- Associated Press - Sunday, February 23, 2014

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - What’s a person supposed to think when he’s standing next to a heater in a closet and suddenly is hit with a burst of air so cold it literally takes his breath away?

Maybe that’s just ventilation issues. Maybe.

But that, coupled with unexplained sounds and smells, ghostly occurrences, and the discovery of a secret space under the building’s signature domed roof has the artists at Honest to Goodness Tattoo wondering whether they got more than they bargained for at the old LaMar Hotel and Horseshoe Bar.

“I’m a little more skeptical than not when it come to this stuff,” Stephanie Lane told The Grand Rapids Press ( https://bit.ly/1csxqee ). “But too many things have happened so far and it’s only progressed as we’ve gotten closer and closer to being finished.”

On Jan. 25, after about six months of interior remodeling, the tattoo studio moved into the third floor of the 123-year-old building across from Grand Rapids Ballet Co.

The studio is the first tenant to occupy the chronically vacant building in nearly a decade. In July, the Grand Rapids Ballet sold it to Patricia Warner, who has spent recent months marketing the unique structure and clearing city zoning hurdles.

The three-story, 8,000-square-foot landmark, known to most for its distinctive turret-style windows and rooftop dome, was built in 1891 as a hotel and grocery store catering to railroad travelers passing through early downtown Grand Rapids.

The Horseshoe Bar and blues club famously occupied the ground floor between the 1940s and late ‘70s. Late club owner Frank LaMar Sr. was generally known to have operated a bordello on the third floor, a space now home to new people and activity.

While attempting to hang a chandelier this fall, Lane and her boyfriend discovered a hidden room under the dome that’s believed to have been used as secret storage during the Prohibition.

Inside the roughly 30-square-foot room, accessible only by ladder, the couple found an assortment of odds-and-ends: an antique lingerie hangar, some metal hand tools, an old laundry business sign, a wooden board with some writing on it, a brick imprinted with the words “Hocking Valley,” and an old tin dome top.

No booze, though.

“It’s pretty evident that it was some sort of hiding hole,” said Rhonda Baker, historic preservation specialist with the city of Grand Rapids.

Also found in the room were large, window-sized glass panes positioned in a manner that would keep any light source in the room from being noticed unless someone were standing next to it on the roof.

Baker checked out the space with Warner, and said that while it’s probably impossible to say definitively whether it was used for Prohibition traffic, the abnormal storage location coupled with the era makes for a good argument that it could have been.

Grand Rapids never experienced the violence and lawlessness commonly associated with the Prohibition era in Chicago and Detroit, but the city was used as a stopover by some smugglers, she said.

“It was definitely either a secret room where they had meetings, or like a drop-off point,” Lane suggested.

The items found in the dome are being displayed in the studio lobby.

As for the ghostly presence - the studio artists think they figured out a way to occupy the third floor in harmony with the “others.” In December and January, the studio had the space cleansed by a psychic.

It seems to have cut down on the spooky occurrences, she said.

Before that, “stuff was happening on a daily basis.”

Since starting the remodel, the Honest to Goodness crew felt a general sense of presence on the third floor. They’ve heard constant unexplained noises, seen objects moving randomly, doors that seemed to lock by themselves, heard footsteps, saw flickering lights, strange handprints and felt unexpected bursts of cold air.

At one point, an old-fashioned perfume scent burst into the air out of nowhere.

“None of us wear perfume. We can’t, having customers that close to us,” she said.

The theory is that it’s two spirits: One male, one female. The female apparently takes the form of a little girl and seems more playful, said Lane.

Possible ghosts in the building is news to Robert Kirchgessner, whose real estate firm, The West Michigan Group, occupied the third floor from 1998 to 2005. The group was the first tenant in the building since the bar closed.

The secret room he knew about: “It looked like a pigeon roost up there.”

Although the ghosts were a surprise, Lane didn’t hesitate to affirm that the studio would still have signed a lease had they known beforehand.

“I guess there a level of excitement when it comes down to it,” she said.

“Just as long as nothing happens.”


Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, https://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids

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