Linda Bieze is the managing editor at Eerdmans. She worked at the Jefferson Avenue building for three years before the company moved to Oak Industrial Drive. At Jefferson, she experienced first-hand the crash of books in the warehouse overhead. Now she finds her office a little too quiet.
The now-vacant office building at 255 Jefferson Avenue, SE in Grand Rapids housed the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company from 1945, when William B. Eerdmans Sr. bought the property from the Bill Pastoor Ford dealership, until 2006, when the company moved to its current headquarters at 2140 Oak Industrial Drive, NE. News that St. Mary’s Health Care, which purchased the Jefferson Avenue property, will soon demolish the building brought back fond memories for some Eerdmans employees who had worked there.
Turning a former automobile showroom into editorial and business offices, plus a shipping department, required extensive remodeling in 1945. Just off the Jefferson Avenue lobby, a paneled corner office was installed for Mr. Eerdmans Sr. Beyond the lobby sat additional offices, and behind them the shipping department. At the rear of the building the back door opened onto a parking lot and alley. Capable of carrying the heavy weight of cars, the building’s second and third floors served as the warehouse.
Bill Eerdmans Jr., now president and publisher, recalls this incident in the old building: “Professor Albert Hyma, author of The Renaissance to Reformation, which we had published in 1951, taught history at the University of Michigan. Hyma was an eccentric who lived on a diet of apples and peanuts and relied on a medium in Detroit to tell him where to invest his money.
“One day, Hyma showed up at our offices, asking a secretary whether my father was in. My father was, in fact, in, having just entered the building from the shipping room. One look at Hyma chatting in the reception area sent him sneaking to his office just opposite, where he threw himself in the door and miraculously escaped the dreaded meeting. Hyma was so intensely in conversation with the secretary that he didn’t notice my father quietly slipping in from the back office.
“I witnessed this entire drama and took from it that, while authors are our bread and butter and good friends whatever their eccentricities, there are those at times who should be personally avoided.” And in an office building that had grown like Topsy, this was easy to do if one moved as quickly and quietly as Bill Eerdmans Sr.
Jon Pott, editor in chief, has worked for Eerdmans for more than 40 years. He observed that the old building was “an ongoing endearing joke. One’s quiet editorial concentration on a proposed new manuscript, for example, might suddenly be shattered by the thunder from the warehouse floor overhead, as a skid of one of last year’s acquisitions came home to roost. For me, however, the warehouse also had a more promising feature: In my serious tennis-playing days, our shipping manager tried to save room for me among the skids to practice against a wall over lunch. If he had saved enough room — and, of course, the geography was always shifting — I could work on my ground strokes; with less room, I’d work on my volley, sometimes using a row of boxes as a net. The big problem was that, this space having been used in an earlier life as car storage in a dealership, the floor still had a coat of hardened grease that did neither the tennis ball nor my shoes any good!
“All of this structural wackiness suited us metaphorically all too well, of course, and I’ll be a little misty-eyed to see this piece of our past come tumbling down. I won’t be surprised if emerging from the rubble will be a long-lost manuscript that never did materialize as a book to thunk into position overhead. Or maybe even a tennis ball.”
Editor Milton Essenburg, who has worked for the company since 1965, remembers, “For seven years I worked in a noisy cubicle polluted by cigarette smoke in the old south part of the building. The space was so small I could stand in the center and touch all four walls and the ceiling. Then Eerdmans bought the building next door, and I was overjoyed to move to a quiet office with a window facing Jefferson. Here I could see the green grass and the sun rising over St. Mary’s. I also had good lighting, wide shelves for proofs, and everything else I needed to operate at maximum efficiency.” There is nothing an editor likes better than a clean, well-lighted place!
Jennifer Hoffman began working for Eerdmans just after graduating from college. She started as a proofreader; today she is the associate managing editor. She recalls, “We always seemed to be changing offices in that building, sometimes because someone would leave and office reshuffling would result, sometimes because of improvements and remodeling going on. I believe at one point I had been in nine different offices in nine years!
“The building was a rabbit warren, and visitors usually needed help to find their way around. But children found it a great place to explore. When my son Thomas was an infant, I brought him to the office to meet my colleagues. My oldest son, Jonathan, then age five, came along to help ‘show off’ his brother. Jonathan felt that he should give out gifts of some kind, so he brought an assortment of stickers. He made himself at home, visiting offices on his own and handing out stickers. At one point I caught sight of him in the president’s office! He was chatting to Bill and his assistant Millie! Bill had received Jonathan’s unexpected appearance with his usual graciousness.” (Perhaps because Jonathan was not an Eerdmans author!)
The company is at home now on Oak Industrial Drive and welcomes friends, family — and even authors! — to our gracious new facilities. It’s quiet here without the warehouse overhead, and most of us have windows, walls, and even doors in our work spaces. It’s clean and well lighted. And so we bid a fond farewell to 255 Jefferson Avenue, realizing that “you can’t go home again.”