VARSITY GRILL RESTORED BY INNER CITY CHRISTIAN FEDERATION WORKING WITH DESTIGTER ARCHITETURE AND PLANNING. TEXT AND COLOR PHOTOS BY PAM VANDERPLOEG COPYRIGHT 2015.
[Black and white photos of the Varsity Grill are courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library Photo Collection, Grand Rapids History and Special Collections (GRHSC), Archives, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, Michigan.]
The first building designed by E. John Knapp, of Obryon & Knapp, in Grand Rapids was a commission for a restaurant for local lawyer John Vander Wal on a small piece of land on Franklin SE. The efficiently designed building is constructed of concrete block load bearing walls with exterior brick veneer on three sides, a sleek modern door and stylish lettering for the sign. The interior walls were also brick and block, and the floors were asphalt tile on concrete.
Knapp wanted color in the design, and went with the lawyer's wife to Wurzburgs to choose fabric for drapes in plain red, blue, green and yellow.
Hot dogs and hamburgs were grilled upstairs and parties were held in a finished basement room paneled in wood. Knapp remembered holding a meeting downstairs for contractors and architects to discuss standard protocols for payment of building contract fees.
Visiting for lunch one day, Knapp noticed flaws on the block walls. The supplier instantly offered a no-cost fix of removing the old paint and repainting the blocks.
The Varsity Grill was popular with Christian High teens until the school moved. After years of neglect it was rescued by the Inner City Christian Federation in 2015 and restored in a style complimentary to the original design by Destigter Architecture and Planning. Hanging from the new structural beams are some saved remnants of the original tongue and groove decking as a fitting tribute to the stylish original building.
Today the old Varsity Grill is a community gathering place and a bright spot in the streetscape!