The G.A.R. Building Detroit

The Grand Army of the Republic



DSC_8413The second display case set up in the lobby currently holds items “found” in the Detroit’s G.A.R. building during the renovation. Our construction team was great at setting aside items they would come across as they dug holes or tore through walls. Over the 2 or 3 years they amassed a few dozen items from the building’s past. We’ve put most of them out just to the right of the elevator.DSC_8411It’s a varied collection of artifacts. Some were of the building itself, many were things the workers would have thrown away while the were building the castle and of course, a handful are items used by the veterans and their associates during the period this was a G.A.R. Hall.DSC_8416The liquor bottles were found in the rafters up in the attic. These appear to be from the period AFTER the “Boys in Blue” used the building. And how do we know this? Well, if you’ve been to Republic for a drink… you too would know the veterans whiskey of choice was “White Horse”.DSC_8412They left remnants of the case behind when they hand crafted their own cigar humidors.

Resourceful gentlemen that they were.

All photos by Lindsey Yeo



We spent almost 3 years negotiating the purchase of the G.A.R. building. The fun began in 2008 and wrapped up in 2011 when we finally signed the papers. One element, which was a concern for all of us, was that there were appropriate displays in the building to tell the story of the Union veterans group.

The Grand Army of the Republic was designed as an entity which would cease to be when the last veteran died. That happened in the 1940’s.DSC_8391Most of the “original” artifacts in this G.A.R. building disappeared in the early 80’s when the city mothballed the castle. We’re told people were just allowed to walk away with paintings, plaques and furniture as the doors were locked for a final time.

While our plans for displays of a larger scale lie down the road a bit, there are 2 obvious spots in the lobby which we have had some fun with in the time since we’ve moved in.DSC_8393The opening pictured here was once a doorway between the lobby and one of retail spaces on the first floor. Instead of simply boarding it up, we created a 2 sided display case with the Republic’s bar butting up on one side.

Pictured here are Civil war era pieces. People entering the building can take them in as they wait for the elevator, others sitting at the bar while they have a drink in honor of the veterans themselves.DSC_8394The canteen and the leather piece were actually carried into battle by our Great Grandfather, a member of the 17th Maine.

All photos by Lindsey Yeo

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Even in the closing stages of rehabbing most of the GAR building in Detroit, she still occasionally surprises us with another “find.”

This key fell out from behind a section of baseboard. It wouldn’t fit into any of the doors in the building. Perhaps an old cabinet that once lived there.

We’re creating a display case in the lobby highlighting all the original pieces found over the last few years.

This will live there amongst the other items.


Photo 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



With more and more windows being refurbished and set back in place, we are getting a better look at things in the daylight.  Although the interior of the building is generally pretty spartan in it’s design, we do occasionally come across some nice details that have survived thru the years.  The more research we do, the more we realize the architects did not have a limitless budget when they built the G.A.R.  We are lucky that vandals for the most part left this historic place alone.baf38-gar10sept12_1-scaled1000One of the first things to go in an abandoned building are the spindles off the staircase.  Somehow, most of ours survived.21b12-gar10sept12_2-scaled1000The capitol on this column could not escape some artistic interpretation over the years.95809-gar10sept12_3-scaled1000This one somehow avoided the paintbrush.  Check out the great natural crackle effect.bd49a-gar10sept12_4-scaled1000Perhaps one of the coolest features of the building is the balcony in the assembly hall on the fourth floor.  Here is a close up of that curved fascia which fronts it.760b5-gar10sept12_5-scaled1000This particular feature will be the hardest to preserve, we will probably wind up having to replace it altogether.  The proscenium in the assembly hall seems to have been hit with water at some point.  We have a great photo of the veterans sitting on a stage (which is no longer there) next to this plasterwork.  We also hope to replace a mural of a Civil War battle scene which was on this same wall.

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Not a lot new to write about this time around… much more of the same happening at the G.A.R. with regards to the restoration of the exterior.  There’s more to see than talk about.

We did have one great discovery last week outside under the circular windows we realized someone covered a great wood detail with a (easier to maintain) piece of metal.  Painted, it was hard to call out from street level but with the team up close and on lifts we found it.  Needless to say – the metal will go away and our carpenters will restore the original look and feel.4e272-gar-woodundercirclewindow1-scaled1000b5db9-gar-woodundercirclewindow2-scaled1000Check out a couple close ups of the stonework.  There was one piece that had slipped out above one of the windows.  Here, they got the stone back in place and patched with the similar mortar from 1899.8946c-gar-mortor-in-scaled1000c994d-gar-newstone-aug2012-scaled1000Last but not least, the “half circle” windows from the balcony level.  A cool angle from the interior shows the green space across Grand River at DTE.952f4-gar-halfcirclewindow-aug2012-scaled1000



The work continues to continue and this week’s news involves some discoveries.  Not big discoveries (we’re still looking for what are certain to be vast treasures of Confederate loot that have been squirreled away), but items of interest that we’ve moved from the G.A.R. for the construction phase.55ce6-dsc_6503-jpeg-scaled1000The marble plaque was discovered intact during clean-up of the old dance studio which had last occupied the 2nd floor behind a small wooden platform.  Astonishing, really, that someone would simply cover it up, and equally astonishing that it has survived in such pristine condition for all this time.  The plaque commemorates William C. Claxton, William H. Fisher, Edgar A. Shook, Richard W. Allen, Charles F. Brown, and Samuel B. Dixon for their efforts in having the original building constructed in 1899.  Following the discovery we immediately dove into the research basket and unearthed (thanks, Bruce!) a Detroit Free Press article from May 25, 1897 mentioning Samuel B. Dixon as a proponent of establishing the G.A.R. Building in Detroit. The city fathers argued for two hours and turned the proposal down!  Cheers to the perseverance of Mr. Dixon and the other veterans involved in changing minds.ae2a9-dsc_6619-jpeg-scaled1000Also discovered are a small series of metal plaques that were used during the building’s original function.  L.G.A.R. stands for Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, D.U.V. 3 references Daughters of Union Veterans, and L.N.L. 9? Maybe someone out there can help us on that one. These were still part of existing cabinetry when found by the carpenters (thanks, Randy & Nick!)c45b5-_dsc7319-scaled1000We have discovered a bonafide skeleton in the basement!  Thanks to Chad and his crew from EME for saving this bizarre anomaly during asbestos abatement.  The spider apparently died in it’s web and then was calcified over the years.  Noteworthy to the storied past of this amazing building?  Maybe not.  But really cool, nonetheless.

And in other types of discoveries, the Mindfield staff was finally able to tour their future offices en masse for the first time.  We had a great time discussing the fantastic possibilities of laying out the office, how we would best use it and how to maximize and already impressive space – for hard work, much fun, and, of course, honoring the history.

Thanks for keeping tabs on us!  It’ll only get more fun from here!