Historic Detroit

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

Welcome to Historic Detroit

October 2023 site update

Nov. 10, 2023

October saw more locations, more photos, more postcards … more of everything. We also saw us flex our preservationist muscle to help put the skids on the potential demolition of the historic Detroit Boat Club on Belle Isle.

We added eight buildings to the site. First up, the Fisher Administration Center, a University of Detroit Mercy campus landmark that is being demolished right now. We also added the Newberry & McMillan Building, a long-demolished but beautiful piece of Detroit history. The others were the Clairwood Apartments (currently undergoing a renovation), the Grosfield Building (a 19th-century gem currently targeted by the City for demolition), the Art Deco gem that is the Laredo Apartments (pictured), the Fisher Branch YMCA, and the Foch and Crockett schools. Some of these are rather skimpy on history, but we wanted to get the photo galleries up sooner rather than later - especially given that some of these are marked for demolition.

We mounted a full court press to bring media attention and mount opposition to the razing of the Detroit Boat Club. There’s too much to go into here, but you can read all about it at patreon.com/historicdetroit. We do more than just chronicle Detroit’s architectural history, we fight for it.

We also added 201 photos, both historical and current shots by our Helmut Ziewers. Among the biggest galleries were shots inside the aforementioned Grosfield Building and Laredo Apartments, the Detroit Boat Club, Holy Redeemer Parish, and the demolition of Fisher Admin.

And all of this is made possible by our Patreon patrons' generous contributions!

September 2023 site update

Oct. 13, 2023

September was a busy month, with some exciting news, some new locations added to the site and, of course, lots of new photos from HD photo guru Helmut Ziewers.

There were six new additions in September: Albert Kahn’s lost and forgotten hotel in Southwest Detroit, the Fort Clark Hotel; the much-beloved John K. King Books Building; the historic African-American church New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist (pictured above); the United Savings Bank Building, another Kahn design that is getting a new-old facelift with its ‘50s modernization being removed and restored; the demolished Somerset Apartments on East Jefferson, which was on the National Register of Historic Places; and lastly, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra caught everyone off guard by demolishing the historic St. Patrick’s Catholic Church next door.

The exciting news is that Michigan Central was so impressed with Helmut's photography, they brought him in to shoot sneak peeks of the train station. Though we can't post them ourselves, Michigan Central Station looks amazing. His photos ARE being rolled out on Michigan Central's social media channels, which are worth a follow to get a taste for what's to come when the depot reopens next year.

We added almost 150 photos last month, including photos of the aforementioned new additions. First, we chronicled the demolition of the Pochelon Building downtown, which met the wrecking ball. Other buildings that got new photos added: National Theatre, Annex Theatre, Broadway Exchange Building, Detroit Fire Department Headquarters, Book Tower, Bonstelle Theatre, Central United Methodist Church, St. Joseph Shrine, Fort Shelby Hotel, Trinity Lutheran Church, Garfield Building and more.

And all of this is made possible by our Patreon members and their generous donations for keeping the site up and running!

Historical spotlight: St. Boniface

Sep. 29, 2023

In the wake of this month's senseless demolition of St. Patrick's on Parsons, we figured we'd revisit another senseless loss of a Detroit Catholic Church that we added to our site recently, St. Boniface.

St. Boniface Catholic Church stood on the western outskirts of Corktown for more than 100 years, surviving a freeway plowing through its neighborhood, riotous Tigers fans, and, for a while, a shrinking city and congregation.

Though St. Boniface Catholic Church may have “saved souls,” it sadly would not be saved itself.

St. Boniface, the man, is known as the "apostle of the Germans," so it is no surprise that this Detroit parish started out as a German-American parish. St. Boniface, the church, was dedicated Aug. 19, 1883; it stood on Vermont Street, just south of what is now the Fisher Freeway Service Drive. Within a decade, the flock had swelled to some 800 families. The church was consecrated on Oct. 5, 1890, by Bishop John Foley - a rare honor in the Catholic church and often reserved for only cathedrals.

But what happened over the next 100 years is a sad but familiar story. As Detroit prepared to enter the 1990s, the city of Detroit had lost 850,000 people over 40 years, most of them white and many of them Catholic. In 1976, there were 104,380 Catholic households in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park; by 1988, just 12 years later, there were only 48,800.

On Sept. 28, 1988, Cardinal Edmund Szoka announced that the Archdiocese of Detroit would deal with the flight of parishioners to the suburbs by closing 43 Catholic churches - more than a third of the 112 in the city - the most extensive closure by a Catholic diocese in the country's history. Those churches slated for closure served 10,000 parishioners at the time.

St. Boniface was on that list.

What followed is also a sad but familiar story in Detroit. Parishioners and preservationists got the church placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it was bought by then-Tigers owner Tom Monaghan, who, after selling the baseball team, sold St. Boniface to a parking lot chain. Parking lot owners do what parking lot owners do: They demolished St. Boniface for a parking lot to serve Tigers fans on Nov. 13, 1996. The Tigers abandoned nearby Tiger Stadium three years later, and the site of St. Boniface has sat empty and mostly unused for the last 25 years.

You can read our full history and see photos of this beloved lost church right here.

August 2023 site update

Sep. 12, 2023

August saw more photos, more buildings, more postcards and incredible engagement on social media.

All of this is made possible by our Patreon members' generosity.

There were six new locations added to the site: the Detroit Trust Co. Building, St. Paul's German Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Boniface Catholic Church and the Polk Directory Building. St. Paul’s, more recently known as Assemble Sound, got a comprehensive photo documentation ahead of Michigan Central’s renovations of this 19th century Corktown church.

We also continued our effort to chronicle the beauty and histories of Detroit's schools, an effort that took on renewed urgency upon news that more than 20 have been slated for demolition. We added Marshall and Ruthruff schools last month.

We also added dozens - upon dozens and dozens - of photos of Music Hall, documenting darn near every nook and cranny. You can see all of those incredible images by Helmut on our site on the Music Hall page. Other photos have been added of the long-ago demolished Annex Theatre (it’s rare to come by images of these, so a big thanks to John Lauter for sharing them with us), and the recently renovated Book Depository, now known as Newlab at Michigan Central. The latter has undergone one of the most dramatic makeovers of any building in Detroit’s history.

Yours in documenting Detroit, - Dan Austin and Helmut Ziewers

Historical spotlight: The Peninsular Stove Co.

Aug. 22, 2023

Before Detroit was the Motor City, it was the Stove City.

The Peninsular Stove Co. stood on the site of the downtown U.S. Post Office along West Fort Street and Trumbull. Now, the history of the building itself isn't remarkably interesting, but what IS interesting is the story of Detroit's title as "the Stove Capital of the World." Before it was known for pumping out cars, our town was known for baking stoves.

In the late 19th century, Detroit made more than 10 percent of all the stoves in the world, and some 15,000 Detroiters worked in the city’s stove factories. Even as late as 1928, Detroit was producing two to three ranges every minute and 250,000 a year.

It’s also worth noting that, though early stoves were black, blocky, bland boxes of iron, the stoves being produced in Detroit during this era were treated like decorative, ornate pieces of furniture. Where today, you might have a rather plain black-and-stainless-steel model named the Samsung NV51K7770SG, the Michigan Stove Co. produced “the Defiance.” The Detroit Vapor Stove Co. made the Blue Star. The Art Stove Co. made the Laurel. These stoves had elaborate designs with floral or scroll motifs and were plated in nickel and brass. The Detroit Stove Works catalog offered more than 800 models to choose from - and every other major manufacturer had hundreds of designs of their own.

We dig into the manufacturing process behind these hot pieces of art, the family that single-handedly turned Detroit into the stove-making hotbed it was, and more fascinating history than you possibly could have thought possible about stoves.

You can read all about it here.

July 2023 site update

Jul. 31, 2023

In addition to adding hundreds of more photos to galleries across the site, we added several more locations.

First, we have chronicled the history of the Hannan Memorial YMCA on East Jefferson, which is likely doomed to fall to the wrecking ball. We trace not only the story of the building, but of its namesake.

We also continued our effort to chronicle the beauty and histories of Detroit's schools, an effort that took on renewed urgency upon news that more than 20 have been slated for demolition. Other new additions to the site include Hanneman, Sampson and Stephens elementaries.

New photos were added to (the current) Detroit Opera House (81 images), St. Joseph Shrine (60 images), Fisher Building (21 images of details), and a few shots of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Theodore J. Levin U.S. Courthouse, First State Bank, Book-Cadillac Hotel, and Broadway Exchange Building. We also continued to document the demolition of the Detroit Harbor Terminal building (better known as the last home of the Boblo Boat dock) in Delray.

One of the more labor-intensive tasks we've undertaken is retouching and restoring dozens of historic images, including the State Savings Bank, Detroit Opera House (all 32 historic and pre-renovation images), Fisher Building (34 historic images), and Michigan Central Station (82 historic images).

June 2023 site update

Jun. 19, 2023

We continue to add hundreds of images to the site through the talented eye of HD photographer Helmut Ziewers. Among the additions: a dozen shots of the Detroit Institute of Arts, a handful more additions to the stunning renovation of the Book Tower, and we have been documenting the demolition of the Detroit Harbor Terminal Building (aka the Boblo Jefferson Dock). The biggest addition this month, however, is that we got access to the Bonstelle Theatre just ahead of its planned restoration. We’ve added a gallery of pre-renovation photos to its page.

In addition, we’ve added several locations to the site in the past month: Oakman and Monnier Elementary schools, St. Columba Episcopal Church and St. John Cantius Catholic Church in Delray. The latter is truly one of the most uniquely located churches in the city - but sadly, the church’s days could be numbered with it closed and the Gordie Howe International Bridge near.

Last month, I promised that we’d have some accessibility updates for you, and I am happy to say we delivered. The biggest update was improving the site on mobile, namely the location name search filter. We know that more than half of the 30,000+ site visitors we get each month are on mobile, improving the site’s performance for them is our top priority. We also instituted a temporary solution to identifying still-standing versus demolished buildings: If the building’s profile picture is black and white, it’s gone; if it’s in color, it still stands.

And it’s all made possible by the generous support of our Patreon supporters. Thank you!

May 2023 site update

May. 20, 2023

We’ve got a lot of updates for you this month, as the website continues to see more action this year than I can remember.

Since Helmut Ziewers joined the site as our director of photography in February, we’ve added 96 buildings, 232 new photo galleries, and nearly 1,700 new photos .

Among those new photos are some from a sneak peek we got at the recently renovated Book Tower. I’ve seen a lot of jaw-dropping interiors in Detroit, and in my opinion, the restored Book Tower is right up there with the best. You should definitely take a look.

We’ve also been working on site and accessibility improvements. The biggest is, sadly, still in progress. I had delayed the May update hoping it would be fixed, but we still need a few days. That big update is improving the site on mobile, namely the location filter. We know that more than half of the 30,000+ site visitors we get each month are on mobile, so improving the site’s performance for them is our top priority.

We also are working to implement better search filters across the board. As we inch closer to 1,000 total locations, we know we can’t have folks scrolling for days to find the buildings they want to learn more about. One of those updates will include filtering by whether a building is still standing versus those that were razed, as well as by physical location, whether downtown or in the neighborhoods, etc. In the interim, we are converting all the profile pictures of locations that no longer stand to black and white to differentiate on the main list.

Our rather ambitious project of documenting many of Detroit’s schools continues. The most in-depth addition last month was the S. James Herman School on Tireman. This stunning, unique-looking school was built to serve the kids of the since-razed Herman Gardens. We also dive, briefly, into the infamous public housing project - and the unbelievable scandal that involved the resignation of THREE corrupt Detroit councilmembers. Other significant additions include a history and photos of the since-demolished Scovel Memorial Presbyterian Church, where Henry Ford once prayed.

And it’s all made possible by the generous support of our Patreon supporters. Thank you!

Yours in documenting Detroit,

Dan Austin and Helmut Ziewers

April 2023 site update

Apr. 12, 2023

Last month, we told you about Helmut Ziewers joining the site as our director of photography and that big things were on the way.

Well, in the two months he’s been on board, Helmut has added an astonishing 1,600 images to the site’s galleries. He has single-handedly tripled the number of non-historic images that were on the site. That’s in addition to upgrading 191 building thumbnail images on their individual pages. But that’s not all. Since we last wrote, we have added - wait for it - 51 new locations to the site. That’s insane considering we were averaging only a couple a month for the last few years. It’s amazing what we have been up to. Now, a couple of those new sites have rather bare-bones pages, but not most of them, and we plan to add more info. We’ve begun a rather ambitious project of documenting many of Detroit’s schools. Burgess, Burt, Carstens and Holcomb are first up - with a LOT to go. Though there’s not space here to list all 51 new locations, highlights include St. Agnes Catholic Church, the second Pontchartrain Hotel, the Park Avenue House, the Iodent Building and a slew of buildings along the Woodward shopping corridor downtown.

On top of all that, we’re working on making the site more user-friendly. As we continue to add all these buildings, we know we have to help you find what you’re looking for faster. We hope to have an update on navigation updates for you next month. And as we’ve added individual pages for more buildings, we’re going back through older entries and linking them to these new locations. We’re also trying to make the mobile version of the site better because, well, it’s 2023.

Phew! And we’re not done yet. We’ve got more photos, more schools, more buildings and yes, more vintage postcards in store for you.

And it’s all made possible by the generous support of our Patreon supporters. Thank you! If you're interested in helping us do what we do and keep this progress going, you can become a backer at www.patreon.com/historicdetroit. We'll also be adding some cool new donation incentives soon. More on that later.

Yours in documenting Detroit,

Dan Austin and Helmut Ziewers

March 2023 site update

Mar. 10, 2023

Last month, I shared the incredible news that Helmut Ziewers has joined the site. He has already added more than ONE THOUSAND images in the past month, in addition to some great suggestions to improve the site. We have added new subjects to filter your building searches by, including theaters and churches, and have begun documenting Detroit’s schools – especially those that are closed but still standing. More than 14 locations have been added in the past month. Some are short blurbs with photo galleries; others, like the L.B. King/Annis Fur Building and the Art Stove Building, are full histories.

To sum it up, the past month has seen more updates than almost all of last year. I’m beyond excited and reinvigorated. Thank you, especially, to our Patreon patrons for sticking with us, and stay tuned for more updates and a much better site.