44 Lafayette NE

Built in: 1855
Style: Victorian Italianate
Description:
Philo C. Fuller House - 1983 Tour, 1990 Tour, Walking Tour
Comments:
The Philo C. Fuller House, located No. 40 North Lafayette Street, is one of Grand Rapids, Michigan's oldest residences and an excellent example of Victorian Italianate architecture. The house was first built in the summer of 1855 by John Kendall. Within 10 years after being built, Francis B. Gilbert, a prominent Grand Rapids businessman, acquired the Victorian house. Gilbert's daughter, Isabelle, married Philo Fuller in 1882 and after Gilbert's death in 1885 the house became theirs. Philo C. Fuller was born in 1857 at "The Hermitage", the Livingston County, New York, estate of Charles Carroll, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Fuller's paternal grandfather of the same name came to Adrian, Michigan, around 1830 becoming president of the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad. He served two terms in the Michigan State Senate and, for awhile, was its president. Mr. Fuller, Sr., later became a New York State Senator and Controller of that State. Philo C. Fuller, who died in 1931, was a historical figure in his own right. He was the Mayor of Grand Rapids in trustee of Butterworth Hospital, which was founded in 1872 as St. Mark's Home by his father and mother. Fuller was probably the first Yale University alumnus from Grand Rapids. The house stayed in the Fuller family until 1942 when it was sold to Mr. And Mrs. Ferdinand Welter. In 1946 congregation Ahavas Israel acquired the property and by 1948 they added onto the original structure by wrapping new construction around two sides thereby tripling the original area. In 1970 the Congregation moved to a new building leaving the edifice vacant after fire marshals had condemned the Fuller house for used as a school. After 7 years of being vacant, a developer made an offer to buy the property for use as an apartment building. This scheme proposed to tear down the original 1850's structure and to convert the part added in 1948 into 20 apartments. The thought of tearing down a building of historic significance and letting remain a building which intruded on the distinct residential character of the neighborhood provoked a response from the Heritage Hill Foundation. After negotiations, a compromise was reached and Heritage Hill Foundation agreed to match the developer's offer for the property. In December of 1977 the 1948 "wrap-around" addition was demolished by a local wrecking company at no cost to the Foundation. When it was first abandoned in 1970, the Philo Fuller House was in desperate need of repair. Its condition, of course, became worse. It had not been heated since 1970, speeding the interiors' deterioration. After acquiring the home, the Heritage Hill Foundation was able to obtain a Federal Grant with which to stabilize the deterioration by re-roofing the structure and by providing more needed funds for exterior renovation. Early in 1982, Glen V. Borre, a local attorney, at the urging of his wife, Betsy, undertook a feasibility study through the local architectural firm of Cox, Medendorp & Olson to determine whether the property could be converted to professional offices and an apartment. A carriage house garage with separate apartment was also contemplated of compatible architecture. The City of Grand Rapids and its Historic Preservation Commission granted necessary zoning on plan approvals. Mr. Borre obtained from Heritage Hill Foundation an option to be exercised by him after the Federal Grand Funds were expended by the Foundation. A loan by Mr. Borre to the Foundation assured them of sufficient funds to complete the federal grant work prior to his purchase. A separate landscape architect, David Nederveld, was engaged to re-establish original site grades and planting consistent with the period. A local builder, Bill Pettinga, was hired as a contractor for the project. All workers on the project, many with unique talents, made every effort to restore the residence to its' original design. For example, a local woodcarver important "bracket" carvings which were assembled on bases built through the Grand Rapids Junior College work-study program. Every worker on the project seemed to take a special pride I completing the tasks in a timely fashion. Every person working on the project should be congratulated for so much individual effort and talent. Interestingly enough, the 8,000 plus square foot project from start to finish, including occupancy, is scheduled to take less than six months. The ultimate significance of the entire project is unique due to the fact that it is the only instance in the annual of modern historic preservation where the entire streetscape (or block front) has been restored along the building. As far as can be determined, no other ecclesiastical institution had entered a neighborhood to erect and edifice without destroying the original structure on the site. Then, as often happened, later demolishing more buildings to provide parking and enlargement of facilities. The congregation (probably in the interest of economy) elected to utilize the Philo Fuller House as their school, "wrapping" their house of worship around it and when 20 years later, finding that modern accommodations were required, chose to move to the suburbs, rather than encroach on the neighborhood, a fortuitous circumstance in favor of improving the historic district. The renovation of the substantially deteriorated structure should serve as a model and incentive to preservations throughout the country because of the cooperative effort from all concerned and particularly the Heritage Hill Foundation. Old architectural details can be combined with modern furnishings and decoration ideas to create striking results. Notice how the Victorian architecture graces and enhances the neighborhood; while the design easily accommodates a modern law office and apartment. Aesthetics and functionality - - the best of both worlds. The gardens and landscaping were planned to show the kinds of flowers and shrubs that were originally part of the grounds. Outside, stop for a while and take I the view and admire the lush landscape. In the back of the home o both first and second floors there is plenty of room for office expansion. The basement houses an employee lounge, a records vault and law library. The carriage house on the property is not old. It was built when the renovation was taking place. It contains garages, and an apartment. Total square footage of the residential space is less that 1500 square feet. Furnishings and wall hangings are subdued backdrop for the lovely windows. (1860's Francis Gilbert, 1885 daughter Isabelle & Philo C. Fuller, fam to 1942
Past Owners:
Kendall, John
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