s the second and third floors each had 3 rental rooms at the front of the building and two 3 room apartments on the north and south sides respectively. Originally there was a general store on the left and a saloon on the right. In the teens both were closed and the left side became the salesroom, office and packaging areas and the right the bakery.
    The left window is about 7 & 1/2 feet wide, the alcove 16 & 1/2 feet wide and the right window 11 & 1/2 feet wide, building width is approximately 42 feet.

    1. John – Thank You for taking the time to tell the story of both your family and this wonderful building. I’m always limited in time and resources when it comes to my own research on these buildings, and its always incredibly welcomed when those with a direct connection to some of these places and people join in on the discussion. Thanks for clearing up the mystery of the entrance alcove – finally we know for certain.

  7. My parents rented one of the apartments in the Marta Building. I think it was on the third floor. I was about 4 yrs old at the time. I remember Mrs. Marta and Old Mrs. Marta (sort of). And I remember playing with a Marta son who was older than me. Would that be you John? I can remember you running my doll buggy up and down the hallway.

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