Historic Downtown Flint Walking Photography Tour
I was born in Flint and spent most of my youth in the area, so when I first got a camera it was one of the first places I shot. Whether you have all day or just a few hours, this walking photography tour will take you to some of my favorite spots around the Vehicle City.
I wrote down directions, giving information about a number of historic buildings and different sights you will see along the way. Either just use that, or use the map I created on Google Maps below to supplement it!
If you are driving into town, the best place to park is the flat lot. The entrance to the lot is on Kearsley Street just off Saginaw, which is the main thoroughfare of downtown. On weekends and evenings parking is free, and during the day the pricing is very cheap.
After you park, walk out over towards Harrison Street. Head south for a block until you reach the corner of Harrison and 2nd, and across 2nd street you will see the historic and freshly renovated Capitol Theatre. This gem opened on January 19, 1928, serving the people of the Vehicle City until October of 1976 when it closed its doors for the first time. It reopened a year later. The Capitol limped along for the next few decades, hosting legendary artists such as Cypress Hill and Rage Against the Machine in the 90s. On April 17, 2015 it was announced that the landmark would be redeveloped and reopened by Reinvestment Corp., and this photo was taken in December of 2017 after completion.
After taking a trip down memory lane at the Capitol Theatre, continue down Harrison Street for another block, make a right onto 3rd, and stop when you hit Saginaw Street. Right next to you is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which was built in 1872 by renowned gothic church architect Gordon Lloyd. Just down the block to the south is the Flint Masonic Temple, which opened in 1911 and has housed the masons and the Temple Dining Room, a popular lunch spot, for decades. Across Saginaw Street you will see the First Presbyterian Church of Flint, which has been located in that location since the 1880s.
If you continue down 3rd Street to the west, after a block you will come to St. Matthew’s Roman Catholic Church. This beautiful building has been here since just after the turn of the century and it happens to be where I was baptized. After enjoying the church, take a turn down Beach Street to the north until you hit W. Second Street. On the corner you will see an old brick building that was once the Flint Elks Lodge building. The building was built in 1913, and the likes of Billy Durant (GM founder) and Charles Stewart Mott (Businessman, GM co-founder) once drank cocktails inside. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
If you meander down 2nd street to the east half a block, you will notice an alleyway strung with lights and laced with signage. You might not believe it, but you are about to walk past my all time favorite burger joint. The Torch Bar & Grill may not seem like much at first glance, but order a burger of any variety and you will not be disappointed. The alley itself is quite photogenic, as is the sign for the Torch, and the other brick-clad buildings are great for portraits.
As you finish your walk through the alley (the alley continues after crossing 1st Street) you will find yourself on Kearsley Street. Make a left at the dead end and head for the parking garage you can see just across Beach Street. This garage has elevators, so trekking to the top isn’t an issue. In the winter it is quite easy to see the Flint River from the top floor of the garage, and year-round you get a beautiful view of Hurley Hospital in the distance to the north-west and downtown Flint behind you.
After descending from the top floor of the garage, head north on Beach Street. You will eventually hit the river, and if you head east you will find yourself wandering along the sidewalks of Riverbank Park. If you take this park over to Harrison Street, you get a nice view of the dam and the sights across the river, including the historic Northbank Center (originally Industrial Savings Bank Building, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984).
After strolling through the park by the river for a while, take Harrison south until you reach Union Street, make a right, and pop through UofM-Flint’s campus for a quick detour. Soon you will be back on Saginaw Street, the main thoroughfare of downtown Flint. Saginaw Street is home to a number of historic businesses, buildings, and events. The Citizens Bank Building (328 S. Saginaw Street), now owned by FirstMerit, was built in 1928. The weatherball was first illuminated on August 30th, 1956 and could be seen from 25 miles away. The First National Bank of Flint Building (Saginaw & 1st St) was erected in 1924, hosting the bank for only a few years before it closed in 1933 due to the Great Depression, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. The Mott Foundation Building (Saginaw & 1st) was completed in 1930 by Charles Stewart Mott, the co-founder of GM and one of Flint’s well known philanthropists. Directly behind the Mott Foundation Building used to be the home of the tallest building in Flint, Genesee Towers, until it was imploded in 2013. This made the Mott Foundation Building the tallest in Flint.
I highly recommend stopping into any shops that intrigue you down Saginaw Street, I have only ever been met with open arms when choosing to do so. In the summertime Saginaw Street is home to the Crim Festival of Races, which draws thousands of people to the streets of Flint, and Back to the Bricks, a killer alternative to the Woodward Dream Cruise. The Farmer’s Market is also a fun place to stop when its open, offering produce, meats, restaurants, art, and a brewery. If bars are your thing, I can’t recommend the Torch enough. It is one of my favorite places to have a beer and a burger in the world. Churchills is also a nice watering hole, as is Soggy Bottom Bar across the river.
Want more? Here are a few more locations outside walking distance from downtown that you should check out.
Stepping Stone Falls
This is one of the lesser known beauties that Flint has to offer. Up in the northeast part of the city, the Flint river is dammed to create Mott Lake. The dam itself looks as if it was designed by a brutalist architect, and it is oddly beautiful. Although the park is closed December through May, it isn’t uncommon to see snowmobilers and hikers braving the cold to see the falls in the winter months.
Michigan School for the Deaf / Powers Catholic
The cornerstone for the Michigan School for the Deaf was laid after a fire destroyed the old building in 1913 and the new school was completed a year later. The school was in operation for almost 100 years before moving next door to a brand new state of the art facility in 2010. Powers Catholic High School renovated the original building and currently uses it to house grades 9-12. In-between the original building and the new school lies the superintendent’s cottage, which was completed in 1890 and was almost entirely built by students of the original Michigan School for the Deaf. All the furniture inside the cottage was also built by students in the school’s wood shop. The main school building has a sister building in Lansing, the Michigan School for the Blind, which has been abandoned since the 1990s.
The Dort Mall
The first place I instruct photographers to go when they ask where to stop when they come to Flint is the Dort Mall. The Dort Mall, or Small Mall, was the first mall in Genesee County when it opened in 1965. Like many other malls around the country, the Dort Mall has seen hard times. Bob Perani, the Flint Generals hockey legend and owner of Perani’s Hockey World, purchased the mall in 1995. The mall has been home to Mr. Perani’s collection of antiques, many of which are Flint related, since he purchased the building. He sadly passed away in 2012, and the mall sits, as it has for over 50 years, a time capsule depicting the Flint of old. The mall houses a diner that has killer coneys, Perani’s Hockey World, a salon, a head shop, the largest flea market in Flint, and one of my favorite consignment shops, Something Used Something New. It might be a short trip, but don’t come to Flint without stopping into the Dort Mall.