The G.A.R. Building Detroit

The Grand Army of the Republic



DSC_4366For years we have walked through the lobby of the G.A.R. building in Detroit and wondered what once sat up on the newel at the base of the stairs. The sides have ornate wood carvings but the top is unfinished. Something clearly sat atop it once

but we have had no pictures to tell us what to replace and how to finish it.

This past week – we found the answer. Quite unexpectedly.DSC_5511The 3 of us are often asked out to speak about the renovation of the castle. When schedules allow between Mindfield and family events, we like to go out and tell the building’s story (and get people excited to eat in Republic and the Parks and Rec diner).

This past week we were with a group in Grosse Point and at the close of the evening a woman approached us, said she used to work for the city, would visit the different Parks and Rec centers and had fond memories of walking though the G.A.R..DSC_5512Then she hit us with the question “Does the carved pineapple still sit at the base of the stairs?”

“WHAT?”, we asked…

“The pineapple, is it still in the lobby?” she repeated.

In a single moment, she had unknowingly helped us solve one of the biggest mysteries we had to date in the building’s renovations.

Sometimes you have to leave a place to learn things about it.DSC_5517
P.S. – If anyone has any information leading to the recovery and replacement (and verification) of the original wooden pineapple we will gladly arrange for a delicious, real pineapple dessert to be prepared specifically for you by Republic’s Chef de Excellence, Kate Williams! Yum!

All photos by Lindsey Yeo



DSC_5195Another heading for this might have been “Finding a Needle in a Haystack”. Our plumber team found this old penny tucked somewhere in the G.A.R. building here in Detroit. We like Barton Plumbing because of their attention to detail – and they went above and beyond in finding this small token amidst all they were doing.DSC_5194What’s really interesting is that it is a Canadian coin. The G.A.R. Hall was completed right around 1900 – so this was most likely a shiny penny when someone accidentally dropped it. How it traveled from Canada to Detroit is a mystery.DSC_5192There will be a display case in the lobby with all the “found” items from the construction phase.

Likely this will be the smallest item shown.

All photos by Lindsey Yeo

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Most people are surprised to see how spartan the interior finishes are at the Grand Army building in Detroit. While it sat empty for 30 years, passersby had lots of time to imagine how cool it must look on the inside. While it IS very cool inside, it is not overly ornate in it’s design.

The one space, fittingly, where there are a few more details is the Assembly Hall, or theatre on the top floor. This space will soon be home to the Mindfield offices. Both the balcony front and the coved ceilings have great plaster molding details. While a lot of it survived the “empty years” there are large gaps which need to be filled in.

Last week, our “plaster” guy set up shop in the former theatre. Dave claims he has been a fan of the castle since he was a kid. He says he has built models of castles and always dreamed of working on this one. We’re happy to have him on the team.
DSC_5176These are a few original sections of molding which are being used in creating new molds.

Templates have been made from drywall to get exact replicas of the shape and size.  The one on top has been marked
as “perfect”.

DSC_5170From the templates, these forms are made and are being used to shape fresh plaster into finished trim.

These wood frames act act a skeleton for the plaster.  Once the plaster is cured, the new sections will be screwed in
place and fill the gaps between the original molding.

DSC_5163The workshop.

All photos by Lindsey Yeo



With the inspections picking up on most of the mechanical work, the teams putting the walls in place are back on site and helping us to get a better feel for the partitions in the building. The walls we’ve been imagining for years are now becoming reality.

The first two floors of the building to see life this fall will be the ground level with both the Republic Tavern and the Parks and Rec Diner and the the uppermost floor (the former assembly hall) which will soon the new home to our media firm, Mindfield.

With each new round of photos there are fewer tools and equipment strewn about. As you can see the mechanical elements are now found hung from the walls and ceiling and soon to be buried behind drywall.DSC_4567Photo taken of the diner interior from just inside the entrance. The opening to the left will be the restroom and the right will lead to the kitchen. The counter sits to the right along the Cass Street side.DSC_4587Soon to be restrooms in the Republic Tavern. They both sit behind the bar back. The opening to the far right leads to the kitchen.DSC_4573Interior shot of a section of the kitchen itself. Note how crowded the ceiling is becoming.DSC_4609This shot shows where the balcony in the Assembly Hall meets the wall running along Grand River. The restored plaster cove and new ceiling above. I think the fabric hanging there might be an old tablecloth we took over for a pizza party with the Mindfield staff. No idea why it’s still hanging there.DSC_4621Different angle on the same corner as above. The open trench is the ceiling will be filled with the plaster molding which is currently being recreated. In the bottom right of the photo, you can see the curved proscenium above the original stage.DSC_4623A close up of the coved ceiling with remnants of the plaster molding. The new sprinkler pipes sneak in from the left. Falcon Fire systems has just the attic and basement left before they’ve fully “sprinklered” the G.A.R. building.

All photos by Lindsey Yeo



DSC_4221With fall quickly approaching, the teams are hard at work getting the systems in place in Detroit’s Grand Army building. A few weekends back, we actually opened a large section of the roof and used a crane to lower part of the building’s HVAC system into place. The crew lifted a half dozen pieces into the attic above what will be Mindfield’s offices. The largest of which weighed about 2500 pounds. Once everything was set in place, the equipment was connected to the duct work and will soon begin pushing hot and cold air. Prior to this you’d stand near a radiator to get warm and an open window to cool off (if you were lucky).DSC_4213DSC_42155 flights below, the electrical team had to build a hoist to lower the main disconnects into place in the basement.. They weighed in at 700 pounds each and would have easily shattered the stairs on the way down. DTE is in the final phase of providing our main power to the building. Soon, we will finally be able to disconnect from the temporary power we’ve had for almost 2 years.DSC_3737DSC_3767Keep an eye out for word of a “grand re-opening event” at the G.A.R. this fall. It’s still in the planning stages, but will be a chance (finally) for people to get in and see the restored spaces in the building. We’re planning a fund raiser to support both a memorial for the Civil War veterans in the building as well as designating funds for Veteran’s organization.DSC_4197It will be a November event, right around Veterans Day. How’s that for timing?

All photos by Lindsey Yeo

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Lindsey, our photographer at Mindfield was off last week…so we have a lot to catch up on.  She spent most of today at the castle taking pictures of all the work the team pulled together when she was out.

The most noticeable change would be the addition of the bar framing in the Republic Tavern.  We’d been staring at lines on the floors for months – so seeing the knee wall in place is a big step towards better visualizing what goes where and what else will fit around it.DSC_4178This is what you’ll see upon walking into the restaurant. If you look past all the tools and stacks of drywall you can see the wood framing leaning off to the right.  The bar runs parallel to Grand River along the front of the space. If it looks big to you – that was our reaction as well.  There is a great bar back going in on the rear of the bar but even still, we hope you’re thirsty.  We’ll have plenty of room for you.DSC_4185
DSC_4182 If you look closely you can see we have stripped the paint off the recently revealed columns to highlight the bare steel surface.  There are a total of 4 columns running from the back to the front of the space.  They remain one of the coolest “finds” in Detroit’s G.A.R. building.DSC_4160

All photos by Lindsey Yeo



Well, someone was – a long time ago.  And then left the bottle “under” the basement of the G.A.R. building in Detroit for us to find 100+ years later.

Our teams have been trenching in the basement for a while now and working to locate where the plumbing drains start and end up.  Last week, they hit glass and somehow managed not to break it.

The first bottle is easy.  A half pint bottle from The Detroit Creamery Company.  We found this write-up about them in a News article.

“Over time the big dealers were prevailing. Detroit Creamery Company had the largest dairy processing plant in the state and was considered by many to be the cleanest plant in the country. Every day 303 wagons with teams of horses left their plant and made a total of 50,000 stops, selling more than 20,000 gallons of milk. By 1916 they began using motor trucks for wholesale deliveries.”  and

“The Detroit Creamery Company formed in 1897, and by 1916 built a beautiful state-of-the-art dairy and horse stable at Grand River and Cass Avenue, designed by no less an architect than Albert Kahn.”


Photo via the Albert Kahn Collection

The article states that the dairy was right across the street from the G.A.R..

The second bottle shows no markings.  It’s blue and almost half the height of the milk bottle. Medicine perhaps?  One has to think the worker was pretty sore after digging a basement for the castle.

(The photo shows the current Mindfield office in the background…gonna be tough to leave this space after all these years.)


Photo by Lindsey Yeo


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