Abandoned Police Station in Downtown Detroit

Third Precinct Police Station - Hunt Street Station, Detroit Michigan
Date added: November 06, 2023 Categories: Michigan Police Station Beaux-Arts
Looking Southeast from Gratiot Avenue showing present appearance (1979)

The building was designed by Detroit architect Edward C. Van Leyen in 1896. It is a rich example of a Beaux Arts influenced public building of the turn of the century. The essentially rectangular structure was interestingly massed to belie its boxy shape and richly ornamented with terra-cotta and limestone carvings. When it was built, it was the most imposing building on this part of Gratiot Avenue and dwarfed in magnificence the surrounding houses in this modest residential area. The Italian Renaissance derived structure was designed to convey a sense of the dignity and authority of the law enforcement agency it housed. Today, although deteriorated, it is one of the finest institutional buildings of this period remaining in Detroit and a prominent landmark on Gratiot Avenue.

Located on the corner of Dubois and Hunt streets, barely a mile from the center of downtown Detroit, the station was considered a major addition to the city's law enforcement agency in 1897, Jacqueline De Young's History of Detroit Police Department Precincts states that "when it was first opened, the new 'eastern headquarters' was considered to be the most functional police facility in the country. The third floor, later to become the first police training school in the United States, was originally included as dormitory space for the accommodation of personnel."

In 1897, this personnel consisted of thirty-six officers and men, including one captain, two sergeants, three roundsmen, twenty-eight patrolmen, and two doormen, a considerable staff when compared to its contemporary equivalent. The fact that dormitory space was required is another reminder of earlier days, for De Young notes, "when the Third Precinct station was first built, each officer worked a twelve-hour day and a third shift known as "Dog Watch" was on call at the station."

In 1897, the territory covered by the Third Precinct extended to the city's boundaries to the north and to the east. It is a striking indication of how concentrated settlement was in the center of the city and how thin in the outlying areas that a single precinct so near downtown could stretch its jurisdiction to the city limits.

By 1913, a need for a police training school had developed. The Hunt Street Station was able to accommodate such a need, and under the leadership of William P. Rutledge, a facility for training both patrolmen and officers was established. Included in its program were jiu-jitsu, military drill, revolver practice, riot formations, and practice with riot guns.

As law enforcement became more specialized and its needs more demanding, the Hunt Street Station slowly became obsolete. By 1945, the City of Detroit was recommending that precinct boundaries be redrawn again and, in 1959, the Third and Seventh precincts were consolidated and a new precinct station built at Mack and Gratiot. The Hunt Street Station was subsequently sold to a private party.

Little altered over the years, the station is one of only a few such buildings remaining in Detroit. Current plans to re-use the long-vacant structure as artist studios and a gallery are sensitive to the building's fabric and floor plan and will help ensure its survival.

The Hunt Street Station is also significant for its long association in Detroit's black community with oppression and police brutality. Although a shameful and painful memory for all Detroiters, this is an important aspect of the building's history. The Hunt Street Station stands as a reminder for many Detroiters of a past period of injustice, discrimination and more positively as a benchmark to the progress of civil rights and racial equality for blacks.

The role of the Hunt Street Station in the oppression of Detroit's black residents traces its origins to the early twentieth century. Southern black migration to the city exploded in the years between 1910 and 1930. A black population of 5,741 in 1910 grew to 40,838 by 1920, an increase of 611 percent in only one decade. Doubling again to above 80,000 by 1925, the figure rose to 120,066 by 1930 The Hunt Street Precinct, Detroit's lower east side, absorbed 85% of this crushing migration.

By contrast, the face of the law in Detroit remained white. As of September 21, 1926, the Detroit Police Department employed 2,848 police officers of whom only 14 or 0.05% were black. Published allegations of police brutality at the Hunt Street Station appeared often in the black press and other sources.

The historically negative perception of the Hunt Street Police Station by black Detroiters expressed the continuing historic problem of a paucity of black officers and patrolmen. A 1958 Detroit Urban League study found only 94 minority officers on a Detroit Police force of 2,410. The Third Precinct (Hunt) had only 22 minority officers on a precinct staff of 139, in spite of the fact it had served the city's most populous black neighborhood. In 1959, Detroit police officials took a first step toward improved community relations when the Hunt Street station pioneered integrated scout car units.

This tentative action was only the beginning of a major reform movement that has transformed the Detroit Police Force into the modern, fully integrated professional agency it is today. This important reform was one of the last major innovations to occur at the Hunt Street facility before it was closed in 1960. The territory was subsequently incorporated into the new Seventh Precinct.

Building Description

The Hunt Street Police Station is sited at the intersection of three streets; Gratiot Hunt, and Dubois; about one-mile northeast of the heart of Detroit's central business district. It occupies almost its entire lot in a deteriorated, late nineteenth-century, working-class residential area of small, detached, frame houses and brick industrial buildings. Gratiot Avenue, one of Detroit's widest thoroughfares, is lined with early twentieth-century brick commercial blocks and small industrial buildings.

The station is a rectangular, three-story, hip-roofed, yellow-ochre pressed brick and limestone structure. The exterior is richly massed with projecting and receding planes and a staggered cornice line that effectively disguise the building's essentially boxy form. The entrance is located in a curved corner bay facing Gratiot Avenue. Only the Hunt and Dubois street elevations are architecturally significant. The other two sides are unornamented and utilitarian in character.

The exterior walls of the two principle elevations are sheathed in banded limestone on the basement and first stories while the upper two floors are faced in brick. The first-story windows are inset into the smooth limestone without architectural articulation. Two different types of window treatments add interest to the plain, one-over-one, sash fenestration of the upper stories. The tall, projecting pavilions facing Hunt and Dubois streets have their second and third-floor windows vertically unified by arched guilloche-patterned, terra-cotta enframements, the third-floor windows having arched tops. The spaces between the tops of these windows contain plain white marble roundels set off by elaborate, high-relief, terra-cotta garlands. In contrast to the richly appointed projecting pavilions, the receding wall planes have simply enframed windows with gauged brick architraves, those on the second floor being further elaborated with denticulated molded caps.

The boldly projecting modillion cornice is formed of metal. It was fabricated by the Detroit Cornice and Slate Company. Below the cornice, the frieze has a reeded design formed by a soldier course of alternating projecting and receding bricks. The original parapet balustrade of turned balusters between paneled brick piers has been lost except for the brick bases of the piers.

The focal point of the richly detailed exterior is the curving entrance pavilion. This curve is echoed by the slightly projecting limestone portico sheltering the recessed entrance at the first-story level. A pair of unfluted columns with composite capitals of an original design incorporating small, high-relief busts of helmeted policemen (each with a different face are set in antis between pilasters with similar capitals, The pilaster shafts are carved in high relief with elaborate foliated classical urns, oversized police badges, crossed nightsticks, handcuffs, and snarling lion heads. Above a denticulated cornice, a classically-profiled limestone balustrade, identical to the one which originally adorned the roof, encloses a false balcony, Behind this balcony, the brick-enframed, curving, second-story window is flanked by terra-cotta roundels inset in the wall. These are emblazoned with high-relief police insignia encircled by garlands and decorated with ribbonwork. The denticulated, boldly profiled, window cap is surmounted by a large, scrolled terra-cotta cartouche containing more police insignia.

A limestone belt course enriched with a terra-cotta molding separates the second and third stories. At the roof line, a brick pier inset with a large, rectangular, terra-cotta panel carved with a festoon provided a base for a metal Flagpole (now removed except for the scrolled base). The curving balustrade that flanked this flagpole base has been removed along with the other roof balustrades,

In the early twentieth century, a plain, one-bay, one-story, concrete garage was added to the north. This simple, utilitarian structure contains an embossed tin ceiling on the inside.

The interior of the main building reflects its use as a police station, The first floor contains a large main room with the original twenty-foot paneled counter. This room has a terrazzo floor, tongue-and-groove vertical board wainscoting with plaster walls above and an embossed tin ceiling. Two lock-up rooms, two simply finished offices and a large backroom complete the first floor.

A broad wooden staircase, now missing most of its wooden balustrade, extends to the third floor. The second floor contains a locker room, a shower room and several offices, all simply finished with plaster walls and ceilings. The third floor contains a band room and a gymnasium that is complete with a shooting range, a boxing ring, and the remnants of other physical exercise equipment. The gymnasium has a wooden floor, vertical tongue-and-groove boarding (car-siding) on the walls, and two exposed iron trusses, about five feet deep, supporting the roof.

Throughout the building, the original reeded wooden door and window casings and six-horizontal-paneled doors remain.

Third Precinct Police Station - Hunt Street Station, Detroit Michigan Looking southeast from Gratiot Avenue showing the original appearance (1898)
Looking southeast from Gratiot Avenue showing the original appearance (1898)

Third Precinct Police Station - Hunt Street Station, Detroit Michigan Looking Southeast from Gratiot Avenue showing present appearance (1979)
Looking Southeast from Gratiot Avenue showing present appearance (1979)

Third Precinct Police Station - Hunt Street Station, Detroit Michigan Main entrance detail (1979)
Main entrance detail (1979)

Third Precinct Police Station - Hunt Street Station, Detroit Michigan Detail of pilaster decoration on the entrance portico (1979)
Detail of pilaster decoration on the entrance portico (1979)

Third Precinct Police Station - Hunt Street Station, Detroit Michigan Detail of column capital on the entrance portico (1979)
Detail of column capital on the entrance portico (1979)