Detroit Urban League/Albert Kahn Home

Albert Kahn Home/Detroit Urban League

208 Mack Avenue at the corner of John R in the Midtown Section of Detroit


Shortly after the turn of the Twentieth century, Albert Kahn began to develop his reputation as the leading architect for the new industrial era. By the time he designed his own home, he had built several innovative early factories for the Packard firm but had not designed any of the many building he crafted for Henry Ford.

For his own home, Kahn selected the English Renaissance style, but with a clean, modern look. The emphasis on the first floor is on the brick exterior with the impressive gray stone trim that stands out. For the second story, he chose stucco. The materials used for these two floors stress the horizontal. You will see a group of windows, including bay windows. Kahn used these to emphasize the vertical. Two gabled dormers adorn the Mack Avenue front of the home and interrupt the attractive slate roof. This suggests that by 1906, Kahn had the resources needed to use the most expensive materials in his own home. The stone arch surrounding the Mack Avenue entrance is elaborately carved used Kahn's own design. This home was built when it was not clear that industrial architecture would be revolutionarily changed by the use of structurally reinforced concrete floors. Kahn brother, Julius who earned an engineering degree at the University of Michigan in the 1890s, helped to perfect this use of structurally reinforced concrete. The first such installation was in the Palms Apartment building on East Jefferson. This structure is, I believe, the first home to have floors that would support the weight of the heavy machinery you would find in a factory. In 1928, he added a wing to this home for his library and art collection. He lived in this home from 1906 until his death in 1942.

After Kahn's death, the Detroit Urban League obtained this home and continues to use it for their offices. This chapter of the Urban League was founded in 1916, with Forrester B. Washington as Executive Director and Henry G. Stevens as president. Their aim was to socialize the newly-arriving southern blacks to the rigors and demands of industrial work and get them jobs in the dynamic vehicle industry. In 1918, John C. Dancy became the Executive Director, a post he held for the next 42 years. He is an important African-American figure in the city's history since the Urban League was quite successful in getting black men into the auto shops in the 1920s and in placing black women into domestic service. The Urban League throughout America focused upon expanding employment and housing opportunities for blacks, but generally did not use the litigation strategy employed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Between World War I and the 1960s, blacks in many northern cities developed civil rights organizations that fought for equal racial opportunities. Detroit had a more extensive and more active array of such organizations than did other northern cities. One reason for this was the emergence and then growth of a small black middle class, thanks to the high wages black men earned in industrial plants and their needs for the services of African-American teachers, lawyers, dentists, entertainers and preachers. There were other reasons, including the development of strong black churches with activist ministers, some black political power thanks to their votes and strong black organizations including the Urban League, the local chapter of the NAACP and the Booker T. Washington League that promoterd black entrepreneurship.

Detroit Urban League
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P25076, Listed March 2, 1976
State of Michigan Historical Marker: Erected; August 29, 1978. This is visible at the Mack Avenue front of the Kahn Home.
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P25148, Listed December 12, 1971
National Register of Historic Sites: #72000668, Listed October 18, 1972

Website for Detroit Urban League:
Book: Sands Against the Wind: The Memories of John C. Dancy, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1966.


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