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Frank B. Lay House

Left: Picturesque Kalamazoo, 1909, page 60
Right: Photo by Alex Forist, 18 April 2006
  • Location: 523 West South Street, Kalamazoo
  • Survey ID: R-3
  • Designation: Frank B. Lay House
  • Date: 1908-1909
  • Style: Tudor

The following material is from the 1973 Initial Inventory of Historic Sites and Buildings in Kalamazoo and was made available for use here by the Historic Preservation Coordinator of the City of Kalamazoo. See Introduction to an Initial Inventory for details about how the survey was conducted.

A rush of new buildings changed the face of staid old South Street at its junction with Westnedge. Dallas Boudeman finished the Georgian-Colonial house at 515 South in 1905. James F. and Carrie Gilmore were preparing to move into their English Tudor home in the fall of 1908. In the same year, carpenters worked on Frank Lay's stucco and half-timber mansion across the street. Fronting end-on to the street, the Lay home appears more modest than its actual size. It served the Lays and their children for a quarter of a century, but couldn't long survive as a single-family dwelling and was soon cut into eleven apartments, 

The Lays chose to build in the popular English Tudor style of the day, as had the Gilmores the year before and as would the Kirbys at 708 West South in 1911. Popular all over the country and suited to many income-levels, this style could be tied to the Anglo-Saxon past, to the simple country life so many suburbanites were seeking, or simply to the love of dark oak and rough plaster associated with more romantic days. 

Frank B. Lay, for whom Lay Boulevard was named, could rank both as a pioneer and also as a successful business leader. Born in Allegan County in 1856, he graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1878, married Mary Belle Barclay of Allegan a year later, and came to Kalamazoo in 1883. He and his young family took up residence on Elm Street, and Lay joined his father and his brother-in-law, M. H. Lane, in establishing the "Michigan Buggy Company". The Kalamazoo Telegraph Trade Edition for 1887 declared that the new company was already the largest in the state, employing two hundred forty men and turning out some eighteen thousand vehicles valued at three-quarters of a million dollars annually. The company continued to expand at its sprawling quarters on Willard Street for a number of years. In 1909, when Lay and his family moved to their Tudor mansion on South Street, the firm produced some twelve thousand buggies and eight thousand sleighs. 

Lay became President of the company three years later and listed its capital at $300,000. But changes were in the wind. A venture into auto-making begun in 1909 with the "Michigan" and continued in 1913 with the "Mighty Michigan" was not a lasting success. The 1914 city directory discontinued all listing for the company. Lay credited himself with no specific occupation in the next few years. After World War I, however, he became the proprietor of the Great Western Auto Parts Company; he added to this a garage and auto dealership by 1921 which he continued until about 1924. Local directories listed no further occupation until his death in 1933. Vacant in the late 'thirties, the Lay mansion had become by 1942 the "West South Apartments."

Lay had shown an early interest in Kalamazoo's fashionable hobby - horse raising. When he first moved into the South Street home, he had already been raising Shetlands at the Riverside Pony Farm he owned with Henry Lane (averaging more than two hundred head). Later he took over the management of Hillcrest Farms, the family homestead in Allegan County, and spent much of the last years raising blooded stock. His father, George Lay, who had come to Allegan in 1843, became a successful lumberman and built the family holdings to more than a thousand acres in Monterey township. Frank Lay continued to breed carriage and track horses there, including a number of trotters with marks better than 2:10.  

Kalamazoo County Tax Rolls:

1909 Frank Lay on Elm, 82 1/2' beginning 99' s. Kal. Ave. W. side    4800  
1909 Frank B. and Mary Lay W 4R of N 9R lot 2, sec. 16           7500  (1000, auto)  
1910 same two properties at 4800 and 8800, no auto  
1911 Frank B. and Mary Lay W 4R of N 9R lot 2  8800  
1912 same lot at 8800 but revised to "land, 4000; bldg 15000"  auto, 1200; Frank Lay, Jr. same address, auto, 1200  

Kalamazoo City Directory:

1908 Frank B. Lay (Mary B) 309 Elm. VP & Treas. Michigan Buggy Co.  
1909 Frank B. Lay (Mary B) 521 W. South same   
1910-1911 same
1912 same but Lay now Pres. Michigan Buggy Co.  
1913 same but Frank Lay, Jr. now VP, Michigan Buggy Co.
1914 No Michigan Buggy Co. listed in directory
1916 Frank Lay (Mary) no occupation; Evelyn & Robert Lay, students  
1917 same
1919 same but no students and Frank Lay propr. Great Western Auto  Parts Co. 121 Portage  
1921 F.B. Lay (Mary); Propr. Great Western Automobile Parts Co.;  E. Main Street Garage; Argo Motor Co.; Ross Automobile Co.;  Lambert Gas Engine Co.; and Automobile Liquidation Co.  
1922 same but add to above Phenix Truck Co.  
1924 F.B. Lay (Mary B.) 521 W. South, No occup. (No Great Western listed)  
1926 same
1934 Mrs. Mary B. Lay (widow of Frank) 523 W. South  
1935 Mrs. Ethel Crofoot (widow of Jay M.) 523 W. South  
1937 vacant
1939 vacant

West South Apartments

This report was converted from a typewritten document to a digital text document in September 2004. Other than punctuation and spelling corrections, and the addition of BOLD type site address and names, no changes were made. Minor formatting changes were made for use on this website, but the text was not altered. Original survey dated 1973.


History Room Subject File

Houses - Kalamazoo - South, W., 523


Kalamazoo: Nineteenth-Century Homes in a Midwestern Village

  • Schmitt, Peter J.
  • Kalamazoo City Historical Commission, 1976, pages 224-225
  • H 720.9774 S355