The 89th Annual Hollyhock Lane 4th of July Parade

Once a year on the Fourth of July, the alley between Calvin Avenue and Giddings Avenue in Grand Rapids, Michigan, comes to life as Hollyhock Lane, the end point of the Hollyhock Lane Parade. Begun in 1934, the parade is the oldest continuous Independence Day parade in Michigan. It is a neighborhood event begun “to Instill Patriotism” and “to Promote Neighborliness.” Although receiving support from the City of Grand Rapids and the Ottawa Hills Neighborhood Association, the parade is organized by volunteers who go door-to-door for contributions and work to continue the tradition.

The parade winds along three streets in the Ottawa Hills neighborhood. Neighbors bring out their lawn chairs and children wait to catch candy. A neighborhood band organizes itself every year to march in the parade and children volunteer to fill the coveted roles of the Spirit of 76 (the flag-bearer, drummer and fife player), Miss Liberty, and Uncle Sam. Several adults who have been Uncle Sam or Miss Liberty in the past return each year to watch the parade.

This not being an election year, the parade was without the scrum of politicians that shows up in even years. But among the participants in the parade were our Representative in Congress, Hillary Scholten, and the Majority Leader in the Michigan State Senate, Winnie Brinks. But both participated as members of the neighborhood, not as candidates for office. Also among the parade participants was the Grand Rapids Chief of Police, Eric Winstrom.

The Hollyhock Lane Parade doesn’t just peter out when the last police patrol car brings up the rear. As they do every year, neighbors turned off Giddings Avenue into an alley decorated with flags and bunting and gathered behind 847 Giddings Avenue to sing patriotic songs and listen to an honored speaker.

Elgin Vines and Company entertained the gathering crowd.

Once the crowd was assembled, the Master of Ceremonies opened the program, inviting the Spirit of 76 to raise the flag.

The Reverend Rebecca Jordan Heys, of Calvary Christian Reformed Church, led group in prayer.

Then the Master of Ceremonies introduced the keynote speaker, Mary Esther Lee, who for years helped organize the parade. Ms. Lee spoke about the ties that bind the neighborhood together. She recounted the story of having moved into the neighborhood in the 1970s not knowing that her backyard was the focal point of activities on the Fourth of July. “Why do you think there was a flagpole in your backyard by the alley,” her neighbors asked. Ms. Lee embraced the parade, joining the planning committee the next year and leading the ceremony for many years.

The program ended with the singing of The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America and the presentation of awards to children who competed in the float competition. The floats were judged and awards were presented by the family of Congresswoman Scholten, a role her family has filled for a number of years before she was elected to Congress.

The winner of the of the award for the patriotic float was “American Shark.”

The float was created by a young boy from New York City. He was here visiting his grandmother. “My mom grew up in this neighborhood,” he told me after the ceremony. And his mother was in the parade back then. Perhaps that helps to understand what makes the Hollyhock Lane Parade so special. For generations it has brought neighbors together to commemorate our country’s independence, to say the pledge and sing our nation’s anthems, to celebrate community and civic spirit, and to teach our children the importance of it all.

A New Work by Plensa in Grand Rapids

Jaume Plensa is a Spanish artist noted for his public sculpture. Visitors to Chicago have likely seen his Crown Fountain, the spitting fountain in Millennium Park. The Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has two works by Plensa and has commissioned yet another for its new entry way.

The DeVos family also commissioned a sculpture by Plensa, which was installed this week in downtown Grand Rapids. I have not been able to learn its name yet. I took some photos this morning.

Update: According to Experience Grand Rapids, the sculpture is named, “The Four Elements.” The sculpture uses letters, characters and element symbols to represent air, water fire and earth and signifies the diverse characteristics that bring people together to form a single human race.

Slowing down

One of my colleagues encouraged me to join 52 Frames, a weekly photo challenge. This week’s challenge is “slow shutter.” I decided to go very slow, using a “Big Stopper” filter for my camera. The Big Stopper is a dark piece of glass that is the equivalent 10 stops. It allows me to have the shutter open for an extended period of time, even in broad daylight, which has the effect of smoothing flowing water.

For the challenge I set up along the Grand River, at the Sixth Street Bridge across from Riverview Center. Shooting normally, the shutter length was just 1/40 second.

17mm, f/11 at 1/40 second

Using the “Little Stopper” filter that is the equivalent of six stops, I was able to take a 25 second exposure, smoothing out the river and catching the reflection of the clouds.

17mm, f/11 at 25 seconds.

While this makes a lovely photograph, I decided to try something different. I used the Big Stopper, enabling me to take an even longer exposure of 40 seconds. While the shutter was open, I slowly zoomed in from 17mm to 40mm, which produced this photograph.

f/11 at 40 seconds.

I quite liked the results and tried the same technique downstream, photographing the Plante Moran building that overlooks the Sixth Street Dam.

f/11 at 30 seconds
f/11 at 30 seconds

The results are interesting, I think, and worth further exploration

The Message

On the afternoon of Saturday, May 30, peaceful protesters met in Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids and marched in silence to protest the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.  Their message of outrage was clear.  As night fell, a different crowd took to the streets and the evening turned violent as rioters smashed the windows of downtown businesses, burned police cars and caused other mayhem.

The following morning, volunteers from the community came downtown and cleaned up the mess leaving, behind boarded up businesses. Most of the business remain covered in plywood.  But, the plywood has become a canvas for artists to send a message to the community about racism, redemption, and Black Lives Matter.

Someday soon, the plywood will come down, replaced by glass. The artwork will be auctioned off.  While it is wonderful that the artwork will be preserved, it may lose some of its impact when it no longer appears together.  So today I walked around downtown today to capture these photos.  (Click on an image to see it larger.)





Venturing out while hunkering down

My wife and I are hunkered down, both working from home, doing our best to stay away from the Covid-19 virus.  Of course, it is important to get out of the house.  We have each been taking walks alone and together. Fortunately, the last few days have been dry and bright.  The last couple of mornings, I have gotten out early before the world gets going to shoot some photos.

Yesterday, I drove around the city of Grand Rapids looking for a composition.  I decided to shoot the Chester Street Engine House, home of Company 11.  I drive by the station each evening on my way home from work and have frequently and have admired often.


Constructed in 1902, the Chester Street Engine House is the oldest active fire station in Grand Rapids.  The building is designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, popular in the late 1800s.  The Grand Rapids Historical Commission’s website, describes it as follows: “Design characteristics are: asymmetrical massing; a decorative wall texture created by the brickwork, variegated on the first floor and smooth on the second; the row of wide, round-arch (Romanesque) windows, as well as the double-hung windows with (not quite) transom windows above.  Although the dormer is quite typical, the wide, over-hanging eaves of the roof give it an almost Prairie style look.”



My morning wanderings also took me to Grand Rapids’s southwest side where I spotted several spiral fire escapes.  These are still fairly common on older Grand Rapids buildings. The spiral stairs made for an interesting bit of shadow play, reminding me of a Möbius strip.


This morning, I drove through the country to Fallasburg Village, north of Lowell, which was founded on the banks of the Flat River in the 1830s  by John Wesley Fallass.  The Village, which today consists of a few preserved buildings and some private homes, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. More information about Fallasburg can be found on the website of the Fallasburg Historical Society.

I focused my attention this morning on the Fallass Barn with its stone foundation, built in 1894.





Winter at the Sixth Street Dam

Winter has been pretty tame here in West Michigan.  Yesterday morning, though, we had a good burst of snow that gave us a few inches and made for a productive photo shoot at the Sixth Street Dam.  The first dam in the location was built of stone, gravel, logs and brush in 1844. It was replaced by a wooden dam in 1866, constructed by the Water Power Company.  As factories along the river diverted water for their uses, the flow of the river diminished and the water became more and more polluted.  The dam was replaced by the current dam in the 1920s, as part of a beautification project.  Plans are underway to remove the dam and bring back the rapids for which the city was named.  A history of the rapids in the Grand River can be found here.

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Grand Rapids Prismatica-2928

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Grand Rapids Prismatica-2891

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Sixth Street Dam 2934-2944

The GR&I Railroad Culvert on Wicked Creek

According to the historic marker at Trestle Park, on Summit Avenue, in Algoma Township, north of Rockford, Michigan, the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad hired a local farmer to build a stone culvert under a railroad trestle that crossed what was then known as Wicked Creek (now called Stegman Creek). Completed in 1885, the culvert is an amazing feat of construction. It seems incredible that a local farmer would have the engineering skills and tools necessary to build such a structure.  The railroad and trestle are long gone, but the White Pine Trail now passes over the culvert on its 92-mile journey from Grand Rapids to Cadillac, Michigan.Trestle park 8444-blend-