Women’s City Club of Detroit

Women’s City Club of Detroit

2110 Park Avenue in downtown Detroit

This picture is out of date. This building has been revitalized. I will add a new picture very soon.

The way middle class and educated women spent their adult years changed greatly from the beginning to the end of the Twentieth Century. A white-collar middle class developed in American cities at the end of the Nineteenth and in the early Twentieth Century as men worked at well-paying jobs in the professions, in administration and in the highly skilled crafts. Many of their wives were highly educated by the standards of that time, but social norms discouraged or prohibited middle-class women from working after they married and had children. But later in life, these wives had time to devote to activities outside the home and had access to the income and wealth thier prosperous spouses had amassed. Numerous women volunteered their time for charitable activities or promoted the arts. These women provided a great deal of assistance to the poor and immigrants who came to American cities early in the last century. Daphne Spain’s How Women Saved the City (University of Minnesota Press, 2000) cogently describes the important role women played to greatly improve the quality of life in cities during the early years of industrialization. The labor shortage of World War II led to full-time employment for many women who promptly left the labor force after the German and Japanese armies were vanquished in 1945. By the 1960s, norms had change and—starting with the baby boom generation—women have typically worked full-time for most of their adult years. There is no longer a large group of highly educated wives married to prosperous men who spend most of their time volunteering for charities and the arts.

The building you see was designed by William Buck Stratton shortly after the Women’s City Club of Detroit was founded in 1919 to “promote a broad acquaintance among women” and to further civic and cultural activities. Stratton was born in Ithaca, New York in 1865, earned his architectural degree from Cornell and then began his practice in Detroit in 1890. In addition to this building, he designed three impressive buildings close to each other on East Jefferson: the Frederick Stearns and Company Building at 7533 (now condos), the Thornton Brodhead Armory at 7600, and the Kentish cottage that is now to the firm his wife created, Pewabic Pottery, at 10125 East Jefferson.

The Arts and Crafts movement strongly influenced Stratton’s design for the Women’s City Club. The building itself had two purposes and Stratton distinguished component parts of the structure. The first three floors provided meeting spaces for both social events and for planning the activities of members. The upper three floors—floors that appear to be set upon the three-story base—served as a residential facility for women who moved to Detroit for employment and wished to live in a wholesome environment until they married.

You can see several strategies that William Buck Stratton used to distinguish his two components. The color of the bricks differs as does the fenestration. There is also a horizontal range of bricks, known as a soldier course, distinguishing the social facilities component from the residential area. William Buck Stratton’s wife, Mary Chase, was an artistic woman since she helped to perfect her own style of making colorful tiles. Unlike women who did not work for earnings, she drew on her entrepreneurial skills and created the Pewabic Tile firm that continues to prosper with its distinctive creative tiles. The structure that her husband built for her has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. William Buck Stratton made extensive use of Pewabic Tile in decorating the interior of this Woman’s City Club building. Indeed, the swimming pool was decorated with Pewabic tile. Overall, there is a certain plain style to the exterior of this structure that makes it a comely rather than beautiful building although the warm color of the brown brick is a redeeming feature. Unfortunately, the stretch of Park Avenue suggests a discouraging sense of abandonment since several of the adjoining buildings are not fully used.

The Civil Right Revolution of the 1960s and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 greatly expanded employment opportunities for women. No longer did norms called for married women to stay home with their young children. No longer could employers specify that some jobs were for men and others for women. The rising educational attainment of women, the desire of many women to find fulfillment in their careers and the stagnant wages of most middle-class men, led to sharp increases in the employment of adult women. The Women’s City Club occupied this building from 1924 to 1975. The social space in this building was used for various purposes, including a restaurant and bar in subsequent years.

The Illich family paid a substantial fraction of the cost of Comerica Park where their Tigers baseball team now plays home games. There were, however, extensive negotiations with the city about land use in that area of downtown near where the new baseball park was built in the late 1990s. The Fox Theater Building—the headquarters for the Illich Little Caesar pizza chain—shares the block with the Women’s City Club building. A component of the agreement with the city about building a new baseball stadium gave the Illiches options to obtain much of the land to the southwest of the Fox Theater, including properties along Park Avenue where the Woman’s City Club building is located. For a number of years, there have been rumors that the Illich family will eventually raze the many structures they own in this area and then construct a new stadium for their Detroit Red Wings hockey team.

The Women's City Club Building is wtihin the Park Avenue Historic Distcit. In 1923, a group of developers formed the Park Avenue Association and sought to encourage the development of b uilding on Park Avenue west of Adams that would resemble, in prestige, those found on Park Avenue in Detroit. Many of most of the building erected in the 1920s survive to this day include the Kales Building atnd the Detroit Building at the corner of Park and Adams, the Women's City Club, Iodent Building, Colony Club Building and Royal Palm Hotel along Park Avenue.

Architect: William Buck Stratton
Date of construction: 1924
Architectural Style: Eclectic with and Arts and Crafts interior
Use in 2009: Vacant Building awaiting reuse
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P25,288 Listed April 29, 1979. This building in included with the Park Avenue Historic District.
State of Michigan Historic Marker: Erected August 7, 1980. This building is with the Park Avenue Historic District.
National Register of Historic Places: Building # 79001179, Listed October 20, 1979.
Photograph: Ren Farley; March 3, 2007
Description updated: April 2, 2009

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