May 5 2011 12:00 AM

204 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing


Property: 204 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing
Owner: Lyle Laylin Jr.
Assessed value: $15,100

Soaring a half-story above its neighbors at 204 E. Grand River Ave. in Old Town, this red-brick gem is hard to miss. With highly decorative masonry and intricate detailing, this Romanesque revival style building oozes 19th-century charm and is one of Lansing’s architectural masterpieces.

Owner Lyle Laylin Jr. bought the building 20-plus years ago and has grand plans for a comprehensive restoration of the multi-use structure, especially the first floor commercial facade that — fingers crossed — may possess more decorative masonry hidden beneath the mid-century metal finish.

Curious of what the fully restored building will look like? Look no further than 120 W. Ottawa St. downtown, which houses a Biggby coffee shop. It’s 204 E. Grand River Ave.’s fraternal twin restored to its original beauty. Both were designed by the illustrious local architect, Darius Moon, and share striking similarities.

The Old Town building is as relevant today as it was in 1890. However, for a short period, that wasn’t thought to be so. The urban renewal movement of the mid-19th century valued buildings for their age rather than their intrinsic value. It was simple — everything new was good, everything old was bad. Thanks to the historic preservation movement of the 1980s, we know and appreciate the value of buildings like 240 E. Grand River Ave.

Restoring a building is an incredible experience. Thanks to the many people who have passionately restored buildings in the Lansing area, we have an architectural history that preserves the past with an eye to the future.

Research is the key to a successful restoration. Research ensures that the restoration process is done correctly and with historical accuracy while preventing errors that cost money and time. The following is a suggested list of the minimum questions you should investigate before beginning the restoration process:

  • When was the building built? This is absolutely essential.

  • What style is it? Not all buildings have a specific architectural style, but if the building does, it can be incredibly helpful to the restoration process. Consult archives for photographs that might give clues to the original style of the building — this would be a good time to consult an architect.

  • Who designed the building? This can be an incredibly useful piece of information, particularly if the architect designed similar-looking buildings that have been either relatively unaltered or well restored that you can look to as a touchstone. Fortunately, 120 W. Ottawa — which is well restored — is a great benchmark for 240 E. Grand River Ave.'s own restoration.

  • Any historic building plans? Consult local archives for floor plans that will be invaluable to the restoration process.

  • Consult an architect: An architect will ensure a successful and accurate restoration and also save you time and money. An architect familiar with the community and its buildings will be advantageous to the restoration process. A local architect will have access to local archives and resources, not to mention a personal interest in the community and its local architectural history. Look for an architect with a historic preservation interest and a portfolio of successful restoration projects.

“Eye candy of the Week" is our weekly look at some of the nicer properties in Lansing. It rotates each with Eyesore of the Week. If you have a suggestion, please e-mail or call Andy Balaskovitz at 999-5064.