Historic Detroit

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

American Legion Hall

This building was designed by Van Leyen & Schilling as the Detroit Lodge of Elks #34. It stood on the southwest corner of Cass Avenue and West Lafayette Boulevard.

Construction began in 1915, and the marble-filled building was dedicated June 26, 1917. It even had "an elevator that moved as swiftly as City Hall's," the Free Press recalled in 1963.

Trouble was, "Cass Avenue was barely wide enough to allow two Model T's to pass -- even going slowly. The City, in its wisdom, wanted room enough for even buses," the Free Press continued. So 16 feet was lopped off the Elks Lodge, giving the building a lopsided appearance and moving its entrance off-center.

In 1934, the Wayne County Council of the American Legion had outgrown its headquarters and bought the old Elks Lodge. From that point on, the building was known as the American Legion Hall. It became a place to knock back cold ones while swapping war stories for "the Hinky Dinky boys, already middle-aged and beginning to fight their personal battles of the bulge," the Free Press recounted in 1963.

The USO took over the building in 1941, but the Legion returned in 1946.

But the suburbs began bleeding Detroit of its population, including its veterans. Suburban posts started popping up, and the vets hit Eight Mile. Dwindling membership at the downtown location led to declining maintenance on the old building. Rather than pump money into their old home, the board of trustees voted to sell the building and its share of an adjoining parking lot.

The hall closed Nov. 11, 1963 -- Veterans Day.

The building was torn down the following year. The site later became home to the Manufacturers National Bank Operation Center, which opened in 1971 and was designed by Louis G. Redstone. Manufacturers was later absorbed by Detroit Bank & Trust, which then rebranded itself as Comerica.

The 14-story glass-and-granite building is best known for its 20 concrete bas reliefs, designed by Robert Youngman, a professor of art and architecture at the University of Illinois.