Captain Brodhead, in the late 1920s, convinced the Michigan state legislature to build a naval armory along Detroit's waterfront. They appropriated the funds and the attractive, if highly functional, building you see now was completed in 1930. It has elements of both classical and Art Deco stylingwith gray limestone sheathing. The entrance way is quite elaborately decorated with symbols of the various military services engaged in naval activities using Pewabic tiles.
How should artists and crafts people be supported? Our schools are filed with talented people seeking to be creative, but artists fail to become financially successful. Should we depend upon the market place to support the arts and crafts, or depend upon rich patrons? What about the government as a source of support? After 1933, the Roosevelt Administration realized that deficit spending might prime the economic pump, so an elaborate Works Project Administration funded building activities in many cities. That administration also supported a Federal Artist Project to support the creative arts. Captain Brodhead realized that these federal funds would allow for the decoration of the Armory that bears his name. And thus, this building is one of the most unusual and impressive buildings of its type. It reflects the creativity of many Detroit artists who otherwise would have been unemployed.
You will find extensive woodworking, including doors, carvings and fireplace embellishments done by John Tabaczuk. There are several paintings of naval vessels by Edgar Yeager (1883-1969). Elaborate murals were painted in four rooms, including a 60 foot mural with naval themes painted by David Fredenthal. This building has a collection of murals ranking second in Detroit to the Detroit Institute of Arts. There are quite a few plaster wall carving representing nautical themes done by Gustave Hildebrand. This is an unusual example of how federal tax dollars were spent to support the fine arts during the Depression decad
The building was used by the U. S. Navy for training reserve naval and marine units until after 2000. I believe that ownership was subsequently transfered to the City of Detroit but, as of 2012, no firm plans developed to reuse this building. It has a significant history and an architectural appeal. Jean Harlow, the popular movie star of the 1920s, attended the dedication presumably as a guest of one of the Fisher brothers who may have been courting her at the time. Joe Louis, at age 17, fought his first fight in this building in the winter of 1931-1932. He was still involved in the Golden Gloves competition so I presume that he was not paid to figure. A Detroit professional who was four years his senior, Johnny Miler, defeated him soundly in the three round bout. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought his campaign for the presidency to Detroit in the fall of 1932, he used this building for a rally.
Architects: William Buck Stratton (1865-1938)
Date of Completion of the building: 1930
Use in 2012: Vacant building awaiting reuse.
Detroit Area Art Deco Society description: http://www.daads.org/preservation/threatened01.htm
National Register of Historic Places: added 1994 - Building #94000662
Photo: Ren Farley; August, 2002
Description updated: February, 2012