Historic Detroit

Orchestra Place Apartments

This building was built as an activities building for the League of Catholic Women, opening on Parsons near Cass on Jan. 18, 1928.

Ground was broken on the building at 2 p.m. Dec. 30, 1926, with the Right Rev. Michael J. Gallagher, who was the bishop of Detroit at the time, officiating. Members of various women’s clubs also took part. The structure was designed by the renowned firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls; Davis & McGonigle served as contractors.

The eight-story red-brick building housed the League of Catholic Women’s offices, housing the branches of the philanthropic interests of the League, as well as a dormitory of 250 rooms for young Catholic women, an auditorium, an infirmary and a cafeteria. The rooms were “rented at a nominal charge and there will be no creed restrictions on residents,” the Detroit Free Press noted at the time of the groundbreaking.

“The completion of this building will enable the organization to carry on its program of preventive social work more fully than has been possible in the past,” Mrs. Edward Askin Skae, president of the League, told the Free Press in January 1927.

“Employed young women who have recently arrived in the city will be able to find home-like surroundings at a reasonable cost during the period while they are becoming accustomed to metropolitan ways of living,” the Free Press wrote in April 1927.

The project was financed by members of the League, with donations coming from a brick drive and a series of tea parties dinners and and card and dancing parties. The fund-raising drive kicked off March 26, 1927. The structure cost about $600,000 to build, about $8.2 million today, when adjusted for inflation.

“People have said that $600,000 is too much money to spend … but this will be a building for the use of all of the Catholic women of the city,” Askin Skae told the Free Press in April 1927.

The fund drive did not reach its goal of raising $500,000, but was deemed enough of a success to tack two more floors onto the building and up the capacity to 250 rooms instead of 150 as initially planned.

The cornerstone was laid at 2 p.m. April 27, 1927, again with Right Rev. Gallagher again leading the proceedings. Gallagher and his aides were escorted to the site by the Detroit assembly commandery, Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus. Many of the Catholic pastors of Detroit attended, as did heads of various religious orders of the city and Mayor John W. Smith.

The cornerstone included a copper box containing a coin, the names of all members of the League of Catholic Women for 1927, the names of all contributors to the building fund, copies of the annual reports of the League since 1911, a photograph of the League’s founder, the late Mrs. Charles W. Casgrain, and the latest edition of “The Catholic Women.”

The building was run through revenue from building rentals, the cafeteria and instructive classes.

Today, the building is known as Orchestra Place Apartments, and serves as a Section 8 independent-living apartment for senior citizens. According to its website, “Amenities include a professional and courteous staff, 24-hour emergency maintenace (sic), an on-site library, community room and chapel.” It offers one- and two-bedroom apartments.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 22, 1997.