From MSU’s Rock to the Frandor Sear’s water tower, stories behind some unusual landmarks in Greater Lansing

Emilee Geist

For five decades, the 14-foot giraffe atop the West Saginaw Highway Meijer gas station has been a recognized local landmark — even though its existence made little sense to most of the people who passed it every day. Last month, after the giraffe was temporarily removed from its perch, a swell […]

For five decades, the 14-foot giraffe atop the West Saginaw Highway Meijer gas station has been a recognized local landmark — even though its existence made little sense to most of the people who passed it every day.

Last month, after the giraffe was temporarily removed from its perch, a swell of concern and support for the statue followed.

An online petition aimed at saving it garnered nearly 900 signatures and Greater Lansing social media was abuzz with theories about the giraffe’s fate … until Meijer officials assured people the company had no plans to get rid of it. 

So how exactly did the giraffe end up atop the gas station’s roof?

According to Meijer, we owe the beloved statue’s presence amid the hustle and bustle of Delta Township’s business scape to a contractor’s prank during a store remodel.

The contractor placed the giraffe on the gas station roof in the 1970s after realizing it wouldn’t fit in the store’s indoor play area. It’s been there ever since.

Mystery solved.

Have you ever wondered about this history behind some of the other unusual landmarks in Greater Lansing?

How did one rock on Michigan State University’s campus become a beacon of self-expression for so many? Did the Sears water tower ever service a purpose? And were the five animal statues jutting from the top of Holt’s Edru Skate there when it opened in 1956?

Here’s the scoop on those quirky Lansing area landmarks … and a few others.

MSU’S Rock

Michigan State University’s Rock, which sits north of the Red Cedar River off Farm Lane, has been on campus for nearly a century and a half.

The class of 1873 donated it to MSU, according to the university’s website. Until the mid-1980s, it was located “in a grove of trees near where Beaumont Tower was later built.”

In the 1940s and 1950s, the Rock was a popular place to pop the question. Many couples got engaged nearby.

Students began painting it a decade later, often expressing their political views, according to MSU’s website.

Their paint often missed the Rock, splashing on nearby trees and sidewalk, so in 1985, the Rock was moved to its current spot.

The messages that grace its surface can change daily. Sometimes they commemorate notable dates, and sometimes they bear political messages of the moment.

The Sears water tower

When, in the 1950s, a 125-foot tall water tower was constructed near the Sears, Roebuck and Co. store in Frandor’s shopping center, it piqued the curiosity of area residents.

The tower would store 75,000 gallons of water, providing a reserve water supply for the store’s sprinkler system, according to an August 1954 article in the Lansing State Journal.

But developer Pat Gillespie said rumors suggest it’s possible that the tower never really served that or any purpose.

“We’ve heard on numerous occasions that that was the intent of the tower, but the water lines along Michigan Avenue got upsized so it never needed to be used,” he said. “There aren’t many people around to verify if that’s true or not.”

His development company, The Gillespie Group, owns the property.

The tower isn’t operational today, Gillespie said, but it is a Frandor icon. His company hopes to incorporate it into the property’s redevelopment.

“We want to keep it,” Gillespie said.

Edru Skate’s rooftop animals

Like the West Saginaw Highway Meijer giraffe, Edru Skate’s rooftop animal statues are part of the landscape along Cedar Street in Holt.

And they’re often a point of reference people use when they give directions to the longtime skating rink, which opened in 1956.

“Look for the animals on the roof,” they say, said Edru’s General Manager Jackie Cortez.

“The animals on the roof are a landmark, a way of identifying the place for some,” she said.

Today the zebra, giraffe, elephant, turtle and monkey are fixed to pedestals on Edru’s roof, but in the late 1960s they were decorations on a miniature golf course that was on the property.

All five of the animals were moved to the roof after it closed, Cortez said.

Keeping them there wasn’t always easy, she said. Students used to steal them from Edru’s roof and place them inside a school building as a joke.

“The schools always knew to call us and we’d go get them,” Cortez said.

Preuss Pets’ waterfall and rockscape

Preuss Pets bills itself as “a pet store with a purpose” and the same is true for the business decor, both inside and out, its owner Rick Preuss said.

In 2005, when he bought the building in Lansing’s Old Town, Preuss intended to set the tone for his store before customers even came in the front door.

That was the inspiration behind the colorful wall mural, large waterfall and rock garden out in front.

“It’s getting people into the right frame of mind to understand, you know, the absolute, majestic nature of what we have the fortune of working with,” Preuss said. “The goal was to make a display of a continuous theme in front of the store for where nature enters in.”

Robby Preuss, Jade Preuss and Mike Wendt all had a hand in the waterfall and rockscape’s creation.

Tom Phillips created the mural, Preuss said.

“With the waterfall, we’ve had people come up and just take pictures of it all day long,” he said.


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Downtown Lansing’s steam clock

There’s more to the large 31-foot tall clock in Lansing’s Wentworth Park than meets the eye.

A gift from the Lansing Rotary Club in 1997 in honor of the City of Lansing’s 150th birthday, it’s powered by both electricity and steam.

Steam powers the five chimes heard at different times during the day. An electric carillon plays two songs a day from a collection of 10,000 at 12:05 p.m. and 5:05 p.m.

The clock’s gears, cables and pulleys, including a restored 1927 Seth Thomas clock mechanism, are visible through windows on its sides.

Which landmarks did we miss? Contact Rachel Greco at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ .

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