Historic Detroit

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

Somerset Apartments

The Somerset Apartments was one of the stately apartment buildings that once lined East Jefferson Avenue, one so stately it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Sadly, firebugs didn't show it the same respect as well-heeled Detroiters from 100 years ago.

The building stood on the north side of Jefferson between Riopelle and Orleans streets. The building fronted 70 feet on East Jefferson, and was 200 feet deep. The cost was a reported $450,000. It replaced two homes, one formerly occupied by Lawrence K. Butler and the other by Maurice O. Williams.

The building was four stories with a basement, coated in tapestry brick and cut stone. Initially, the building had 78 apartments of two- and three-room apartments. The architect was C. Howard Crane, and Elmer George Kiehler and Cyril E. Schley were associate architects.

"An important addition to Jefferson Avenue, in keeping with the character of the district, is being made in the new Somerset Apartments," an ad in the Detroit Free Press from Dec. 10, 1922, said. "Such buildings as the Somerset Apartments go far towards establishing suitable housing accommodations for the hundreds of families that are constantly flocking to America's Fourth City. They constitute also visible evidence of a certain belief and faith in the future growth of Detroit."

The lobby and lounge had wide fireplaces and "heavy pile carpets and large easy chairs," the ad said. The corridors, living rooms and bedrooms were carpeted, and the breakfast rooms and kitchens have inlaid linoleum. The woodwork was in French gray and ivory. The bedrooms were finished in enamel, while the living rooms were furnished in "varied color schemes of a desirable type." The two-room apartments had Murphy beds; the three-room apartments had traditional beds. The kitchens were furnished with steel white enamel cabinets, refrigerators and gas stoves. The bathrooms were finished in white tile with built-in shower-tubs.

Unlike many apartments in Detroit at the time, the Somerset didn't rent to transient guests, only long-term tenants. It was built for the City Investing Co., which also managed it.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Oct. 9, 1985. Its nomination called the Somerset "a significant example of high-quality, middle-class multi-unit residential architecture. It is a notable representation of the development of East Jefferson Avenue as it progressed through the 1920s and demonstrates the tendency of applying historical motives - in this case Georgian - to an otherwise simple and modern structure."

But the building fell vacant after that. The building was bought for $600,000 in 2003 by a Florida-based LLC called Somerset 2002, which tried flipping it four years later for $1.7 million. It found no takers, and the building continued to go downhill. In 2008, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration targeted for demolition, though it dodged the bullet for a few more years.

The building suffered a fire Jan. 24, 2012. In November 2013, someone finished the job, setting the Somerset on fire again, either an arson or a homeless person trying to keep warm. The building was reduced to a smoldering pile of limestone and brick, and its demolition was completed in early 2014.