Historic Detroit

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Colony Club Building

An historical description of the exterior of the Colony Club comes from Michigan Women magazine of November 1929:

"The refinement and repose of the Georgian exterior reflects the simple dignity of the interiors and also expresses the various units of the plan. The first story, forming the base of the façades, is of limestone, appropriately framing the separate shop fronts, which, with their muntined windows and delicately detailed ironwork, lend an air of pleasant intimacy to the lower story.

A molded stone architrave with a carved shield of the Club emblem above it, accents the main entrance on Park Avenue, and, with its interesting frame, and leaded glass fanlight, the door presents an inviting appearance. The ballroom entrance, marked by a marquise extending to the street, is on the Montcalm Street side, removed from the heavy traffic of Park Avenue.

The façade above the base is of a mellow red brick, contrasting pleasantly with the buff limestone trim, and the windows with their flush wood frames and muntins. The Park Avenue side is accentuated by a decorative slender Ionic pilaster treatment over the main entrance, appropriately framing the three large circular windows of the ballroom.

An unbroken surface above these bays forms a transition to the increased play of light and shade afforded by the Solarium Terrace with its stone balustrade flanked by the brick gables and pedimented stone openings."

Today the exterior differs primarily by the replacement of the original windows. An interior description of the formal rooms with their elaborate Louis XVI décor can also be found in the same source. Today, the interior of the Colony Club Building looks very institutional, reflective of its recent past as an educational complex for the Detroit Institute of Technology and Wayne County Community College, and the Detroit Police Academy.

Walls have all been painted over, and the floors tiled with linoleum. The ballroom, used as a testing hall for police cadets as well as a sort of gymnasium for defensive tactics training, is still in excellent condition.

The Colony Club was formed by women who wanted a club with smaller membership than the Women's City Club down the street. Membership was exclusive, and included women with names from Detroit's elite: Newberry, Alger, Briggs, Fisher, Ford, Leland, Booth, Palms, etc.

Smith, Hinchman, & Grylls were retained as the architects; the wives of the principals were members of the Colony Club. Palms, Stoepel & Co. (again wives of the principals were club members) were selected as realty agents to select a suitable site. Three sites were considered: Bagley Avenue at First, Madison Avenue at Randolph, and Park at Montcalm. The Park Avenue site was selected as the most desirable, according to it first president as reported by Michigan Women magazine in February 1929: We consider this site to be exceptionally fine, as it is in the heart of a newly developing business and shopping district, within a block of the Vernor Highway, near Second Boulevard, and therefore accessible to those who approach from the eastern and northern sections of the City.

The permit for the Colony Club building was issued on November 17, 1928, #53309, with an estimated cost of construction of $600,000. The groundbreaking took place on September 17, 1928. Walbridge-Aldinger served as contractor. The cornerstone was laid on November 20, 1928.

The Colony Club had the sad irony of holding its three-day grand opening on October 24- 26, 1929, just days before the Stock Market crash that marked the onset of the Great Depression. In the few years of its existence, the Colony Club was very active, and its activities -- the lectures, luncheons, debuts, balls, etc. -- are amply documented on the pages of Michigan Women magazine. On March 31, 1931, for example, club member Clara Bryant Ford, president of the National Farm and Garden Association and wife of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, gave a lecture on farms and gardens.

However, by April 1931 the magazine was openly reporting the negative effects of the Depression on the Colony Club's finances. By June Michigan Women reported that the club had just escaped receivership, memberships were off, and an audit conducted showed that "the Club was not being operated economically." The club took remedial measures, including offering "Class B" memberships. The Colony Club did not survive, however, and by 1935 it disappears from the Detroit City Directory.

During the late 1930s the building housed Antler Post No. 334 of the American Legion and Elks Club BPOE Detroit Lodge No. 34. By 1941, the building entered its second era of significance, when longtime Detroit & Wayne County Federation of Labor president Frank X. Martel made the building the union's headquarters. The Detroit Labor News wrote in 1955, "Unionists of the city are proud of this temple, which is regarded as a veritable monument to Frank X. Martel, whose motivating influence and resourcefulness were chiefly responsible in procuring this elaborate edifice as a house of 1abor. " Aside from the offices of Detroit Labor News, the building housed a number of union locals under the AFL umbrella, including the Metal Polisher's Local No.1. The Detroit City Directory lists the AFL at this site at least through 1958, so the AFL would have been at this location when the national union merged 1955 with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to become the AFL-CIO.

The building was listed as vacant in 1964. From 1965 through the last Detroit City Directory in the Burton Collection, 1973, the building housed the Detroit Institute of Technology. It later housed Wayne County Community College before it was used by the Detroit Police Department.

It was purchased by Charles Forbes in 1984, restored by the Forbes Management Company and serves as a a historic event space for weddings and private events in Detroit today.

Last updated 21/04/2023