The Rapidian

Historic photos (circa: 1955-70) Downtown GR Urban Renewal: Premiere Thursday

Underwriting support from:
Hero D. Bratt, only person known to have photographed virtually every site in city's downtown Urban Renewal Project

Hero D. Bratt, only person known to have photographed virtually every site in city's downtown Urban Renewal Project /Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Public Library

Donald Bratt, Hero's son, will present show of 280 colored photos featuring Urban Renewal, including 50 never-before-seen shots

Donald Bratt, Hero's son, will present show of 280 colored photos featuring Urban Renewal, including 50 never-before-seen shots

Hero Bratt's heating business was in the heart of Urban Renewal at 331 Ottawa Ave. NW

Hero Bratt's heating business was in the heart of Urban Renewal at 331 Ottawa Ave. NW /Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Public Library

By Sharon Hanks

Grand Rapids Historical Society 

Longtime residents of Grand Rapids are in for a delightful nostalgic trip in to the city's past on Thursday when Donald Bratt presents 280 historic colored slides taken by his late father showing old photos of downtown Grand Rapids from the mid-1950s to 1970 -- the Urban Renewal Project era. 
 
Bratt's father, Hero D. Bratt, was the only person known to have photographed virtually every building affected by the controversial Downtown Urban Renewal Project that bulldozed more than 100 old buildings in the central business district deemed by some to be "eyesores".
 
This is the first time about 50 of the slides will be presented to the public, Don says, because he only came across them in a box about 1 ½ years ago inside the Northeast Side home he and his wife have lived in for   years.  
 
 The presentation, "Grand Rapids Extreme Make-over: circa 1955-70"  by the 77-year-old Bratt will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, January 14 at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, 303 Pearl St. NW. Sponsored by the Grand Rapids Historical Society www.grhistory.org and co-sponsored by the Museum, the program is free and open to the public. Parking is free, too.
 
Don promises an hour-long presentation down memory lane that will far transcend merely an evening of old but faded colored slides. "Anyone over 50 will be transfixed with the program because each picture will bring back a certain memory in some way."
 
During the 1960s, established larger cities were swept up in a wave of "revitalizing" their downtowns with Urban Renewal as a means of fighting the growing erosion of their central cities to suburban shopping centers or "malls" and "plazas."
 
In Grand Rapids, faced with new "downtowns" on the city's edges, such as the Woodland, Eastbrook and North Kent malls and Roger's Plaza, city civic leaders saw only trouble when they looked at the vacant and deteriorating Grand Rapids downtown, the city's once-thriving shopping district.
 
 Don says his father, Hero, was a manufacturer's rep of heating equipment whose office was located in the heart of the Urban Renewal Project at 331 Ottawa Ave. NW. The son of Dutch immigrants, Hero had been taking photographs as an amateur for years. So it was no surprise he began an established practice of taking pictures to record the entire project affected by Urban Renewal, primarily the area east of the Grand River and bounded by Michigan Street NE, Lyon Streets SE and Division Avenue. 
 
He photographed every building that was to be torn down, the leveled site afterwards, and the beginnings of new construction. 
 
"Certainly the most visual and famous landmark of that era will be the old City Hall," Don says, referring to the ornate 19th-century landmark listed on the National Registry that was demolished in 1969. "The second was the old Kent County building." 
 
For many years Hero presented his slide show, "Glimpses of Old Grand Rapids," to civic and fraternal organizations. After Hero's death in 1976 at the age of 76, Don came into possession of this amazing collection.
 
 Don himself pursued a career in advertising, working as a copy writer, account executive, creative director and eventually a vice president and part-owner of Stevens, Inc.   Following in his father's footsteps, Don has taken 16 millimeter movies and slides throughout his travels around the world, later presenting the travelogues to church groups and organizations. 
 
Audience participation will be encouraged throughout the show. It should be fun!

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.

Browse