Abandoned meeting hall in Detroit

Grand Army of the Republic Building, Detroit Michigan
Date added: February 16, 2023 Categories: Michigan Community Facility
Camera facing South (1985)

The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was founded in 1866 as a society for men who fought for the North in the Civil War. Its purpose was to strengthen fellowship among men who fought to preserve the Union, honor those killed in the war, provide care for their dependents and "uphold the Constitution." The G.A.R. served as a lobbying group and Congress responded by making generous allocations to Civil War veterans. The G.A.R. started the custom of celebrating Memorial Day on May 30, 1868, to honor the graves of Union soldiers. Eventually, 391 G.A.R. posts were established in Michigan alone. In Detroit, the G.A.R. had among its members some of the city's most respected citizens, including Hazen Pingree, Mayor of Detroit and Governor of Michigan, and Claudius Grant, Justice of the Michigan State Supreme Court.

Detroit and Michigan veterans groups lobbied the City to erect a memorial meeting building in 1891. The site selected was part of the farm of Lewis Cass, Territorial Governor of Michigan from 1813 to 1831, who donated the land for a market. Cass Market was erected on the site in 1867. On February 11, 1896, the Common Council directed the execution of a lease of the present site to the G.A.R. on the condition that the first floor of the building they were to construct would be devoted to the purposes of a public market, in accord with Cass' deed to the City. The Cass Market was demolished in 1896 and the G.A.R Building was erected on the site at an estimated cost of $44,000, with $38,000 coming from the sale of city bonds. Henry Engelbert was hired as the architect, but was relieved of his duties soon after and replaced by Julius Hess, apparently due to Hess' popularity among some G.A.R. members. Hess died in 1899 and left his one-time partner, Richard Raseman, to supervise the final stages of the G.A.R. Building's construction. Raseman added electric lighting and an elevator enclosure to the original plans. In an effort to cut costs, the basement under the market, all except that necessary for boilers and elevators, was eliminated. The building was completed in November of 1900.

From the time of its opening the G.A.R. Building was utilized as a gathering place for parties, dances, weekly or monthly meetings, and celebrations of national holidays by various veterans groups. The G.A.R. collected the market rents while the city maintained the building. After the original thirty-year lease expired in 1927, an additional five-year lease was granted and after that there were year-to-year extensions. By 1934, only twenty-four G.A.R. members remained, the youngest being the eighty-seven-year-old W. J. Fraser.

Instead of tearing the building down, the City made some improvements and, in 1937, the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) began a two-year occupancy. Two years later the City Department of Public Welfare was granted permission to occupy all parts of the building not used by veterans organizations. The Detroit Parks and Recreation Department took over the building in 1943 for use as a recreation center. Formal lease agreements with G.A.R.-related groups ceased after this time, although the women's auxiliary organizations were permitted to continue their meetings in the building as a courtesy. The G.A.R. Memorial Association has not held meetings in the G.A.R. Building since 1973. The structure was sold to private developers to be rehabilitated for office use.

Julius Hess, well known Detroit architect, was born near Zurich, Switzerland in 1841 and began his architectural training there. At the age of seventeen he emigrated to the United States and, in 1874, he moved to Detroit. He continued his practice independently for twelve years, during which time he executed numerous Detroit churches. Hess affiliated with Richard Raseman in the firm of Hess and Raseman from 1885 to 1891. Raseman is credited with the original Edison Illuminating Company Building, which is replicated at Greenfield Village. He was primarily an industrial specialist and is remembered for his designs of several Detroit breweries. Mr. Hess was the senior partner and designed a variety of buildings, among them the Trumbull Avenue Presbyterian Church, several county courthouses in Michigan, and the Michigan Building at the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia.

Building Description

The G.A.R. Building has a triangular shape resulting from its placement on a site where Cass and Grand River meet in a "V" and are crossed on the northwest by Adams Street. The limestone and sandstone building is designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. The east and west ends of the south or front facade have crenelated engaged towers rising from the second story to above the roofline. There is arcading beneath the battlements and the towers are punctured with a variety of window shapes and openings. Smaller round buttresses flank gabled pavilions on all three sides of the building, and a turret forms the northwest corner. The major opening in the south facade is the large arched entrance at the base of the gabled pavilion. Fenestration of the rest of the building is almost symmetrically arranged and includes a variety of niches and openings.

The exterior walls of the south-facing G.A.R. Building are of rock-faced gray limestone on the street level and rock-face, reddish-brown sandstone, trimmed with smooth-face belt courses at window sill and lintel level, above. The foundation walls are of uncoursed rubble. The building's textured exterior treatment is enhanced by carved foliage detailing on the capitals of the Romanesque columns flanking the entrance portal and subdividing the paired window above it and on the bases of the round buttresses flanking the ends of the gable-roof, central sections of all three facades. Dentil-like, stone corbelling appears in the frieze below the modern sheet-metal cornice. A cornerstone at the southeast corner of the building contains the inscription, "Memorial to the Soldiers and Sailors of 1861 to 1865." Composition shingles replaced the original slate on the hip and gable roof long ago, and the flat roofs of the turrets are sheathed in tar-covered sheet metal.

Over the years there have been relatively few changes to the exterior of the building. The most visible alteration is the replacement of the original windows and doors in the north end of the first floor with glass block in 1944. Originally, these windows were similar to those remaining in the south half of the first floor. A fire escape was added to the east facade in 1904, necessitating the remodeling of three windows into doors. The widening of streets and sidewalks at various times led to the walling up of lightwell openings in the basement.

On the interior, the building also exhibits only modest changes. The alterations have been made primarily at the north end of the first floor and on the third floor. The first-floor interior is distinguished by a carved staircase and a ceramic tile entrance lobby floor inlaid with the flag and the inscription "G.A.R., 1861-1865." The second floor consists of G.A.R. organizational meeting rooms and has been kept closed from recreational users of the building. As a result, these rooms contain much of their original atmosphere. The fourth and attic story at the north end consist of an auditorium and overlooking concave balcony. These floors have richer ornamentation, including circular transom windows in the auditorium and semi-circular segmented windows lighting the balcony. The building is in remarkably good condition today.

Grand Army of the Republic Building, Detroit Michigan 5<sup>th</sup> floor West (1985)
5th floor West (1985)

Grand Army of the Republic Building, Detroit Michigan 4<sup>th</sup> floor West (1985)
4th floor West (1985)

Grand Army of the Republic Building, Detroit Michigan 4<sup>th</sup> floor West (1985)
4th floor West (1985)

Grand Army of the Republic Building, Detroit Michigan 4<sup>th</sup> floor West (1985)
4th floor West (1985)

Grand Army of the Republic Building, Detroit Michigan 5<sup>th</sup> floor looking to 4<sup>th</sup> West (1985)
5th floor looking to 4th West (1985)

Grand Army of the Republic Building, Detroit Michigan 4<sup>th</sup> floor West (1985)
4th floor West (1985)

Grand Army of the Republic Building, Detroit Michigan 3<sup>rd</sup> floor stairway (1985)
3rd floor stairway (1985)

Grand Army of the Republic Building, Detroit Michigan 3<sup>rd</sup> floor East (1985)
3rd floor East (1985)

Grand Army of the Republic Building, Detroit Michigan 3<sup>rd</sup> floor West (1985)
3rd floor West (1985)

Grand Army of the Republic Building, Detroit Michigan 2<sup>nd</sup> floor West (1985)
2nd floor West (1985)