Chicago-Lawton Terrace Apartments

2901 West Chicago Boulevard at the intersection with Lawton

The elegant Boston-Edison neighborhood extends from Woodward on the North to Linwood on the South and is bounded on the East by Edison  and on the West by East Boston Boulevard. It was well established as one of the city’s more attractive and most desirably-suited residential areas by the mid-1920s.  The area along Chicago Boulevard just to the south of Linwood contained the impressive 40-acre collegiate Gothic campus of Sacred Heart Seminary designed by Donaldson and Meier and opened in 1923.  Also underway was planning for and construction of the equally significant Shaarey Zedek Synagogue designed by the city’s most famous architect, Albert Kahn, at 2900 West Chicago Boulevard at Lawton.

Detroit’s was the nation’s most rapidly growing city in the 1920s in terms of both population and economy.  Since there was still much underdeveloped land in the city, single-family homes made up most of the new construction in the 1920s but some modest apartment buildings were constructed.  Along Chicago Boulevard just south of Linwood, three substantial and appealing apartment buildings added to the architectural wealth of the area.  These included the Andorra Apartments (2715 West Chicago Boulevard); West Chicago Boulevard Apartments (2710-2749 West Chicago Boulevard) and the Nelson Court Apartments (3410 West Chicago Boulevard).

The October, 1929 stock market crash marked the start of the Great Depression.  No city was more devastated than Detroit since vehicle production in 1932 was just 25 percent of what it was in 1929.  New construction disappeared.  However, the Roosevelt Administration recognized the wisdom of Keysian economic policies that would not only fill pressing needs but also put builders and architects back to work.  The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) was charted in 1935 to stimulate the nation’s housing market.  The building you see pictured here is one of the first multi-family housing units paid for with FHA funding and sponsorship.  And, it is architecturally very different from the other apartment building along this span of West Chicago Boulevard.  Charles Agree adopted Art Deco style for his building, making this one of the few Art Deco apartment buildings in Detroit to survive into the Twentieth-first century.  Several others are located in the Palmer Park Historic Apartment House District.

This area had a substantial Jewish population through the World War II years.  After that war, the federal government’s housing finance policies facilitated the out-migration of many residents from this neighborhood to the northwest corner of the city and into the Oakland County suburbs.  Quite a few of those out-migrants were replaced by African-Americans seeking much better quality housing.  As the city’s economic fortunes declined after about the mid-1960s, the need for housing declined.  I do not know when the Chicago-Lawton Terrace Apartments were abandoned but they were.

In 2016, the archdioceses purchased this empty apartment complex and announced plans to demolish the building and use the space for both parking and a green area.  Apparently this land will not be used for the erection of an educational building.  Lawton Street may be closed and a new entrance to Sacred Heart located there.   In 2017, Sacred Heart Major Seminary had an enrollment of 107 men studying for Holy Orders and about 380 other students pursuing degrees in theology and other eccelliastical topics.

I have seen comments the man who designed these apartment was one of the more unlucky architects to produce prominent building in Detroit.  His career and popularity appeared to be growing when the Great Depression terminated building.  But he was the architect for several of the city’s most significant abandoned—but standing—structures.  This includes Vanity Ballroom on East Jefferson at Newport and the Grande Ballroom at 5952 West Grand River.  Both of these played major roles in Detroit’s musical history.  Charles Agree not only designed the Chicago-Lawson Terrace Apartments, but the impressive but now empty Lee Plaza Apartment Building on West Grand, as well as the three Stimson Apartments on Stimson in Midtown and the Ferrand Park Apartment on Ferrand in Highland Park.  Web pages on this site describe the Lee Tower and the two ballrooms mentioned above.

In 2004, the city’s Historic Advisory Designation Board approved the creation of a local historic district that would include the Nelson Court and West Chicago Boulevard apartments.  About a year or so later, I believe that Andorra Apartments were added to this historic district.  I have read that the Chicago-Lawton Terrace Apartments were also subsequently included in the  West Chicago-West Boston Boulevard Apartment Historic District.  However, I see nothing on the webpage of the Historic Designation Board to confirm that report.

Date of Construction: 1939
Architect: Charles N. Agree
Architectural style: Streamlined Art Deco
Use in 2017:  Scheduled to be demolished
Photograph:  Ren Farley; April 22, 2017
Description prepared: April, 2017