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Crushed Pineapple & Crushed Dreams

The R.P. Lewis Company at 128 North Washington Avenue in Downtown Saginaw’s Flint & Pere Marquette Building offered everything a customer could want, especially catering to women with many of its departments. According to the R.P. Oppermann, manager of the store in 1942: 


You’ll find wide aisles, to avoid congestion even during rush seasons...our merchandise is prominently displayed for ease of selection...and the lighting is designed to make it possible to select colors and shades without distortion. (The Saginaw News, May 18, 1942). 


The firm, held in the 65-year-old lumber era structure that once housed railroad headquarters, specialized in office supplies, furniture, and stationery. The social stationery department, in particular, was believed to be appealing to Saginaw’s women. The women working in this department were trained on the latest trends in correct social usage of stationery, “since the average woman has neither the time or the information available to keep abreast of the ever changing modes in social correspondence.” One must wonder how cutting-edge social correspondence could have been in 1942 to warrant a specially trained cadre of staff, but we’ll leave that to the fine people at R.P. Lewis Co. This department was useful, however, in helping customers with wedding and special announcement invitations. 


In May of 1942, R.P. Lewis was fairly new to Saginaw, having taken over the firm of Seeman & Peters the previous September. Maintaining the same staff, the transition was seamless, and the R.P. Lewis Co. chose to highlight this change and what it had to offer by giving prizes for the best recipes sent to the newspaper in May of 1942. This included a fountain pen for first prize (our featured recipe today) and a (somewhat lackluster) pencil sharpener for second prize. 

Unfortunately for R.P. Lewis Co., their stint in stationery at 128 N. Washington would be somewhat short-lived as less than 10 years later a devastating fire destroyed the top floors of the building, with damages estimated at $500,000. The fire started on Friday night, October 19, 1951, on what was believed to be the building's second floor—a storage area for R.P. Lewis. The intensity of the fire on the second and third floors left the cause itself a mystery, but R.P. Lewis suffered the highest damages—around $250,000. 

By the following Monday, however., R.P. Lewis Co. reopened at a temporary warehouse location, 139 South Water Street. According to company officials, “Our manufacturers already have begun shipping us new supplies...we’re back in business.” 

The F&PM Building holds a fascinating past even before R.P. Lewis, once serving as home to the Massachusetts Bonding & Insurance Company, the East Saginaw Post Office (while they were building the Castle Building in the 1890s), the Saginaw YMCA gymnasium, and the first location of Montgomery Ward & Co. in Saginaw. The building’s basement was even home to Turkish baths and a swimming pool at one time. After the 1951 fire, the building was rebuilt (and is still standing today), sans the fourth floor.  


This fascinating building is one of those featured in our upcoming Souvenir of Saginaw exhibit, opening on February 1. 


The Recipe: Crushed Pineapple Cake 

The original recipe was submitted to The Saginaw News by Mrs. Walter Soltysiak, who won a fountain pen from R.P. Lewis Co., for being "first prize."

1 ½ cups sugar 

¾ cup butter 

2 egg yolks, beaten light  

¾ cup sour milk 

1 tsp. baking soda 

1 tsp. baking powder 

1 cup pineapple well drained 

2 ½ cups flour 

¼ tsp. salt 


Cream sugar, butter, eggs, add sour milk to which ¼ teaspoon baking soda has been added. stir in pineapple and mix thoroughly. Sift flour, salt, rest of soda and baking powder three times and add to cream mixture. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold into mixture until well blended. 


Pour batter into two 8 inch layer pans greased and bake in slow oven (325 degrees F) from 35-40 minutes. 


Castle Test Kitchen Interpretation 



1 ½ cups sugar 

¾ cup butter, room temperature 

2 eggs, separated-yolks beaten light, whites reserved 

Scant ¾ milk 

2 T. white vinegar 

1 tsp. baking soda 

1 tsp. baking powder 

1 cup crushed pineapple well drained 

2 ½ cups flour 

¼ tsp. Salt 




Preheat oven to 325’ F. Grease and flour two 8” pans.* Cream the room temperature butter and sugar together until pale in color with an electric mixer, 2 minutes. Add the yolks and thoroughly incorporate.  


While the butter and sugar creams, add the vinegar to the milk, making ¾ cup liquid. Allow it to curdle (sour) slightly. Add ¼ tsp. baking soda to milk mixture. Add liquid mixture to butter mixture. Add drained crushed pineapple. 


In a separate bowl sift together flour, remaining ¾ teaspoon baking soda, baking powder and salt. Slowly incorporate dry ingredients into creamed mixture, making sure not to overbeat. It will be thick. 


In a separate, grease-free bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add beaten egg whites into batter, folding in until mixed thoroughly. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 35 minutes or until done. 




*While the original recipe called for layer pans, we would suggest a 9x13” single layer or even two 9x5” loaf pans. The resulting cake is more bread-like in consistency.  


-The misleading call for layer pans made us want to stack and frost the layers with something—we opted for whipped cream, but the texture of the “cake” made it more standalone appropriate and better suited for breakfast than dessert. We should have left it unadorned. 


-The second-prize winner of the contest was Mrs. S.E. Aspin of Freeland, Michigan, who was the lucky recipient of an R.P. Lewis Co. Pencil sharpener with her “Victory Sandwich Spread.” 


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