Ghosts of Main Street: The Wangen Block

November 29, 2018

By Julie Traynor
Correspondent

The year’s biggest shopping season is upon us and the folks in Marion, Michigan have Local groceries stocked up on extra candies and other seasonal treats such as oysters, oranges and bananas. The latest fashion trends and household items were on display at Dryer’s. Corwin’s windows, for years the largest display space in the village, used a fake fireplace and Christmas tree to present their ample wares. Almost anything you wanted to get for mom or sweetheart could be had at Corwin’s.
 
Several things have remained fairly certain in our town, or at least were so for a very long time, generations in fact. Folks could always count on the Lowry Store for groceries, the Marion Produce Co. for animal feeds and coal, and the Corwin Cash Store among others, for everything else. These long standing businesses have passed into memory, some not even leaving a store front by which to be remembered…but some have.

F.M. White General Merchandise, The Rexall Store and Struble Hardware, note the line of cultivators sitting at the curb.  This was Main Street in 1917. The rows of small windows below the large windows on either side of the double doors gave light to the cellars below and accessed from the rear. 

F.M. White General Merchandise, The Rexall Store and Struble Hardware, note the line of cultivators sitting at the curb.  This was Main Street in 1917. The rows of small windows below the large windows on either side of the double doors gave light to the cellars below and accessed from the rear. 

The first four store fronts at the northeast corner of Main and Mill Streets, at the heart of Marion, have proven to be versatile survivors. Known as the Wangen Block for owner and builder P.J. Wangen, and was called such as long as residents remembered him. The four business spaces were built as one large building, divided into four sections, each identical down to the ‘front’ on Main Street, with the exception of the corner store which had an additional side entrance on Mill Street.
The Wangen Block came to be, as many Main Street buildings did, as the result of one of the devastating fires which changed the face of old Marion. It was the Great Fire of 1904 which took out Wangen’s original two-story, double store front building. Wangen pulled success from the ashes, quickly replacing his losses with four new business spaces which were quickly rented. By 1910 Wangen sold the Block to William Johnston, father-in-law of F.M. White who operated a General Merchandise business in the Block. White would become the longtime owner of the Wangen Block by 1920.

White’s General Merchandise and grocery business held the prominent corner store slot. The second door belonged to Central Drug, eventually Conklin’s Drug Store, and by 1936, VanDeWarker’s Drugs. It was later Bissland’s and last, the Marion Pharmacy.

The third door belonged to the Struble Hardware through WWI and into the 1920’s, when the Struble’s sold their business, Carland Street home and left town. Struble carried all of the usual hardware and appliances of the times, cook stoves and heaters. Seasonal wares, such as garden cultivators and reel lawn mowers; snow shovels and sleds, were displayed on the sidewalk. When Struble left, the third store front became the longtime home to the Marion Press and its commercial printing business. The Press occupied that space until 1953 when a new office was built directly across the street.

The fourth door, hosted a number of businesses through the years, including the Budweiser Saloon, a bakery and diner. It was occupied by a Gamble’s Store, franchised by Leo Quast, in the 1930’s. Quast offered a full line of household goods and appliances which included refrigerators and wringer washing machines. He too displayed goods on the sidewalk, an old tradition.  From the late 1940’s through the 1970’s it was home to Sible’s Hardware, owned by Don and Esther Sible. The Sible’s eventually expanded their business to include the former Press building. They, like other long occupants of these rented store fronts, eventually purchased their buildings from Frank White.

Today we all know the Wangen Block. The four doors have been individually owned for many years and are remembered by their former owners/occupants. White’s Store now serves as the local meal site, owned by the Council on Aging.
11-30-18 Ghots of Main F.M. White, Rexall, Struble Hdwe 1917
After spending all of its years as a pharmacy, the old Van’s Drugs now serves as a thrift store operated by Friends Ministry.  Door number three, the long time Marion Press, stood vacant for a number of years, as did Sible’s. They were rescued by the defunct Marion DDA and now door number three is home to the Marion offices of Dynamic Physical Therapy. Door four was most recently used by the Health Department.

If walls could talk, the Wangen Block would have a lot to tell; and if remodeling could be undone, store front work and canopies removed, we would still find pieces of tin and ghosts of the Wangen Block.. The Wangen Block marks 114 years next spring.  



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