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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Widening South Division Avenue

by Kim Rush, John Russo, and Martin Starr

The street-widening project on S. Division, between Fulton and Wealthy Ave., began during 1927. At that time Division was the city’s most traveled roadway, but it was impassable between Wealthy and Hall S.E. during 1933. The plan was intended to create more space for the increasing presence of buses and cars that were gradually replacing streetcars. Construction workers removed the old sidewalks, streetcar rails and nearly seventeen feet from the face of the buildings on the east side of the street, including the Russo building.  As these storefronts were finally rebuilt, masons finished off the renovation with a handsome Art Deco façade. Situated at the extreme north end of the buildings, a designated arched-shaped entrance for the dance hall was built. This featured a cement inscription which read “Roma Hall,” engraved above double wooden doors.

On 12.2.33, the first Grand Rapids Press entertainment section advertisement appeared for the “Genoa Café.”  It was located “upstairs” at 746 Division. The ad mentioned that the street was “now open” and that they had “plenty (of) parking space” available, suggesting that the street widening project was completed. Another possible explanation is that Division Avenue or Franklin Street was at least temporarily passable, thereby enabling vehicles to get within parking distance of Roma Hall. Perhaps construction was discontinued during the winter months. John Russo: “The street widening project was a big deal.  My grandparents and my aunts spoke of it often.  At times they had to use the rear entrances of the buildings until it was finished.” Carpenters shored up the newly created front wall of the building after removing the original frontage from the buildings, and eventually fashioned temporary openings to the stores, accessible from the sidewalk. 

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