Historic Detroit

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

Alexander Blain Hospital

This hospital got its start when Dr. Alexander W. Blain, a prominent Detroit surgeon at Harper Hospital, opened a group medical clinic in 1911, "desiring to improve methods of diagnosis and treatment," Clarence M. Burton wrote in his "The City of Detroit, Michigan."

Dr. Blain was born March 4, 1885, in Detroit at the residence at Elmwood Cemetery, where his father was superintendent. The Eastern High School graduate founded the Michigan Audubon Society in 1904, two years before the Detroit native graduated from the Detroit College of Medicine. His career as a physician grew out of his ambition to be a naturalist. Though he was known for his skills operating on humans, he was said to always find time to mend a bird's injured wing.

"Dr. Blain maintained that specialists should not be isolated, but should work together so that the patient could have the benefit of specialists working in various lines," Burton continued.

In 1918, Blain moved his clinic into this building, originally a home built in 1892 for J.H. McMillan and designed by Mason & Rice. The structure, at East Jefferson Avenue and Dubois Street, was transformed into a medical and surgical building, with labs and consultation and treatment rooms. By 1922, Blain's clinic was seeing more than 5,000 patients a year, including some from others states and Canada.

The following year, the clinic's booming business would see it become a 50-bed general hospital, and renamed the Jefferson Clinic and Diagnostic Hospital.

On Oct. 10, 1936, Blain announced that he was renaming the hospital in the memory of his father, Alexander W. Blain Sr., who had died two years earlier at age 92.

At the time of the renaming, it was one of the oldest private clinics in the Midwest.

In 1942, it became a nonprofit, public-oriented institution.

Dr. Blain continued to serve as director and surgeon until 1953, serving thereafter as a consultant until he died Dec. 14, 1958. He died at age 73 at his own hospital. He was laid to rest at Elmwood, returning to where he was born.

When he died, the Detroit Free Press Editorial Board eulogized him, saying, "Dr. Blain was a healer and the health and welfare of his fellow humans were his first concern. His name ranks high among the great practitioners of this City and his loss will be felt by thousands of friends and admirers in all walks of civic life."

In the summer of 1959, the former Charles DuCharme house at 2165 E. Jefferson Ave. was demolished by American Housewrecking Co. to make way for a new Blain Hospital expansion. The mansion, built in 1887 and designed by Mason & Rice, was one of the few survivors of what was once one of Detroit's finest residential streets.

Alexander Blain III, the hospital's medical director, announced in March 1960 that construction would start April 1, 1960, on a new $500,000, 45-room addition designed by Carl B. Marr. The older building was to be used as a clinic. In November 1961, the annex was opened and a bronze plaque by sculptor Marshall Fredericks that honored Alexander Blain and his son Dr. Alexander Blain.

A building permit was issued in mid-June 1967 for $700,000 worth of alterations and a two-story addition. On Nov. 16, 1967, Mayor Jerome Cavanagh placed the cornerstone for the addition, which was designed by the firm Bennett & Straight. The contractor was Englehardt, Buettner and Holt. Another five stories were planned to be added in the future but never materialized.

But times were changing in the hospital industry, as the country was seeing a national trend away from independent hospitals and toward larger, multi-hospital corporations. Blain had been absorbed by the Detroit-Macomb Hospitals Corp.

As Detroit entered the 1980s, it also was deemed that there was an excess number of beds in southeast Michigan. Because extra hospitals and beds increase health-care costs, and because hospitals often tried to fill those beds with people who did not need to be hospitalized, the state sought to close and consolidate.

In 1981, the Comprehensive Health Planning Agency of Southeastern Michigan approved a bed-reduction plan that called for the getting rid of Blain and another of Detroit-Macomb Hospitals' locations, the Charles Godwin Jennings Hospital. Detroit-Macomb sued, and the CHPASM agreed out of court to support combining Jennings and Blain into one hospital, thus reducing the number of beds in the region.

In 1984, a proposed 315-bed Jennings-Blain Memorial Hospital was proposed for the corner of East Jefferson and Seyburn. It was to be finished in 1986 and replace the 117-bed Blain, the 300-bed Detroit Memorial Hospital on St. Antoine, and the 126-bed Jennings Hospital.

The old Blain building closed in 1987 and the original section of the building was then demolished.

Blain-Jennings was later merged into the St. John Health System.

In August 1997, the Detroit Free Press reported that the 1961 and '68 additions would be converted into a 66,000-square-foot office facility. That portion survives today and is home to the Detroit Police Department's Gaming Division.