Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

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Turning an Old Factory into a Home

Couple updates the past at the Cigar Box Co.

Rick Coates - February 25th, 2013  

The sturdy, box-shaped building at the corner of Eighth Street and Boardman Avenue in Traverse City looks like it was built to last.

And it has -- almost 100 years. But in order to survive, it’s had to become a lot of things. It started as a cigar box factory, then it was a power company service building, then it was a furniture store and then a fitness center.

For the 21st century, the building recently took on another identity -- home.

Its new owners, Victoria and Matt Sutherland, fell for the building, which they’ve dubbed The Box. They love its high ceilings and huge windows and storied history.

But they knew they would have to be creative to turn it into a place where they could live.

Now, the main floor of the building has undergone a stunning renovation, a living suite is almost complete, they plan to create a garden in front of the building this spring, they’ve opened up the offices upstairs and the long-vacant building has become a center of activity.


Most of the work to date has taken place on the 4,000-square-foot main floor (each level is the same size; the entire building is 12,000 square feet). They’ve turned one side of that level into a sleek, modern commercialgrade kitchen and dining area, complete with a 20-foot black granite marble counter, an eight-foot marble slab for dining, and elm cabinets that somehow look both rustic and modern; the south end of the building is a common room complete with walls of book cases and a raised stage for readings or other events; and the east side of the main floor is undergoing renovation to become a bedroom suite for the Sutherlands.

They’ve used local, recycled material whenever possible, and in some cases, they’ve been able to recycle the building itself.

When they ripped out old carpet that had been there when the building housed the Fitness Center, they found incredible original wood floors that required very little work to bring to life. All of the imperfections in the wood -- gashes and gouges and spots where nails were shot through seemingly at random, speak to the building’s decades of history.

Upstairs are offices which the Sutherlands use for their business, ForeWord Magazine, and the lower level, which consists of men’s and women’s locker rooms and a former aerobics studio, the Sutherlands imagine one day might be lounges and a large dance floor for events.


The Sutherlands hope soon to be able to rent out part of the building for special events and to do things like host cooking classes or parties.

Matt Sutherland said the building was on the market for two years without an offer before he and Victoria came along. He wonders what would have happened had they not moved in.

“We’ve had engineers in here. Structurally, it’s in incredible shape. People had no idea what to do with it. We were unique in that it perfectly fit our needs and we had the patience to do what we needed to do here.” he said. “I hate to think that it would have been torn down, but who knows?” Right now, the building and the Sutherland’s use of it are unique on the Traverse City landscape. Who else is trying to turn an old cigar factory and long-time fitness center into a multi-use commercial/ residential space?


The Sutherlands are not the first to worry about the fate of the old cigar box building.

In 1981, Traverse City stalwart Sara Hardy tried to get the building designated a national historic landmark.

She wrote a letter to the State Historical Preservation Office but the application was ultimately turned down.

At that time the building was a furniture store and warehouse. Since the late 1950s, the building had been rented by Wilsons Furniture Co. and in 1974 was purchased by Wilsons for $25,000. In pictures included with Hardy’s 1981 application, a glowing sign on the south face of the building read, “THE FURNITURE PLACE.”

Traverse City History Center volunteer Dave Pennington noted that a furniture store on that stretch of Eighth Street in the 1980s would have been fighting a losing battle to stay in business -- retail business by then had moved out of downtown to the Cherryland Mall and Logans Landing.


Hardy must have been afraid the building wouldn’t survive the modern world.

“As traffic pressures increase at this intersection, so will pressures for removal of this building,” Hardy wrote.

She noted that it was “ideally suited for adaptive reuse” and that it would make a good location for law offices.

Hardy argued the building was worth saving because of what it meant to Traverse City in the 1920s and the 1930s, when Northern Michigan was going through hard times.

The Great Depression may have struck the nation in 1929, but it may as well have hit Traverse City in 1920, when the lumber industry collapsed with the last of the hardwoods.

The Traverse City Cigar Box Co. constructed its new factory in 1920, the same year one of the region’s main employers, the Oval Dish Company, a manufacturer of disposable dishes from maple trees, relocated out of state.


So the new cigar box factory, which had previously been located across the street, was a godsend.

Almost all males smoked cigars then, and the cigars were manufactured locally. Bales of tobacco were imported for local cigar makers. (There were 10 cigar factories in TC in 1906.)

Of the cigar box factory, Hardy wrote: “It certainly played a significant role in keeping food on the table for many families during a very bleak period in our history.”

It provided steady employment for unskilled workers, particularly for women who lived in the Boardman neighborhood. They cut and nailed cedar boards and turned them into boxes, and they printed the labels on site.

“There is definitely a big soft spot in the hearts of the community’s older residents for the Cigar Box Company,” Hardy wrote.

The cigar box factory stayed in business until just before World War II, but it was the first war that doomed the business. World War I introduced soldiers to cigarettes, and when the men came home, they stuck with those and didn’t smoke cigars anymore.

In a nod to the history, the Sutherlands have installed a collection of cigar boxes in the foyer.


The Sutherlands consider themselves lucky to have taken over the landmark.

“We pinch ourselves everyday,” Matt Sutherland said. “We love this space. We’re having a great time.”

Victoria Sutherland said she’s delighted to be living in the building, even if it is a massive space that is not a conventional home.

“We’ve lived out in the country in Cedar by Sugar Loaf. We moved right downtown on Union Street into a very small Victorian. Our architect said, ‘Victoria, I don’t think you realize how big this space is.’ I said, ‘Oh, yes I do.”

Even being on such a busy corner hasn’t been a problem. The windows are high enough so you don’t notice the traffic going by. And the old cement block building is pretty sound-proof.

“I don’t even notice the traffic any more,” Victoria said. “All I see is that river, the beautiful Boardman River right here.”

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