The G.A.R. Building Detroit

The Grand Army of the Republic


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AND SHE’S BUYING A STAIRCASE…

DSC_8397Somehow, after more than 100 years and 30 years worth of break-ins, the stairway at Detroit’s G.A.R. building remained almost entirely intact. Our teams may have replaced 12 spindles. Aside from that, the work done to them was about stripping the wood and refinishing the stain and protective coating.DSC_8382Before the common areas become too cluttered with “finishing touches” we thought we’d show off what is currently the highlight… the staircase.DSC_8373These photos will lead you from the lobby up to the third floor.DSC_8367Imagine the aged men with white hair steadying themselves as the climbed these steps and met with their fellow Civil War veterans.DSC_8349(Note: we do have a replacement “pineapple”for the lobby – it’s being stored a bit longer as we still have trades carrying gear past where it will live)

All photos by Lindsey Yeo


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THE “OTHER” ONE…

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


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DISPLAYS…

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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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IT’S A KEEPER

Although the Grand Army of the Republic building did not have the first electric elevator in the city of Detroit, it did have one of the earliest. (Apparently that honor goes to Wright-Kay building on Woodward and John R). So, one of the first questions we had when we took possession of the “castle” was what shape the elevator was in. Installing a new elevator in a well preserved shaft is expensive enough, if we had to do major structural work things could have gotten ugly quickly.

Once again we got lucky. Somehow, the elevator chase escaped any significant damage. The elevator itself was toast but anything we needed to install a new lift was right where it should have been.

When we talked finishes with the elevator company we requested they salvage anything possible for the new cab. Sadly, 100 year old elevators do not offer much up along the lines of re-use. The one element that did show some sign of life was the original roof of the cab. We had to hope that under 20 layers of paint there would be something interesting.DSC_7833Like solid steel.

After a bit of work by George (one of our favorite workmen) and a period light fixture from Senate Resale (our favorite shop for stuff we don’t really need) we’ve got just enough old to offset the new.

Photo by Lindsey Yeo


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OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

unnamedAnd when it does – the two soon to open restaurants in Detroit’s G.A.R. building will have the front doors in place to hear it.

If you look closely at old photos of “the castle”, you’ll see there were a number of shops on the first floors over the years and a number of entrances. When we took over the building in 2011, the few that remained were either solid steel or heavy wood for security reasons… not the original white oak and plate glass.

The 3 pictured below are recreations of what the G.A.R. veterans would have seen as they arrived to meet at the building at the turn of the last century.

Our construction teams put the final touches on the stain / finish inside what will soon be the Parks and Rec Diner.

One step closer.

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GIVE ME A HAND (RAIL)?

DSC_7697As we move closer and closer to move-in day – the final details are taking shape and most of the original elements are going back into place. 100 plus years of paint and dirt took it’s toll…but luckily, our teams restoration efforts are beginning to show what the architects had planned for the G.A.R. back in the 1890’s.DSC_7699In addition to the handrails being stripped and repaired you can see the toe kicks along the stairs are being restored and made as close to original as possible.

Imagine the aging veterans making their way up these stairs in the 1920’s and 30’s.

Note that the walls have also all been plastered and restored to their original look and feel as well.