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Washington Mall

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1970s and later, Johnson, Johnson and Roy. Washington Ave., from Shiawassee to Kalamazoo sts.
  • (Photograph by Balthazar Korab)

By 1953 inadequate parking, deteriorating buildings, poor lighting, fire hazards, and a rising crime rate contributed to the decline of downtown Lansing. To improve the tax base and stimulate business investment, the city decided to revitalize downtown with a convenient and pleasant inner-city complex. Using federal urban renewal funds and the planning and design assistance of Johnson, Johnson and Roy, officials launched a three-phase project. It called for orienting all buildings to a mall on Washington Avenue with pedestrian passageways and plazas designed to encourage pedestrian access and with parking structures. Construction No. 150, a curvilinear highly polished stainless steel mechanized sculpture of 1972 by José de Rivera, stands east of the Art Deco Bank of Lansing (1931–1932, Black and Black) marking the entrance to the N. Washington Square Mall. The three-block-long pedestrian plaza completed phase one in 1973 with a fountain and wall reliefs of cast-concrete forms and voids containing stained glass panels by W. Robert Youngman (b. 1927) and with tree-shaded seating areas and play and exhibit areas. Next, three blocks to the north, the Lansing Community College campus claimed the abandoned street right-of-way of Washington Avenue for pedestrians. In 1978–1980, Washington Avenue south of Michigan Avenue, with most of the city's downtown retail space flanking it, was designed into four mall-like areas. Here such historic commercial properties as the Ranney Building (1890, Darius Moon; 208 S. Washington Avenue) are undergoing rehabilitation. Cooley Law School expanded into the third block.

With its sleek lines and rounded corner, Knapp's Office Center (J. W. Knapp Company Department Store, 1937–1939, Orlie A. Munson of Bowd-Munson; 1940 west addition) at 300 S. Washington Avenue is one of Michigan's finest Streamline Moderne commercial buildings. This five-story former department store is remarkable for the machinelike clarity of its horizontal design and its brilliant colors. The striking facade is finished with alternating bands of yellow Maul Macotta (concrete blocks veneered with enameled metal panels) wall surfaces and glass-block windows interrupted by vertical window-pierced, blue Maul Macotta pylons that rise from the store's four principal entrances. Founded by Joseph W. Knapp and others as the Jewett and Knapp Dry Goods Store in 1896, and reorganized as J. W. Knapp Company in 1908, the retailers had their department store designed by important Lansing architects in a fashionable style and built by the Christman Construction Company, which was noted for its skill and knowledge of concrete building technology. Vacant since 2002, Knapp's Office Centre is scheduled in 2011 for rehabilitation as mixed-use retail, offices, and residential space.

Writing Credits

Kathryn Bishop Eckert


What's Nearby


Kathryn Bishop Eckert, "Washington Mall", [Lansing, Michigan], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Michigan

Buildings of Michigan, Kathryn Bishop Eckert. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 292-292.

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