F.C. Larsen’s Store

 In November 1913, fire destroyed F.C. Larsen’s Store on the corner of River and Greenbush.

In November 1913, fire destroyed F.C. Larsen’s Store on the corner of River and Greenbush.

During the late 19th Century and for much of the early 1900s, the name Larsen had become associated with quality merchandise throughout Manistee.

In November 1913, a large fire destroyed the entire building occupied by F.C. Larsen’s department store on the corner of River and Greenbush streets. While the ornate structure, which was distinguished by its unique clock tower, was considered a landmark building, a new structure would later take its place therefore ensuring Larsen’s continual occupancy of a commercial building on River Street.

Born in Denmark, F.C. Larsen came to the United States in 1855 and grew up in Milwaukee. Ten years later the family moved to Ludington and in 1868 eventually found their way to Manistee. F.C. went into business with his two brothers in a second hand store which later grew into a larger general store operation.

In the early 1880s, the Larsen brothers began occupying, and later purchased, the large, three-story building on the corner of River and Greenbush streets and roughly three years later, F.C. became sole proprietor of the business which included various departments such as: dry goods, clothing, hardware, crockery, glassware, coal, groceries, and rugs.

Articles describing the Larsen’s building on the corner of River and Greenbush were published in two local newspapers and suggested that the building was one of the oldest in the city. According to the Manistee Daily News, “The oldest portion (of Larsen’s Store), which lies at the west, was formerly an armory and was one of Manistee’s oldest buildings. Its walls were wooden, but were veneered with brick when Larsen made an addition. Similarly, the Manistee Daily Advocate described the building, “The east half of the building was built by Horace Taber in 1881. The first floor was then used by the Larsen Brothers and the second floor as an armory, the Manistee Light Guards having headquarters there for many years. As the business grew the soldiers were forced out and the second floor was used by the Larsens or F.C. Larsen.”

While the building itself was an imposing structure, in 1900, Larsen decided to extensively alter the River Street front of his building to make room for more window display space. During that same time, Larsen also decided to install a tower clock made by well-known, local clock maker (and all around renaissance man) Nels Johnson. On Oct 2, 1900, after about a month of work, the tower clock was striking on the hour on top of Larsen’s Store. An article published in the Manistee Daily News provides details on the clock:

“F.C. Larsen’s new clock built by Nels Johnson began to indicate time at two o’clock this afternoon and struck the hour for the first time at four o’clock. It is a great improvement to the appearance of the street and must surely prove to be an excellent investment.

“The machinery is located on the floor and is a remarkably beautiful piece of workmanship reflecting the highest credit on its maker. It will be encased in glass for protection from dust and so forth. The tower being in the form of a pentagon it was necessary that a number of universal joints should be used in imparting the movement to the hands. These have constructed and adjusting with the utmost accuracy by Mr. Johnson. The instrument is a fine acquisition both to Mr. Larsen and to the City of Manistee.”

As the clock continued to tick away and as the years passed, Larsen continued to do a brisk business out of the same building. However, tragedy struck on the morning of November 15, 1913 when fire began in the basement of the building and quickly spread its way through the entire structure. Details surrounding the events of that morning were described in an article published in the Manistee Daily Advocate later that afternoon:

“At 3 o’clock this morning the inhabitants were greatly startled by the great volumes of smoke issuing from F.C. Larsen’s big department store on the corner of River and Greenbush streets. The fire alarm was turned in and the fire department made a hasty run for the store, but before the flames could be checked the mammoth 3 story building and its contents were consumed. Chief Scott stationed the fire engine at the corner of River and Poplar streets and turned on five streams of water, which were kept until 9 o’clock before the flames could be subdued.

“The building burned furiously notwithstanding all the streams of water were pouring in on the flames. The Johnson tower clock which had informed had informed the public many years of the correct time of day or night fell in about 6 o’clock and then the walls began to tumble in. The walls fell both ways at the northeast corner into the street into the building. Two or three men barely escaped being injured when the walls fell in. The fire is said to have caught in the basement. Mr. Larsen was awakened by the presence of smoke in his home which came thru pipes from the store. When he reached the store the front window in the clothing department was ablaze and from the appearance there it looked as though the flames be quickly subdued. It just simply burned with all those streams plying until the building was completely consumed. It was a big double three story building.

“The first floor was used on the west half for dry goods and millinery departments and on the east side for clothing and shoe departments. The second floor was used for a grocery, crockery, china, and hardware departments and a meat department in the new addition to the building. The third story was used as a furniture and carpet department. The fire communicated to the basements of the Fanatorium and the adjoining building. The fire fighters were kept at this point for several hours endeavoring to extinguish the blaze which had gained considerable headway before they knew that the fire had gotten in the basement of the building. The loss is estimated at between $60,000 and $70,000 and is insured at between $45,000 and $50,000. Mr. Larsen employed between 35 and 40 persons in his mammoth store. Mr. Larsen will probably rebuild as soon as the insurance is adjusted.

“An explosion took place when one of the radiators exploded. Pieces of the radiators flew through the basement window of the Pearl Hotel and also through the south east show window of Harry J. Aaron’s mammoth store building. A window in the third story was also broken. The firemen were served at lunch from the Pearl Hotel at 9 o’clock, consisting of hot coffee and sandwiches. It is needless to say the firefighters enjoyed the lunch.

“The handsome big clock which graced the tower over the big building has had rather a variating career. In 1893 it tolled off the time to the millions who attended the great world’s fair in Chicago, being at that time in the Michigan building, and will be remembered by many who attended the fair. This morning at five o’clock while the big dials were being licked b the furious flames, it struck the hour of six and immediately tumbled into the ruins with the tower. The clock will be missed by the people of this city.

“Enough water has been poured into the ruins to float the Illinois, said a swarthy fireman who was laboring with the heavy hose, but the first is a stubborn one and may require as much more before it is checked.”

In March of 1914, F.C. Larsen reopened his business in two buildings located at 347 and 349 River Street. Additionally, he continued to operate his wholesale grocery store out of a building that he had previously constructed on Filer Street. In late 1914, Larsen announced plans to build a new three story building on the site of his old department store.

By the late summer of the following year, Larsen’s new store was completed and for the next several years he continued to operate out of that location. Over the years the building has been home to several businesses including: Warren Graves Furniture Store, A & P Grocery Store, and Manistee Quality Department Store. In the early 1980s, Jackpine Business Center began operating out of the second level of the building and continues to do so today.

 

Leave a Reply