St. Rita Apartments

35 Owen Street in Detroit’s North End and across
Owen Street from Northern High School

In early 2017, there were about 338 buildings or sites in Wayne County listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.  Many or most of them are described on this website.  So far as I can tell, St. Rita Apartments was the first building or site in Wayne County to be listed on the National Register in 2017.  I do not know why.  There is long document that describes any site that is added to the National Register.  These are eventually digitized so that they are readily accessible.  I have not been able to locate any National Register document associated with this historic building.

A modest number of reasonably sized apartment buildings were constructed in Detroit during the years before and after World War I.  This six-story red brick building with extensive and attractive terra cotta trim is one of them.  It must have been convenient for those who rented a luxury apartment here to get to their jobs in downtown because of the frequent street car service on Woodward.  In Detroit’s lean and troubled years in the late Twentieth Century, this building lost its value in the commercial housing market.  In 1990, the building was converted into a facility providing subsidized housing for lower income residents.  Apparently, that did not work out so well and the building was closed in 2005 and has not been occupied since then.

In Michigan, if an owner does not pay property taxes for three consecutive years, the structure reverts to the county.  If the owner does not promptly pay the past-due taxes, the county offers the structure for the amount of taxes due.  If no one purchases the structure for that amount, the county may auction the building to the highest bidder.  In 2012, the Staten Island Housing Development, LLC purchased St. Rita’s for $5,300.  They were well known for purchasing much property in Detroit at that time.  Apparently they did not pay property taxes on the St. Rita so it once again reverted to the county.  This was a common practices in Detroit.  That is, a speculator could purchase a home or commercial building for a very low price and “own” it for three years without paying any taxes.  If the structures reverted to the county, the purchaser lost only the small amount that originally paid.

In January of 2017, just two months before the building was listed on the National Historic Register, Michigan State Housing Development announced that federal tax credits in the amount of $510,000 would be made available to the Central City Integrated Health—a Detroit based firm—for the renovation of the building.  Central City Health announced plans to invest about $6.8 million in the building.  The renovated building will offer 26 units designated Permanent Supportive Housing.  These will be barrier free units in the renovated St. Rita building that will also offer some supportive services to the lower income residents.  The intended rent will be $715 per unit per month.  This implies monthly rental income of a modest $18,590 for the entire building.

If efforts to renovate Detroit’s North End are successful, one wonders whether this building might someday be converted to market rate rentals.  That would, of course, necessitate a great deal of financial maneuvering since Central City Integrated Health obtained the tax credit for the specific purposes of providing supportive housing for low-income residents.  St. Rita’s is located only two blocks from the northern terminus of the new Q-line light rail that will whisk passengers from this area to the many employment opportunities now found at Grand Circus Park and Campus Martius.

Who was St. Rita?  The most frequent mention of St. Rita is a woman who was born in Cascia, Italy in 1381.  Her family apparently forced her into marriage at age 12.  Her husband is traditionally described as a violent abuser and womanizer.  However the marriage endured for 18 years until he was murdered by another man.  St. Rita’s sons, seemingly, decided to avenge his murder.  She pled with them to avoid another killing but they were not dissuaded.  After such a troubled marriage, she decided to enter a convent but, for some years, was turned away because of her family’s violent history.  Eventually, she was allowed to join and was soon recognized for her piety.  Late in her life she developed a substantial bloody wound on her forehead which would not heal. This was viewed as a partial stigmata.  At this time stigmata were highly esteemed as a Divine sign of approval. Rita died in 1457 but was not canonized until 1900. At that time, Pope Leo XIII bestowed upon her the title of Patroness of Impossible Causes.   She is, also,  viewed by some as the patroness of abused wives and broken-hearted women.  It is possible that one or more investors in this building in the early years of the last century decided to use recently canonized St. Rita’s name for this structure.  Perhaps it is appropriate that this building that is now undergoing renovation is name for the Patroness of Impossible Causes.

Date of construction:  1916
Architect: Harry Stevenson
Architectural style:  English Renaissance Revival
Use in 2017:  Former apartment building undergoing renovation
City of Detroit Designated Historic District:  Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Places: Not listed
National Register of Historic Sites:  SG100000749; Listed March 12, 2017
Photograph:  Ren Farley; April, 2017
Description prepared: April, 2017

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