Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Postcard: Now-vanished motor court with amazing chimney

This linen postcard, mailed in 1947, features the Grande Vista Motor Court and Gardens, which was located six miles south of St. Joseph, Michigan, on U.S. 12.1 The pre-printed text on the back of the card states: "At GRANDE VISTA MOTOR COURT, you will find cleanliness the keynote. Everything is spic and span at all times so you may thoroughly enjoy your stay midst restful surroundings and healthy environment."

The motor court has an interesting history. It was constructed and operated by a nearby religious community called The Israelite House of David (also known as The House of David or, presently, Mary's City of David).2

The lodge/resort — "motor court" was perhaps too modest of a title — cost $150,000 to construct in 1935 and featured a theater, ballroom, restaurant, bar, "plush accommodations" and gasoline station. The stone chimney that serves as the centerpiece of the postcard image was three stories high.

The chimney came down about 16 years ago, according to a July 2000 article in The Herald-Palladium headlined "Spectacular Grande Vista chimney to be demolished." Here's an excerpt of that piece by William F. Ast III:
STEVENSVILLE -- From a distance, the three-story fireplace chimney at the dilapidated Grande Vista East Court building is handsome enough, if not spectacular.

Seen up close, the structure can make one's jaw drop. The chimney, built by the House of David, is made up enormous crystals and geodes and large chunks of petrified wood.

The chimney, along with the run-down and abandoned wood building it once served, is about to disappear into the annals of history. The building is due to be destroyed in a controlled burn by the Tri-Unit Fire Department, and the chimney will be demolished.

The building is "50 years beyond redemption," Lincoln Township Supervisor Kevin Gillette said. "The chimney itself won't be saved. There's no way to save the chimney apart from the structure."

The main building on the west side of the complex burned decades ago, and the building on the east side hasn't been used in decades, Gillette said.

"It's a shame it got to this point," Gillette said. But the only way the chimney could be salvaged would be to reassemble the stones once they are knocked down, he said.
The rest of the article delves into the history of the motor court and the construction of the mighty chimney.

The site of the former Grande Vista Motor Court and Gardens is in the process of returning to wilderness, according to an eyewitness, though some artifacts remain.

To wrap things up, the postcard was postmarked in July 1947 and mailed to a woman at the Ferrara Candy Company in Chicago. The note states:
Dear Pauline:
We read that it has been hot in town. It's been cool every day here except last Saturday, but we are having a good time. Regards from Donald & Sue.

1. U.S. 12 runs from Washington state to Detroit, but has long since been replaced by newer highways and routes. There is a US-12 Heritage Trail running for about 200 miles in Michigan.
2. If you are interested in this topic, you might want to check out a 1994 article titled "The Last Days of the House of David" by Adam Langer. There's also a 1970 Sports Illustrated article by Jerry Kirshenbaum about the hairiest baseball team of all-time — sports were a major part of the House of David's philosophy.

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