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Staff Picks- Historical Downtown Walking Tour

Posted on June 10th, 2015



Have a couple of hours to kill? Looking for an inexpensive way to spend some time outside on the weekend? Our staff member Cam recommends heading downtown for a self-guided walking tour through some of the most historical landmarks in Kalamazoo.

Don’t forget to stop for a quick bite or a beverage to quench your thirst along the way!


I like to day dream and I enjoy historical architecture. So when I can, I take a walking tour of downtown Kalamazoo. I can spend an hour or all day. Each time I walk these routes, I still find something I didn’t see or think about before.   If these beautiful old buildings could talk, I would be listening.



312 W Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49007
(269) 341-4100


The Morning Skillet from Studio Grille Photo credit http://goo.gl/WHcH2c
















If I go in the morning, I like to start out at the Studio Grill. Their breakfast menu is extensive, including vegan and vegetarian dishes. My personal favorite is the Morning Skillet – an open-faced omelet with sausage, American fries, sausage gravy and melted Cheddar cheese. They’re also known for their stuffed burgers and Hudsonville ice cream. You can check out the full menu at www.studiogrillkalamazoo.com.




Across the street is the First Baptist Church. It’s the oldest church in Kalamazoo County, built in 1853, and was known as THE ‘town clock’ as many residents did not own a time piece. I get to thinking about Sunday services and who attended over the years. The church currently hosts All Ears Theatre which performs radio programs for live audiences (free of charge). Their schedule can be found at www.kalamazooarts.org.




Photo credit- ww.michiganmodern.org


Adjacent is Bronson Park. This park has provided a meeting place for public gatherings, a setting for monuments and a shady spot to rest, relax and people watch for over 150 years. Abraham Lincoln spoke here. How did he get here, where did he stay? “The Fountain of the Pioneers” has been in the park since 1940. It’s a fascinating piece of work. I wonder who hired Alfonso Iannelli to design it?




The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre

Across from the park is the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre which was built in 1932. It was financed by Dr. William Upjohn in hopes of keeping his daughter from moving to New York City to perform on Broadway. Did she stay or move to New York anyway? The Civic has been in producing plays in this stunning theatre for over 80 years. Learn more at www.kazoocivic.com.



gilmores burdick 2

The Gilmore Brother’s Department store in 1959. Today it is the location of The Union Cabaret & Grille.

The "Hail Mary" Bloody Mary at The Union Photo credit http://goo.gl/tgx2xq

The “Hail Mary” Bloody Mary at The Union Photo credit http://goo.gl/tgx2xq

I head past the City Hall, back through the park by the County Building, to the Union Cabaret & Grille for one of the best Bloody Marys in town. (The Union was originally a part of the former Gilmore’s Department Store.)

Creators of The Union partnered with Western Michigan University to integrate and extend the campus to the downtown area. The site houses a lot of Kalamazoo and WMU heritage in its décor.

There is brick and wood from old campus buildings. The stage (there is live music every Thursday thru Sunday) was designed with the help of the WMU’s School of Music.

This venue provides music, conversation and great food. When you come, you must try their Gumbo and Portabello Fries. You can read all about The Union, and review the menu, at www.millenniumrestaurants.com/union.












Kalamazoo’s first skyscraper represented the hopes and dreams for a prosperous future held by the city’s citizenry. The sender of this 1907 postcard wrote to a friend: “A picture of the nine story building to show you what Kalamazoo is getting to be.”


The Kalamazoo Building today.













Leaving The Union, I pass the Kalamazoo Building. It was Kalamazoo’s first skyscraper which was built in 1907. It has housed many tenants through the years, primarily banks but also a cigar store; law, dental and doctor offices; and a photography studio. I wonder what happened to the owner of the cigar store? Who sat for the photographer? What did the city workers and residents think of their new ‘skyscraper’?




There are so many routes and so much history to discover. Take your time to day dream and enjoy the experience. Go to www.DiscoverKalamazoo.com to download the three walking tours available. You can see the buildings and learn about their fascinating histories.  View the official Kalamazoo Dining Guide to match your taste in food and drink with your walking tour route. You may also download it here.