Old Fire Hall to be Restored as Off-campus Student Center, Public Entertainment Venue

By Jennifer Donovan | Published

The old fire Hall in downtown Houghton will be restored
The old fire Hall in downtown Houghton will be restored

Michigan Technological University students and people from the Copper Country soon will have a new place to congregate and socialize: the old Fire Hall in downtown Houghton.

Michigan Technological University has sold the historic building to Jonathan Julien and partners Adam and Thomas Yeoman. Julien’s firm, LJJ Construction, will do the renovations.

The Fire Hall houses the first classroom used by Michigan Tech briefly just after it opened as the Michigan Mining School in 1885.  The purchasers of the building intend to restore the exterior of the downtown landmark to its original appearance and to use the exterior architectural theme in finishing touches throughout the interior.

“We want this building to preserve its rich history, as well as serve the public,” said Julien. He and his partners plan to turn the Fire Hall into an off-campus student center and public entertainment venue. The renovated building will include quiet areas for study during the day, a venue for performances with a state-of-the-art lighting and sound system, and a bar at night with dry zones so that students of all ages can come there.

“Michigan Tech recognizes and values the historical significance of the Fire Hall,” said President Glenn D. Mroz. “When Jon, Adam and Thomas came along with a plan to renovate it for the benefit of Michigan Tech students, it seemed like a practical way to restore the building and provide additional student gathering space in the downtown area without the University having to invest in the project.

“This will be a real plus for students who live near downtown,” he added.

Julien said he and his partners have always been interested in the old Fire Hall, and “as a community, we have a vested interest in attracting people downtown and giving them a reason to come back,” he explained. “A good way to do that is to provide more diverse entertainment downtown and attract Michigan Tech students.”

LJJ Construction hopes to have the building open by the time students return in the fall. Once renovation is complete, the partners plan to bring in bands, comedians and other types of entertainers—“whatever the public wants,” Julien said.

The Fire Hall was built in 1883 as the Continental Fire Company Building, believed to be the oldest volunteer fire department in the UP.  The structure housed horses in the basement, fire engines on the main floor, and village offices and the predecessor of Michigan Tech on the second floor.

In the early 1900s, the building expanded to the west and north, to accommodate more fire engines and to provide storage for the winter hay and oats needed for the horses. By then, Michigan Tech was holding classes elsewhere.

A new city fire hall was built on Sharon Avenue in 1974, and in 1978, Michigan Tech purchased the old Fire Hall from the city. It has been used primarily for storage ever since.

“We are pleased that this important piece of our Michigan Tech and Houghton heritage will not only be preserved, but used to benefit our students and the community,” said Mroz.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.