Last week we presented 16960 E. Jefferson, designed by Raymond Carey for Mrs. Mary Schmidt in 1927-1928. Located on nine lots, the lavish 40-room mansion had the “substantial elegance of a German castle.” It was razed in the early 1970’s.This week we begin a short series on the superb municipal buildings in Grosse Pointe, several of which were created before 1920, having been designed by some of the most noted architects of the era. In general, the term “municipal building” means any enclosed building or structure owned or leased and occupied by the town for the purpose of providing municipal services.
Arguably one of the more impressive municipal buildings in the community is the structure in Grosse Pointe Park (located at 15115 East Jefferson). It was designed by George J. Haas and completed in 1918 – Haas specialized in designing schools and municipal buildings on the east side of Metro Detroit.
George Haas was a respected architect and familiar figure in Grosse Pointe. After designing the municipal building for Grosse Pointe Park, Haas worked on three schools for the Grosse Pointe Public School District – Defer Elementary School (1925), Grosse Pointe South (1928) and Stevens T. Mason School (1928-1929). Haas also created the iconic Macomb County Building, located in Mt Clemens that was constructed between 1931 – 1944. The immense Art Deco style structure is very different in style to most of Haas’s other projects. Prior to 1930, much of Haas’s work was in a formal architectural approach, primarily Georgian and/or Tudor Revival, with a heavy emphasis on brick and limestone that was used to frame the doors and the casement windows. However, that said the municipal building Haas design for Grosse Pointe Park was in a Mediterranean style – featuring a square configuration, asymmetric in design with a low sloped green tiled hip roof, large overhanging eaves, minimal limestone detailing, along with multiple tall windows.
The image below presents the building just after it was completed. Source: Michigan Architect and Engineer (1919). Upon completion, the rear of the first floor was the location of the police and fire department, a fireman’s rest room, a cell block. At the front of the building was an office for the treasurer and clerk along with a space for the police department to greet the public. The second floor included a dormitory with two slide poles, the chiefs’ room, council chambers, a committee room, along with three offices. The photo below is from October 1926. Courtesy of: digital.library.wayne.edu
As with the other municipal buildings in Grosse Pointe, the facility in the park, since completion, has been used to serve the citizens of the community, providing multiple services. During the 1920’s it was regularly used as the location to hold meetings by the school board, the Grosse Pointe Taxpayers’ Association, along with being used as a polling station. However, in times of need the building was also used to provide other services. It was reported in the Grosse Pointe Civic News (October 1924) the municipal building served as the kindergarten for Trombley School. At the time a second room was set aside to be used in the event the first room was overloaded with first and second grade students from Trombley. It was also reported that this was a temporary solution, and a situation that was resolved once George Defer School opened in the second semester (February 1925). At this point it was acknowledged much of the overcrowding had been resolved.
In January 1929, the municipal building became the location for the Wayne County Library service to extend its services into Grosse Pointe Park. The library was in the basement of the municipal building. It opened with “an initial collection of 500 books” with fiction and non-fiction, adult, and juvenile books included in the selection. It was open one day a week, Tuesday, from 1 to 9 pm, and if the use justified it, the center would open another day of the week.” Source: Grosse Pointe Civic News (January 1929). It appears the library became incredibly popular, so much so, by 1939, the collection consisted of 10,187 books, with space for 15,000 volumes. For eleven years the branch of the Grosse Pointe Public Library was housed in the basement of the Grosse Pointe Park Municipal Building until a dedicated building for the library was constructed in the park. Images are courtesy of: digitize.gp.lib.mi.us/history/photos/library/
The architect of the Grosse Pointe Park municipal building George J. Haas was born in Detroit in 1889, he was the son of a cigar maker. Following graduation he trained at the Detroit Technological Institute and had a wide and varied career as an architect. It is reported early on in his career Haas was a specification writer in the office of Albert Kahn. Then, having started his own firm, believed to be around 1916, George Haas became Mayor of Hamtramck in 1920, then president of the Michigan Society of Architects (between 1924-25). During his career it is acknowledged he received multiple honors from the American Institute of Architects. Haas resided in St. Clair Shores at 31032 Jefferson (a house he designed himself around 1923) with his wife Elizabeth and their four children. In 1940, he and his family moved to Plymouth to continue his career, working with Great Lakes Steel, but by the mid 1940’s, the Haas family had relocated to Miami. In 1945, Haas held the position of secretary and treasurer of the Florida Association of Architects, however it is not clear how many projects he worked on in Florida before his death in 1956.
Over the years the Grosse Pointe Park Municipal building has undergone extensive alterations, with significant changes made during the 1990’s. The photos below are from the late 1950’s. Courtesy of: digital.library.wayne.edu.
Today the Grosse Pointe Park municipal building retains its central role as the location for services to the citizens of the community. Photo courtesy of Kat Stevens (October 2023).
*Photos courtesy of the Higbie Maxon Agney archives unless stated.
** Research, information, and data sources are deemed reliable, but accuracy cannot be fully guaranteed.
Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2023 Katie Doelle