It was symbolic of W. C. Durant that his first gesture toward Lansing should be philanthropic. It was his remarkable vision that foresaw the progress in store for Lansing as an important manufacturing center. At the time of his visit here in 1920, when he was considering the construction of his first factory in Lansing, the block lying north of Saginaw Street and west of Washington Avenue was an eyesore. Underbrush and unkept grounds surrounded an old, tumble-down structure that was at some forgotten time someone's proud residence. For years it had lain idle, and as advancing years and tack of care wrought their havoc, weird tales began to be told about the old shell. Some claimed that the place was haunted, others had other stories more material, but at any rate it was far from an inviting locality even in the daytime, and a place to be shunned at night.
It took but one look for Durant to convince himself that here was a blight upon the fair name and beauty of Lansing, in fact, a menace to the constructive growth of the city. Accordingly, Charles Andrew Maxson, a landscape architect, of Kalamazoo, was called into conference with Mr. Durant. As characteristic of Durant, few words were spoken. Briefly, and to the point, Mr. Maxson was directed to draw up plans for converting this city block into a beautiful park. It was also characteristic of Durant that he took no one into his confidence regarding his plans for the property. It was only known that Durant had purchased the property, but as to its disposition one could but guess.
Within a few days Mr. Maxson submitted the plans to Mr. Durant at his New York Offices. "Fine," said Mr. Durant, (his favorite expression for approbation) "Fine. When do you start work?" This was, I believe, on Wednesday. "Monday morning," was Mr. Maxson's answer. On Friday a carload of nursery stock was purchased by Mr. Maxson, in the East, and on Monday morning active work began on the park. When completed it was one of the beauty spots of Lansing, and was presented to the City Council as a gift to the City of Lansing from W. C. Durant. In appreciation of the gift, the park was named Durant Park, and a magnificent arch erected at it's entrance.
During the summer months the park is a popular attraction for young and old alike. Shady benches offer a welcome retreat from the summer beat, and, as the park is located in the heart of a close-in residential neighborhood, it is a favorite Mecca for the kiddies who love it's green carpeted expanse, and it's flower bordered fountain. Could Durant but spend a day during the summer months in viewing the pleasure which his gift affords, he surely would be well repaid for it's cost.
As the picture shows, many of the large trees were preserved in landscaping the block, assuring an abundance of shade, and the smaller ornamental trees that have been set out complete a picture of neatness and beauty not paralleled in any other of the city's parks. The general layout of the park somewhat resembles a spider web, with the large central fountain forming a nucleus from which concrete walks wind to each of the four corners of the park.
During the summer months, and until frost cuts the flowers in the fall, the park is a riot of color. Well placed beds of cannas, salvia, and ornamental grasses blend with the green of the sod and trees. The park is provided with perpetual care, so that as long as the city lives and breathes, Durant Park will endure as a monument to the affection of the financial genius after whom it was named, and the gratitude of Lansing will be as lasting.