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 Visitors to The War Memorial will be able to access the Patriot Theater, the lakefront lawn and gardens, the ballroom, and the new community room from the new promenade.

Visitors to The War Memorial will be able to access the Patriot Theater, the lakefront lawn and gardens, the ballroom, and the new community room from the new promenade.

Rendering provided by The War Memorial


Revised War Memorial plans to be discussed at July 13 council meeting

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 9, 2020

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GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Officials with The War Memorial, 32 Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Farms, are looking forward to unveiling revised plans for renovations and an addition to Farms officials and the public.

The new plans, crafted after incorporating input from residents, stakeholders, city officials and the general public, will be shared and discussed during a Farms City Council meeting at 7 p.m. July 13. The meeting will be conducted remotely via Zoom; visit the Farms website, grossepointefarms.org, for an agenda and more information.

War Memorial President and CEO Charles Burke said the council won’t be voting on the plan July 13; this is just an opportunity for everyone to review and comment on it.

“We want to be patient,” Burke said. “We want to work in collaboration with the council and the community.”

The loggia is still going to be transformed into a two-story promenade with large windows, but columns have been added that are reminiscent of marching soldiers. The promenade, which will have a coat-check and multiple restrooms, will also become the new main entrance to The War Memorial and will enable visitors to not only enter the building, but also access the lakefront grounds and gardens in back.

In an effort to reduce traffic and preserve the 110-year-old historical Alger House, which houses staff offices and War Memorial programs, War Memorial officials have come up with plans that include the addition of a community room that would be added in front of the ballroom, near the parking lot, as well as the promenade. The plans designed by the Detroit-based architectural firm Rossetti are a nod to the original Alger House design by Charles A. Platt and the original landscape design by Ellen Biddle Shipman.

One of the biggest concerns many people had with the original promenade design was the large amount of clear glass being used. The War Memorial’s location on Lake St. Clair places it squarely in the middle of a major international migratory bird flyover, and local bird experts feared the two-story, glass-encased promenade would lead to many more bird deaths, including endangered species.

“I would really urge something other than glass,” Grosse Pointe Farms resident Connie Boris told Burke at a Farms council meeting last year. “(The birds) cannot detect (it). … We have to do something to protect them.”

With the new plans, Burke said last week, they responded by “substantially” reducing “the total volume of glass,” and they intend to use glazing or another glass product to render the remaining glass visible to birds.

Other changes include an energy-efficient design, native plantings and efforts to protect the shoreline and wildlife.

An upgraded lobby between the ballroom and the community room has been added to the design, as well as a reflection area with benches and a circular, ocular skylight above the common area that Burke said is similar to the Parthenon.

“Patriotism means different things to different people,” Burke said. “We want to allow for that personal spirit to be connected. This is a space for people to go on that reflective journey.”

Burke said they won’t be removing the bronze plaques — which include the names of Grosse Pointers who have lost their lives serving their country during various wars and conflicts — from the main house. Those will remain where they are now and not be moved to the reflection area.

“This is not about replacing,” Burke said. “This is about amplifying what we have.”

Because of COVID-19, the revised plans include room for social distancing, better patron flow and touchless doorways and entries.

Also because of COVID-19, Burke said the new community room will likely house programs with 60-100 guests with social distancing; the capacity depends on the seating arrangement. Programs like public lectures and candidate forums are the sorts of events that are anticipated for this space.

“The purpose of that room is to relieve traffic in the historic house,” said Burke, noting that programs like these have been held in the Alger House library and reception room in the past. “In many ways, (the new community room) is going to be even more accessible because it’s right off the main entry.”

A few tweaks have enabled The War Memorial to add six more parking spaces to the lot, bringing them to a total of 210. Burke said the extra spaces are additional handicapped spaces closer to the building, to improve accessibility.

A covered colonnade adjacent to the ballroom will lead to a new waterfront boardwalk, and Burke said a series of paths and walkways connected to the new facility will make the back lawn and gardens accessible to everyone. He said The War Memorial offers the only lakefront property in the Grosse Pointes that’s open to the general public, so making that easier for everyone to visit and navigate — from someone wearing high heels to someone using a wheelchair — is important.

“The quality of our updated design is a testament to the creativity, practicality and world-class professionalism of the ROSSETTI team,” said War Memorial Board Chair Thomas Smith in a press release. “There’s an undeniable poetry in the way the colonnade brings to mind soldiers marching in formation, or how the beveled edges of our new entryway exactly replicate the angled roofline of the historic house. These details help to make our already special institution that much more remarkable.”

Burke said they hope to present a final site plan for approval by the Farms City Council in August. If the council signs off on the plan then, he said they’d like to start construction this fall. Construction is expected to take about 12-14 months, Burke said. That means work will likely be happening while researchers try to come up with a vaccine for COVID-19, he said.

“We understand, as many people do, that life will not return to normal until a vaccine is developed,” Burke said. “We would like to serve as a lightning rod of hope for the community. This will be a signal of us getting back to a new normal … and coming out of this time of fearfulness with hope.”

The War Memorial is still seeking input on its proposed plans and design. Comments can be shared through their website, www.warmemorial.org, or via email at feedback@warmemorial.org.

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