UPDATE: Safe for now! Save the State Savings Bank!
8/15 Last night, the Detroit Historic District Commission DENIED the petition to demolish the State Savings Bank! Our only McKim, Mead, and White building is safe for now. The auditorium was filled with people who believe that historic preservation and having a walkable, dense, revitalized downtown go hand-in-hand. Many spoke eloquently of how Detroit deserves smarter parking solutions than demolishing landmark buildings for parking. We thank everyone who took the time to tweet, email, write, or represent in person. Your voices rang loud and clear! Over 750 petition signatures, letters, and emails were received opposing the demolition, and more than 75 people attended the hearing, almost all opposing the demolition.
Among the 20 residents, business owners, and historic building advocates who spoke were Rick Ruffner of Avanti Press, David Carleton of Mindfield and the GAR Building, Francis Grunow of New Solutions Group, and Samantha Farr, who circulated an online petition supporting the preservation of the State Savings Bank. Dawn Bilobran (Board of Directors) and Amy Swift (Advisory Council) represented Preservation Detroit. Emilie Evans addressed the Commission on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, and Ellen Thackery also gave compelling arguments on behalf of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network.
Last but most important of all, we are grateful to the members of the Detroit Historic District Commission who acted in the long-term best interest of the city by unanimously voting to protect Detroit’s world-class architecture.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Historic downtown Detroit building threatened with demolition
A distinctive downtown Detroit landmark may face demolition — so its owner can build a parking structure.
The State Savings Bank (151 W. Fort St.) was built in 1900 by McKim, Mead, and White and expanded in 1914 by Donaldson and Meier. It is currently owned by Canadian developer Andreas Apostolopoulos, who purchased the building in 2012 for $700,000. When Apostolopoulos announced in Aug. 2012 that he was planning to demolish the building for parking, he met such ardent opposition from local preservationists that he rescinded his plans, stating that he would instead rehabilitate the structure.
Now, he appears to have changed his mind. The City of Detroit Historic District Commission has received a petition to demolish the State Savings Bank. The petition is subject to a public hearing, which is scheduled for the next Historic District Commission meeting on Wednesday, August 14.
Preservation Detroit adamantly opposes the demolition of the State Savings Bank. This Beaux Arts gem is integral to our cityscape, and we strongly believe that a dense, walkable, historic urban core is fundamentally important to Detroit’s future.
Furthermore, the demolition of the State Savings Bank would be an embarrassing step in the wrong direction for downtown Detroit and an insult to developers who have invested money, sweat and vision in the revitalization of the downtown core. Developments such as the Grand Army of the Republic, the Book-Cadillac, Security Trust Lofts, the Broderick Tower, the David Whitney Building, 1520 and 1528 Woodward, Capitol Park’s burgeoning comeback, and numerous projects led by Dan Gilbert have recognized that adaptive reuse of historic structures builds a more memorable and uniquely marketable place.
We’re finally seeing traction in putting our amazing architecture back to work. This would be a terrible setback.
The irreplaceable State Savings Bank
Photo via Library of Congress
The State Savings Bank is at least triply historic. It stands on ground that was once part of Fort Shelby, constructed by the British in 1778 and transferred to American control in 1796. The Fort was the site of battle between the United States and Great Britain during the War of 1812 and included a military burial ground until the Fort’s demolition in 1826.
When it was built in 1900, the State Savings Bank was part of Detroit’s emerging financial district and would be a cornerstone of that district for 80 years. The bank is listed on the National Register of Historic Places both individually and as part of the 36-building Detroit Financial District. According to the Historic Registration Form, the district “contains Michigan’s most magnificent array of early twentieth-century bank and office buildings” and provides “much of the form to today’s Detroit skyline.”
The State Savings Bank is also Michigan’s only major surviving example of a building by influential New York architecture firm McKim, Mead, and White, according to the Historic Designation Advisory Board. As well as being on the National Register of Historic Places, it is a Michigan State Historic Site and a Detroit Local Historic District.
The Historic District Commission uses the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation as a guide. According to these guidelines, demolition should only occur if the building cannot be reused or is structurally unsound. We believe the State Savings Bank does not meet the established criteria for demolition. An owner may claim financial hardship, but according to the Historic District Commission’s Economic Hardship Guidelines, “an applicant’s expectation of demolishing a historic property at the time of purchase is not considered reasonable.”
Detroit deserves smarter parking solutions
Downtown Detroit boasts 55 parking structures and 163 surface lots, according to a 2012 report by Data Driven Detroit.
Detroit deserves smarter parking solutions that are integrated with the cityscape. Why not work toward turning some of the city’s 163 surface lots into parking garages instead of demolishing a beautiful, structurally sound historic structure?
Smart urban cities across the nation are rethinking their approach to parking. Salt Lake City recently outlawed the short-sighted practice of demolishing buildings to make surface lots. In Minneapolis, there’s discussion of using tax strategies to flip the math on profitability in favor of those who build on their vacant land. Knoxville stepped up its enforcement of blight laws to prevent property owners who want to tear down buildings for parking using the “demolition-by-neglect” route. And Tulsa has a temporary ban on demolitions for parking while it considers ordinances to limit it. And we all know what it’s like to park in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Big cities have less parking and more activity, period.
By tearing down the State Savings Bank Building, more parking will come at a cost: to our distinctive streetscape, to the density and walkability of our downtown core, and to the history we all share.
Wrote Preservation Detroit Board President Melanie Markowicz in an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press: “Simply put, if we continue to hollow out our downtown core over and over again, we will have nothing left to constitute the need for parking at all.”
We have a chance to stand up for this building and for the heritage that connects us to our city. Please join Preservation Detroit in opposing the demolition of the State Savings Bank.
- Attend the HDC meeting on August 14 at 5:30 p.m. and speak out!
13th Floor Auditorium, Coleman A. Young Municipal Center
2 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, MI 48226
- Write to the Historic District Commission:
Detroit Historic District Commission
65 Cadillac Square – 13th Floor
Detroit, MI 48226
Fax letters to: (313) 224-1310
For questions, contact the Commission’s staff: Crystal Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org, (313) 224-6536
- Email the developer and advocate for adaptive reuse of the State Savings Bank
- Post on the Historic District Commission’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DetroitHistoricDistrictCommission
- Share this message with friends, family, and fellow preservationists
- Become a member of Preservation Detroit and help us protect Detroit’s invaluable built heritage
For more information contact:
Melanie A. Markowicz
President | Board of Directors
4735 Cass Avenue
Detroit, MI 48201
Amy Elliott Bragg
Board of Directors