University Club/YMCA Building

University Club/YMCA Building

1411 East Jefferson

This building was torn down in November, 2013. For a brief period from early in the Twentieth Century to the Depression, men’s clubs flourished in major cities. Presumably, leading business people, governmental officials and others of wealth and power went to such clubs for leisurely lunches. After work and on week-ends, prominent men went to socialize with their peers, enjoy spirituous libations and good food. Many of these clubs had rooms where visitors might stay. The Detroit Club was founded in the 1890s, recruited Wilson Eyre of Philadelphia to design their magnificent building at Cass Avenue and Fort Street and continues to operate today. The Detroit Athletic Club whose impressive Albert Kahn-designed building you see behind center field every time you watch the Tigers, was founded in 1887. Henry Joy, one of the men to gain wealth from the prosperity of the Packard Motor Car Company, encouraged the construction of that impressive structure, one that is still used by the Detroit Athletic Club.

George Pierre Codd, born in Detroit in 1869, graduated from the University of Michigan in 1891 after pitching for the baseball team there. He became a lawyer in Detroit, was elected mayor for the 1905-1906 term, but lost in his reelection campaign. He successfully ran for Congress in the 1920 election when the nation’s voters chose Warren Harding to lead the country, but Codd did not stand for reelection. Instead, he became a Circuit Court judge in Michigan. It was Codd who founded the University Club in 1899. Perhaps to distinguish this club from other men’s clubs such as the Detroit Athletic Club and the Detroit Club; President Codd insisted that candidates have a four-year college degree before being considered for admission.

I believe the University Club met in various locations before they purchased, in 1913, the elegant Victorian mansion of Senator James McMillian. It was located at the address shown above on East Jefferson. This club had sufficient funds in the late 1920s to raze the attractive mansion of Senator McMillan and commission the distinguished architect, William E. Kapp, of the Smith, Hinchman and Grylls firm, to design their club building. Since this was the University Club, Kapp designed the building in the Collegiate Gothic style. He even insisted that the color of the bricks matched the bricks used for many of the building of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. You will notice the external masonry and wood beams. I have not seen the interior of the building, but it apparently includes carved ceiling beams and much paneling, reminding a person of academic buildings constructed in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries in England. The building included squash courts, racquet ball courts and many rooms afor men who wish to stay there on a short- or long-term basis. Apparently, quite a few distinguished businessmen lived in this building. Rules were enforced and women were permitted to enter the building only on New Year’s Eve.

Four factors contributed to the demise of men’s clubs such as this one. First, there was a change in family mores. With the coming of the baby boom and the emphasis upon families, upper middle class men were expected to spend considerable time with their wives and families rather than having drinks and going to dinners with their male friends. Second, the demands of work increased, meaning that long lunch hours and lingering for hours for drinks and dinner at a club were no longer esteemed. Third, in the 1970s a new image of the healthy life style emerged, and for upper class men and women, this often meant going running or to the Y at lunch time rather than going to a club for a filet mignon and a couple of gin and tonics. Finally, many of the more prestigious jobs in metro Detroit moved from the city to the suburbs after World War II. To preserve their existence, this club began admitting women as members in 1978. Seven years later, they began accepting members who had two- rather than four-year college degrees. These changes were not sufficient and, in 1992, the University Club went bankrupt. After the University Club closed, the Detroit YMCA used this building for some time. In 2008, the Boll YMCA opened near Grand Circus Park and this building was abandoned. It was looted. In Noverber, 2013 it was torn down. I believe that land will be used for a party store or for a parking lot for a nearby party story. It is too bad that Detroit lost this very attractive academic style building but formal male clubs for college graduates are no longer popular.

Date of construction: 1931
Architect: William E. Kapp employed by Smith, Hinchman and Grylls
Architectural style: Collegiate Gothic
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Michigan Register of Historic Sites: Not listed
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
Torn down in November, 2013:
Photograph: Ren Farley, April 21, 2008
Description updated: January, 2014

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