Historic Detroit

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

Temple of the Maccabees

This house started off as the home of a beloved lumberman and ended up being felled for an Art Deco masterpiece.

In April 1887, the Free Press reported that Edward Smith would erect this two-story stone home and a barn on the southwest corner of Woodward and Putnam avenues at a cost of $37,000, the equivalent of about $1.3 million in 2024, when adjusted for inflation. The original architect of the house was not reported at the time, and has seemingly been lost to time. The house was one of a number of stately mansions that once lined Woodward Avenue.

The Free Press wrote Feb. 19, 1903, that Smith was "one of the army of men who, coming from the East nearly half a century ago, helped to develop Michigan and give it the prominence it attained as a lumber state."

Edward Stanton Smith was born Sept. 1, 1928, in Stonington, Conn., to Col. Joseph and Nancy Smith, and was the youngest of 11 children. On May 5, 1851, he married Sarah Boyden, who was born May 29, 1823. The couple moved to Michigan around 1862, settling in the heavily forested town of Forester, in Sanilac County, where he started a lumber mill. Shortly after arriving in the Great Lakes State, the Smiths had their only child, a daughter, Emma Farwell Smith, who was born Jan. 14, 1863, in Port Huron.

Hot on the heels of little Emma’s arrival, Smith helped bring into the world the Gratwick, Smith & Fryer Lumber Co. in Oscoda, along Lake Huron. Smith served as the secretary and treasurer, and was "the active member of the firm, and practically the controlling spirit," the Free Press reported Feb. 19, 1903. Gratwick, Smith & Fryer also had offices in Albany, N.Y., and Tonawanda, N.Y. “This company revolutionized the lumber industry, by boldly buying up vast timber tracts and providing its own transportation and milling,” The Buffalo (N.Y.) Commercial Advertiser wrote Aug. 15, 1899.

Smith was prominent enough in the lumber industry to have a lumber-hauling steamship named after him, which ran from 1883 until it was destroyed by fire in 1930. But beyond his business acumen, he was just an all-around genial guy, with the Detroit Free Press describing him Feb. 19, 1903, as being “of a genial, sunny temperament, and a universal favorite among a large circle of friends.”

The Smiths moved to Detroit in 1881, settling in a rented home at what was then 384 Jefferson Ave. for a few years, before moving to a home on West Fort Street. All the while, he managed the lumber company’s operations from Detroit - making him something of an early work-from-home pioneer. The Smiths’ new 25-room manse on Woodward and Putnam was completed in 1888. The parlor, living room, library, dining room and bedrooms were all lavishly decorated, and the woodwork found throughout was what you’d expect to find in the home of a successful lumber baron. Edward and Sarah Smith lived in the house with their daughter, Emma, and her husband, Frank Grainger “F.G.” Smith, a successful Detroit jeweler. (Yes, Smith was indeed Emma’s maiden and married last name.)

Everything must go - including the house

The lumber firm closed up shop around 1897, and Smith retired in order to take “life easy in his modest home," the Detroit News wrote Feb. 19, 1903. The Detroit Free Press seconded this, writing the same day that, being "of a decidedly domestic nature, Mr. Smith found his greatest comfort in life at home."

On Feb. 18, 1903, Smith died in this house. He was 74, and had suffered a stroke a week earlier. His funeral was held Feb. 21, 1903, in his beloved home. The service was conducted by the Rev. Jacob Horton of Campbell Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church. Smith was buried in his native Stonington, Conn.

Emma and Frank Smith took over the house, and Smith’s widow continued to live with them. (Interestingly, after Emma Smith died in 1928, F.G. Smith - a highly successful Detroit jeweler - married Anna Mary Foto, who was the ex-wife of a former bodyguard of Al Capone.)

A fire destroyed the house’s barn, as well as two cars inside, on Aug. 30, 1905. The Free Press wrote the following morning that the Detroit Fire Department saved the house from also being consumed by the flames.

Edward Smith's widow, Sarah Smith, like her husband, died in their beloved house, on June 10, 1906. They were buried together at Evergreen Cemetery in their native Stonington, Conn.

Not long after Sarah Smith’s passing, it was announced on Jan. 26, 1908, that Emma and Frank Smith had sold the house and grounds to the Maccabees for $50,000. The Maccabees was a fraternal organization that provided low-cost insurance to its members, and was relocating to Detroit from Port Huron, Mich., as it looked to scale up its business operations.

Four days after the announcement, on Jan. 30, 1908, the Smiths auctioned off $20,000 worth of furnishings at the house, the equivalent of some $690,000 in 2024 valuation. An ad in that day's Detroit Free Press said the auction offered the "finest and costliest lot of furniture ever offered at auction in this city." Just about everything in the house was put under the hammer, from paintings, bronzes and statuary, to the furniture and piano, to the china, cut glass and silverware, to the Oriental rugs and 2,500 yards of carpet. The Free Press reported the following day that the auction ended "with every article in the 25 rooms disposed of." In all, about 700 pieces of furniture were sold "and there was some spirited bidding at times for the most coveted articles."

On June 14, 1908, the Detroit Free Press reported that as part of the Maccabees’ efforts to turn a home into its new headquarters, the structure was to be remodeled and a large addition tacked onto the rear of the building. This work was led by the Detroit architectural firm Malcolmson & Higginbotham.

The order moved into its new temple on Jan. 27, 1909, "receiving many visitors and having them escorted through the various richly furnished and faultlessly equipped departments," the Free Press reported the following morning. "A sultan could hardly expect to find hismelf in a suite more luxuriously appointed than those which the supreme officers of this powerful fraternal organization have." Maccabees dignitaries from Pittsburgh, Buffalo, N.Y., Ontario, Pennsylvania, Chicago, St. Louis, Lexington, Ky., and elsewhere came to attend the opening. The order had started working out of its new home several months before the grand opening while the remodeling was still under way.

For the next 17 years, it would call the Smith house home. Over that time, its membership would grow to more than 200,000 members across the United States and Canada, and its assets increased from $8 million to more than $25 million - when adjusted for inflation, that's the equivalent of some $443 million in 2024 valuation.

The ‘Bees new hive

On May 15, 1925, Maccabees Supreme Commander A.W. Frye announced at the order's regular board meeting that it would erect a new $2.5 million, 14-story building of Bedford limestone on the site of the former Smith house and their current headquarters. "Ample funds are in hand for the erection of the new building, which will be a monument to fraternalism in America," Frye said.

On Sept. 10, 1925, the Maccabees transferred the $25 million in its vaults to those of the U.S. Mortgage Bond Building downtown. "As soon as the move is finished, work of wrecking the old building will commence and, within 30 days," the Detroit Free Press wrote Sept. 20, 1925, "this old landmark of fraternity in Detroit will be no more."

Ground was broken for the ‘Bees’ new skyscraper on Dec. 29, 1925. "Dispensing with the usual tin shovel, A.W. Frye, supreme commander of the Maccabees, grasped the throttle of a huge steam shovel and scooped up 2 tons of dirt, dumped it to one side and jumped to the ground."

The Maccabees’ monument was expected to be completed by Jan. 1, 1927, and designed in what is now known as the Art Deco style by Detroit’s leading architect, Albert Kahn.

"It will personify the idea of truth in architecture," Kahn told the Detroit Free Press for a Dec. 30, 1925 story. "In other words, there will be nothing concealed by false frills. Every office and room in the building will receive its full share of sunlight and fresh air."

The building was formally opened July 23, 1927, when 5,000 Maccabees members from around the country and Canada descended on the city.

The Maccabees left their Art Deco gem in 1960, relocating to suburban Southfield, and Detroit Public Schools took over for four decades. After DPS moved to the Fisher Building, Wayne State University bought the building in 2002, and continues to use it for administrative and departmental offices.