Arts and Scraps

I realize that it has been a while since I’ve done a proper photo post. So, in the interest of correcting that oversight, I offer this glance at the now-demolished Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts. The building was pulled down in February 2006, shortly before the Super Bowl. Just one of the many buildings lost before that event. Anyho, think of this as a reminder of its existence.

Located just off of Woodward Avenue on Watson Street, the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts was one of the most picturesque ruins in the city. The appearance was of a quaint European cottage, with a stuccoed facade. But that home-like face hid a much larger two-story structure.

The Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts was established in 1906, part of a wider arts and crafts movement that began in England in the late 19th century. The movement was a response to the increase of industrialization and the impact of industrial mass production of the decorative arts. The formation of societies was an effort to encourage traditional artists and craftsmen, and the use of local materials. With that goal in mind, the society would establish a school in 1926 that has since evolved into today’s College for Creative Studies. It is said that the Detroit society was the second in the nation, and the first to have its own building. If so, that would make Detroit not only a leader in mass production, but in the backlash against it.

Initially housed in makeshift or rented space, by 1916 the society had grown enough for a building of its own. Society member William Stratton and Maxwell Gyrlls of Smith, Hinchman, and Gyrlls are the designers of record. Besides the stuccoed exterior, the building featured an auditorium, and large courtyard. Period photographs reveal a series of simple but elegant spaces.

The Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts continued to grow throughout the twenties, thirties, and forties. The building suffered a fire in 1928, which destroyed the auditorium. But this was repaired. However, by 1958 the Society built the first new building for the growing school on East Kirby Street. This marked the beginning of the end for the Watson building. Over the following decade the building was vacated and sold for a planned residential development. I don’t have much information beyond the 1960s, but it appears that the building was adapted to a light industrial use, perhaps auto repair.

The aforementioned romantic charm of the Arts and Crafts ruins was limited to the exterior. Needless to say, the interior was a barely recognizable wreck bearing no resemblance to period photos. There was absolutely nothing on the interior that gave any hint to the building’s original function. The only surviving feature was its courtyard. Fires and collapses had taken their toll.

The largest, and most impressive space was one that I nicknamed the “theater”. This space never was a theater, but the angled collapse of a floor, along with a pile of seat cushions gave it that look. If you look closely at the center of the above photograph, you will see a blue car that was buried in the collapse.

Most of the rest of the first floor had been incinerated. The handful of unburnt spaces were small and industrial. The presence of cinder block walls suggested that they had been carved out of larger rooms. The overall color scheme was gray, with a splash of reddish brown from exposed brick or dry leaves blown in from the trees in the courtyard. In retrospect, there was surprisingly little graffiti.

The second floor was a deathtrap. It existed only in bits and pieces. For as little of it that had survived, only a small percentage could be accessed. Doing so was not the smartest idea. The above view was taken from the neighboring Crystal Ballroom on Woodward. Now there is an idea for the next post… Anyho, I suppose you could say that the second floor had become one with the first floor.

To my eyes the Arts and Crafts ruins had a timeless quality to them. On the outside it looked like something from a romantic European landscape. The interior was classic Detroit industrial being reclaimed by nature. It was always a pleasure to see the building as I passed on Woodward. Timeless or not, they could not last forever. Obviously the building was beyond saving. Still, I held out hope that the Watson facade could be saved and a new building erected behind it. Unfortunately, that was not to be. The building was pulled down for a parking lot. But the story isn’t entirely bad. That parking lot serves the beautifully restored Crystal Ballroom, which was equally bombed out when these photographs were taken.

8 comments to Arts and Scraps

  • I love this site and although I have never been to Detroit I really appreciate the past grandeur of this once glorious city!

  • oh NICE dude, psyched to see more of your old 35mm stuff!!
    too bad you dont have pics of the zodiac mural…

    http://detroitfunk.com/?p=3062
    http://detroitfunk.com/?p=301

    at least you can rest knowing that Mary Stratton’s house in Hancock still stands.

  • Tony H

    Just found your blog and wish I’d found it earlier. Three friends and I are heading down to Detroit from the Great White North (Toronto, Canada) this weekend to explore some of the abandoned sections and take photos. If you had to pick two must-sees (keeping in mind that we’re keen photographers), what would you choose? Any suggestions would be welcome. We’ve been told we need to see the train station, the Packard plant, and Lee Plaza. Now we’re adding the Detroit Society of Arts & Crafts to the list. Anything else?

  • Kelsey

    It makes me really sad that you focus so much of your attention on the negative. If you spent an equal amount of time doing positive things for the city it would be a “glorious city” again in no time. Hope you see the positive happening, it’s all around us.

  • Holly

    Thank you for posting these pictures, and this site. I’ve only driven through Detroit a couple of times and don’t really remember anything except feeling a little scared. It really looks pretty from your pictures but it is really depressing what has happened to this place. I feel like something should be done to save it. I really don’t understand a lot of the mentality in the US, it is a very different place from Canada. I hope we can see a turn around in Detroit. Thank you so much for your blog

  • MattOKC

    I really like this, and a couple of years ago I subscribed to you by RSS. So far there’s only been one post–this one from last August–but I’m hoping for more.

  • While the building may be gone, the 47 Watson St address lives on, and now houses the offices of the Heidelberg Project, whose founder Tyree Guyton is an alumnus of the Center for Creative Studies, which had its origins in the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts. Tyree is using art to try to foster community among derelict and arson-ridden buildings, so it strikes me as appropriate that, phoenix-like, art continues to stem from the site.

  • Barbar

    I lived in Detroit until 1975 at that time we moved to Kansas city, When I look at what has become of Detroit. It looks more like photos fro WW2.

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