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Rockwell A. LeRoy (1864-1950)

Kalamazoo Architect

“No one in the city is more optimistic over conditions and sees as bright a future for Kalamazoo as Mr. LeRoy.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 March 1909

Rockwell A. LeRoy, c.1940

During the decades around the turn of the 20th century, there were several architects in Kalamazoo who were actively drawing plans for the growing community’s prominent residential, commercial, and municipal buildings. Few of these designers were as successful or as influential as Rockwell A. LeRoy. From his arrival in Kalamazoo in 1901, until his retirement four decades later, LeRoy designed dozens of buildings across West Michigan, many of which are familiar sights even today.

Early Years

The son of James and Sarah (Powers) LeRoy, Rockwell Adelbert LeRoy was born 28 July 1864 in Oswego, New York. While “Rock” was an infant the family moved to Batavia Township, Michigan, near Coldwater, where Rock’s father worked as a carpenter.

During the mid-1870s the elder LeRoy found work on a cattle ranch and moved the family again, this time to Nebraska. Rock attended elementary school in Central City, Nebraska and worked as a cowboy throughout his teen years.

In 1882 the LeRoy family returned to Coldwater, where Rock and his father went to work as building contractors. Three years later Rock married Miss Lottie Conover from Coldwater, and in June 1889 their son LeVerne was born.

During the 1890s Rockwell LeRoy was helping to remodel the Wolverine Portland Cement Company’s plant in Coldwater when a friend who had attended the University of Michigan urged him to become an architect. LeRoy took his friend’s advice and signed up for a correspondence course, launching a successful four-decade-long career in building design.

Move to Kalamazoo

After his wife Lottie’s unexpected death in October 1901, LeRoy moved to Kalamazoo at the request of Chicago architect Ashbury W. Buckley to supervise the construction of a new woodworking plant for the Michigan Buggy Company. LeRoy continued to work in Kalamazoo as an architect for developer Charles B. Hays before opening his own architectural firm in 1904. Among his first projects as an independent architect were the Michigan Traction Company’s building on Portage Street (known today as The Interurban Building), the Illinois Envelope Company’s factory building on Bryant Street, and a new plant for the Reed Manufacturing Company on Fulford.

Kalamazoo developers at the corner of Race and Clinton streets, 1902. L-R: Charles B. Hayes and A.B. Scheid, Rockwell A. Leroy and Frank Tisdale, I.S. Paustle and John H. Waite, B.M. Graves and F.D. Van Volkenburg, W.C. Piper and John Meyering. Local History Room.

There’s a saying that timing is everything, and the timing couldn’t have been better for Mr. LeRoy. “Never before in the history of Kalamazoo have there been building operations involving so much capital and covering so wide a territory as is now in progress,” wrote the Gazette in April 1905. At that time there were already some 400 buildings under construction in Kalamazoo and estimates were that 1,000 or more would be completed by year’s end. LeRoy drew plans for stately homes on West Street (Westnedge), Michigan Avenue, and prestigious Allen Court (Allen Boulevard), plus several commercial buildings on Portage Street, including spacious new quarters for Henry Schoenheit’s City Bottling Works.

As word spread of LeRoy’s considerable talent, his firm was hired for numerous projects outside of Kalamazoo, including a home for Judge Henry Stevens northeast of South Haven near Lake Michigan, and a bank building in the town of Decatur.

Burdick Hotel Renovation

Burdick Hotel Arcade, c.1909

By January 1906 plans were afoot to completely refurbish the Burdick Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. Originally built in 1850, LeRoy drew plans for a $150,000 renovation ($4.3M today), which included an expansive addition to its rear, plus a retail arcade with a restaurant, parlors, and an elegant new hotel lobby.

In March 1906 LeRoy submitted plans for a $50,000 theater on Portage Street near the Interurban Station (The Interurban Building) that would seat 1,350. Funding for that project fell through, but plenty of other LeRoy designs were carried to fruition. That year alone plans for a school building on Portage Street were in the works, along with designs for additional buildings in Flint, Otsego, and Paw Paw.

Rockwell A. LeRoy, c.1907

With newly expanded office space for his draftsmen, LeRoy carefully laid out his plans for the buildings and environs that would become Oakwood Park near Woods Lake, Kalamazoo’s answer to Coney Island. He designed a new six-story 45,000 SF building at the corner of Main Street (Michigan Avenue) and Portage Street for Edwards & Chamberlin’s hardware company (today known as the Haymarket Building), and drew the plans for the Kalamazoo, Lake Shore and Chicago Railway (Fruit Belt Line) depot that once stood on West Main Street.

Along with school buildings in Kalamazoo, LeRoy drew the plans for a $12,000 high school annex in Sturgis, school buildings in Gobles and Martin, vaudeville theater buildings in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, new storefronts on North Burdick Street, plus numerous homes in Kalamazoo and surrounding communities. Perhaps the pinnacle of LeRoy’s early design work was Kalamazoo’s lavish $60,000 sixteen hundred-seat Fuller Theater, a “marvel of beauty” (Gazette) on South Burdick Street in 1909. And this was just the beginning.

Business Grows

During the years that followed LeRoy designed numerous other buildings around the state. He drew plans for school buildings in Marshall, Marcellus, Trenton, Plymouth, Decatur, Howell, Albion, Watervliet, Buchanan, St. Johns, Woodland, Lapeer, Three Rivers, and Hastings. His designs were used for bank buildings in Fulton, Otsego, Watervliet, Eaton Rapids, Albion, Holland, Buchanan, Union City, and Coloma, along with armory buildings in South Haven and Coldwater, additional theaters in Grand Rapids, a library building in Bronson, an Odd Fellows temple in Allegan, a jail in Battle Creek, a post office in Otsego, a $15,000 clubhouse for the Gull Lake Country Club, and others.

R.A. LeRoy’s proposed design for a Kalamazoo court house and city hall. Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 June 1912, p.27. Local History Room.

In addition to his out-of-town work, R.A. LeRoy’s unique vision defined many imaginative new buildings in downtown Kalamazoo. In 1912, he drew plans for the city’s central police station on Water Street, which served the community for nearly 50 years. He also proposed designs for a combined armory and convention center, and an ambitious five-story combination city hall, court house, and jail, with an incorporated 3,000 seat auditorium, but his plans for those projects were never used. LeRoy’s designs were used, however, for a portion of the Elks Temple on South Street and a string of popular local theaters, including the Lyric Theater on Main Street (Michigan Avenue), the Elite Theater on Burdick Street, the elaborate Orpheum Theater on Main Street, the quaint Acadia Theater on Portage Street, and the Michigan Theatre, also on Main.

R.A. LeRoy’s drawing of the Henderson-Ames Building (currently First National Bank of Michigan). Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 April 1922.

Kalamazoo “Old Central” High School, postcard view c.1939
Kalamazoo “Old Central” High School, postcard view c.1939. The outcropped portion along Dutton St. (far right) was part of LeRoy’s design. Private collection.

Chenery Auditorium & More

During the late teens and early 1920s LeRoy drew plans for several school buildings in Kalamazoo, including Milwood and Lincoln elementary schools, Vine Street School, and perhaps his most enduring local design: a portion of the Kalamazoo (Old Central) High School on West Street (South Westnedge) including its incorporated 1,900 seat auditorium (later named Howard Chenery Auditorium). LeRoy also helped design the Kalamazoo City Savings Bank on Portage Street, an office building for the Henderson-Ames Company at the corner of Main Street (Michigan Avenue) and Park Street (now First National Bank of Michigan), and its neighbor to the west, the 1939 downtown post office building, currently the Kalamazoo Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Downtown Kalamazoo Post Office (Federal Building) on Michigan Avenue
Downtown Kalamazoo Post Office (Federal Building) on Michigan Avenue, completed in 1939. Postcard view c.1939. Local History Room.

Retirement

Rockwell LeRoy worked as an independent architect until 1924 when he went into partnership with Manuel M. Newlander with whom he worked until his retirement in 1941. LeRoy was a member of the Michigan Society of Architects, the Masonic, and the Rotary. In 1940 he married Jane VanDenBerg, who remained by his side until his death at Borgess Hospital in February 1950 at the age of 85. He is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Coldwater.

Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library Staff, November 2019.


Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Lynn Houghton at the Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collections for additional information about R.A. LeRoy and his architectural designs.

Sources

Articles

“Notice to Contractors”

Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 8 November 1904, page 5, col. 7

“Two Large Factories”

Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 9 December 1904, page 7, col. 3

“Boom in Building”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 April 1905, page 1, col. 1

“Five Story Block”

Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 7 July 1905, page 2, col. 7

“Building Plans Made”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 October 1905, page 2, col. 5

“Are You Going to Build?”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 November 1905, page 15, col. 1

“Hotel Plans on Show”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 January 1906, page 3, col. 5

“Plans For a Hotel”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 10 January 1906, page 4, col. 5

“Architects Are Bidding”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 January 1906, page 1, col. 3

“Plan New Theater”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 March 1906, page 3, col. 1

“Several Houses”

Kalamazoo Telegraph, 11 July 1906, page 1, col. 4

“Architects Not So Busy As a Year Ago”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 July 1906, page 8, col. 1

“Work Starts This Week At New Park”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 March 1907, page 3, col. 3

“Fourth Story”

Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 15 March 1907, page 3, col. 3

“More Fine Buildings For Kalamazoo”

Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 18 May 1907, page 10, col. 1

“Will Operate Over New Track Saturday”

Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 29 May 1907, page 8, col. 6

“Fruit Belt Line Changes Schedule”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 June 1907, page 3, col. 1

“To Make Repairs”

Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 26 June 1907, page 1, col. 4

“Building and Plumbing Bids”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 July 1907, page 8, col. 3

“Bids Wanted”

Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 24 September 1907, page 10, col. 5

“Leroy Prepares Plans”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 June 1908, page 2, col. 5

“Board of Education”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 10 October 1908, page 10, col. 4

“Rickmans To Build New Gobles School”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 November 1908, page 11, col. 4

“Plans Two Theaters”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 November 1908, page 14, col. 4

“Houses For Allen Boulevard”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 February 1909, page 8, col. 2

“New Theater Opens In Grand Rapids”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 March 1909, page 8, col. 4

“School Board Will Ask For Bond Issue”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 10 March 1909, page 2, col. 6

“Work Of Architect Aids Civic Beauty. Architect R.A. Leroy Has Done Much In City and County”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 March 1909, page 5, col. 5

“Work On School Progressing Well”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 March 1909, page 9, col. 5

“Few New Buildings And Real Estate Deals”

Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 24 March 1909, page 8, col. 2

“LeRoy Enlarges Offices”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 April 1909, page 6, col. 4

“Plans Finished For Two Story Building”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 April 1909, page 9, col. 4

“Jottings”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 April 1909, page 10, col. 3

“‘Fuller’ is Marvel of Beauty”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 4 September 1909, page 1, col. 3

“Bates Has Contract”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 February 1910, page 5, col. 4

“Magneto Company Will Locate Here”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 7 May 1910, page 9, col. 2

“LeRoy Gets Contract”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 December 1910, page 9, col. 4

“Draws Theater Plans”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 September 1911, page 10, col. 6

“Gull Lake Country Club Decides to Erect Club House…”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 13 February 1912, page 1, col. 4

“Court House and City Hall With an Income of $50,000 a Year”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 June 1912, page 27, col. 1

“Council To Decide On Final Plans For New Police Station”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 31 July 1912, page 1, col. 7

“Inspect Plans For Proposed Armory and Auditorium”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 August 1912, page 3, col. 4

“Council Adopts Plans”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 August 1912, page 3, col. 6

“Now Ready For Work on Police Station”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 October 1912, page 4, col. 7

“Plans Arranged For New Bank Buildings In Michigan Cities”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 13 July 1913, page 14, col. 4

“Kalamazoo Contractors Will Build Marcellus High School”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 June 1914, page 8, col. 2

“LeRoy Submits Plans For Proposed Battle Creek Jail”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 June 1914, page 6, col. 6

“Architect LeRoy Drawing Plans For Allegan Odd Fellow Temple”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 June 1914, page 6, col. 4

“Contractors Begin Work On Allegan Odd Fellow Temple”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 August 1914, page 10, col. 5

“Notice To Contractors”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 January 1915, page 10, col. 3

“Plans High School For Hastings Board”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 February 1915, page 3, col. 5

“LeRoy Plans Eaton Rapid’s New Bank”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 31 March 1915, page 10, col. 3

“Hastings School Contract Awarded”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 June 1915, page 10, col. 4

“Architect LeRoy Lands Two Big Jobs”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 November 1915, page 10, col. 1

“Bank Contract To Marshall Builder”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 January 1916, page 3, col. 3

“Draws Plans For $125,000 School”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 April 1916, page 9, col. 1

“Coldwater Armory Bids In Saturday”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 May 1917, page 5, col. 7

“Draws Plans For South Haven Armory”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 13 June 1917, page 7, col. 6

“Foundations In At Dunkley Plant”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 September 1917, page 10, col. 4

“Towar Cotton Mills, Inc.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 February 1918, page 5, col. 1

“Build Two New Schools”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 April 1919, page 10, col. 2

“LeRoy Plans Two Schools”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 May 1919, page 15, col. 2

“High School At Howell”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 May 1919, page 20, col. 4

“Bids Wanted For School Building At Kalamazoo Michigan”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 June 1919, page 12, col. 2

“Permit For Construction Of Vine Street School”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 July 1919, page 2, col. 3

“Awarded Contracts For New High School”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 July 1919, page 3, col. 6

“Expects Lots Of Building This Coming Year”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 October 1919, page 7, col. 2

“Kazooans Get Contracts”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 October 1919, page 2, col. 3

“New School Buildings”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 4 January 1920, page 2, col. 2 

“Authorize Plans For New School”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 March 1920, page 16, col. 4 

“Is Appointed Engineer For Frank St. Building”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 March 1920, page 1, col. 7 

“Approve Plans For New School”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 June 1920, page 2, col. 3 

“Payment For School Trustee Le Roy Authorized”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 August 1920, page 9, col. 1 

“May Re-Submit School Question”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 September 1920, page 5, col. 1

“Kazooan Planning Union City Bank”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 June 1921, page 14, col. 2

“Work On Milham School Progressing”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 August 1921, page 9, col. 1

“Plans $125,000 School”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 October 1921, page 12, col. 7

“Bids On $200,000 High School Opened”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 February 1922, page 26, col. 3

“Will Let $200,000 Contract”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 January 1922, page 12, col. 7

“Lansing Firm Gets Buchanan Contract”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 February 1922, page 11, col. 4

“Is Taking Bids For Albion High School”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 March 1922, page 16, col. 4

“New Henderson-Ames Office and Store Building”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 April 1922, page 8, col. 2

“Watervliet Votes New $150,000 School”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 April 1922, page 7, col. 2

“Prepare Plans For 2 Schools”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 May 1922, page 5, col. 7

“LeRoy To Draw Plans For Marshall Hi Gym”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 June 1922, page 1, col. 3

“Building Notes”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 June 1922, page 7, col. 2

“LeRoy Plans Armory For South Haven Unit”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 July 1922, page 5, col. 6

“High School Plans Ready”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 July 1922, page 3, col. 1

“LeRoy Drawing New High Plans”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 July 1922, page 3, col. 6

“Starts Razing Of Old Central High Building”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 August 1922, page 2, col. 1

“Work On High School Plans”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 August 1922, page 13, col. 8

“Kalamazoo’s Six New School Buildings or Additions Will Accommodate 4,500”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 August 1922, page 14, col. 3

“Coldwater Receives Bids On New School”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 4 November 1922, page 10, col. 4

“Building Bids Wanted”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 December 1922, page 17, col. 7

“Who’s Who in Kalamazoo: Rockwell A. LeRoy, Architect, a Cowpuncher as Youth When West Was Really Wild”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 April 1940, page 15, col. 2

“Wedding”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 February 1941, page 20, col. 4

“R.A. LeRoy, Architect, Dies at 85”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 February 1950, page 1, col. 5

“Selling the City”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 October 1976, page 10, col. 5

“Five Faves: Architects and builders behind Kalamazoo’s historic buildings”

Encore, April 2019, page 14


Local History Room Files

Kalamazoo Biography Scrapbook L1:143

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