Historic Detroit

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

Detroit Police Headquarters (old)

Many may be surprised to know that from Detroit's founding by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac in 1701 to 1860, Detroit did not have an organized police department. In the early 19th century, Detroit was considered a garrison city and the city marshal enforced the laws and army commanders formed local militias to protect the public. Instead, the city was policed by glorified neighborhood watches. It wasn't until Feb. 28, 1865, that the Michigan Legislature established the Metropolitan Police Commission, creating the Detroit Police Department.

Even then, the Civil War delayed the first 40 uniformed officers suiting up until May 15, 1865. "During the first active year of the police force, Detroit officers made 3,056 arrests and corralled 200 loose animals and 1,700 stray geese," according to the Detroit Historical Society. "The officers of this era were not issued weapons, but most carried personal handguns."

Eventually, it was decided that Detroit officers needed a new police HQ in the heart of downtown. There were a lot of angry Detroiters when men showed up with axes in April 1883 and started chopping down the maples and elms in East Park, a triangular piece of land bounded by Bates, Farmer and Randolph streets. The Detroit Police Department opened its new home here on May 20, 1884. This building, like many in 19th century Detroit, was designed by architect Gordon W. Lloyd.

But the city’s incredible growth after entering the 20th twentieth century required a larger police force — and with it, a much larger headquarters. Ground was broken for the building informally known as 1300 Beaubien in late 1921. The department’s traffic unit was the first to set up shop, on Dec. 22, 1922. Their fellow boys in blue joined them over the next month or so in the Albert Kahn-designed temple of law and order.

The former headquarters was used as a library branch until demolition began Feb. 9, 1928, to make way for the Water Board Building, which opened that September.

The Police Department moved out of the well-loved but well-worn 1300 Beaubien and into the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters - previously the temporary MGM Grand Detroit Casino - on Third Avenue and Howard Street on June 28, 2013.

More on this lost building of Detroit coming soon.

Last updated 04/05/2022