All About the Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore


original building for the falling rock cafe & bookstoreThe Location

Our buildings were built in 1896, the year that the City of Munising was incorporated, and originally housed the Smith and Lapham Hardware Company. Originally, the middle storefront and the corner storefront (now the Munising Wood Products Company) were “sisters,” but the middle and end storefronts became a pair decades ago.

Tin Walls & Ceilings

Early in the demolition of the buildings we discovered that the original tin remained virtually complete and intact throughout the walls of the middle storefront. Tin sheets and cornices were also salvaged from the original ceiling, but it was not possible to restore the ceiling because all of the plumbing for the second floor had been installed between the original ceiling and the initial false ceiling. The use of tin ceilings developed in the mid-nineteenth century, when mass produced sheets of thin rolled tinplate became readily available in America, and reached the zenith of their popularity in the 1890s. As a result, many historical buildings like ours boast original antique tin ceilings, cornices, wall panels and wainscots. We have uncovered all of the tin wall panels and wainscots and have restored the walls to their original beauty.

Maple Floor

The original maple floor of the Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore has been uncovered after removing layers of carpet, linoleum and plywood. Due to settling, some boards were loosened over the years and replaced with plywood. The floor has been leveled, the flooring replaced, and the entire floor has been refinished to its former beauty!

Prismatic Glass Transoms

In 1897, Frank Lloyd Wright patented a style of prismatic glass tile designed to refract and diffuse light into the building from the outside for maximum lighting efficiency. These tiles were generally used in store fronts as the transoms to the larger plate glass display windows. Wright patented this design for the Luxfer Prism Company in 1897. Some of the tiles that were made have a beautiful geometric flower design, a raindrop pattern, a pleated design, or some were just plain. Wright patented 96 designs in all (see Luxfer Prism Company).

When going through the initial demolition stages to rehabilitate the storefronts, we uncovered the plate glass and transom framing that we believe was installed in the early part of the 20th century, but had been covered-up for decades. Transoms, a type of window opening, provided for natural light and air circulation and were often hinged for opening to improve ventilation. They were comprised of panes of glass, frequently semi-transparent or ribbed, which diffused light while allowing more sunlight into interiors, providing a source of lighting. The panes of glass were held in place with soldered zinc, surrounded with a steel frame, and installed as a band of lights across the front façade. Some transoms were comprised of many small prismatic panels making it possible to vary patterns. The transoms also gave an expansive effect to the interior spaces. These designs were engineered to capture, magnify and disperse light from the front to the rear of the store.

During the period of initial work, we were apprised of the sale of glass prisms on Ebay that were represented as originating from a building in Munising, Michigan. Remarkably, a woman now living in Arizona had purchased the prisms – still in the original frames – from an antique dealer in Munising in the early 1980’s. Following an extended e-mail and telephone dialogue, the Falling Rock Cafe & Bookstore was able to purchase all 400+ prisms in her possession! Approximately 300+ prisms are what are referred to as a panel design with rectangular ribs on the smooth, exterior side. These have been used in reconstructed transoms and subsequently removed. 

Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore