This Portage Printing Photo Leads To ‘Zeppelin’ and One Very Fun Tall Tale
A wonderful photograph from Kalamazoo's past will evoke memories for many of a certain age, but the associated Facebook post may make you laugh, with a wonderful tall tale.
As more than 30,000 members of the Vanished Kalamazoo page on Facebook know, the site is like a memory filled treasure chest. And member Craig Vestal and his Portage Printing is another supplier of those memories with an annual calendar that focuses on 12 memories yearly.
So many memories
Vestal posted the cover to the upcoming 2022 calendar, a 1935 colorized photograph of Michigan Ave. from Rose Street, looking east towards Burdick, and with the post came plenty of comments on the memories it brings back.
The first thing that jumps out at you is the two-way traffic on Michigan and also on Burdick Street (what is now the Kalamazoo Mall). You can see a city buses on both streets at the intersection. High above Burdick Street is the top of the Gilmore Brothers Department Store. (the building sustained massive damage in the 1980 tornado.)
Some of the buildings from 1935 are still standing, though most of those have all been repurposed. Along the left hand side of Michigan Avenue is the Burdick Hotel (torn down almost 50 years) and the retail shops on the street level, including a coffee shop and a furrier - yes, times have changed. Across the street from the hotel were various clothing related stores and a cigar shop. Now it's the brand spanking new Exchange Building. Across Burdick Street is a building now known as the Peregrine Building. (That corner housed variations of the banks and others businesses. Past that on the old photograph, you can see the Michigan Theater.
From the Depression to the early 70's, there were numerous theaters downtown. The State Theatre is the "last man standing", but there also were the Capitol, the Fuller and Uptown Theatre, and most recently the Alamo/AMC.
And one great tall tale
But if you click on the picture of the cover of the Portage Printing calendar, that's where the story gets fun. Vestal comments "The Portage Printing blimp was a beloved area attraction for many years until 1969 when it was destroyed in a tragic fire during a photo shoot for Jimmy Page's new combo."
Playing along, another commenter adds "I remember that tragic day, not long before I moved to the west coast."
Well, now I was curious. I recently found a Led Zeppelin poster from that era, so when I contacted Vestal for permission to use the image of his cover, I asked about the blimp. He said I had to understand Portage Printing has only been around for 35 years. He himself was in 10th grade in 1969.
But a hearty pat on the back for inserting himself into Led Zeppelin lore, if only for a few fleeting seconds.