Bertha Hansbury Music School
This historic district consists of two building. There is a Victorian Home at 544 Frederick dating from 1890 and built for James Owens. It is more popularly known as the site of Bertha Hansbury Music School. Then there is the Romanesque Revival style red brick home at 580 Frederick. This was built for Detroit jeweler Charles W. Warren, but is more widely known as the location of Dunbar Hospital. That was Detroit's first African American hospital and operated from the site you see from 1919 to 1927.
This section of Detroit was developed by Frederick Farnsworth. This explains the names of the parallel streets to the east of Woodward, Frederick and Farnsworth. Until the Detroit Institute of Art was built in the 1920s, Frederick intersected Woodward. Very substantial and architect-designed Queen Anne and Victorian homes were built along Frederick, similar to those still found in the nearby East Ferry Historic District. By the time of World War I, several other Detroit neighborhoods became more popular than the locations that are now near the city's Cultural Center. These include the Boston-Edison and Indian Village neighborhoods.
The black population of Detroit grew rapidly during and after World War I. The segregation practices of that era concentrated on most blacks along Hastings Street and St. Antoine, but as the population grew, they moved further northwest parallel to Woodward. By the end of the second decade of the last century, prosperous blacks were able to buy homes in what are now the East Kirby, the East Ferry and the Frederick Avenue Historic District. In 1918, a group of thirty physicians purchased the Warren home at 580 Frederick and converted it into Dunbar Hospital for blacks. That institution operated from this location until 1927 when it was merged into Parkside Hospital. Prosperous Detroit undertaker, Charles Diggs, purchased the former Durbar Hospital and used it for his residence. He was the first black Democrat elected to the Michigan state senate, in 1936, and was the first black to represent Detroit in Congress, elected in 1952.
Bertha Hansbury and her husband, William H. Phillips purchased the home at 544 Frederick at about the same time. They became well known in the black community for their activities. William Phillips ran the Household Art Guild, the first state licensed employment agency for blacks in Detroit. Bertha Hansbury, a graduate of the Detroit Conservancy of Music, operated a school that nurtured the musical aspiration of many black youngsters. The Hansbury School did not survive the Depression, but I do not know the history of this house.
The former Dunbar Hospital was slated to be torn down in 1970. A group intended to turn the hospital into a medical museum, purchased the home and prevented its destruction. I believe that group, the Detroit Medical Society, continues to own the structure but their plans for a museum have not been completed.
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Listed October 10, 1984
Michigan Register of Historic Sites: P25,120. Listed April 11, 1977
National Register of Historic Sites: Dunbar Hospital was listed on June 19, 1979
Use in 2009: Elegant vacant buildings
Photographs: Ren Farley
Description prepared: February 2, 2009
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