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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Restoration of G.A.R. Building in Downtown Detroit

Photo of G.A.R. Building, July 18, 2005 
December 5, 2001

The Grand Army of the Republic Building in Detroit is now on its way to a complete restoration and will soon serve as home for a PR firm and a restaurant. That was not always the case. Preservationists were engaged in a pitched battle with those who would have preferred to have seen this iconic building demolished. Luckily, clearer heads ultimately prevailed. We provide some pre-restoration photographs of the building as well as a particularly scurilous Op-Ed piece that ran in the Detroit News in 2006.

Tour of the G.A.R. building in October 2006
A tour was held for potential developers in October 2006. They were given an opportunity to walk through the building, take photos, and prepare proposals for restoration of the building. Just a few months prior an editorial in the Detroit News advocated for demolition of the building. Fortunately, that would not the case. Some photos of the restoration as it is underway today are available via Detroit Curbed.

"History not preserved with decaying building; Preservationists should buy, not sue to keep building," Detroit News,  August 22, 2006.
The redevelopment of Detroit is a tricky business. But it's made even harder by preservationists who rally behind every abandoned building as if each was the last vestige of the city's history.
That's the case with the Grand Army of the Republic Building that sits at the corner of Grand River, Cass and Adams. The castle, which was completed in 1901 and served as a memorial and home for Civil War veterans, has been vacant for more than 20 years. In reality, it lost its luster long before that.
Detroit city officials wisely decided it was time to sell the building, which unloads another unneeded property and gets it back on the tax rolls.
Unfortunately, preservationists would rather it stay vacant and decrepit. Three nonprofit groups are suing the city to stop it from selling the building. They turned down offers from the city to buy the building themselves.
Why is that? If the building is as significant as they say and its intact existence is essential, the best way to ensure it remains a piece of the city's history is to buy and renovate it. In 2003, the city placed a value on the property of $200,500, which sounds like a steal.
That won't happen, of course, because it's easier to file a lawsuit than spend a minimum of $1.4 million to renovate the aging structure and try and find a suitable tenant to recoup that investment. 
Nonetheless, developers showed an interest in the property before the meddling began. The Ilitch family, in particular, owns a considerable amount of property in that area and could use it to build a new arena for the Detroit Red Wings.
Whether that would require the demolition of the building is unknown. The building's 1986 designation on the National Register of Historic Places makes that option more difficult, but not impossible. And as difficult as it is for some to consider, all options must be on the table.
Keeping the building boarded up won't help it or the city and it certainly isn't a fitting Civil War memorial if nobody knows what it is.
Selling it to a developer won't diminish the significance of the actions of those who served in the Civil War, and the estimated $1 million in historical records that have been saved from the building can be made accessible to the public through one of the area's historical library collections.
The city is right to try and sell the building. Those who want the building to stand as a Civil War memorial should buy it outright, or get out of the way.

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