Historic Macomb County Building still in use 10 years after fire

By: Dean Vaglia | C&G Newspapers | Published August 17, 2023

 The old Macomb County Building stands at 10 North Main Street in Mount Clemens. Originally built as a new county courthouse, it has been home to the Friend of the Court custody program since reopening in 2016.

The old Macomb County Building stands at 10 North Main Street in Mount Clemens. Originally built as a new county courthouse, it has been home to the Friend of the Court custody program since reopening in 2016.

File photo by Deb Jacques


MACOMB COUNTY — After 90 years and a fire, it seems nothing can topple the old Macomb County Building.

Overlooking the Clinton River, the building is a centerpiece of the Mount Clemens skyline. The art deco architecture sets it apart from its neighbors in the stone courthouse and glass-sided county administration building, but the faces along the roof speak little of the old building’s turbulent creation or its long-standing role in Macomb County’s legal system.

Opened on June 5, 1933, the County Building has its origins in the county’s need for a new courthouse a decade prior. Built by St. Clair Shores architect George Haas for $700,000 as a replacement for the county courthouse, its creation was not without controversy. The county ran out of money during the project — which was already $155,000 over its budgeted cost of $545,000 — causing county employees to go weeks without pay while the county “existed on loans and began issuing script to employees and vendors,” according to a history of the building by historian Cynthia Donahue. During construction, the building went 18 months without a roof and only the lowest four floors were completed when it opened. The rest of the interior was finished on a “room by room” basis.

From opening day, the building housed Macomb County’s court until the current courthouse was finished in 1972. County administrative functions took place in the County Building until the Administration Building was opened in 1998. By the 2010s, the old County Building housed support services for the court as well as the finance, human resources, facilities, and IT departments, including storage for the county’s servers in the basement. This arrangement held until April 17, 2013, when an errant spark from an electrical panel brought everything in Macomb County to a stop.

“In the pipe chase, there was an electrical spark that came out of one of the electrical panels,” said Mark Deldin, Macomb County’s chief deputy executive. “It had created a fire inside the pipe chase. Smoke started billowing out and it ruined some of our server equipment, and we evacuated.”

The fire triggered a full evacuation of the building’s nearly 150 staff members. No injuries were reported but staff had to be relocated throughout the county and equipment was placed in temporary storage in the Clemens Center and the county’s Vic Wertz Drive warehouse in Clinton Township.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel remembers watching smoke billow from the 1930s building alongside then-Finance Director Pete Provenzano and Emergency Manager Vicki Wolber, running through what the next steps would be for the building and the county. They determined insurance would help pay for any repairs and that a state of emergency could be invoked due to the loss of communications equipment.

“We were very fortunate to have moved forward with contracts and signing things. Even though the board was still made aware of everything, we started moving in the direction of getting all of that work done even before the check was cut to us from the insurance company to pay for the IT system as well as upgrades to the facility,” Hackel said. “We were in a pretty good position even while the building was smoldering.”

A three-year recovery process was kicked into motion as soon as the flames were put out. Personnel and equipment had to be relocated and the building had to be repaired, but the age of the building meant any work done would necessitate modernizing the whole structure.

“There had never been a complete renovation of that building from top to bottom since it was built, so we had to bring the building up to code,” Deldin said. “We had to put fire suppression (systems in). We had to make sure every floor was handicap accessible. There were lots and lots of modifications. We spent about $20 million; some of that was offset by insurance proceeds because we had insurance on the building, so the majority of that $20 million was insurance proceeds.”

Much of the time was spent on gutting and rebuilding the interior to code, as well as creating space to suit the needs of the Friend of the Court program as part of a plan to centralize Macomb County’s court system.

“The Friend of the Court and the Probate Court used to be housed over by the Macomb County Jail,” Deldin said. “The goal was to bring all court services for the public to downtown Mount Clemens, so now — other than the circuit court building and the old County Building — there are no other buildings currently in the county that are operated for the courts.”

Under this plan the county building resumed full occupancy in 2016, with Friend of the Court sharing the prime Mount Clemens real estate with the Juvenile Division. County IT services were moved to the new Communications and Technology Center on Groesbeck Highway, with backup servers at an undisclosed location.

Now with the building in its 90th year, Deldin says there are no changes to the County Building planned for the foreseeable future. Built to be a courthouse, it remains an integral part of the Macomb County legal system.