Grand Rapids History, Art, and Culture Driving Tour
This tour of Grand Rapids includes several museums as well as historic buildings and other landmarks.
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is dedicated to preserving the memory of President Ford and educating the public about the values of democratic citizenship. The 38th President served from 1974-1977 following the resignation of Richard Nixon; Ford led the United States out of the turmoil following the Watergate Scandal and the end of the Vietnam War. His museum was established in 1981 as part of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum; although it is one institution, the Library is located in Ann Arbor. The museum has been expanded and renovated twice, in 1997 and 2016. It possesses thousands of artifacts from the life of Gerald Ford, his wife Betty, the 1976 campaign, and the 1976 American Bicentennial. The museum features multiple exhibits, including a replica of the Oval Office; a series of lectures and events; and the DeVos Learning Center, which provides educational program to students.
Grand Rapids has come to be known as “Furniture City” for its long history of providing quality furniture for the world. Beginning in the mid-1800s, furniture manufacturing was the main industry in the city, employing up to one-third of Grand Rapids residents for a time. By 1876, when Grand Rapids-made furniture featured at an exposition in Philadelphia, the name gained national recognition as a marker of true quality and exceptional design. Today, the legacy continues as many office furniture companies, such as Steelcase, Inc, are still headquartered in Grand Rapids.
The Public Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan was founded by a group of civic leaders in 1854 as the Grand Rapids Lyceum of Natural History and in 1868 merged with the Grand Rapids Scientific Club to form the Kent Scientific Institute and Museum. Over the next century, the Museum established itself as a premier educational institution in the area and continues in to fulfill this role for West Michigan today. Highlights of the museum include a planetarium, a 1928 Spillman Carousel and a 1928 Wurlitzer Organ.
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.
The Grand Rapids Art Museum, or GRAM, houses over 5,000 works of art within its 20,000 square feet of gallery and exhibition space. GRAM’s new home opened in 2007 and is the world’s first art museum to be awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold status. The museum offers rotating exhibitions along with its permanent displays.
The mission of the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (GRAAMA) is "to promote, preserve, display, collect and honor the lives, culture, history, and accomplishments of Africans, African Americans and connected peoples in the greater Grand Rapids community." GRAAMA, which opened in December 2016, invites residents of Grand Rapids and visitors to share in the story of local African American families using exhibits, oral histories, and special programs. The location on Monroe Center Street in Grand Rapids is only a temporary residency for GRAAMA. The Museum is actively working on establishing a larger, more spacious building for visitors and residents to enjoy and learn more about African American culture in Grand Rapids.
This nationally recognized historic district features homes with dozen different architectural styles. Click the link below for a walking tour brochure that guides visitors to the leading historic sites in the district. On March 11, 1971 Heritage Hill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The district includes the Meyer May House which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 am to 2 pm; Sundays from 1 pm to 5 pm.
Built by the Voigt family and completed in 1895, this mansion maintains a majority of its Victorian era amenities. Occupied by the Voigt family for 76 years, its furnishings date back to the early 20th century. For that reason, it provides a unique glimpse into Victorian living in a Midwestern setting.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed prairie style house built in 1908 for founder of May’s of Michigan clothing store. The home was restored to its original splendor between 1985 and 1987. Funding was provided by the Steelcase Corporation- a major employer in Grand Rapids and the current owner of the home.
Wealthy Theatre was built in 1911 and housed vaudeville productions and live musical and theatrical performances. As technology and tastes changed, the theater became a neighborhood movie house. During World War I it was used as a warehouse for the Michigan Aircraft Company. The theater remained popular through the mid-20th century but eventually closed in the late 1970s as suburban theaters took its place. The building was vacant and in disrepair until the East Economic Development neighborhood association launched a capital campaign that supported its restoration. The Theatre re-opened in 1998 as a community arts center and is the anchor of a revived neighborhood.