From the Archives: Michigan Tech's Newest/Oldest Building
by Erik Nordberg
Michigan Tech completed work last fall converting an office building on the downtown Houghton waterfront into its new Lakeshore Center. Most locals know the structure as the UPPCO Building, due to its most recent tenant, the Upper Peninsula Power Company.
The University and the Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation (MTEC) SmartZone received a $3.02 million federal Economic Development grant for the project. The Lakeshore Center will see varied use: the ground floor will house MTEC, while the second and third floors will see Michigan Tech's research and human resources departments and a number of private and governmental tenants.
Yet during the renovations, passersby were alerted to some clues about the building's origins. As exterior window panels were removed, one could clearly see the word "fruit" stenciled on the underlying surface, revealing the building's former use as a waterfront food storage warehouse.
Early records indicate that portions of the building may have been constructed as early as the late 1890s as a warehouse for Graham Pope, a local merchant who operated several stores in the area. The historical record is somewhat murky on the details, however, and it is possible that Pope's building was an earlier wooden construction which was completely replaced. Other documents verify a transfer of ownership to the Peninsula Grocery Company in 1902. Fire insurance maps for 1908 show a smaller building covering only a single waterfront city lot; by 1917 it had enlarged to cover the four city lots it currently occupies.
Regardless of the exact date of construction, these bits of data confirm that the building will not only be Tech's newest building, but also one of its oldest. Many earlier structures have made way for the campus's "high rise" buildings erected in the 1970s. The two oldest remaining campus buildings are the ROTC Building, opened in 1906 as the Club House and Gymnasium, and the Academic Offices building, completed in 1908 as the Administration and Library building.
Meanwhile, back to our waterfront building. In 1928, the warehouse changed owners and was used for many decades by the Cohodas-Paoli Company, a wholesale marketer of fruits and vegetables. The building suffered a fire in 1935, but following renovations it continued to serve as the Copper Country warehouse for Cohodas-Paoli's food-distribution network serving the Lake Superior region.
In addition to managing the warehouse, the company also operated an active dock frontage adjacent to the building, assisting with the transloading of deliveries between lake boats, railroad cars, and other modes of local delivery. Many seasoned alumni may associate the Cohodas-Paoli dock with the comings and goings of passenger ships such as the SS South American.
In the late 1980s, the city of Houghton acquired the building from Cohodas-Paoli in hopes of finding a civic use for this significant waterfront property. The Upper Peninsula Power Company agreed to purchase and renovate the building, and in 1991 the building was opened for use as UPPCO's office headquarters, with additional commercial tenants renting space in the renovated warehouse.
Michigan Tech, who had rented space in the building in the 1990s, finalized its purchase of the facility from UPPCO in February 2008.
Perhaps in a nod to its fruit and vegetable roots, Michigan Tech's renovation of the building will transform it appropriately for the new "green" century. The building was certified through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program by the US Green Building Council. The project received marks for its new white roof, water-saving fixtures, energy-efficient windows, and improvements to heat pumps. Materials were scavenged during the initial demolition and recycled for re-use in the project rather than shipping to a landfill. It's great to see Michigan Tech is breathing new life into this building as its Lakeshore Center, and is equally gratifying to know that under the new exterior will lurk one of the city's most historic structures.