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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Why Did the Homestyle Center Project Fail?

by Richard Vettese

In May of 1957, due to the lack of financial backing, Executive Director Arleigh Hitchcock announced that plans for the Homestyle Center development in Grand Rapids would be dropped. Other cities would be contacted to see if the center could be built elsewhere (nothing ever developed from these plans). Total cost for the project was estimated over $4,000,000. The Foundation was unable to obtain enough support to start construction of the first group of houses. Honigman had invested over $300,000 of his own money in the project since announcing the Center in 1954.

In 1956, the Foundation had tried to entice local business leaders to sell bonds for the Homestyle Center. No one would come forward with their support. In March 1957, the City of Grand Rapids was asked to issue $3,200,000 in general obligation bonds for the Center. The Greater Grand Rapids Civic Study Committee examined the project and advised against the bonds, and the City Commission concurred.

The final blow to the project followed when Hitchcock sought Chamber of Commerce backing for a $1,500,000 bond drive. A Chamber subcommittee examined the Homestyle Center plans and recommended further study with possible action in the fall. But with a proposed city improvement program of over $26,000,000 up for a vote in June 1957, Hitchcock and Honigman decided that with passage of this tax increase, the sale of Homestyle Center bonds in the fall would be in jeopardy.

The Home Research Foundation closed its offices in the Pantlind Hotel in May 1957, and Grand Rapids lost its opportunity to develop this original theme park idea. The Homestyle Center was never built, but today people can still see the original lake around which the homes were to be built. It is now part of the Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park. Many of the chosen architects constructed their designed homes in other areas of the United States where they became landmarks of mid twentieth century architectural design.

The Center continues to hold the attention of the design world – the Vitra Design Museum in Germany recently toured the first comprehensive retrospective of the work of George Nelson with prominent mention of the Homestyle Center project in its published catalog of the exhibition of Nelson’s works.

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