Local History
10:56 am
Fri June 14, 2013

Barber chairs and falcons: Hidden Kalamazoo tours the bank building

In downtown Kalamazoo, you can walk into one of the tallest skyscrapers in the city—the American National Bank Building. Anyone can view the first few floors, but to get all the way up to the top you’ll have to go on the Hidden Kalamazoo tour this weekend. 

The tour takes visitors to places in the city that the public hasn’t seen in decades. Last month, Sharon Ferraro of the Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Commission and Phil Pettitt, the bank building mechanic, took a group to the upper floors of the building for a rehearsal tour.

Pettitt says every floor is like a different time period. On the upper floors, there’s still a lot of stuff left over from when the building was finished in 1929. Even though there’s an elevator, you still have to go up a few steps to get to the old offices. Ferraro says this wasn’t helpful for people with disabilities.

“It’s strongly an employment issue," she says. "You need to be able to have barrier free access for all your employees. This didn’t work because of that 12 step hike people had to make.”

Once you get up to the 15th floor, Ferraro says you can see just about all of Kalamazoo.

“Not from one single window," she says. "But definitely if you walk around this upper floor you’ll be able to see the entire city. A point of view that you don’t usually get unless you happen to live in the skyrise. So it’s a pretty magnificent view from up here.”

But the great view isn’t the only thing you can see in the bank building. You might catch some wildlife. Pettitt says the bank building is home to two peregrine falcons that have eggs on the building's ledge.

“My boss, I brought him up here and he was standing here talking on the phone, looking out the window," says Pettitt. "And all of the sudden that falcon come in and landed on that and he goes ‘Whoa!’ And he was right there looking and he’s talking to somebody, and he says ‘I got to hang up. I got to take his picture!'”

Ferraro says the grand finale in the American National Bank Building has to be the barbershop.

“I talked to dozens of people now that say ‘Oh yeah, my mom used to take me here all the time to get my hair cut," she says. "It wasn’t a styling parlor so much—beauty parlor—as it was just a barber shop. But this was a place that was great cause this business…this building was filled with business men who needed regular haircuts. So it was a great location. I just think this is one of the little hidden back corners that nobody suspects is there.”

Aside from the bank building, visitors on the tour will get to see hidden spaces above restaurants like Studio Grill, Coney Island, and Bimbo’s Pizza. The tour will also go backstage in the State Theatre and visit A-1 Printing in what might be the oldest building downtown. But no matter where you go on the tour, you’re sure to find a piece of history and some good stories.

“The maintenance guy in the 19th story up here dove off top of the roof in the 80s and is still alive," says Pettitt. "Left a note for his wife that morning, went in, dove off the roof, landed on a car.”