The Marshall Street Armory, Lansing – 119th Field Artillery

by Mirta Manso

Introduction

State architect Lynn W Fry designed the Marshall Street Armory in 1924 during a seventeen year project constructing ten armories around the state. Inside of the armory towards the front stood military offices;  also in the front the Officers Club  was a lounge area for the men that contained a French picture of a nude woman with a cigarette dubbed “Artillery Anne”.[1]  the large hall in the back contained room for unit drills, recreational activities and social gatherings.  North of the armory a brick riding hall created space for horse drawn artillery drills. The field east of the building was a polo polo field. During peace time the armory hosted gatherings including boxing matches, circuses, weddings and other activities. In 1941 the armory was modified by architects Lee Black and Kenneth C Black.[2] The Armory was an active training site until 2005 when the 119th Field Artillery moved their headquarters to Charlotte. The state of Michigan closed the armory in 2007 and the building remained unoccupied until Area United Way, Capital Area Community Foundation, United Way of Michigan, Lansing November 2011. Gillespie group occupied the building in November 2011 along with Capital Area Food Bank, Opportunity Resource Fund and Big Brothers Big Sisters. The building still contains the large red barn doors; the Officers Club, a safe room that housed live ammo and the gymnasium floor with Major General Vadnais’ name.[3]

Marshall Street Armory, Lansing. Photo by Mirta Manso

The Construction of the Marshall Street Armory

In 1909 Michigan legislature budgets the cost of constructing armories Michigan with Act 198 of 1909 Disburser of United States Funds for Militia.[4] Before Act 198 in 1909 the funding for the militia came from the community and the units themselves. The end of World War I terminated contracts of  members of the National Guard that had been drafted into federal service.  This caused Michigan to have a scarcely populated National Guard.  In 1920 state and federal laws caused another reorganization of the Michigan National Guard. The law allowed the states to recreate the structure to mimic that of the Guard during World War I. This created the 32nd Division which was designated as the Lansing unit 119th Field Artillery. Lynn W Fry was the state architect during a seventeen year period of Michigan constructing ten armories. In 1924 the Marshall Street Armory was constructed, designed by architect Lynn W Fry. [5]

Lynn W Fry

Lynn Ward Fry was Born in Grand Rapids 1894. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from University of Michigan Fry served in World War I in France as a second  Lieutenant in the artillery. In 1921 Lynn W Fry was appointed State Architect of Michigan.  It was during that time Fry designed five armories in the state of Michigan one of which being the Marshall Street Armory. In 1925 when his appointment ended he began his own practice in Ann Arbor with Paul Kasurin. In 1942 Lynn Ward Fry began working for the University of Michigan and retired from the university in 1964. He died in Ann Arbor at the age of 73 in 1967.[6]

Historic Photo of Marshall Street Armory, Lansing
1933 Photo of Batteries “A” and “B”, 199th Field Artillery, Michigan National Guard

Peace Times at the Armory and Aiding the Community

During times of peace the Marshall Street Armory held social gatherings. Theses included private weddings, one of which was the wedding of a veteran named Duffy during October 1993. Circuses often occurred during the 1950s with huge elephants stomping in the drill hall. Through the 1970s Golden Glove Boxing and Pro Wrestling matches were wildly popular.[7] The Michigan Antique Radio Club held swap meets at the Marshall Street Armory until 1995, their very first was on May 5, 1984.[8] In 1976 the Upper Peninsula was devastated by the Seney Forest Fire which consumed 78,000 acres of land in a blaze, the Michigan National Guard provided support. Also the Michigan National Guard searched through rubble for civilians after the 1980 Kalamazoo tornado that killed five people.

Historic Photo of Marshall Street Armory, Lansing

The Past Modifications and Future Renovation

In the year 1941 architects Lee Black and Kenneth C Black modified the grounds, riding hall and basement. The pair also designed a vehicle storage facility (demolished) and the metal grill on the basement windows.  In 2007 the State of Michigan closed the Lansing Armory and it was decommissioned by the military in 2008.[9] In 2010 Pat Gillespie the president and founder of the Gillespie Group planned to renovate the Marshall Street Armory with Kincaid Henry. During the process of refurbishing the armory Pat Gillespie asked the opinion of the community and what the locals wanted to see after the completion of the construction.[10] The renovation received the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation. [11]After the renovation Gillespie Group included nonprofit organizations into the occupation of the armory. The non-profit organizations include United Way of Michigan, Nonprofit Association of Michigan, Capital Area United Way, Capital Area Community Foundation, Lansing Area Food Bank, Opportunity Resource Fund And Big Brothers Big Sisters. Currently the building still contains the performance stage in the gymnasium. The large red barn doors still reside in the building but in a different area.[12]

Marshall Street Armory, Lansing. Photo by Mirta Manso

The Officer’s Club that once housed “Artillery Anne” is now a spacious conference room. The safe room that housed live ammo and the shared training room still remain but have a different purpose. And finally the wooden floors containing Major General Vadnais name remain in pristine condition.

Marshall Street Armory, Lansing, Vadnais Hall. Photo by Mirta Manso

Trebuchet Time at Marshall Street Armory

In the year 2010 Just before the Gillespie Group and Kincaid Henry began renovations Mirta Manso the author of this paper spent several weeks in the building. Pattengill Middle school engaged in a trebuchet building contest in which student built a trebuchet and launched objects from the machine. Before the renovations the basement contained wide halls concrete floors with empty storage units. It was in the dusty wide hallway the 8 foot trebuchets were built by teams of middle schoolers. The drill hall with Major General Vadnais’ name on the wood floor was a genuine basketball court and the tin metal ceiling still hung. The building was dimly lit and dusty in about every single room. The large red barn doors was where the trebuchets made their exit.

The Marshall Street Armory Historical Significance

119th Field Artillery Flag

The Marshall Street Armory is significant to history because it was built in 1924 by Lynn W Fry who was state architect of Michigan from 1921 to 1925. Also the building was used by the militia to train recruits from 1924 to 2005. Then after 2005 in 2008 the building was used by the Michigan Department of Military and Veteran Affairs. In the times of peace the Marshall Street Armory  hosted private weddings, circuses, golden glove boxing matches, prowrestling matches. Events like private weddings give the building significance to the community. The Marshall Street Armory is important because the building hold decades of memories not only belonging to veterans but memories from the community as well. The Armory is continuing to pertain historical significance  through harboring nonprofit organizations that aid the community.

Marshall Street Armory, Lansing, Photo by Mirta Manso

NOTES

 

[1] Lawrence Cosentino “War And Peace at the Marshall Street Armory” Aug. 10 2011

[2] Marshall Street Armory Study Committee Final Report

[3] http://restorelansing.com/Commercial-Projects/Renovations/Marshall-Street-Armory

[4]http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(dxlovdojzd1nhp4wcnqsqaz4))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-chap32

[5] Marshall Street Armory Study Committee Final Report

[6] Marshall Street Armory Study Committee Final Report

[7]http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(dxlovdojzd1nhp4wcnqsqaz4))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-chap32

[8] michiganantiquetradio.com

[9] Marshall Street Armory Study Committee Final Report

[10] gillespie-group.com/commercial/armory

[11] kincaidhenry.com/commercial-construction-projects/marshallstreetarmory

[12] Misjak Laura Lansing State Journal [Lansing, Mich] 06 Sep 2011 “Nonprofits soon to fill up Marshall Street Armory”