From left, Grosse Pointe Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski watches with delight as Public Works Director Brett Smith and City Manager Mark Wollenweber remove a tarp from the new state historical marker at Shores City Hall June 18.

From left, Grosse Pointe Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski watches with delight as Public Works Director Brett Smith and City Manager Mark Wollenweber remove a tarp from the new state historical marker at Shores City Hall June 18.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Grosse Pointe Shores City Hall makes history

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 26, 2019


GROSSE POINTE SHORES — Grosse Pointe Shores’ City Hall, at 795 Lake Shore Road, has been a notable part of the local landscape for more than 100 years, and it’s now getting recognition at the state level.

Officials, residents and history buffs were on hand June 18 for the unveiling of a state historical marker from the Michigan Historical Commission. Shores City Hall was completed in 1915 and designed by Albert Kahn, widely considered Michigan’s greatest architect. Of roughly 1,700 structures across the state that have been awarded historical markers, “quite a few” are also city halls, but the Shores’ is the only one in the Grosse Pointes to earn this distinction, said Timothy Chester, a member of the Michigan Historical Commission.

Chester said Kahn designed roughly 1,000 buildings during his career, but he believes this is Kahn’s only city hall.

“It’s kind of a Michigan modern landmark. … In our minds at the Michigan Historical Commission, this was a clear (choice),” Chester said.

Historian Arthur M. Woodford wrote the 2015 pictorial history “The Village of Grosse Pointe Shores.” The city also tapped Woodford to tackle the application for state historical status for City Hall.

“Preparing the text for this marker was a whole lot more difficult than it used to be,” Woodford said. “The state has tightened the regulations (for receiving this recognition).”

Chester concurred.

“The standards have gone up a lot since the marker program was started in 1957,” he said. “We now require (applicants) to be meticulous. … A lot of people have overactive imaginations when it comes to history, but this has to be vetted.”

Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski said that getting this recognition was a two-year process, but they were delighted to get the marker.

“It’s a Kahn building, so of course, we’re supportive,” said Mark Heppner, president and CEO of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, who was on hand for the marker unveiling. Kahn also designed the Ford House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2016.

Other iconic landmarks designed by Kahn include the Belle Isle Aquarium and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Wayne State University’s Bonstelle Theatre, the Fisher Building, the Packard Plant, the Detroit Athletic Club and the Maccabees Building.

Chester said he grew up in St. Clair Shores. As a youth, he recounted riding past Shores City Hall as he took the bus to downtown Detroit.

“I remember thinking this building was special,” Chester said. “I didn’t know why — it just seemed like a jewel box.”

Woodford agreed.

“It really is a beautiful, beautiful building,” he said. “I think (the state recognition) is well-deserved, and it’s quite an honor.”

Robert F. Sharrow, the senior vice president and principal with the firm of Albert Kahn in Detroit — fittingly enough, their offices are in the Fisher Building — was also on hand for the ceremony, as was architect Robert C. Wakely, who was hired to renovate Shores City Hall in 1982, after the ceiling of the then-village manager’s office collapsed and the building was deemed structurally unsafe.

Wakely and Associates not only addressed the structural problems, but also made the building accessible, adding an elevator tower, side entrance and staircase. Wakely carefully considered all aspects of the renovation so that he could maintain Kahn’s vision, and when work was finished in 1984, the building received four architectural awards for protecting its historic integrity. Officials said Wakely’s attention to detail and understanding of Kahn’s design played a critical role in Shores City Hall receiving state historical designation.

“The state Historical Commission validated the appropriateness of (Wakely’s) addition,” Woodford said.

Wakely was happy to have been able to make the building functional again.

“I feel pretty gratified, because it was a difficult project,” he said. “I wanted to do something contemporary, but preserve the history of the building.”

Izzy Donnelly, the collections manager of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society, said the GPHS worked with Woodford to verify information about the building for the state application. She said “it’s just wonderful” to see the Shores City Hall receive this designation.

“With the resurgence of Detroit, everybody is fired up about these old buildings,” Donnelly said, noting that these structures “are so well-built.”

During a time when many other historic buildings in the Grosse Pointes were being demolished to make way for new construction, Kedzierski, a history buff, said he’s happy Shores officials didn’t decide to tear down City Hall in the 1980s and start anew.

“We’re very pleased to have this building restored and used for city functions,” he said.

The marker features text on both sides that summarizes the history of the building and its 1982 renovation. In 2018, Shores City Hall received a bronze plaque from the GPHS for its historical significance.