We are disappointed in the Detroit Institute of Art’s (DIA) decision to demolish the Barat House.
Now-former DIA employee Paul Szewcyzk wrote an excellent blog post about the history and architecture of the Barat House, which you can read here.
When we first learned that the DIA had purchased the building and that they were considering demolishing it, we immediately contacted their team to express our concerns.
Over the next year we had several meetings and conversations with DIA leadership and asked them to consider the longer-term potential of this building as opposed to the short-term gain of a handful of parking spots. We also contacted partners in the Cultural Center, including at the Scarab Club and the Wright Museum, and asked them to advocate for the preservation of the Barat House, too.
In this situation, we had few tools to use to advocate for the building’s preservation. It was not part of a local historic district and was not likely to become part of one once the DIA took ownership of the building, since demolition was an option they were considering from the time they acquired the property. (Individual properties are rarely historically designated over the protests of their owners.) There is really no other recourse to prevent a building from being demolished besides persuading or pressuring the owners not to do so.
When the DIA informed us that their decision to demolish the Barat House was final, we asked if there were any opportunities to salvage materials or document the structure before its demolition. The DIA declined to undertake these efforts themselves but allowed us access to the building which we walked through and digitally documented.
We believe the City of Detroit needs to expand its preservation toolbox and create a proactive preservation plan that identifies significant assets like the Barat House before they are threatened. Preservation Detroit has been working with the City to advance this, but we need more public pressure to move this forward faster. We are losing too many historic buildings while we wait. Our advice to those who are upset about this demolition is to contact your City Council representative and the Mayor’s Office (remember, it’s an election year) and ask them what they will do to prevent future demolitions like the Barat House, or whatever other building you care about that we have needlessly lost over the years.