Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Welcome to Historic Detroit

Farewell to the Hannan

Feb. 12, 2024

Demolition began Feb. 12, 2024, on the Hannan Memorial YMCA. Its demise was not a surprise, as the building had a target on it for years. But as we like to remind demolition enthusiasts, buildings are made of more than bricks - they are made of our city's stories. To learn more about this doomed east side landmark, head over to our page on the Hannan. We will chronicle the Hannan's demolition over the next month or so. The Hannan is only the latest historic Detroit building to fall to the wrecking ball in the first month and a half of the year, with the National Theatre and Hanneman Elementary also succumbing to the wreckers' siege. After several years of seeing historic preservation victories, the last year and change have seen the city revert to old form.

February 2024 site update

Feb. 8, 2024

Here’s your January update recap.

We added four churches to the site: Assumption Grotto, St. Francis D’Assisi (pictured above), St. Hedwig and St. Peter’s Episcopal. We have two in-depth histories that just didn’t quite get over the finish line last month, but when they post this month, our Patreon patrons always get early access. We’re quite happy with what we’ve unearthed from the newspaper archives, and think you’ll find our histories quite interesting.

We added 28 photo galleries, including historical and current ones for the four churches above. Others included Coleman A. Young International Airport (aka City Airport), Mount Calvary Luthern Church, Harpos (formerly the Harper Theatre) and the Hartz Building. We also have been documenting the demolitions of the National Theatre and Foch Intermediate School. All in all, there were 304 photos added in January alone.

And all of this is made possible by our Patreon supporters' generous contributions! Thanks for sticking with us and supporting what we do!

January 2024 site update

Jan. 14, 2024

Last year was a huge year for us, with Helmut Ziewers joining me on the team and adding 3,799 (!!!) photos to the site. We also added 133 locations over 2023, more postcard scans than I can count, a bunch of historic architectural renderings and more. This year will see lots more updates, plus the reopening of Michigan Central Station. We shot photos of the inside, and trust us, you’re going to be blown away. (No, we can’t share them yet, but when the building opens this summer, they’ll be posted!)

We were tied up during the holidays, like most people, so December saw us add only the three buildings that we told you about last time, but Helmut did add 314 photos in December, including galleries of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church (pictured here), Cathedral Church of St. Paul, and St. Mary of Redford Parish. We are back and work and recharged post-holidays with histories in the work on the Detroit College of Law and a couple of surprises that we look forward to unveiling to our Patreon patrons first. If you're interested in helping to support what we do and snag yourself some cool Detroit loot and early access, you can go to www.patreon.com/historicdetroit to sign up.

For the next year, all patrons who sign up to receive a free vintage Detroit postcard will now get TWO each month! Plus, we still have some 1920s train tickets from Michigan Central Station left, which are sure to be a hot item with the building's reopening this summer.

Thank you!

November-December 2023 site update

Dec. 11, 2023

Happy holidays, from HistoricDetroit.org!

November saw a number of site updates, including more than 400 (!!!) new photos added. It also saw us continue our efforts to stop the potential demolition of the historic Detroit Boat Club on Belle Isle. With the holidays coming up fast, we’re going to roll December’s updates thus far into this recap for you.

We have added eight buildings to the site. The most in-depth write-ups are of the historic St. Mary of Redford Parish and the Thunderbird Motel. St. Mary is still going strong today, a beautiful church that Helmut Ziewers documented from top to bottom with his beautiful photography. The Thunderbird opened in 1957 as a cute Mid-Century Modern motel, one of many that popped up around Detroit. By the 1990s, however, it was a hive of nefarious goings-on. The Thunderbird turned out to be a lightning rod for trouble, and we’ve got it all for you, from being robbed at Air Gun point by the “Beatnik Guitarist” Bandit to the federal raid that led to its closure and demolition for a parking lot for the main post office. Check it out on our site.

We also added pages and photos for the El Tovar Apartments, the Bennett Building, the Globe Tobacco Building, the Post Intermediate School, the Nativity of Our Lord Church and Blenheim Apartments.

Among the 400-plus photos are some jaw-dropping shots of churches by Helmut, including the Cathedrals of St. Paul, Most Blessed Sacrament and St. Anthony and the Nativity of Our Lord Church. He also has been documenting the work at the Bonstelle Theatre that is restoring its original Albert Kahn-designed glory. We also added a number of historical photos to various galleries.

And all of this is made possible by our Patreon patrons' generous contributions! Thanks for sticking with us and supporting what we do!

Helmut and I wish you and yours a happy holiday season, and we can’t wait to show you what we’ve got in store for 2024.

October 2023 site update

Nov. 10, 2023

October saw more locations, more photos, more postcards … more of everything. We also saw us flex our preservationist muscle to help put the skids on the potential demolition of the historic Detroit Boat Club on Belle Isle.

We added eight buildings to the site. First up, the Fisher Administration Center, a University of Detroit Mercy campus landmark that is being demolished right now. We also added the Newberry & McMillan Building, a long-demolished but beautiful piece of Detroit history. The others were the Clairwood Apartments (currently undergoing a renovation), the Grosfield Building (a 19th-century gem currently targeted by the City for demolition), the Art Deco gem that is the Laredo Apartments (pictured), the Fisher Branch YMCA, and the Foch and Crockett schools. Some of these are rather skimpy on history, but we wanted to get the photo galleries up sooner rather than later - especially given that some of these are marked for demolition.

We mounted a full court press to bring media attention and mount opposition to the razing of the Detroit Boat Club. There’s too much to go into here, but you can read all about it at patreon.com/historicdetroit. We do more than just chronicle Detroit’s architectural history, we fight for it.

We also added 201 photos, both historical and current shots by our Helmut Ziewers. Among the biggest galleries were shots inside the aforementioned Grosfield Building and Laredo Apartments, the Detroit Boat Club, Holy Redeemer Parish, and the demolition of Fisher Admin.

And all of this is made possible by our Patreon patrons' generous contributions!

September 2023 site update

Oct. 13, 2023

September was a busy month, with some exciting news, some new locations added to the site and, of course, lots of new photos from HD photo guru Helmut Ziewers.

There were six new additions in September: Albert Kahn’s lost and forgotten hotel in Southwest Detroit, the Fort Clark Hotel; the much-beloved John K. King Books Building; the historic African-American church New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist (pictured above); the United Savings Bank Building, another Kahn design that is getting a new-old facelift with its ‘50s modernization being removed and restored; the demolished Somerset Apartments on East Jefferson, which was on the National Register of Historic Places; and lastly, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra caught everyone off guard by demolishing the historic St. Patrick’s Catholic Church next door.

The exciting news is that Michigan Central was so impressed with Helmut's photography, they brought him in to shoot sneak peeks of the train station. Though we can't post them ourselves, Michigan Central Station looks amazing. His photos ARE being rolled out on Michigan Central's social media channels, which are worth a follow to get a taste for what's to come when the depot reopens next year.

We added almost 150 photos last month, including photos of the aforementioned new additions. First, we chronicled the demolition of the Pochelon Building downtown, which met the wrecking ball. Other buildings that got new photos added: National Theatre, Annex Theatre, Broadway Exchange Building, Detroit Fire Department Headquarters, Book Tower, Bonstelle Theatre, Central United Methodist Church, St. Joseph Shrine, Fort Shelby Hotel, Trinity Lutheran Church, Garfield Building and more.

And all of this is made possible by our Patreon members and their generous donations for keeping the site up and running!

Historical spotlight: St. Boniface

Sep. 29, 2023

In the wake of this month's senseless demolition of St. Patrick's on Parsons, we figured we'd revisit another senseless loss of a Detroit Catholic Church that we added to our site recently, St. Boniface.

St. Boniface Catholic Church stood on the western outskirts of Corktown for more than 100 years, surviving a freeway plowing through its neighborhood, riotous Tigers fans, and, for a while, a shrinking city and congregation.

Though St. Boniface Catholic Church may have “saved souls,” it sadly would not be saved itself.

St. Boniface, the man, is known as the "apostle of the Germans," so it is no surprise that this Detroit parish started out as a German-American parish. St. Boniface, the church, was dedicated Aug. 19, 1883; it stood on Vermont Street, just south of what is now the Fisher Freeway Service Drive. Within a decade, the flock had swelled to some 800 families. The church was consecrated on Oct. 5, 1890, by Bishop John Foley - a rare honor in the Catholic church and often reserved for only cathedrals.

But what happened over the next 100 years is a sad but familiar story. As Detroit prepared to enter the 1990s, the city of Detroit had lost 850,000 people over 40 years, most of them white and many of them Catholic. In 1976, there were 104,380 Catholic households in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park; by 1988, just 12 years later, there were only 48,800.

On Sept. 28, 1988, Cardinal Edmund Szoka announced that the Archdiocese of Detroit would deal with the flight of parishioners to the suburbs by closing 43 Catholic churches - more than a third of the 112 in the city - the most extensive closure by a Catholic diocese in the country's history. Those churches slated for closure served 10,000 parishioners at the time.

St. Boniface was on that list.

What followed is also a sad but familiar story in Detroit. Parishioners and preservationists got the church placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it was bought by then-Tigers owner Tom Monaghan, who, after selling the baseball team, sold St. Boniface to a parking lot chain. Parking lot owners do what parking lot owners do: They demolished St. Boniface for a parking lot to serve Tigers fans on Nov. 13, 1996. The Tigers abandoned nearby Tiger Stadium three years later, and the site of St. Boniface has sat empty and mostly unused for the last 25 years.

You can read our full history and see photos of this beloved lost church right here.

August 2023 site update

Sep. 12, 2023

August saw more photos, more buildings, more postcards and incredible engagement on social media.

All of this is made possible by our Patreon members' generosity.

There were six new locations added to the site: the Detroit Trust Co. Building, St. Paul's German Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Boniface Catholic Church and the Polk Directory Building. St. Paul’s, more recently known as Assemble Sound, got a comprehensive photo documentation ahead of Michigan Central’s renovations of this 19th century Corktown church.

We also continued our effort to chronicle the beauty and histories of Detroit's schools, an effort that took on renewed urgency upon news that more than 20 have been slated for demolition. We added Marshall and Ruthruff schools last month.

We also added dozens - upon dozens and dozens - of photos of Music Hall, documenting darn near every nook and cranny. You can see all of those incredible images by Helmut on our site on the Music Hall page. Other photos have been added of the long-ago demolished Annex Theatre (it’s rare to come by images of these, so a big thanks to John Lauter for sharing them with us), and the recently renovated Book Depository, now known as Newlab at Michigan Central. The latter has undergone one of the most dramatic makeovers of any building in Detroit’s history.

Yours in documenting Detroit, - Dan Austin and Helmut Ziewers

Historical spotlight: The Peninsular Stove Co.

Aug. 22, 2023

Before Detroit was the Motor City, it was the Stove City.

The Peninsular Stove Co. stood on the site of the downtown U.S. Post Office along West Fort Street and Trumbull. Now, the history of the building itself isn't remarkably interesting, but what IS interesting is the story of Detroit's title as "the Stove Capital of the World." Before it was known for pumping out cars, our town was known for baking stoves.

In the late 19th century, Detroit made more than 10 percent of all the stoves in the world, and some 15,000 Detroiters worked in the city’s stove factories. Even as late as 1928, Detroit was producing two to three ranges every minute and 250,000 a year.

It’s also worth noting that, though early stoves were black, blocky, bland boxes of iron, the stoves being produced in Detroit during this era were treated like decorative, ornate pieces of furniture. Where today, you might have a rather plain black-and-stainless-steel model named the Samsung NV51K7770SG, the Michigan Stove Co. produced “the Defiance.” The Detroit Vapor Stove Co. made the Blue Star. The Art Stove Co. made the Laurel. These stoves had elaborate designs with floral or scroll motifs and were plated in nickel and brass. The Detroit Stove Works catalog offered more than 800 models to choose from - and every other major manufacturer had hundreds of designs of their own.

We dig into the manufacturing process behind these hot pieces of art, the family that single-handedly turned Detroit into the stove-making hotbed it was, and more fascinating history than you possibly could have thought possible about stoves.

You can read all about it here.

July 2023 site update

Jul. 31, 2023

In addition to adding hundreds of more photos to galleries across the site, we added several more locations.

First, we have chronicled the history of the Hannan Memorial YMCA on East Jefferson, which is likely doomed to fall to the wrecking ball. We trace not only the story of the building, but of its namesake.

We also continued our effort to chronicle the beauty and histories of Detroit's schools, an effort that took on renewed urgency upon news that more than 20 have been slated for demolition. Other new additions to the site include Hanneman, Sampson and Stephens elementaries.

New photos were added to (the current) Detroit Opera House (81 images), St. Joseph Shrine (60 images), Fisher Building (21 images of details), and a few shots of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Theodore J. Levin U.S. Courthouse, First State Bank, Book-Cadillac Hotel, and Broadway Exchange Building. We also continued to document the demolition of the Detroit Harbor Terminal building (better known as the last home of the Boblo Boat dock) in Delray.

One of the more labor-intensive tasks we've undertaken is retouching and restoring dozens of historic images, including the State Savings Bank, Detroit Opera House (all 32 historic and pre-renovation images), Fisher Building (34 historic images), and Michigan Central Station (82 historic images).