Grand Rapids is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan. It is located on the Grand River about 25 miles east of Lake Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 188,040. In 2010, the Grand Rapids metropolitan area had a population of 1,005,648, and the combined statistical area of Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland had a population of 1,321,557. Grand Rapids is the county seat of Kent County, Michigan, second largest city in Michigan (after Detroit), and the largest city in West Michigan. A historic furniture-manufacturing center, Grand Rapids is still home to five of the world's leading office furniture companies, and is nicknamed Furniture City. Its more common modern nickname of River City refers to the landmark river for which it was named. The city and surrounding communities are economically diverse, and contribute heavily to the health care, information technology, automotive, aviation, and consumer goods manufacturing industries, among others.
Grand Rapids was the home of The First Family of U.S, Boxing: Floyd Sr., Jr., Jeff, and Roger Mayweather, World Championship Boxer James Toney, singer and song writer Anthony Kiedis, the filmmakers Paul Schrader and Leonard Schrader, the singer Al Green and U.S. President Gerald Ford, who—along with his wife Betty—is buried on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids.
Over 2,000 years ago, people associated with the Hopewell culture occupied the Grand River Valley. Around A.D. 1700, the Ottawa Indians moved into the area and founded several villages along the Grand River.
The Grand Rapids area was first settled by Europeans near the start of the 19th century by missionaries and fur traders. They generally lived in reasonable peace alongside the Ottawa tribespeople, with whom they traded their European metal and textile goods for fur pelts. Joseph and Madeline La Framboise established the first Indian/European trading post in West Michigan, and in present Grand Rapids, on the banks of the Grand River near what is now Ada. After the death of her husband in 1806, Madeline La Framboise carried on, expanding fur trading posts to the west and north. La Framboise, whose ancestry was a mix of French and Indian, later merged her successful operations with the American Fur Company. She retired, at age 41, to Mackinac Island. The first permanent white settler in the Grand Rapids area was a Baptist minister named Isaac McCoy, who established a missionary station in 1825.
In 1826 Detroit-born Louis Campau, the official founder of Grand Rapids, built his cabin, trading post, and blacksmith shop on the east bank of the Grand River near the rapids. Campau returned to Detroit, then came back a year later with his wife and $5,000 of trade goods to trade with the native tribes. In 1831 the federal survey of the Northwest Territory reached the Grand River and set the boundaries for Kent County, named after prominent New York jurist James Kent. Campau became perhaps the most important settler when, in 1831, he bought 72 acres (291,000 m²) of what is now the entire downtown business district of Grand Rapids. He purchased it from the federal government for $90 and named his tract Grand Rapids. Rival Lucius Lyon, who purchased the rest of the prime land, called his the Village of Kent. Yankee immigrants (primarily New Englanders of English colonial descent) and others began immigrating from New York and New England in the 1830s.
In 1836 John Ball, representing a group of New York land speculators, bypassed Detroit for a better deal in Grand Rapids. Ball declared the Grand River valley "the promised land, or at least the most promising one for my operations".
By 1838, the settlement incorporated itself as a village, and encompassed an area of approximately three-quarters of a mile (1 km) . The first formal census occurred in 1845, which announced a population of 1,510 and recorded an area of four square miles. The city of Grand Rapids was incorporated April 2, 1850 and officially created on May 1, 1850, when the village of Grand Rapids voted to accept the proposed city charter. The population at the time was 2,686. By 1857, the city of Grand Rapids' boundary totaled 10.5 square miles (27 km2).
In 1880, the country's first hydro-electric generator was put to use on the city's west side.
Grand Rapids was an early participant in the automobile industry, serving as home to the Austin Automobile Company from 1901 until 1921.
In 1945, Grand Rapids became the first city in the United States to add fluoride to its drinking water.
Downtown Grand Rapids used to host four department stores: Herpolsheimer's (Lazarus in 1987), Jacobson's, Steketee's (founded in 1862), and Wurzburg's. Like most downtown regional department stores, they suffered the same fate of falling sales, caused largely by the flight to the suburbs, and consolidation in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1969, Alexander Calder's abstract sculpture, La Grande Vitesse, which translates from French as "the great swiftness" or more loosely as "grand rapids", was installed downtown on the Vandenberg Plaza, the remodeled site of Grand Rapids City Hall. It became the first federally funded work of public art in the United States funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Since then, the site has hosted an annual Festival of the Arts on the plaza, now known informally as "Calder Plaza". During the first weekend in June, several blocks of downtown surrounding the Calder stabile in Vandenberg Plaza are closed to traffic. The festival features several stages with free live performances, food booths selling a variety of ethnic cuisine, art demonstrations and sales, and other arts-related activities. Organizers bill it as the largest all-volunteer arts festival in the United States because it is organized and managed entirely by volunteers. Vandenberg Plaza also hosts various ethnic festivals that take place throughout the summer season.
Summer concludes with Celebration on the Grand the weekend after Labor Day, featuring free concerts, fireworks display and food booths. Celebration on the Grand is an event that celebrates life in the Grand River valley. Each October, the city celebrates the Polish heritage centered on the West side of town with Pulaski Days.
In Grand Rapids in 1973, the city hosted Sculpture off the Pedestal, an outdoor exhibition of public sculpture, which assembled 13 world-renowned artists, including Mark di Suvero, John Henry, Kenneth Snelson, Robert Morris, John Mason, Lyman Kipp and Stephen Antonakos, in a single, citywide celebration. Sculpture off the Pedestal was a public/private partnership, which included financial support by the National Endowment for the Arts, educational support from the Michigan Council for the Arts and in-kind contributions from individuals, business and industry. Fund-raising events, volunteers and locals housing artists contributed to the public character of the event.
On November 10, 2004, the grand premiere of the film The Polar Express was held in Grand Rapids, the movie's setting and home of the book's author Chris Van Allsburg, and its main character. The Meijer Gardens created a Polar Express display which was part of their larger Christmas Around the World exhibit.
In mid-2004, the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) began construction on a new, larger building for its art museum collection, which opened in October 2007 at 101 Monroe Center NW. The new building site faces downtown's Ecliptic by Maya Lin at Rosa Parks Circle. The Museum was completed in 2007 and became the first newly built art museum to achieve gold-level LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The first ArtPrize, the world's largest art competition completely voted on by the public, took place in Grand Rapids from September 23 through October 10, 2009. This event was founded by Rick DeVos, grandson of Amway Corp. co-founder Richard DeVos, who offered $449,000 in cash prizes. 1,262 artists exhibited their work for two weeks, with a total of 334,219 votes cast. First prize, including a $250,000 cash prize, went to Brooklyn painter Ran Ortner. The second event, ArtPrize 2010, was held September 22 through October 10, 2010, with work by 1,713 artists on display. The first prize was awarded to Grand Rapids artist Chris LaPorte.
In 2012, Grand Rapids tied with Asheville, North Carolina, for "Beer City USA". The competition was held by casting votes online for cities around the United States. Prominent breweries in the area such as B.O.B's Brewery, Brewery Vivant, Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids Brewing Co., Hideout, HopCat and Schmohz have created the culture necessary to win the award. In 2013, Grand Rapids again won the competition for "Beer City USA", but this time it was an outright victory. Grand Rapids had more votes than the runner-up Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the third place winner Asheville, North Carolina, combined.
Grand Rapids is the home of John Ball Park, Belknap Hill, and the Gerald R. Ford Museum, the final resting place of the 38th President of the United States and former First Lady Betty Ford. Significant buildings in the downtown include the DeVos Place Convention Center, Van Andel Arena, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, and the JW Marriott Hotel. The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts is located downtown, and houses art exhibits, a movie theater, and the urban clay studio.
Along the Grand River are symbolic burial mounds which were used by the Hopewell tribe, a fish ladder, and a riverwalk.
Grand Rapids is also home to the Van Andel Museum Center. Founded in 1854, it is among the oldest history museums in the United States. The museum's sites currently include the main site constructed in 1994 on the west bank of the Grand River (home to the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium), the Voigt House Victorian Museum, and the City Archives and Records Center, which was the site of the museum and planetarium prior to 1994. The museum has, in the past few years, played host to a handful of notable exhibitions, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, and The Quest for Immortality: the Treasures of Ancient Egypt. The museum is set up as a non-profit institution owned and managed by the Public Museum of Grand Rapids Foundation.
Heritage Hill, a neighborhood directly east of downtown, is one of the largest urban historic districts in the country. It was the first "neighborhood" of Grand Rapids and its 1,300 homes date from 1848 and represent over 60 architectural styles. Of particular significance is the Meyer May House, a Prairie-style home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908. It was commissioned by local merchant Meyer May, who operated a men's clothing store (May's of Michigan). The house is now owned and operated by Steelcase Corporation. Steelcase manufactured furniture for the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin, which was designed by Wright. Because of those ties, Steelcase purchased and restored the property in the 1980s. The restoration has been heralded as one of the most accurate and complete of any Wright restoration. The home is used by Steelcase for special events and open to the public for tours.
Grand Rapids is home to myriad theatres and stages, including the newly reconstructed Civic Theatre (also known as the Meijer Majestic), the city's largest theatre, DeVos Hall, and the convertible Van Andel Arena. Further east of downtown is the historic Wealthy Theatre. The first megaplex in the United States is also located in Grand Rapids, Studio 28, which reopened in 1988 with a seating capacity of 6,000. The theater ceased operations on November 23, 2008. The Grand Rapids company also owns many theaters around West Michigan.
In Grand Rapids Township, the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park combine 125 acres (1 km2) of world-class botanical gardens and artwork from such sculptors as Mark di Suvero, Alexander Calder, Edgar Degas, and Auguste Rodin. The Gardens' amphitheater plays host to numerous concerts each summer, featuring such acts as Jonny Lang, The Pointer Sisters, Lyle Lovett, Cowboy Junkies, and B.B. King. The Gardens were mentioned in Patricia Schultz's book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.
Entertainment & Performing Arts
Grand Rapids has a number of popular concert venues in which a large assortment of bands have performed, including the Orbit Room, the DAAC, the Intersection, DeVos Hall, the Van Andel Arena, the Royce Auditorium, the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center, and the Deltaplex.
The Schubert Male Chorus of Grand Rapids is considered the oldest independent continuing male chorus in America. Founded by Henry C. Post on November 19, 1883, today the chorus continues to perform a variety of music.
The Grand Rapids Symphony, founded in 1930, presents more than 400 performances a year.
The Grand Rapids Barbershop Chapter Great Lakes Chorus is an all-male a cappella barbershop harmony chorus including quartets and is one of the oldest chapters in the Barbershop Harmony Society (formally known as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America or SPEBSQSA). The Grand Rapids chapter organized on November 1, 1939, for quartet singers and is credited for holding the first society sanctioned quartet contest in the "Michigan District" (now Pioneer District) in March 1941. And in 1944 the Grand Rapids Chapter is credited with having the first International Quartet champions, The Harmony Halls. In 1947 the Great Lakes Chorus (then called the Grand Rapids Chorus) was founded. In 1953 the first International Chorus Competition was held and the Great Lakes Chorus took First Place with the title first International Convention Championship Chorus under the direction of Robert Weaver. The chorus is still very active as a non-profit singing for community, competition, and contracted performances.
Grand Rapids Ballet Company was founded in 1971 and remains Michigan's only professional ballet company. The ballet company is currently located on Ellsworth Avenue in the Heartside neighborhood, where it moved in 2000. In 2007, it expanded its facility by adding the LEED-certified Peter Wege Theater.
Opera Grand Rapids, founded in 1966, is the state's longest running professional company. In February 2010, the opera moved into a new facility in the Fulton Heights neighborhood.
A January 21, 2011 Newsweek article listing Grand Rapids as a "dying city" prompted director Rob Bliss and producer Scott Erickson to film a vigorous, 5,000-person community response. The Grand Rapids LipDub, released May 26, was the first-ever city-wide lip dub video and was dubbed by film critic Roger Ebert "the greatest music video ever made". The video held the world record for largest lip dub for two years and has amassed over 5 million views on YouTube; PRNewswire awarded its producers the "Earnie Award" for Best Use of Video in Social Media.