Historic Detroit

Detroit Institute of Arts

When you have a building packed with gorgeous masterpieces, you’ve got to make sure the building itself is a work of art. The city’s art museum had previously been housed downtown at the castle like Museum of Art. With growing fortunes and a growing collection, Detroit needed something bigger and better. The Detroit Institute of Arts was seven years in the making, with ground being broken June 22, 1922, but the dedication not happening until Oct. 7, 1927. The building was designed by Paul Philippe Cret, an architecture professor at the University of Pennsylvania. As the inscription above the entrance notes, this building was “dedicated by the people of Detroit to the knowledge and enjoyment of art.” The DIA isn’t just full of sculptures and paintings; it’s also home to a French Gothic chapel from a 16th Century chateau that was carted over from Paris in 1924 by Ralph H. Booth, president of the city arts commission. On April 21, 1932, acclaimed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and painter Frido Kahlo arrived in Detroit in order to get to work turning the stately-but-bland Court into something special. The Edsel B. Ford Fund of the DIA’s Founders Society set aside several thousand dollars for two frescoes.

“The new art institute, which is built for now and for the future, cannot in the beginning escape an air of emptiness,” the Detroit Free Press wrote on the day of its opening. “It must wait on the years and a growing concrete interest in what it stands for, to fill its spaciousness more completely.” And those words came true. In fact, the DIA not only filled that emptiness, it grew beyond that. In 1966, a new southern wing was tacked onto the original building, and a new northern addition was built in 1971. Both additions, modern in design, were designed by architect Gunnar Birkerts. In 2001, the DIA underwent a major renovation and expansion, which saw another 35,000 square feet added. Today, the DIA encompasses 658,000 square feet.

More on this building coming soon.