Downtown Plaques To Showcase Traverse City History
By Ross Boissoneau | Feb. 21, 2019
A series of historical photo plaques called “Then and Now” will be displayed throughout Traverse City beginning as soon as this spring. The photos will showcase scenes of various areas or buildings from days gone by, next to the same or similar views of today.
The project originated with the Traverse Area Historical Society. Fred Anderson, vice president of the group, says TAHS members first began discussions about it a few years ago, but it was never a high priority. “Other things kept getting in front of it,” he says.
That changed in 2018. “At the start of last year we tried to invest time (in the project),” he says. They began gathering and reviewing photos, a task made easier by the fact that Anderson volunteers at the Traverse Area District Library, where many of the photos are housed.
The group took inspiration from other communities with similar projects. “Cincinnati has tons of these. That’s one of the places we looked to. Theirs is ‘You Are Here.’ As historical photos, we called it ‘Then and Now,’” says Anderson.
The project required cooperation and/or approval from several other organizations. First, the THAS began working with the Downtown Traverse City Association (a.k.a. the merchants’ association). That group wholeheartedly backed the idea and agreed to pay half the $1,500 cost. The Traverse City Arts Commission got behind the project as well and agreed to pay the other 50 percent of the cost. “We’ve had a lot of discussions with Nate Elkins,” says Anderson (Elkins is director of the Arts Commission).
Next up was getting the approval from Traverse City Light and Power to mount the photos on its poles. TCL&P agreed to do so at its last meeting. Anderson says the TAHS has been working with The Camera Shop to restore photos, and with Britten to bring the concept to life.
Colleen Paveglio, marketing and communications director of the Downtown Development Agency and DTCA, says that group has signed on and committed to the concept and the cost. Now it’s up to the Arts Commission to finalize and approve the design (the image above is a mockup concept, not an approved version) and select the final ten from the 12 submitted.
Most of this group of photos will focus on Front Street, according to Anderson. “It was suggested the original ten be of Front Street. The only one of the 12 we offered that wasn’t was of the Park Place. It’s such a recognizable landmark.”
These photo displays are not to be confused with the state of Michigan’s historic markers, such as the one at Clinch Park which provides information on Grand Traverse Bay, or the one at the City Opera House. By their nature, these new photos are more visual and less informative. They will also be smaller, at 12 inches by 18 inches.
Elkins notes that the displays are not meant to be permanent, at least not yet. “This is a temporary exhibit for two years. Then we’ll see how we like it,” he says. The arts commission could decide to expand it, take it down or simply maintain it.
For his part, Anderson is hopeful that the program will continue and expand in the years ahead. “If these ten do well, we’ve got a lot more photos at the library. Union Street, Cass, Slabtown – we could do a series if there’s interest. The idea was we’ll start with these ten and see what happens. It’s an exciting project to be a part of.”