Morning Star, February 17, 2002, pg. 11
There’s a business in town that is 75 years old this year and doesn’t know it yet. Let them know and take them a copy of this article. Our newer residents might not recognize this name, but for someone who has lived in Albion awhile, they know where I am talking about: the Pagoda.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the “Pagoda” oriental architectural style was a popular fad for small businesses, and Albion had several, including a few gas stations. Eventually these businesses outgrew their quaint original size and either added on or demolished the original and built again using another architectural design.
One such business that has remained in Albion and which kept the name for most of its 75 year history is the Pagoda Restaurant at 113 E. Michigan Avenue. This place was opened 1927 on the site of the former L. W. Pryor Used Furniture and junk business. The Pagoda was started by Arthur V. Ford (1891-1952), personnel director at the Gale Manufacturing Company during the 1940s, and a past president of the Leisure Hour Club. Politically, Mr. Ford was a secretary of the Bull Moose Party in Colorado from 1912 to 1914, and a Republican precinct chairman in Albion in 1940. He also served as Albion’s Civilian Defense chief during World War II.
The Pagoda was located on the busy U.S. 12 highway in Albion, which saw a tremendous amount of traffic through the years before I-94 opened in 1960. It developed a reputation in the midwest as a popular eating stop between Detroit and Chicago, “especially during times of heavy travel by World War I veterans to and from state and national conclaves,” stated Ford’s obituary. During such times Ford placed a sign on top of the Pagoda welcoming veterans of the U.S. Air Corps 87th Aero Squadron of which he served as a pilot and training instructor in 1917 and 1918.
The Pagoda was sold to D. Richard McAuliffe in 1941, and was subsequently remodeled to look much like it appears today. It has gone through a series of ownerships through the years, some retaining the Pagoda name, while others have called it something else, like “Jumbo Burger” (1960s). During the 1960s, the Albion Jaycees would print a “spoof” newspaper at Christmastime as a fundraiser. One year the headline read, “Pagoda and Schulers to Merge.” I don’t think so.
The place is still known as the Pagoda in the minds of many Albion residents. I’m sure our readers have lots of memories of this quaint little home-cooking restaurant where thousands of meals have been prepared over the past 75 years. It was purchased by Susan Smith in 1996, who for legal reasons renamed it the “Little Red Lunch Box Cafe.” She operates her restaurant today with a big smile, and a faithful crowd of “regulars” are always there enjoying the old-time atmosphere. You haven’t eaten in Albion until you’ve eaten at the Pagoda. Visit this “Albion institution” this week and wish them a happy 75th anniversary. Perhaps an anniversary celebration should be held there sometime this year complete with cake, speakers, and testimonials from satisfied customers and past owners.
From our Historical Notebook we present a photograph of the Pagoda Restaurant as it look during the 1940s when this photograph was taken. How much has it changed since then?
An Albion native, Frank Passic is a 1971 graduate of Albion High School and has been writing Albion history articles since 1976. He is the author of several books including Albion in Review, and Growing Up in Albion.
This story is reprinted with permission from Frank Passic.
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