These old wooden stairs likely pique the curiosity of passersby, whether they are longtime residents or first-time visitors. For one thing, they don’t lead anywhere. The Chronicle had previously corresponded via electronic mail with the owners of the steps about their history.
And two Sunday evenings ago when we spotted two people emerging from the office space in front of which the stairs are mounted – armed with schematic drawings affixed to large pieces of foam core – we figured they were headed the same direction we were: to Sunday night caucus at city council chambers in the Larcom Building.
So we took the opportunity to make face-to-face introductions, and to get the story behind the steps. It turns out that the stairs’ original home was in the “sidewalk hatch” of the building immediately to the north of their current location. The steps located underneath sidewalk grates were used in the olden days to accept deliveries directly into basements of buildings – along this block and elsewhere. The extreme wear on these particular steps was attributed to the kegs of beer that used to be rolled down them into the basement of an Irish pub there. But the stairs’ owner allowed that this could be an apocryphal tale. In a cursory check of AADL online historical resources for Ann Arbor, The Chronicle could find no evidence bearing on the question.
As we crossed Fifth Avenue to the Larcom Building, the stairs’ owner explained that 8-10 years ago the next-door building had undergone some renovations, and that he had spotted this set of stairs sitting inside the dumpster. After inquiring with the building owners and getting their okay to rescue them from their fate, he recruited a couple of other guys help him, climbed into the dumpster, and wrestled them free.
Wondering where this is and who we were talking to? Some readers might already know, but here’s another detail that gives some additional folks a shot before we straightup tell you: the stairs’ owner was headed to caucus to make a brief presentation on the proposed African American Museum to be located in the Polhemus House on Pontiac Trail – which was to come before council for approval as a PUD rezoning the following evening on Sept. 8. That project enjoyed the recommendation of planning commission and was approved by council that evening.
So who was that guy we hounded all the way from Fourth Avenue and Huron to the Larcom Building? Richard Mitchell of Mitchell and Mouat Architects, Inc.