H...ist for Harmonie

September, 2011.

You probably would not have guessed there is a such thing as East Grand River. Well, there is; the Harmonie Club stands at 267 E. Grand River, a tiny little stub of a street in Bricktown, the old German part of town (at right):

It sits across from Harmonie Park, which according to the “Woodward Plan” is an odd triangular-shaped plot of land resulting from Judge Woodward’s re-planning of the city after the Great Fire of 1805. F#$%ing urban planners…

Anyway, Harmonie Park is the mirror twin of Capitol Park on the west side of downtown. As you can see it abuts the Hotel Milner and is very much still a "work in progress":

The Detroit ‘krauts formed Die Gesang-Verein Harmonie, or “Harmonie Society,” in 1849 (making it older than the one in New York City), a social club to meet and sing Lieder, which is “a German art song for solo voice and piano.”

Their building at Lafayette and Beaubien burned down in 1893, and they held a competition (open only to German architects, not surprisingly), to design a new place for them. Herr Richard Raseman’s Beaux-Arts design was chosen, construction beginning in 1894.

It contained dining rooms, lounges, card rooms, meeting rooms, and two large auditoriums. It also included a rathskeller, which is a German beer hall traditionally located in the basement of a city hall, or nearby to one.

One would do well to note that Herr Raseman also oversaw the construction of another triangular building, the G.A.R. Building, after his partner Julius Hess died during its construction.

Above is an old shot I scanned from film in 2004. The cornerstone says 1874 because it is the transplanted cornerstone from the first building, which burned.

Thanks to the dwindling membership that affected all such clubs as the population of the city changed from white to black, this building sat vacant from 1974 until the year 2000, despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. 

It is now the Virgil H. Carr Cultural Arts Center, run by the Arts League of Michigan, which according to their website "develops, promotes, presents and preserves the African and African American cultural arts traditions within the multicultural community"...offering a wide array of programs, services and activities for both artists and audiences. According to the the American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture, the renovation was conducted by architect Schervish Vogel Merz (apparently another German), who also renovated the nearby Breitmeyer-Tobin Building around the same time, as well as Harmonie Park itself.

The building was rescued by the reopening of the rathskeller in its basement as the Centre Street Pub, a first step to reuse. There is also supposedly a bowling alley in the lower level as well, but I didn't make it down there.

Can you imagine how many frothy tankards of Stroh’s Bohemian Style were consumed here in the good ole days? In fact, it is probably a sure bet that Detroit’s own beer baron, Bernhard Stroh himself probably knocked back a few here back in the day.

You may notice a couple tiny buttons on the pillar in the center of that last shot; it is rumored that when this place served as a speakeasy in the ‘20s, the buttons were pushed in order to warn of police approaching. More likely, they were call buttons for the waiter. You might also be able to tell that this room has nice dark wood, and if you were standing in it, you’d notice it is shaped like a piano. This is not on accident.

View across Madison Avenue, to the Detroit Athletic Club:

This view did not exist until 2005 when the old Hotel Madison-Lenox was demolished for a parking lot. I must say, I love the hell out of this lunette window:

On the second floor is this small performing space, where youth jazz musicians can play...it looks to have been the victim of a 1950s remodeling:

The nature of this center is such that even poor kids can come here if they show enough skill and determination, and learn alongside the great jazz musicians of the city. Normally such an opportunity would cost a fortune, or just simply be an impossible pie-in-the-sky dream for most kids.

On the third floor was the big auditorium:

It was still in "unrestored" condition.

What an amazing, hidden little gem. I bet they used to have all kinds of Kompressor concerts here back in the day.

I am told that the junk under all the tarps is leftover stuff from the construction of Ford Field. Why they have it, I don't know.

As you can tell, there was quite a bit of water damage before they fixed the roof. 

According to the book Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points, edited by Wilma Wood Henrickson, the Harmonie Society held a very popular masquerade in February of each year, which featured splendid costumes, a series of historically informed tableaux, and of course, singing and orchestras.

"Drop into the building in any evening in the winter season and you will see knots of men gathered here and there, usually around a table, discussing news and current topics and playing dominos, whist, skat and kindred games or telling yarns and singing fatherland songs. They have their beer too; one must admit there would be something lacking without it...."

Wassail indeed. In fact I think I need a Stroh's right now.

There was also eine phone booth sitting in here for some reason.

Achtung--your call kann nicht be kompletet!

There were also a bunch of artists’ studios and stuff in the building, but I liked the hell out of this staircase even more.

It is amazing how much of this building is actually made of wood. But then, I guess it is of 1890s vintage after all.

View out the window:

Walled-off like the Cask of Amontillado:

Auf Wiedersehen!

American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture, by Eric Hill & John Gallagher
Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points, edited by Wilma Wood Henrickson


Photos from 2005.

From a railroad grade Chisel and I spied a nice little Albert Kahn-style factory on Rosa Parks St. and decided to check it out.

We had found the plant of the Schroeder Paint & Glass Co., which I immediately suspected to be an automotive industry supplier, as so many of the abandoned plants of this size in the city were. Cursory research seems to indicate that they served more than just one industry however.

These photos were taken in early 2005, but the place subsequently suffered a major fire and collapsed quite a bit more since then.

John Schoeder was born in Detroit in 1860. Entering the paint business at age fourteen, he worked his way up and founded his own company with James H. O'Donnell, the Schroeder Paint & Glass Co. in 1897. He acquired his education in the parochial schools, and later the Goldsmith Business College, taking classes at night while working by day.

Schroeder also served on the Detroit Board of Commerce, the Detroit Water Board, and was president of the Michigan Smelting & Refining Co., as well as an active member in social and fraternal circles. Schroeder was a charter member of the Detroit Knights of Columbus, one of the oldest members of the Harmonie Society, as well as belonging to the St. Joseph's Society, the Westphalia Society, the Elks, and the Detroit Athletic Club. He later went on to marry a woman whose grandfather was one of the pioneer French settlers of Grosse Pointe. 

At the time of Schroeder's death his company was "the largest jobbing firm in that line in Detroit," dealing in both wholesale and retail. 

Sanborn maps of the downtown area show that Schroeder Paint & Glass owned several older buildings on Cadillac Square at Randolph, which is now the site of the Lawyers' Building (which I have explored, in a different post), as shown in a historic photo from the Detroit Public Library.

Sanborn maps of the spot where this plant stood show the area to be vacant land in 1910, with sparse groups of houses being built. 

The Krill Brothers Barrel Yard stood just to the south, at 1370 12th Street (Rosa Parks), while on the west side of 12th Street was the large factory and lumber yards of the Wolverine Mfg. Co. Neither of those plants remain standing today.

The Schroeder plant itself was quickly demolished in 2014, and a new warehouse was immediately built in its place.

On the top floor there was an area marked off with police crime-scene tape, which David Kohrman later told me was actually somebody's target-shooting gallery.

 A pass-through, for what would seem to be a ceiling-suspended assembly line:

Here's your cliché "skyline-through-dirty-windows" ruin porn shot:

Off in the distance in this one you can see the towering hulk of Lee Plaza, once one of the swankiest places to live in Detroit, now just a 15-story cheese-grater:

To the right of it is the historic King Solomon Baptist Church.

From the roof of Schroeder we can see the various vacant plants along Commonwealth Street, which I wrote about in great detail in an older post:

It looked like an expansion was once planned for this building:

Michigan, by the Lewis Publishing Company, pg. 247
How Detroit Became the Motor Capitol, by Robert Szudarek
Sanborn maps for Detroit, Vol. 4, Sheet 3 (1922)
Sanborn maps for Detroit, Vol. 6, Sheet 43 (1910)

The Big Red Burn

Photos from 2004 to 2005, scanned from film.

The old Scovel Memorial Presbyterian Church used to sit at the south corner of Grand River Avenue & McGraw, and once shared that corner with another much more famous Detroit ruin, the Olympia Stadium (with the Riviera Theater and Grande Ballroom not far away). Unfortunately the Olympia and Riviera were both demolished by 1999, and on February 13th, 2005, this church burned down, reducing it to a blackened shell that stood a little too close to a "Reelect Kwame Kilpatrick" billboard overlooking the Jeffries Expressway. So naturally its ruins only lasted about as long as it took for people to start taking photos of the uniquely "Detroit" juxtaposition, before it was demolished:

Obviously you can't have your political adversaries using imagery such as that in TV ads against you. Too bad it takes such extraneous coincidences for large hazardous structures to actually get removed in this town. Well, you all know what happened to Kwame.

Here it is again in 2004 before the fire, in a blithe out-the-car-window shot that indicates I clearly had no idea it soon would not be available for photography anymore:

I meant to go in...I knew plenty of people who had gone in before the fire but I never got around to it.  Ooops. I guess late is better than never.

This church was not so lucky as to receive a final "memorial service" from Preservation Detroit after it was torched and demolished, as First Unitarian Church did recently.

Some nice Lake Superior sandstone, and you can see the cornerstone, which contained historical church documents:

After the demolition, a few of the larger red sandstone blocks remained on site, though I am not sure what eventually became of them.

My partner Chisel, as well as David Kohrman, and Detroitblog were among those who had interior photos from before the fire, but none of them currently remain online. The church featured a Byzantine-style sanctuary, and the fire was blamed on arson at the hands of "the homeless," but whenever I hear that tired old excuse I feel inclined to distrust whoever is trying to sell it, and to probe a little deeper. Anyway, too late now.

Scovel Memorial Presbyterian was built in 1898, designed by architect W. E. N. Hunter, and founded by elders of the Trumbull Avenue Presbyterian Church—one of whom was Charles Scovel, the principal land and funding donor, according to Detroitblog's October 2004 writeup. When it was built, Grand River was still a plank road leading into the wilderness of Western Michigan, and a toll gate still stood near the site.

Believe it or not, Henry Ford and his wife Clara actually used to attend this church. I imagine this was during the early 1900s when they lived in Boston-Edison. Detroitblog goes on to explain that the entryway held a plaque and Pewabic tile donated by Ford, "whose teacher in the Greenfield Township school he attended, Mrs. Abbie Woods Scovel, married into the Scovel family that donated the land and money to build the church."

The church received extensive renovations and expansions in the early 1920s, and was attended by a predominantly Scottish-descended congregation. This was also the era in which its membership peaked, at about 2,500. Scovel Presbyterian was also noted for its city-wide champion athletic teams, fielding mens', boys', and girls' basketball, baseball, and softball squads. Their music program was formiddable as well, producing two male quartets and a 17-piece orchestra, some of whose members played with John Philip Sousa's band and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

I wonder how many times Detroit Redwings fans (or Redwings themselves!) might have stopped in here to pray before historic championship hockey games at the old Olympia?

Interestingly, only two ministers ever led the Scovel flock in its history: Rev. James D. Jeffrey, who served from 1898 to 1929, and his son, Rev. George D. Jeffrey, who served from 1929 until his death in 1975. The last service held here was in 1977, before a sparse congregation who had mostly already moved out of the city to the suburbs. It then underwent a transformation into the "Prayer Tabernacle Church," which was relatively short-lived, and still later was used by the Motor City Blight Busters as a shelter for battered women—an equally short-lived venture.

See the links below for a few better photos:

"Let us Pray," Detroitblog.org, October 28th, 2004
John Monteith and Detroit Presbyterianism, by Harold F. Fredsell
The Scotch Presbyterian Church of Detroit: Its History from 1842 to 1938, by William R. Carnegie