Fine Arts Building (also known as the Exhibitor Building)
The building was constructed between 1900 and 1910, and was home to several small manufacturers in its first decades. An extensive renovation in 1925 allowed the building to serve as a showroom center that supported the flourishing Grand Rapids furniture industry. As Grand Rapids grew from more than 60,000 people in 1890 to nearly 170,000 in 1930, the city earned the title "Furniture City." The building, now adjoined to the Amway Plaza hotel, has served as an integral part of the Grand Rapids downtown region for nearly 120 years.
Backstory and Context
Constructed first between 1900 and 1910, and then renovated substantially in 1925, the Italian Renaissance Fine Arts Building arose during a robust growth period for Grand Rapids (its population grew from more than 60,000 in 1890 to nearly 170,000 by 1930). The Fine Arts building served the Grand Rapid's furniture industry, which flourished during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The building functioned as a significant furniture exhibition center for the city's furniture manufacturers during the 1920s before the Great Depression took its toll on the industry.
In 1875, Grand Rapids businessman Felix Rainville and his business partner, Simeon Sikes, opened a leather-goods workshop that mainly produced belts used for industrial machinery. A few years later, Rainville, purchased his partner's interest and then, over time, expanded the operation. Rainville built the Exhibitors Building (laying the seed for what evolved into the Fine Arts Building) between 1900 and 1910. Initially, the building served as a small factory and power plant where several businesses -- mainly small manufacturers -- rented space.
In 1925, the building underwent a significant transformation when local developer, Gustave Hendricks, invested in a project of developing furniture exhibition buildings near the Pantlind Hotel (the city's largest hotel at the time). He wanted to capitalize on the city's most prominent industry; more than eighty-five furniture manufacturers opened between 1885 and 1900. He first purchased and remodeled the Nelson-Mather Building across from the hotel. He successfully sold the entire space before the completion of the renovation. So, Hendricks decided to buy and renovate the Exhibitors Building, which he and renamed the Fine Arts Building. The new Fine Arts Building housed showrooms for a multitude of furniture companies.
The Great Depression hurt the furniture industry deeply, ultimately leading to a profound decrease in showroom attendance at the Fine Arts Building. The city eventually took over the building, citing unpaid taxes. In 1943, the city leased the building to the U.S. Army Weather School, which used the building as a training facility. Two years later, in 1945, a local investment group purchased the building, restored its original Exhibitors Building name, and again used the building to house showrooms. In 1970 the building was sold to Hollis M. Baker, who continued to rent space to leading furniture manufacturers until 1979 when the building again went through another transformation.
The Amway Properties Corporation purchased the building in 1979 and incorporated it into the Pantlind Hotel, which the group refurbished, enlarged and renamed it the Amway Grand Plaza (known today as Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection by Hilton). The Amway opened in 1981 and grew into one of the nation's most acclaimed hotels. Guests have included President Gerald Ford and Betty Ford, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Queen Noor of Jordan, General Schwarzkopf, and a host of entertainment celebrities. The Exhibitor Building functioned as an adjunct to the hotel, housing showrooms, retail shops, meeting spaces, offices, and spaces used to provide amenities to hotel guests.
Carron, Christian G. Grand Rapids Furniture: The Story of America's Furniture City. Grand Rapids: Public Museum of Grand Rapids, 1998.
Harger, Jim. "After 90 years, downtown's Exhibitors Building will get more windows." MLive.com (Grand Rapids) August 2, 2019. West Michigan sec. https://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/2016/08/after_90_years_downtowns_exhib.html
Slater, Margaret. "Nomination Form: National Register of Historic Places: Fine Arts Building" archives.gov. August, 1982. https://catalog.archives.gov/OpaAPI/media/25339683/content/electronic-records/rg-079/NPS_MI/82000537.pdf
By Andrew Jameson - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9914859