Historic Detroit

The Harmonie Club

The Harmonie Club traces its origins to 1849 when four German immigrants gathered together a group of ten young men to meet and sing the German Lieder under the name of Gesang-Verein Harmonie. the membership increased rapidly and in 1852 the club was chartered by the State. By 1875, when it was incorporated, the club had a reputation for offering the best German song and music. In that year the Harmonie Club dedicated its first club house at Beaubien and Lafayette. In 1893 this structure burned, but the German community in Detroit had grown so significantly in both numbers and prominence in the intervening years that the need for a larger and more opulent meeting place had long been felt anyway. An architectural competition, in which only German-American architects were asked to participate, resulted in the selection of the design for the present building. which was soon to began at the new site on Harmonie Park.

From the time the club occupied its lavish new home in December in 1895, it gained in prominence in the cultural life of Detroit. It carried out its original purpose to foster musical activities and good fellowship and continued to be a noted musical and social organization down to the mid-twentieth century. The club house lounges offered thind dining. a tavern. card rooms. a bowling alley and elegant lounges for use of its large membership.ss

After 1950, the Harmonie Club membership dwindled. By this time the German community had lost much of its ethnic identity. Nevertheless, the remaining membership undertook several small-scale interior redecorations in the 1950’s and 1960’s, although the exterior was unchanged. Finally, in 1974, with only 350 members and debt aggregating $250,000, the club was sold to its past president, Gordon Chandler, who attempted to operate it as a German-oriented, semiprivate dining club. This effort eventually failed and the building was closed.

The Hamonie Club is also significant for its architectural qualities. Its architect, Richard E. Raseman, was a German by birth. He was one of a number of German-American architects working in Detroit at the turn of the 20th century. These firms were principally engaged in designing houses, churches and commercial blocks for the city’s large and affluent German population.

His design for the Harmonie Club reflects the classical, Beaux Arts style that was becoming popular for public buildings in the 1890’s. The use of buff-colored brick and the rather heavy, overscaled quality of the ornamental features are typical of this period. Raseman imbued his design with the solid, monumental character appropriate to a prominent German social club while reflecting contemporary opera house and theatre design in the façade to symbolize the organization’s primary interest in musical entertainment. Today the Harmonie Club is on of the finest and least altered structures of its kind in Detroit, as well as one of the city’s earlier surviving examples of Beaux Arts design.

The building is a rectangular, four story, hip-roofed, buff-colored brick structure of Beaux Arts design approximately 75’ X 100’ in size. The two elevations are unified bu a large curving corner section.

Above the low basement of rusticated stone, the brick first and second stories are banded while the third and fourth stories are faced with flush brick masonry articulated with colossal pilasters on pedestals. The on-over-one fenestration is symmetrically arranged. The windows on the first and second levels have elaborate aplayed lintels of banded brick while those of the third and fourth stories are unarticulated. The fourth story windows have arched tops.

The symmetrical façade on East Grand River Avenue is formally composed along classical lines. The central Ionic ordered entrance is under a broad arch extending through the second floor. Above the projecting molded metal course separating the second and third levels is a pedimental three-bay pavilion set off by brick pilasters and ornamented with a balustrade stone balcony centered over the entrance arch. The pediment contains a high relief, triumphally-articulated, foliated cartouche.

The Center Street elevation is less formally composed with fenestration located to respond to floor plan requirements.

The interior is divided into dining rooms, lounges, meeting rooms, and a bowling alley, a rathskeller dining room and two large auditoriums. Throughout the classical plasterwork and dark oak paneling are typical of the heavy handed. interior decorating popular for social clubs of the period.

The entrance leads to a large hall containing the wide Colonial Revival style staircase with bulbous turned balusters. Other than the staircase itself, the hall was refinished in a sleek modern style in 1953-1954 and retains none of its original finish.