At the beginning of the Ann Arbor City Council meeting Monday night, Mayor Christopher Taylor presented the 33rd Annual Historic District Awards with Susan Weinberg, Chair of the Historic District Commission, intended to honor historic buildings in the city for their physical and symbolic beauty.
As she introduced the awards, Weinberg highlighted how the work of such award recipients contributes to the city.
“We are glad you are willing to help us honor these individuals who have benefited our community so much with their investments in their properties," she said. "Not only do they beautify our lives, they add economic value to our town."
The 19 awards presented for 2017 included awards for rehabilitation of a property, preservation of a property and age alone. The properties winning awards ranged in construction dates from the early 19th century to mid-20th century, and comprised residential, commercial and institutional buildings.
The first award was the Bicentennial Award, given to the entire University of Michigan for its 200th year. The University was founded in Detroit in 1817 and moved to Ann Arbor 20 years later in 1837.
Weinberg praised the University for its achievements in public research and contributions to the community.
“The University of Michigan has grown beyond the wildest expectations of its wildest founders, Father Gabriel Richard, Augustus B. Woodward and Reverend John Monteith,” Weinberg said. “It is one of the finest public research universities in the United States and leads in research funding and is probably Ann Arbor’s raison d’etre.”
Of the buildings that made up the campus when it first opened for classes — four professors' houses and a classroom building — only one remains, which today is used as the President's House.
Two Centennial Awards, awards for properties that have existed at least 100 years in Ann Arbor, were presented to Beth Israel Congregation and Nickels Arcade. She touched upon the history of Beth Israel, which began in the home of Hannah and Ozias Zwerdling in 1916 before moving to its current location.
Weinberg also went on to describe Nickels Arcades as a combination of modern and historic commercial institutions. Daniel Nicks and Eric Herbert, both great grandsons of Tom Nickels, who built Nickels Arcade, said they were happy to see the arcade recognized.
“I take a look at the dream of building our great-grandfather had of building a business like that, partly to take care of his family, and it has — it’s been a great anchor point for the family,” Nicks said. ”As the future generation, we have worked to keep it in the family and keep the historical nature of it. We went through a lot of work in 1987 to get it on the national historic registry and we want to continue that.”
Additionally, a special In Memoriam award was honored to Kingsbury Marzolf, Taubman Professor of Architecture, who died this January. Marzolf's tenure at the University lasted from 1963 until 2000 — during his time in Ann Arbor, he successfully fought to preserve several historic buildings, such as the old Ann Arbor Fire Station and the Michigan Central Railroad Station, which are now the Hands-On Museum and Gandy Dancer restaurant, respectively.
On the more unorthodox side, the neon sign for Ann Arbor Muffler Brakes and Shocks on Jackson avenue won a special merit award, which recognized its Art Deco design and continued existence as the number of neon signs in America has decreased since the 1950s.
“I bet everyone here knows it,” Weinberg said.
At the conclusion of the awards, Taylor thanked the Historic District Commission and the property owners.
“We are so fortunate to have so many residents who care so much for their buildings and contribute so much for our economy and our culture,” Taylor said.