Refurbishing the Dream

David Strouse Sets Immaculate Architectural Restoration Standards for Urban Revitalization

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 793   By: Sam Fitzpatrick

10th July, 2014     0

A three-story 132-year old building located at 314, 315, and 315 S. Hamilton Street has been beautifully preserved, restored, and transformed into an architectural jewel adorning the necklace of historic structures lining the streets of Saginaw’s Old Town district.  Originally constructed in 1881 as a two-story, one of the building’s first tenants was “J. Ahrens & Company Cigar Manufacturers”. A second business - “Valley Sweets Company” - moved in around 1907 and remained in the building until the mid-twentieth century. Other businesses over the last 50 years included at one time or another a record shop, a t-shirt store, sports apparel stores, and a boutique shop.

But by the late 2000’s, the building’s condition was literally crumbling and in desperate need of repair, or else it may face destruction. That building was saved in 2008.

The building’s current owner, David Strouse, is a CBS Los Angeles TV executive and Saginaw native. Strouse along with his partner and design architect Marcelo Goncalves, and John Meyer, the construction architect, saw potential with the building and an opportunity to preserve a part of Saginaw’s rich history that needed to be saved.

Saginaw has its deepest roots stemming back to the 17th century as a product of French Exploration. After the Seven Years’ War, much of Michigan was ceded to the British. Many of the State’s boomtowns such as Saginaw quickly attracted the attention of people looking for work. It was during the 1870’s that lumber production peaked but eventually phased out towards the end of the 1800’s. Lumber crowded the Saginaw River to be distributed to manufacturers everywhere for the production of consumer goods. However, it was during this period where local economies and businesses were either brought in or started, once families had moved in along with the logging businesses. The building where Strouse Apartments is today was one of those constructed during this time period, and its preservation was a must for Saginaw, as seen by Strouse and the local community.

Strouse made clear that he did not intend to save these buildings out of nostalgic feelings, to get rich, or to draw attention to his actions. “I did this to prove to myself and others that it could be saved; and because it is the right thing to do,” Strouse stated at the apartment building’s opening day speech in 2012.

"Every successful urban revitalization project in this country has begun in the historic core of a community; and the likelihood of success is linked directly to the number of historic structures remaining. They will never be replaced because they are impossible to replace. When they are gone, they will be gone forever".

David Strouse’s philosophy on turning this building into an apartment complex was based on hiring local labor whenever possible and restoring rather than replacing.  For instance, he hired craftsmen to tile the kitchen splashes rather than installing pre-fabricated ones. The floors were restored rather than just covered up. He also stresses that saving these buildings are the “Green thing to do. The energy, labor and materials contained in the structure of this building are resources - some of them not replaceable - that should not be thrown away”.

To better help the local community and economy, Strouse hired and relied on local businesses rather than ship items from overseas to help build the apartments, “It felt good to know that the vast bulk of the dollars flowed back into the community in the form of wages earned”.

Two of Strouse’s most recent tenants are local bartenders, Ana Arce and Matthew Mitchell.  Both very pleased on their decision to move.

“It’s perfect!” Ana says. “I love the look. I really think it’s nothing you’d find around here at all. It’s so beautiful. They (Strouse, Goncalves and Meyer) really did a good job of putting it together and making it something.”

Matt also loved the styling and uniqueness the complex adds to the Saginaw area, “I love it. Obviously it’s very perfect for us down here with working in Old Town.”

Matt went on to talk about how the location was in good proximity of both the bars they work at, and they rarely need use of a car unless the weather says otherwise.

The project has come out beautifully.  The apartments are west-coast loft-style with lots of room and open space. They come with a full kitchen, a large living room area that includes room for a dining table set, and some with a small separating wall between the bedroom area and living room. The floors are all hardwood, the walls and ceilings having been painted white. Every apartment door and even the laundry door are painted a bright red, with a gleaming silver letter and number to identify the rooms. All aspects of the complex are straight out of West Hollywood and fit the atmosphere of the structure in perfect harmony together.

“I found it fun,” says Goncalves, when asked on designing the interior. “It’s like putting a puzzle together. A good thing about it, it was historic. I was working with new and old, and that was wonderful. Everything you see is what I did.” Strouse added onto what Goncalves had said, bringing up how before they started there were two walls left inside, and the staircases were so old and rickety they would have been deemed illegal for usage, “The design has a lot to do with the affordability of it, too”.

“I consider without design nothing should be done over because it doesn’t work. If you don’t have a good design, people don’t want to be there. Design is the number one base for any project anywhere” Marcello stated.

"We can’t afford to lose any more of these buildings. They need to be saved and the process mostly likely to succeed is to move aggressively, one building at a time".
As of today, Strouse Apartments on Hamilton Street are full of tenants.

“When my friends come in they are in awe.” Arce added, “Next question is ‘are there any empty spaces or apartments that they can rent’”.

“The more people that come down here and the more money they put down here the more business we can get and that opens up new things for everyone else too.” Mitchell said, commenting how hopeful he is that this will help the local economy. He also thinks that this will inspire others to follow in Strouse’s footsteps.

 This is just one of many projects that David Strouse has worked on in the Old Town and Downtown areas of Saginaw. He also owns an apartment building on Michigan Ave a block away from these, and has recently purchased several buildings downtown that he plans on restoring much the same way he has with these.

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