426 Lafayette – Tragedy and Rebuilding

As mentioned in my last post, the history of 426 Lafayette takes a dark turn after being split into a multi-family home.  This post has been excruciatingly hard to write.  I want to accurately depict the tragedy that occurred- but be sure to respect the victims and those so tragically affected.  The story I am about to tell is heart breaking.  I debated for a long time whether to include this story or not, but felt it best to include as I find it to be an important part of the homes history.

April 28 1994 was a blustery overcast day in Grand Rapids that started not unlike any other.  The property at 426 Lafayette had been divided up into a total of 5 small apartments at this point and had a history of poor repair.  Only a year ago, a city housing inspector discovered a total of 72 housing code violations.  These violations included poor wiring, broken down toilets, as well as walls and floors in complete disrepair.  The owner of the home at the time, Thomas Gill had recently spent significant time and money repairing these housing code violations and doing general updates to the home.  Several repairs had been done, and new “hard-wired” smoke detectors had been installed to meet new housing code requirements.  Despite all of this, the property was still far from its original condition, and the area on Lafayette was not the stately neighborhood it once was (or is today).

Four out of the five units were occupied by relativesPolice inquire if mother left 3 kids alone_GRP of the Libbett family.  Most of the family was gone staying with nearby friends that day with the exception of Rae Libbett and her 3 children Jessica Libbett, 6, Javon Libbett, 4, and Tiarria Moffett, 2.  Ms. Libbett left her home that afternoon shortly to run to the corner store.  Thinking it was just a quick trip, she left her children alone and locked the back door.  It was not uncommon for Ms. Libbett to turn her stove on for heat on cold days like it was on that afternoon.  She claimed that her heater did not work well, despite there being no reports of it from the most recent housing inspection.  This time however, that decision turned out to be fatal.  Upon returning home Ms. Libbett found smoke rising from the structure, and the home engulfed in flames.  As she got closer, her worst fears were confirmed.  The fire appeared to have started in her unit where her children were.  Fire investigators later found out that the stove that was left on has started an upholstered chair on fire, and that fire quickly spread through the home.  Ms. Libbett later confessed to investigators that she had disarmed the smoke detector in her unit as it kept going off when the stove was in use.  The smoke alarm may have given an earlier warning that the fire had broken out in the apartment where the kids were staying alone said Fire Chief Albert W. Conners.  By the depth of charring, investigators determined that the fire was burning for about 30 minutes.  The bodies of Ms. Rae Libbett’s children were later found huddled together in the bathtub, only a few feet away from the rear exit of the unit.

This Old House Pg 1This Old House Pg 2After the fire, owner of the home Thomas Gill insisted that the home and the memories be demolished, but the Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Committee would not approve the demolition.  This decision saved the home, but caused some controversy over the years.  After the fire, the property was sold to the Heritage Hill Foundation for only $1.  In May of 1995, the home was featured in “This Old House” magazine in their “save this old house” feature.  Thomas Baker, the senior editor of This Old House had reached out t he Barbara Roelofs, chair of the Heritage Hill Foundation Board, asking if she knew of any properties that needed saving.  Barbara immediately responded with 426 Lafayette.  This Old Home posted a before and after picture of the home, showing the photo taken in 1936, next to the present day photo.  It is clear in the picture that in since 1936, the home lost its front veranda, and was replaced with a fully enclosed 1920’s style enclosed brick porch.  The decorative corbels were removed from the eves, and the entire property was enclosed in asphalt siding.  On top of that, there was a huge amount of fire damage to the interior and exterior of the property.

Long Road BackREsidents rebuild home to erase memories of tragic fire_GRPDespite the obvious challenges, Roelofs received a call from a young businessman from Lansing by the name of Timothy Fuller who had seen the home featured in the magazine and was interested in renovating the house.  Fuller purchase the home from the Heritage Hill Foundation for $1,000 and began work.  Shortly after reconstruction began, it was over.  Mr. Fuller quickly realized this project was far beyond his capabilities or wants, and listed the home for sale once again.  Barb Lester, crime prevention organizer at the Heritage Hill Neighborhood Association was quoted as saying, “He had good intentions, but didn’t follow up”.  Barb has always been known to have a keen understanding of the activity in the Heritage Hill neighborhood. In early 1997, a local couple, Shawn and Sheryl Richardson, decided to purchase the home from Mr. Fuller and try their hand at renovating the home back to its old glory.

Shawn and Sheryl Richardson had moved from Oakland County in 1993 interested in buying a historic home. Before they purchase the home at 426 Lafayette, they had previously purchased 500 Lafayette and were working on renovating that home as well.  This was not their first crack at a large project.  The Richardsons had a deep love for old homes, and wanted to bring the property back to what it used to be before some absentee landlord could scoop the property up and keep it as a poor quality rental.

For years the Richardson’s worked on the home.  They removed numerous 20 and 40 foot dumpsters of trash and rubbish from the home.  They stripped away the old asphalt siding and exposed the original wood siding.  The removed and clean much of the fire damaged portion of the home, but cleaning proved to be a tremendous undertaking!  At the time, the city had only valued the home at $9,100, and there was much left to do.  The floors were covered with 3 feet of debris in areas, but the Richardsons (along with the help of friends and neighbors) were able to get much of the debris moved from the home.  While attempting to renovate the home, they collected windows from a former estate of gangster Al Capone, friends donated antique toilets, old radiators, and other items that were hard to find at the time.  However, despite the Richardsons best efforts, neighbors began to grumble.  As of November of 1997, the home was still visibly dilapidated, burnt, and had a blue tarp over much of the roof to keep water out.  One neighbor Darrell Weaver who was renting a home next door wrote the city in May of 1997 saying “Absolutely nothing has been done to improve this property or prevent deterioration.”  He went on to say “I know renovations do take a lot of time, but this is ridiculous.”  At that time, the home had been blighted for 4 years.

The Richardsons picked away at repairs and renovations for 13 long years (some more actively than others), but ultimately the project proved to be too large for them as well.  In 2010, the Richardsons later sold the property to Gerry Wheeler who was also interested in renovating the home back to its original state.  Mr. Wheeler owned and worked on the home for 4 years maliciously returning it back to its appearance in the 1936 assessor’s picture.  Between Mr. Wheeler and the Richardsons, much of the fire damage was removed, a new roof was installed, the wood siding exposed again, and the front porch was restored as well.  Despite the most successful work that the home had seen in years, the windows were still boarded up, and the interior of the property was only a shell.  Ultimately in 2014, Mr. Wheeler had enough of the home, and it was sold the James Eerdmans with JDE & Associates.  Immediately, the home starts taking giant leaps towards being a beautiful stately home once again!

Part three coming up next week!

Pictures below were taken after the fire.

Fire Pics (1)1997 PicsFire Pics (2)

426 Lafayette – The Early History

Some may have seen that I have recently been posting a lot of pictures of a home at 426 Lafayette.  I have an opportunity to have an inside view of the transformation of a very old home with an extremely interesting past.  I have spent a considerable about of time researching this home, its origins, its fall into disrepair, a tragic occurrence resulting in 2 deaths, and ultimately its rise back to a stately home as it was originally meant to be.  Over the next few weeks, I will post several blogs about the history of this home and ultimately I will chronicle its rehab process as well.  I hope you enjoy!  The following is my best attempt to tell the story and history of the home located at 426 Lafayette.

From what I know, the property was built circa 1889.  Grand Rapids tax rolls show that the lot was first owned by a Joshua Speed at the time the home was being built.   I was unable to find any information or family record for Joshua Speed, but in 1901 the home was purchase by Charles Retting of the Retting & Sweet Furniture Manufacturer.  According to records, Mr. Retting owned the home until circa 1911 when it was purchase by a Mr. Charles W Jennings.  This is where our story will begin.

Charles W Jennings was born in Lockport N.Y. in 1853.  When he was only 6 years old, his family moved to Cleveland.  When Charles was young, he worked on the family farm.   At the age of 13 years old, his family uprooted once again and moved to Buffalo, N.Y.  At that time, Charles got his first job at a dry good merchant named Barnes & Bancroft.  In 1872Dorthy Vernon Perfume 2 when Mr. Jennings was just 19, he moved to Grand Rapids, MI and started a partnership with his two brothers in the perfume, extract, and toilette business.  They named the business “Jennings Flavoring Extract Company”.  The business grew quickly and was manufacturing perfume lines such as “Lady Alice”, “Dorthy Vernon”, and “Ma Jolie”.  The products were made with such excellence and care that they were known as staples in refined homes throughout the USA.Lady Alice Perfume

In 1879, Mr. Jennings married Miss Sarah McConnell.   Sarah was from a distinguished Grand Rapids family. She was also the granddaughter of the late Judge Mundy who was an affluent and influential member of the City of Grand Rapids at the time.  Mrs. Sarah Jennings passed away only 10 years into their marriage in 1889.  She was survived by her two children; Charles W Jennings Jr., and Lenington M. Jennings.

In 1892, Mr. Jennings married again.  This time, he married Miss Irene Burt Hawley from his childhood town of Buffalo, N.Y.  Miss Hawley’s father, Lucian Hawley, was a prominent citizen of New York holding a top position at the United State Internal Revenue Service under the Grant presidential administration.  During the course of their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Jennings had 3 daughters.

Dorthy Vernon Perfume 1It is difficult to say exactly what may have attracted Mr. Jennings to the home at 426 Lafayette, but it would not be unfair to guess it was the location and prominence of the home.  The location provided Mr. Jennings easy access to downtown Grand Rapids where his business and many other of his activities were centered.  The home also boasted a stately exterior with a large front porch, and eye catching windows and elegant architecture.  The interior provided plenty of space and rooms for entertaining guests and out of town business contacts.  It also showcased beautiful ornate woodwork that was customary with large distinct homes of the era.

It is unclear as to why or when Mr. Jennings moved out and sold the home, but he passed away on January 10 1929 at a separate residence.  After the home left the hands of the Jennings family, it becomes significantly more difficult to trace the ownership.  While the details are sparse, we do know that at some point before 1960, the home was divided up into 4 apartment units.   Around 1970, an additional unit was added for a total of 5 apartments in the home.  During the 80’s and 90’s, the home fell into terrible disrepair.  Sometime before 1960, the large beautiful porch which can be seen in the 1936 assessor’s picture was hidden with an enclosed porch.  At the same time, the half-moon window at the peak of the home facing Lafayette, was covered up as well.  In 1993, a city housing inspector found a total of 72 housing code violations that included bad wiring, broken toilets, as well as walls and floors that were in different stages of disrepair.  In March of 1994, all repairs were reported as complete, but only a month later, the history of the home takes a very dark turn.


Part 2 coming soon…

Crafting My Life Away

Okay crafters, this one is for you!

One night while I was binge watching Netflix, and looking on Etsy for a house warming gift for my brother I found some wall-mounted bottle opener’s. They were all priced around the $40-$50 dollar range without the astronomical shipping costs. I looked at my cat and told him “pfshh… I can make that for cheaper!”

So the adventure begins!

First I looked on Amazon for a wall mounted bottle opener kit. I found this one for $17.99. Next I went to Michaels for some acrylic paint and paint brushes. If you go there make sure to look online for any coupons, they usually have some like these. Lastly I stopped by Lowes for the rest of my supplies. I grabbed some wood boards. I think I got 5in. x 2 ft., but get however big you want to make yours.  I also got some small wood boards to hold the pieces together. You will also need wood glue, sand paper and wood stain.



Time to create! First step is to lightly sand the boards. Next, it’s time to stain. I laid down a trash bag so I wouldn’t stain my driveway. After you stain them let them dry. I dried them over night to make sure they were dry enough.





Dry Overnight

Dry Overnigh

After they dry, it is time to glue them together. I applied the wood glue to the small wood boards and attached them to the larger ones like so…



Attach Boards

Attach Boards

You can use clamps or something really heavy to hold the pieces together while they dry. Once again, I let them dry over night.

Next, it’s time to add whatever design you want. My brother is a huge Michigan fan so I went with the University of Michigan logo. I free handed this but don’t be afraid to use a stencil if you have to.

Paint on Design

Paint on Design

After I let that dry, it was time to screw on the bottle opener and catch tray.

Screw on Bottle Opener and catch Tray

Screw on Bottle Opener and catch Tray

And then… Voila!


Wall Mounted Bottle Opener

The perfect combination of my two passions, crafts and beer.

Dog Gone-it


Our Lead Property Manager’s dog, Kiya.

For many people their dogs are their family. So why wouldn’t we want to treat them to the best in life? This blog is about all the best places to take your furry friend in and around Grand Rapids.


Our Marketing Agent’s dog, Diesel at Norman F Kruse Park.

Living downtown, not all of us have the luxury of a big yard for our dogs to run and play. If you are looking for a place where your dog can run and play with other dogs try one of these local dog parks. Hillcrest Dog Park, located on Lyon just East of Fuller, is an off- leash dog park with two areas, one for all dogs, and one specifically for our small friends who don’t like playing with the big kids.  Covell Dog Park is another off-leash park located on the NW side of GR. These dog parks are a great way to get your dog interacting with other dogs, just be sure to clean up after your pet!

Aman Bridge

Aman Bridge in Aman Park

Another great place to go is Aman Park off of Lake Michigan DR just outside of Grand Rapids. These  trails are great for hiking with your best friend. This is not a dog park, but is dog friendly, so your dog  must remain on a leash.  This park has six trails that range from. 8 to 1.5 miles. For those hot days where you just need to cool off  head to Norman F Kruse Park in Muskegon. This beach has a section specifically for dogs. The area for dogs is clearly marked. Dogs  are to be leashed when in the sand but are allowed to be off- leash when playing in the water. Dogs are also welcome at the Grand  Haven beach but must remain on a leash at all times.


Patio at The Mitten Brewery

After working off all that energy, you will need to refuel! Grand Rapids has many bars and restaurants that have patios that are okay  to bring your dog. The Mitten Brewery, Sundance Grille, Reserve Wine & Food, and Tavern on the Square all have dog- friendly  patios. At One Trick Pony on Fulton, they will bring your pup a water bowl and some marrow bone treats. So when you’re out  walking your dog and an incredible hunger over takes you, don’t fret, just hit up one of these patio’s and enjoy the day with your  best friend on four legs.

Next time you feel like treating yourself and your dog to some adventure check out these dog- friendly places for some fresh air and fine eats. Because everyone should benefit from the joys in life.

More Discounts Please!


8c2da41f077807ad3083055ac62c00a9After spending a month’s worth of rent on textbooks for this semester, I got to thinking about just how expensive college has become. According to collegedata.com, tuition alone can cost anywhere between $9,139 and $31,231, depending on the college you go to. This doesn’t even include housing, meals, supplies, books, or transportation. Add on another ten or fifteen grand and it’s no wonder where the stigma of college students only eating mac and cheese and Ramen Noodles comes from, because those are the only things that are still affordable!

My anxiety over being broke got me curious about what local businesses offer discounts to college students. So I did a little digging and found I didn’t have to dig too deep. Most colleges post about student discounts somewhere on their webpage, you just have to look for it. I found several lists of places that offer discounts, but seeing as these lists could be dated, I called some of the businesses to confirm. I stuck to businesses that were in Grand Rapids and things that I, a poor college student, could appreciate.

cherrystreetdeli Some of the discounts I knew about, but some of them I found surprising. Let’s start with where to eat, because I’ll  be  honest, I’m snacking as I write this. There were a few local restaurants like Brandywine, Cherry Deli, and San  Chez, who all  offer 10% off with a valid student I.D. Malamiah Juice Bar located in the Downtown Market also  offers 10 % off for  students. It’s nice to get out and have a meal that doesn’t come out of a box every once in a  while. So next time you are  leering at the ravioli left in your cupboard, just grab your I.D. and hit up one of these  places instead.

 If you are looking for something to do besides binge watching Netflix all day you could put pants on and go to one of these attractions. Immerse yourself in culture and check out Grand Rapids Public Museum, they offer $3 general admission tickets for students. Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park also has student rates at $9.00 for admission tickets. Or try Celebration Cinema, tickets for students are $8.50 instead of the normal $11.00, money better spent on popcorn and candy. Want something a little more active? Grab some friends and go to Wengers Bowl on Leonard, they offer $2.00 games and $2.00 shoe rental for students. For those low prices it’ll be worth leaving the house.5615424548_03bc194c9d_z_zpsc87d17cf

I did find some businesses that I never knew offered discounts. CPR Cell Phone Repair offer’s 15% off of labor for students with broken cellphones. So when you drop your phone while you were laden down with all your textbooks, keep them in mind. Another great find was that Russ’s Garage offers 10% off repairs, maintenance, and oil changes! I’m really excited about that one because my car needed an oil change about 3,000 miles ago. If you look at their site, it only says the discount is for GVSU students, but I called them and they said it applies for all students if they show a valid I.D.

Scrabble-Save Make sure you have your student I.D. with you though, all the discounts I  mentioned are only valid with a student I.D. Also check out your school’s student section to find more discounts.  There are a lot of discounts out there for students, so take advantage of them and go enjoy life!