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

War Memorial addition unanimously approved by Grosse Pointe Farms City Council

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 25, 2020

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Construction should be starting this fall on an addition and renovations at The War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms.

After several public hearings, the Farms City Council voted unanimously Aug. 10 in a Zoom meeting in favor of final site plan approval for the project.

War Memorial President and CEO Charles Burke said their goal for this project since public discussions began last year has been to improve patron experiences, undertake deferred maintenance and preserve the historical Alger House.

The loggia is going to be transformed into a two-story promenade with large windows and 25.5-foot-tall Indiana stone columns that are reminiscent of marching soldiers.

The promenade, which will have a coat-check, 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 protect the 110-year-old 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.

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.

“We’re proud of the community room offering much-needed relief on the historic (Alger) House,” Burke said.

A recent addition to the plan — inspired by The War Memorial’s patriotic mission — is a pre-function room with a skylight and benches for quiet reflection on what patriotism means to the visitor. This room will be adjacent to the new community room.

A few tweaks have enabled The War Memorial to add six more parking spaces to the lot, bringing them up 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.

“We’re proud of the walkability,” Burke said of the design.

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.

Local bird advocates called for safety measures to be taken because The War Memorial is in the middle of an international migratory bird flyover and the preponderance of glass in the promenade structure would lead to bird strikes and deaths. Burke said bird-safe glass would be used on all sides of the promenade, not just on the Lake St. Clair side.

“We feel that we’ve done our very best” to protect birds and wildlife with the project, Burke said.

“I applaud the use of Guardian (Sunguard Glass with Bird1st Protection coating),” City Councilwoman Beth Konrad-Wilberding said. “I think that The War Memorial has stepped up and done everything possible to address various needs.”

Other green practices are going into the project, as well, including the use of native plants, water management and increased energy efficiency, Burke said.

City Councilman John Gillooly praised the use of bird-safe glass and other environmental measures, as well as The War Memorial’s community outreach.

“I believe that the city of Grosse Pointe Farms sits in a very unique place geographically,” Gillooly said. “We have to be good stewards of the environment, given our location (on Lake St. Clair).”

The height of the promenade has been reduced to 25.5 feet, which Burke said matches the height of the servants’ quarters in the Alger House. He said they used the golden ratio to come up with new elevations.

The total square footage of the ballroom and community room hasn’t changed — it’s still 7,900 square feet — but the rooms themselves have changed a bit in size. Because of the need to allow for more social distancing in the COVID-19 era, the community room has grown from the original proposal of 2,750 square feet to 3,060 square feet, while the ballroom has shrunk from 5,150 square feet to 4,840 square feet. Burke said the ballroom capacity has been reduced from 510 people to 480 as a result.

Also due to COVID-19 concerns and other changes, the pre-function space has increased from 5,494 square feet to 6,585 square feet.

“I think it’s a great proposal,” City Councilman James Farquhar said. “Charles, you’ve done a wonderful job.”

Burke said they hope to start construction this fall. The project is slated to take approximately 12-14 months, he said. Ideally, they hope to be done by Labor Day 2021.

“We thank you for your hard work, and we look forward to when it’s completed,” Mayor Louis Theros told Burke.