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One of GR's oldest construction companies celebrates 100 years

Craig Datema, CEO of Triangle Associates

“The joys of construction are the tangible products you realize from your efforts." Craig Datema celebrates his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, remembering the past 100 years of Triangle Associates.
Builder George Datema began his career building homes on the northeast side of town. By 1918, he had founded his own company, George Datema and Sons, to provide a career opportunity for sons Roy and Claude. During the ‘20s, Roy began running the company. Unlike many businesses, Datema and Sons survived the Great Depression. Roy’s leadership continued the company’s success through the post-World War II era by shifting to a commercial building focus. Some of Datema’s commercial projects included the Sweetland Building, 2160 Plainfield Ave. NE (1925), the very first Meijer store in Greenville (1934), the Stadium Arena, now the Deltaplex, 2500 Turner Ave. NW (1952), and Central Reformed Church, 10 College Ave. NE (1957).

The company also constructed many homes in the north Plainfield Avenue neighborhood during the ‘30s and ‘40s. “Just a year ago, someone contacted us. They were doing renovation in their home,” says Craig Datema, CEO and chairman of Triangle Inc. since 1993. “They found a board in the wall signed by my great-grandfather and my grandfather’s younger brother, Claude, concealed in structure.”

When Roy passed in 1959, his son, Roy Jr., took over leadership. In 1963, he formed Triangle Inc. with two partners, his brother-in-law, Kenneth Ripma, and engineer, Charles Miller Jr. The name “Triangle” reflects the three partners’ commitment to the new company. George Datema and Sons, a union company, continued to run side-by-side with Triangle for seven years. Triangle Inc. chose to be an open shop (non-union) that upheld union-inspired values.

“One of the reasons Grand Rapids has a strong construction culture is that we believe in the same values that the union holds as ideals: safety and good compensation,” Datema says. “We do that voluntarily without having to negotiate with a third party.”

In 1976, George Datema and Sons shut down after completing its last project, the Towers Medical Office Building, 21 Michigan Ave. NE. (The building was demolished in 2008 as Grand Rapids “Medical Mile” expanded.)

However, Triangle Inc. has continued to be a construction leader in restoring a vibrant character to Grand Rapids’ historical, downtown building stock. Recent examples include: Dwelling Place (numerous 2000 to the present); The Gallery on Fulton and Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (2010); 40 Pearl, “Trust Building” (2013); 125 Ottawa, “Ledyard Building” (2014); 50 Louis, “Trade Center Building” (2015); Ferguson Heartside Community Resource Center (2015); 300 Ottawa (2016); The Rowe Building (2016); and 234 North Division Offices (in progress).

Triangle is now involved in projects in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana and Colorado as well as Michigan. Fifth-generation Steve Datema, Craig’s son, completed a construction engineering degree and worked with another company before his recent return to Triangle as a project manager.

“The joys of construction are the tangible products you realize from your efforts,” Craig Datema concludes. “Even today, when my father comes back to town, he likes to go past the old buildings he once worked on.”

Photography by Adam Bird of Bird + Bird Photo.

Historical image courtesy of Triangle Associates, Inc.
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