Historic Detroit

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

Veterans Memorial Building

Following the conclusion of World War II, there was a great interest in building a new structure in downtown Detroit that would serve as a memorial for the city's veterans.

The post-war years also saw an unprecedented push in Detroit for urban renewal and the erection of modern structures. It was behind this backdrop that a large swath of the city's riverfront real estate was razed and turned into Hart Plaza, part of a larger civic center plan. Other buildings that were part of this mid-century makeover included the City-County Building (now Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, Ford Auditorium and Cobo Center.

Designed by the firm Harley, Ellington & Day in the International Style as part of the Civic Center and Hart Plaza. Construction on the 10-story, marble-sheathed building began in 1948, and the building was dedicated on June 11, 1950. The first public meeting held in the building was attended by Henry Ford II, labor leader Walter P. Reuther and others to discuss the city's future.

Above the entrance on the north side of the building is the sculpture "Victory Eagle" by the renowned Marshall Fredericks, who also designed the nearby "Spirit of Detroit." The 30-foot eagle is carved in relief and adds to the building's tribute to those who served our country. Clutched in its talons are olive branches, representing peace. The eagle is depicted flying into the future while "looking back in remembrance of the past."

The 141,000-square-foot building originally served as offices for veterans services organizations and other city agencies.

Following their deaths in a small-plane crash on on May 9, 1970, Walter and May Reuther laid in repose in the building.

In 1995, the city leased the building to the UAW, and the interior of the structure underwent heavy modifications starting that January. It was also about this time that a large window was added above the Fredericks sculpture, altering the original exterior appearance of the building. The building was rededicated Oct. 1, 1997, and renamed the UAW-Ford National Programs Center.

Inside the building, there is a life-size bronze sculpture of Walter Reuther and Henry Ford II shaking hands across a bargaining table.

UAW-Ford uses the building to host community and mentoring groups and as a training center.

While going through bankruptcy, the city sold the building to the UAW in late November 2014 for $7.1 million. A parking garage was also included in the deal. As part of the deal, a $1.3 million debt that the nonprofit UAW-Ford owed the City of Detroit in unpaid back rent was forgiven. The Detroit City Council unanimously approved the sale on Nov. 25, 2014.

UAW-Ford chose to exercise an option to buy the building under its lease, which had expired seven years earlier, in 2007. The organization had been renting the facility on a month-to-month basis ever since for $830,000 a year.