Heartside Historic Murals
In 2021, Dwelling Place, with support from Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. curated the Heartside Historic Mural Project centered around highlighting un-sung history of the Heartside neighborhood through the addition of five murals created by local and Michigan-based artists. A steering committee of Heartside residents and leaders selected three Grand Rapids artists, one Lansing based artist, and one Detroit based artists from a pool of applicants gathered through an open artist call. The artists were connected to historic resources from the Grand Rapids Archives, the African American Archives, and other local sources. From these resources, the artists determined which historic places and persons their mural would feature. To elaborate on the story of the artists murals, Dwelling Place worked with Caroline Cook founder of Grand Rapids Walking Tours to provide in-person and virtual mural tours. Below, you will also find additional resources to celebrate the history each mural pays tribute to.
Black Joy: Crispus Attucks/Horseshoe Bar Mural by Artist Edwin Anderson
Edwin Anderson is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Raised as an inner-city kid in the Southtown area, Edwin is looking to positively represent his community. He is contributing to the growth of his hometown through his mission to promote the arts and business culture together by creating opportunities among the community members and within the city. Edwin is currently attending Aquinas College and will soon receive a dual major in business and visual arts.
Mural Location: 359 South Division Ave.
Check out more of Edwin’s Work HERE
The History of Black Entertainment Venues in Heartside
In the 1920-1950s there were few places black people were able to seek entertainment, enjoy music, and hang out. There were several notable venues in Heartside featuring black performers and catering to the black community. When celebrating venues that featured black performers, we celebrate the joy and community created for and by audiences.
The Horseshoe Bar, 333 Grandville SW – First opened in 1891 the actual bar-top was in the shape of a horseshoe “U”, giving the bar its name, and was a bar and entertainment venue until 1972. Venues like Frank (Fred) Lamar’s legendary Horseshoe Bar would feature musicians performing for black and white audiences on weekends. It is rumored that Frank Lamar ran an illegal speakeasy and brothel in the building’s upper levels during the American Prohibition in the 1920s. When present-day owners Honest to Goodness Tattoo began remodeling the building in 2019, they found a secret room hidden behind a false wall. This is believed to be where alcohol was hidden in the building during the Prohibition period.
American Legion Crispus Attucks Club 59, 243-5 Commerce, SW – The building was built in 1989 by the Crispus Attucks American Legion Post, an organization that was organized in the mid-1930s and mainly served black veterans. It was built after a previous structure was destroyed by fire. Performers like John Lee Hooker and Alberta Adams performed at the Crispus Attucks American Legion Post 59 located at 243-5 Commerce Avenue until 2006. In the early 1940s, this two-story building became one of the primary locations for African-American social events in Grand Rapids and was owned by the black service members.
The venue was named after Crispus Attucks (1723-1770) a freed slave. Attucks is thought to have become the first casualty of the American Revolution when he was shot and killed during The Boston Massacre on March 5th, 1770.
- There was debate for many years following the revolutionary war as to whether Attucks was a hero of the revolution or just a troublemaker/villain. His story was ignored through much of history.
- A freed slave, Attucks is thought to have become the first casualty of the American Revolution when he was shot and killed during The Boston Massacre on March 5th, 1770.
The Waldron Building – Barnett’s-Williams Hotel-Philadelphia Hotel-Opus 1894
Built in 1894, The Waldron building’s first recorded function was as a hotel called “Central House”. Located right by the Union Depot train station, it was a popular spot to stop for those coming into town on the Pere Marquette from places like Detroit and Chicago. It became the Williams Hotel in 1926, owned by a Black family from Chicago. In 1940 it became Barnett’s Hotel, owned by Stanley Barnett. Barnett came to Grand Rapids in 1902 from Chicago. He worked for a long time as a waiter at the Pantlind Hotel, but had dreams of becoming a business owner. Barnett’s- which included a bar/lounge in addition to the hotel- was the place where everyone in Grand Rapids could come and feel welcome, no matter their skin color. This was during a time when Grand Rapids was heavily prejudiced and segregated, and blacks would be turned away at other hotels, such as the Pantlind. Barnett died in 1947 at age 68, and his son Stanley Jr. Took over hotel operations and then Alphonse Lewis Jr. and later his sister assumed management. Barnett’s had live entertainment until 1963- the same year Union Station was demolished. In 1999 a potential revitalization project occurred, with the hope of reopening the Waldron Building as a bar and restaurant.
- The Horseshoe Bar is rumored to be haunted and listed on “Michigan Haunted Buildings.” Old LaMar Hotel and Horseshoe Bar Building | Grand Rapids Michigan | Real Haunted Place (michiganhauntedhouses.com)
- Consider the legacy of Crispus Attucks by reflecting on a poem by Yusef Komunyakaa
- Learn More about Slavery in America through this Timeline – Jim Crow Museum – Ferris State University
- An interview with Michigan Author of “First Martyr of Liberty: Crispus Attucks in American Memory” Mitch Kachun: Crispus Attucks, American Revolutionary Hero: An Interview with Mitch Kachun | AAIHS
AIDS Resource Center Mural by Kimberley Kunze & Grand Rapids LGBTQ+ Healthcare Consortium
Kimberley Kunze is a full-time clinical psychologist in Grand Rapids, MI. She is passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially for individuals from the LGBTQ+ community. For the production of this mural, Kim will be leading a team from the Grand Rapids LGBTQ+ Healthcare Consortium, which is a new nonprofit in Grand Rapids whose mission is to provide holistic and accountable healthcare support for LGBTQ+ people through coordinated health advocacy, communication, and accountability with healthcare organizations in the greater Grand Rapids area.
Mural Location: 42 South Division Ave.
Check out more of Kim’s work HERE
History of AIDS Resource Center in Heartside
The Grand Rapids AIDS Resource Center opened in 1988 and was located at 42 South Division. Started as the AIDS Taskforce in 1985 by Jim Gardner and Larry Abbot, the Center primarily helped those diagnosed with AIDS obtain food and medication necessary to sustain themselves.
In October 1992, community members associated with the AIDS Resource Center made a pilgrimage to Washington DC to submit a quilt panel to the Names Project. 52 names were included on the panel from Grand Rapids. As of 2021, about 13,723 people from Michigan have died from Aids Related Illnesses. This mural commemorates the fight for AIDS related healthcare and the impact AIDS has had on the Grand Rapids community and LGBTQIA+ persons in Heartside and West Michigan.
In 1991, under the guidance of Executive Director Jan Koopman, the Aids Resource Center received a $20,000 grant from the AIDS Foundation as part of a United Way campaign, which helped the center to expand its services to more clients. By 1996, Jan Koopman had retired as Executive Director and was replaced by Mary Ellen Finch.
The AIDS Resource Center was an unmatched resource in the fight against AIDS from its inception in the 1980s. The Center’s buddy program matched people with AIDS to someone who would serve as a friend and support system, alleviating some of the isolation felt by those battling the disease.
According to John Fraleigh, AIDS Task Force Secretary, aside from working with local hospice services, some of the Task Force’s goals included finding local individuals to provide nursing and counseling to those diagnosed with AIDS. The Center also provided transportation, medical counseling, support groups, housing, and legal and medical assistance. With the often-misguided assumptions and general misunderstandings surrounding AIDS both from within the medical community and outside it, battling the disease was often an isolating, lonely, and hopeless experience. The AIDS Resource Center provided a beacon of light at the end of the tunnel for those suffering from AIDS to be able to receive resources and compassion during a time when they were most needed.
Poem excerpts from one of the AIDS Resource Center contacts who journeyed to Washington DC to witness the Voices Project and inspired the mural:
“ D is dying. M is dead. L is dead. T, J and J are dead. E is dying. B is dead. Countless others. Memory is precious. Empty, broken, grief filled heart. Afraid, yet drawn to the sacred powers of the Quilt. The sad has permeated my soul for oh so long, yet the tears are locked, unable to reach the surface in surrender. Arriving to a sky-filled meteor shower over Washington…… “
“The long locked tears flow over the top to finally cleanse my weary heart. This monument of color and feeling far surpasses any monument I have known before. I am moved. A vigil of candles surround me forever”
*D is dying. M is dead. L is dead. T, J and J are dead. E is dying. B is dead. Countless others. Memory is precious. Empty, broken, grief filled heart. Afraid, yet drawn to the sacred powers of the Quilt. The sad has permeated my soul for oh so long, yet the tears are locked, unable to reach the surface in surrender. Arriving to a sky-filled meteor shower over Washington… This monument of color and feeling far surpasses any monument I have known before. I am moved. A vigil of candles surround (sic) me forever. The trees above glow with the fire of many hearts. The full moon shows our path. The newly birthed power fills me to overflowing, excising all sense of lack. I am not alone. –JA
Union Depot Station Mural by Jasmine Bruce
Jasmine Bruce is a visual artist whose work emphasizes the healing power of creating. Currently based in Grand Rapids, Michigan she obtained her BFA from Grand Valley State University. Her versatile and powerful style tells the story of a universal trauma which plagues the entire human race. This trauma, ancestral and ancient, is a pain that carves deep into the veins beneath the skin and surfaces as blemishes of the Ism: racism, alcoholism, narcissism. It surfaces as insecurities, anger, abuse, violence, imbalance. Her work aims to draw out this pain, restoring balance and connection with the inner, outer and divine self.
Mural Location: 101 Sheldon Blvd. SE
Check out more of Jasmine’s Work HERE
Union Depot Station Mural
The Union Depot, located at 61 Ionia, was the heart of the city from the 1890s through 1960s. An icon of Grand Rapids, people from all walks of life, whether going or leaving, passed through the Depot as they were arriving and immigrating into Grand Rapids. A Georgian Revival building of two stories, it was built in 1900, closed in 1958 and demolished over 1958 and 1959 to make space for a highway. It was a hub serving a few railroads going to different points in Michigan and the Midwest.
Between 1947-1973, Urban Renewal policies and post-war reconstruction began sweeping through urban neighborhoods. The State of Michigan built US-131 through downtown, demolishing hundreds of buildings and relocating more than 1,000 people. The railroad depot, train shed and many of the area’s single-family homes were demolished to make way for the on and off ramps. The demolition of so many buildings displaced some of the neighborhood’s population causing people to move west along Bridge Street or to South Division Avenue.
The Union Station Depot and railroads traveling through and up to stops like Petosky and Mackinaw City played a central role in the development of northern Michigan. Previously, stage coaches and even early cars had difficulty navigating the rough terrain that often comprised early roads connecting lower and upper Michigan. Aside from carrying people, many of these trains transported the supplies and infrastructure necessary to develop houses other buildings into present day northern Michigan towns. These steam-powered locomotive trains were the big players for travel up until about the mid 20th century, when competition from the growing automobile, bus, and airplane industries began to dominate travel, and train routes were gradually reduced and cancelled.
The train shed was 112 feet wide and 600 feet long, with a gable-style roof that was 56 feet at its highest point. Support came from the intricate network of 31 iron trusses and girders that sat at large stone pillars at 30-foot intervals. Final construction on the shed portion of the station was completed in July of 1890. An operational report from 1905 estimated that roughly 1,000 passenger tickets were sold each day, with 20,000 trains, 100,000 cars, and 750,000 people passing through the depot for the entirety of that year.
- Urban Renewal Guide through the Grand Rapids Public Library Research Guide to Grand Rapids Urban Renewal_GRPL Sources – Google Docs
- Photos and history of Union Station – michiganrailroads.com – Grand Rapids, MI – Union Station
- Union Depot | History Grand Rapids
Mural Honoring Dr. Ella Mary Sims by Dustin Hunt
Dustin Hunt is a committed teaching artist and designer working to inspire emerging creatives through proven strengths in curriculum development, engaging content, inclusive instruction, mentorship and collaboration. Dustin operates Muralmatics and facilitates youth-driven mural projects with middle and high school students using a unique blend of design-centered, hands-on, project-based, math curriculum. He received his Bachelor of Fine Art and graduate teaching certification from Michigan State University. Dustin’s creative practice is informed by several years exploring hip-hop culture as a DJ and graffiti artist.
Mural Location: 21 Weston St. SE
Check out more of Dustin’s Work HERE
Ella Mary Sims Mural
Words like maverick, trailblazer, heroine & legend have been used to describe Dr. Ella Mary Sims. Born in Sumner, Mississippi on December 24, 1923, she confessed a dedication for Christ at the age of 9 and was baptized in the Mississippi River. From that day forward she lived for Christ.
After losing a stillborn child, burying her firstborn child and then first husband, she sank into a major depression. Her physician encouraged her to take a vacation, so she went to visit her family in Grand Rapids. Upon arrival she noticed the plight of the city, rolled up her sleeves, and went to work as a community leader. Passionately living her faith, Dr. Ella Mary Sims advocated improving the lives of people across Grand Rapids. Dr. Sims led a remarkable life committed to service, family, and faith.
Dr. Ella Mary Sims broke ground becoming the first African American women with a column in the Grand Rapids Press. Dr. Sims was a founding member of the Grand Rapids Women’s Resource Center and she served with a number of notable organizations including the PTA, YMCA, Salvation Army, Right to Life and Dwelling Place.
Her work at Aquinas College helped to increase the number of African American students by providing the direct the support needed to create a warm welcoming environment which fostered an optimal learning experience.
In addition, Dr Sims assisted with breaking ground with the Sheldon Complex and Campau Commons.
Dr. Sims’ passionate advocacy within the Grand Rapids School District is documented in City Within a City.
Black People's Free Store Mural by Ijania Cortez
Ijania Cortez is a fine artist living and working in Detroit MI, USA. A self-taught artist, her practice is centralized around painting but also includes murals as well as works of mixed media. She is known for the color she uses in her portraits as well as the subjects, exclusively depicting black men from the inner city. Influenced by a modest childhood in 90’s Detroit and her love for the residents there, her work serves to create conversations between painting and viewer. In her practice Cortez uses neon color to note the modern era, showing her subjects as natural and central in environments that are unnatural, a reflection of the man-made conditions of the city. Her work interrogates beauty and vulnerability in masculinity, as well as the ability to thrive and existence despite adversity. She hosted her first solo exhibition, A Summer Nativity, in July 2017.
Mural Location: 235 South Division Ave.
Check out more of Ijania’s Work Here
Black People’s Free Story
The Black People’s Free Store was started by 5 activists from Grand Rapids: Bernard Ware, Carl Smith, Richard Martell Gilbert, Bernard Smith, and Gerald Brown. The mural a photo from the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archive celebrates the history of activism and black history in Grand Rapids. Located at the corner of Jefferson and Delaware, the Black People’s Free Store provided resources for community members, published a community newspaper, and was a collective gathering place for neighbors and activists. While the Black People’s Free Store was only open from 1967-1968, for some, the impact was profound.
The original concept of the “free store” started in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, and a second location quickly appeared in Grand Rapids after Carl Smith returned to Michigan. A funding request was submitted to the Dyer Ives Foundation and included the following: “The free store will attempt to deal with the individual needs of black people. Whatever can be done to solve their immediate problems becomes our next task.”
While all 5 Free Store founders went on to impact Grand Rapids History, Carl Smith’s impact is documented in the book “City Within a City.”
“It was the awakening. It was the awakening for the reality what was happening in the world, how systems worked, how colonization worked, and the ways to fight against colonialism.” Shared historian Taalib El Amin, a fellow South High alumnus, Taalib was a few years younger than the founders of the Black People’s Free Store. Taalib tributes much of his accomplishments and direction in life to his time spent learning under the leadership of Carl Smith, immersed in the literature and teachings provided through the Black People’s Free Store. Within those walls, he was first introduced to content written by Africans, dove into content about colonial struggles and activism. He reflects on his experiences:
“Always know your facts before you open your mouth. And that’s one of the first things I learned. Can you research, do your homework and then speak the truth? And that was sort of a thing, it created a cadre of young warrior scholars back in the late sixties who went on to teach younger people beyond this. We spoke against the closing [of South High] though, battling the school board. ”
When Taalib was asked about what he might want people to know the Black People’s Free Store, he remarked, “it was the awakening… And for the first time, it formed us so we could stand up and speak truth to power.”
- Learn more about black activism in Grand Rapids by reading “City within a City” by historian Todd E Robinson.