Cultural Center Historic District (Detroit, Michigan)

Cultural Center Historic District (Detroit, Michigan)
Cultural Center Historic District
The main entrance of the Detroit Institute of Arts
Location: Detroit, Michigan
 United States
Built: 1915
Architect: Multiple; Gilbert, Cass
Architectural style: Beaux Arts, Renaissance, Other
Governing body: State
NRHP Reference#: 83003791[1]
Added to NRHP: November 21, 1983

The Cultural Center Historic District is a historic district located in Midtown Detroit, Michigan, which includes the Art Center (or Cultural Center): the Detroit Public Library, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Horace H. Rackham Education Memorial Building were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.[1] The first two of these were built in the 1920s, heralding a City Beautiful movement in Detroit that aimed to establish the area along Woodward as the cultural center of the city. The district contains several cultural attractions. At the same time, Wayne State University, then housed in the former Central High School, began offering four-year degrees. These institutions formed a core area that attracted other public-oriented institutions, including several music schools, the Merrill-Palmer Institute, the Detroit Historical Museum, College for Creative Studies, and other institutions to the area. The lifrary and historical museum, although part of the Art Center in function, are located on the west side of Woodward. The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Science Center, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit are also located in the Art Center area. Substantial residential areas, including the East Ferry Avenue Historic District and late-19th century homes to the east of the Detroit Institute of Art. These neighborhoods have been infilled with townhomes and other residential developments and revitalizations.[2][3]



Detroit Public Library

The Public Library was built in 1921, designed by Cass Gilbert in an Italian Renaissance style. The exterior is faced its with white marble and the interior is decorated with murals, tiles and mosaics. Another wing was added in 1963.[3]


The Detroit Institute of Arts was built in 1927. Architect Paul Phillippe Cret designed it to closely resemble its neighbor. Cret created galleries of varying sizes and shapes to provide a proper setting for the art collection.[3] Two wings were later added, one in 1965 and one in 1971, and a large addition opened in 2008.

Horace H. Rackham Education Memorial Building

Rackham Education Memorial Building in Detroit's Cultural Center Historic District.

The Rackham Building was named after Horace Rackham, a local philanthropist and an early investor in Ford Motor Company. The building opened in 1941, serving as the headquarters for the Engineering Society of Detroit and the University of Michigan Extension Service.[3]

It was designed by the firm of Harley and Ellington Architects and Engineers and is faced with white Georgia marble with black granite accents. The windows are cast bronze and the exterior features sculptures by Detroit artist Marshall Fredericks. The structure is 404 ft (123 m) in length and between 65 ft (20 m) and 150 ft (46 m) in depth.

In the central section holds a 1,000 seat auditorium on the main level and a ballroom with a capacity of 700 on the lower level. The University of Michigan occupies the western wing with three classrooms, a lecture hall and studio classroom on the lower level. Offices for the Extension Center and Institute for Public and Social Administration are on the main level along with a lounge, and three classrooms. The second floor contains study rooms, a library and seminar rooms.

The Engineering Society of Detroit occupied the eastern wing until 1994. Its space included six bowling lanes, activities room and billiards room on the lower level, a writing room, dining room, 300-seat auditorium and lounge on the main floor and the Society's administration offices and library on the second floor.

The main auditorium and ballroom are in need of renovation and have not been used in several years. Wayne State University's psychological clinic occupies some of the space vacated by the Engineering Society.

On the wall facing Warren Avenue is a trio of 13 ft (4.0 m) high figures sculpted by Marshall Fredericks representing science, education and mankind. The figures are largely hidden due to the construction of a parking garage south of the building in the 1980s.[4]

See also


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  2. ^ Development map from the University Cultural Center Association, retrieved 6/30/09.
  3. ^ a b c d Cultural Center Historic District from the National Park Service.
  4. ^ James Hawkins (January 6, 2011). "Iconic Rackham building more than meets the eye". The South End ( Retrieved January 24, 2011. 

References and further reading

  • Hill, Eric J. and John Gallagher (2002). AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3120-3. 
  • Meyer, Katherine Mattingly and Martin C.P. McElroy with Introduction by W. Hawkins Ferry, Hon A.I.A. (1980). Detroit Architecture A.I.A. Guide Revised Edition. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-1651-4. 

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