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pre-First World War postcard
of the G.A.R.
The Grand Army of the Republic was organized
in Decator Illinois just one year after the end
of the Civil War. Started with just 14 members
the organization grew to 400,000 Union veterans
dedicated to preserving the memory of their fallen
comrades. The G.A.R. is best known for their encampments
held across the country.
The Detroit post hired architect Julius Hess
to design a building on a narrow triangular lot
bound by Grand River, Cass and Adams. Work began
in 1898 and the building was completed in 1900.
Fitting for the group's military origins, Hess
selected the Richardson Romanesque style for the
building. Richardson Romanesque, distinguished
by its heavy appearance, was popular towards the
end of the 19th Century. The result was a castle-like
structure with small windows and load-bearing
stone walls. Total cost was $44,000, most of which
was provided by the city.
The building served as the G.A.R. headquarters
until the 1930's when it became an office for
the W.P.A. By then the Civil War veterans that
were the G.A.R. had passed away and the organization
also passed on. The last Michigan member had died
in 1948 and the last national member in 1951.
Fortunately the building would continue a public
use for the remainder of its active life. After
the W.P.A. other uses included a police lockup
and most recently as an activity center complete
with basketball and shuffleboard in the old 4th
floor G.A.R. meeting hall. Shuttered since 1982
the building's wooden structure remains in reasonable
condition and is well secured. The development
rights are currently owned by the Illitches, although
the building remains city property. Hopefully
the development rights will eventually translate
into bricks and mortar revival of this truly unique
and historic landmark.
Detroit News: Rearview Mirror
Hill, Eric, John Gallagher. AIA Detroit. Wayne
State University Press. Detroit, 2003.