Historic Detroit

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Wilshire Apartments

By the 1920s, the area around West Grand Boulevard and Vernor was seeing a tremendous amount of investment.

Well-off Detroiters were building stately homes along West Grand Boulevard and Hubbard and Vinewood streets. Clark Park was being ringed by a new YMCA and new schools. Looking to seize on this hot real estate market, Detroit building contractor Frank J. Kratz set out to plop three stately Tudor Revival apartment buildings on the boulevard in 1925 and 1926. To save on costs, all three were nearly identical. It is possible, though not confirmed, that Kratz not only built these structures, but designed them.

They were the Savannah Apartments at 250 W. Grand Blvd., just north of Lafayette; the Charleston Apartments at 421 W. Grand Blvd.; and the Wilshire Apartments, at 388 W. Grand Blvd. The Savannah and Wilshire are still in use today; the Charleston was torn down in 1987.

The buildings stand three-and-a-half stories tall and have paired bay windows on the apartments facing West Grand Boulevard, flanking the main entrance, which features a Tudor arch transom. They are faced with red brick and trimmed in limestone, with cartouche and shields carved in the spandrel panels between floors.

The building permit for the Wilshire was issued Oct. 17, 1925, and the building originally had 19 units. The architect is unknown.

The interior of the Wilshire does maintain some of its original details in the common areas. There is a decorative tile floor and wainscot in the entrance vestibule. The apartments themselves have all been renovated over nearly a century of residents and do not retain the original splendor, but have been renovated twice in the past two decades to provide modern amenities and stately affordable housing.

A four-room, fully furnished apartment in the Savannah was leasing for $90 a month in January 1928, so rents in the Wilshire were probably comparable.

Ads from Smith & Bisschop & Co. in 1979 touted that the Wilshire had been newly renovated, but didn't list a price. Despite having only 20 units, apartments remained available for much of the next few years. Ads in 1988 listed the rent as $280 a month with utilities included. The price dropped to $250 a month a year later. But the city's decline led to a dramatic drop in rents and home prices for single-family homes, leading to many of the city's historic apartment buildings to become abandoned. In 1990 or 1991, the Wilshire joined them.

In 1994, the Hubbard Farms Non-Profit Housing Group set out to renovate the building using community development block grants (CDBG) through the City of Detroit for low- to moderate-income family rentals. At some point, the vacant building was acquired by Southwest Nonprofit Housing Corp., today known as Southwest Housing Solutions.

On Oct. 14, 1998, the Southwest Nonprofit Housing celebrated a $1.75 million renovation of the vacant Wilshire into 20 units for low- to moderate-income Detroiters. Tenants began moving in that December. The following year, Southwest Nonprofit Housing began renovations on the Savannah. Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson was the architectural firm on both rehab project.

In December 2022, Southwest Housing Solutions celebrated once again, as the nonprofit completed a combined $7.9 million renovation of the Savannah and Wilshire. Across the two buildings, 40 units of deeply affordable housing at 50 percent to 60 percent area median income got full renovations.

Last updated 21/03/2023