Chalfonte Apartments Historic District

8643 to 8655 East Jefferson and 915 Fischer

Compared to the large eastern seaboard cities that grew rapidly in the same era, there are few apartment districts in Detroit. Land for the construction of single-family homes was widely available in the Motor City in the 1920s. There are a couple of apartment house districts in Detroit. A variety of architecturally interesting structures were built in Palmer Park Apartment House District between the 1920s and the first few years after World War II. Prior to the Depression decade, quite a few impressive apartment buildings—some high rise and some low rise—were built along East Jefferson. This area had the appeal of being close to the Detroit River, although the riverfront was much less attractive at that time than now because of the factories and rail lines formerly located there. This area also had the appeal of being connected to downtown employment centers through the Jefferson Avenue trolley.

The City of Detroit’s Planning and Development Department designated the buildings you see as a local historic district and they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nevertheless, I know little about their historical significance. Investors William and John Hart built two linked and identical buildings on East Jefferson, and then constructed an annex in a somewhat similar style around the corner at 915 Fischer. They were completed in 1911. Fifteen years later, Writ Rowland designed the impressive Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church next door. I do not know what occupied the land where this Gothic church now stands. The ascetic appeal of these East Jefferson apartments flows from the architect’s use of dark red brick and the elaborate cast stone trim. Note the many embellishments on the front of these buildings. The extensive and rather complex decorations at the roofline and the structure’s name in stone draw your attention to the top of this short building. I believe that Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian purchased these apartments in 1969 but I do not know if they are still held by that church.

As employment grows in downtown Detroit, real estate investors increasingly see a market for attractive units near the city's center. The apartment area just northeast of the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle has been labeled "Detroit's Gold Coast" after investments were made to refurbish the dozen or so building located there. This may suggest a bright future for the Chalfonte Apartment and a few other apartment building along East Jefferson.

The architect, Henry O'Dell, was born near present day Port Huron in 1875 and moved to Detroit at age 20. He obtained a job as a draftsman and worked for some of the city's leading architects of that era: William Higgenbotham, MacFarlane, William Malcomson, George Mason and Randolph Rogers. O'Dell joined with Frank Baxter to open their own firm in 1902. O'Dell had a long a productive career in Detroit including helping to design the Ford Auditorium at Hart Plaza, a building razed in 2010. The home Henry O'Dell designed for himself in Bloomfield Hills is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Architect: Frank G. Baxter and Henry Augustus O'Dell
Date of Completion: 1911
Architectural Style
Use in 2014: Apartment Building
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Listed March 3, 1985
State of Michigan Register of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: #85003603; Listed in 1985.
Picture: Ren Farley
Description updated: April, 2014

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