When East Lansing resident Mary Douglass saw that the original Biggby Coffee – originally named Beaner’s – at 270 W. Grand River Ave. was to be demolished, she made it her mission to salvage the building’s original stone.
Douglass called DTN, the management company that owns the property, and asked what the plans were for the stone.
“They graciously said we could go in there, and salvage it,” Douglass said. “They allowed me to go in and take what I wanted. We really appreciate the opportunity to salvage this rather than get it carried away in a dump truck.”
Five hundred square feet of stone and 29 pallets later, Douglass and her husband now have the original stone from the store, with plans to reuse it for a four-sided fireplace — “a focal point” in their remodeled house project in Delhi Township.
The removal process was “definitely a project,” Douglass said. “Each stone had to be individually taken out, and they’re held together by mortar, so we had to clean the mortar off from all the edges of the rock, and stack it all up. We used traditional masonry chisels and hammers to take it all out.”
It was a family affair, with Douglass, her husband, her brother, his wife and daughter, and some cousins helping to carefully remove the stone from Nov. 19 through Nov. 22.
Douglass has been an East Lansing resident on Sunset Lane for 31 years. She long patronized the nearby Biggby shop, formerly an Arby’s during the seventies. Douglass described the building’s look as Arby’s original covered-wagon style, which was used from the mid-sixties to mid-seventies. It became Biggby Coffee in 1995. The mid-century modern building has been featured in MSU professor Susan Bandes’ book, Mid-Michigan Modern.
Rehabbing, reusing, and recycling are all important to Douglass, who attributes these passions to growing up on her family’s dairy farm.
“I learned a lot of my skills and interests there,” she said. “My grandfather was actually a homebuilder, he built quite a few homes in the East Lansing area, back in the ‘20s. His name was Floyd Fogle.”
There, she learned how to raise foundations, how to wire, and her interest for architectural design was piqued. She later attended Lansing Community College, earning a two-year certificate in the residential design program. “I often thought that I missed my calling to be an architect,” Douglass said.
Today, though, this rehabber uses those skills and knowledge, alongside her husband, together restoring former glory in dated real estate. “In the old houses, we actually salvage everything in the house,” she said. “We don’t go in and gut the thing, and throw everything out. We refinished all of the woodwork, and we saved all of the original windows, cleaned them up, fitted them, insulated them, made them work, and enjoyed the quality that they have.”
For the Biggby stone, it’s the quality that remains most impressive to Douglass after all these years. The first two houses the couple rehabbed were from the 1920s and featured great detail, thick wood, and interesting stylistic elements that modern houses lack.
“That’s one cool thing about this stone … Most people putting in fireplaces today are putting a thin veneer that might not actually be stone. It’s cement that’s covered to look like stone. This is the real deal. These are heavy sandstone pieces that have been cut up – it’s really a craft to put it together. We talked to a mason who’s going to help us redo this project, and he’s really thrilled about it because you just don’t get a chance to work with materials like this all that often.”
While the Biggby is set to be a new parking lot, Douglass takes pride in knowing that a significant portion of the building’s materials will see life elsewhere.
“We love the story that it’s coming out of this building that we’ve been in and frequented for 40 to 50 years, and so that’s kind of cool that we’re letting that building live on in some small way,” she said.
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