The University Club was a fraternal organization where the city’s educated men could go to hang out and network.
The organization was founded in 1899 in Swan’s Chop House at the northwest corner of Woodward and Larned. To be a member, you had to have graduated from a university or college. George P. Codd, a congressman and mayor, was the group’s first president. The group would move several times before it would move into this structure on East Jefferson in 1931. It was designed by William Kapp of the architectural firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls in the Collegiate Gothic style. Among its features were underground 4 Singles and 1 Doubles Squash Courts, and 1 Racquets Court, and a grand two-story great hall. There were also 24 bedrooms on the third floor. This building was for only the boys, and women were forced to use a side entrance on Jefferson.
As the years went by, membership declined. To stop this, in 1978, the group expanded to allow women to join. In 1985, the membership requirements were lowered to allow those who had completed only two years of college in. The University Club went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1992. The YWCA then took things over until 2008, when high upkeep costs led it to abandon the building. The structure was sold two years later to the owner of a liquor store who wanted to demolish the building for a fast food joint or another liquor store.
At 4:30 a.m. on June 15, 2013, a massive fire ripped through the club’s dining hall and destroyed other parts of the building. “It took fire crews nearly six hours to completely extinguish the blaze, which continued to flare up into the evening,” DetroitUrbex.com notes.
On Nov. 5, 2013, work crews from Able Demolition of Shelby Township, Mich., showed up and began tearing into the back of the building. By the end of the day, nearly the entire Jefferson Avenue facade was nothing but busted bricks and chunks of smashed sandstone.
The last of the building came down on Nov. 9. A sad, quick ending to one of Detroit’s longstanding landmarks.