IPR News Radio continues its “Landmarks” series with a visit to the Clipper Building in Empire. The building is more than 100 years old and it’s had a wide variety of businesses in its long history. It seems it was built by a pair of enterprising Russians.
Empire historians figure that the Clipper Building was constructed by this pair of immigrants. Dave Taghon runs the Empire Area Museum.
Taghon says, "As far as we know, Nurko and Frazer, two Russian immigrants came here in 1897 as backpackers then, I believe, that they built that store sometime between 1897 and 1901."
The Many Faces of the Clipper Building
By 1907, a pair of American brothers, Sam and John Joseph owned the building. John sold Sam his inventory when he went to fight in World War I. The Clipper Building has been a general store, a sheepskin leather works, an apple storage barn, a pizza kitchen and even a supply store for members of the air force. Empire had an air base in the 1950s. Taghon remembers the building best as Russell Bolton’s general store.
Taghon says, "Being born in '43 I always knew it as Bolton's Department Store. Russell had everything from all kinds of dry goods, books, model airplanes, shoes. Everyday going to school we'd usually find an excuse to stop at Russell's. So, that's my vintage."
Now, the Clipper Building is the Sleeping Bear Gallery. It opened in May. It’s a 3-story building with gallery space on the ground floor, apartments on the top floor and a Michigan basement. The gallery has plenty of art on the walls, wood floors, track lighting and art and gifts in the metal and glass display cases. Heather Caverly owns and runs the Sleeping Bear Gallery. She says that many of her patrons love to share what this building has meant to them.
Heather says, "The pizza kitchen, they talk about that and they talk about Bolton's Department Store, you know and, yeah, it's ... it's fun to watch them talk about their childhood memories too, you know, what they've seen happen to this building, the transformation that it's taken."
Older and Better
Heather Caverly had been looking for gallery space in Northern Michigan when she saw the Clipper Building was up for sale and she had old buildings in mind.
Heather says, "I've always been drawn to old historical buildings. The way they're built, the architecture, they stand the test of time, the way they were built so much more securely. I don't know, and the foundations, everything seems to be beefier, stronger."
Paul Skinner runs an antique and gift shop called The Miser's Horde across the street from the Sleeping Bear Gallery and he’s watched businesses in the Clipper Building come and go.
Paul says, "It's been a little bit of a revolving door, um, you know, businesses have come and gone for no end of reasons. People just didn't work out or they moved away or whatever so to find now the Sleeping Bear Gallery there is just superb because, you know, you've seen it inside and they've just done a marvelous job. I mean it was a great building anyway but they've just taken it to a new level."
And what about the building's name? Back when they made pizza there, the building was called the Empire Clipper because a scale model of a Lake Michigan clipper ship sat in the front window.