Tryba Architects, of Denver, created a series of renderings for The War Memorial showing proposed improvements, including a two-story promenade that would serve as a new main entrance and enable visitors to more easily access the lakefront grounds and gardens in back.

Tryba Architects, of Denver, created a series of renderings for The War Memorial showing proposed improvements, including a two-story promenade that would serve as a new main entrance and enable visitors to more easily access the lakefront grounds and gardens in back.

Rendering provided by The War Memorial


War Memorial plans include restoration, addition of community room

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 29, 2020

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GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Officials with The War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms are seeking public input on a proposed project that they believe will improve visitor experiences and better preserve the 110-year-old Alger House, which houses programs and staff offices.

War Memorial officials presented their concept — which includes the addition of a community room that would be added in front of the ballroom, near the parking lot — during a Grosse Pointe Farms City Council work session Jan. 21 at Pier Park.

“We want to have better patron flow,” said Charles Burke, president and CEO of The War Memorial.

The loggia will be transformed into what Burke said will be a two-story, glass-encased promenade; the promenade 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.

The promenade will feature a coat check and multiple new restrooms to serve people using the community room and ballroom, as well as grounds visitors. Burke said walls inside the promenade are envisioned as a space where the Grosse Pointe Artists Association could showcase original artworks or exhibits.

Because War Memorial officials are still accepting input before having blueprints drawn up, the size of the community room and the number of individuals it can hold haven’t yet been determined, said Brooks Hoste, War Memorial vice president of community engagement and programming.

Because one function of that room will be to relieve pressure on rooms in the main house that are used for programs, he said the space will likely be large enough to accommodate two house rooms’ worth of space. Hoste said the community room will be smaller than the ballroom, which can accommodate up to 550.

“That does not mean that we will eliminate programming in the historic house,” Hoste said.

Sidewalks will be added to both sides of the main entrance driveway. A roundabout in front of the Alger House and covered drop-off space in front of the community room/promenade are in the plans as well.

Conceptual drawings were created by Tryba Architects, of Denver, whose lead design principal, David Tryba, is a relative of the Alger family, who gifted their home to the community as a war memorial in 1949. Plans include restoration of the original garden designs in front of the home, by Ellen Biddle Shipman, and preservation of the Alger House, a nationally recognized historical landmark that was designed by Charles A. Platt and built in 1910.

Burke said there are two kitchens now — one in the house and a finishing kitchen adjacent to the ballroom. That means food for the many events in the ballroom needs to be transported on carts through the house to get to the ballroom.

With the community room addition, a new, larger commercial kitchen would be built adjacent to that room, within steps of the ballroom. Burke said the finishing kitchen off the ballroom would either become a plating area or storage area. He said they hope to add a storage area adjacent to the theater as well.

Burke said the last 15 feet of the ballroom, adjacent to the lakefront back lawn, would become a covered terrace. He said walkways would be created along the water and back gardens.

Two front bedrooms are envisioned as an Alger family museum, and Burke said they’re working with the Alger family to collect artifacts for that.

Restoration and preservation efforts inside the Alger House would be undertaken as part of this project, but War Memorial officials said those would happen at the end.

The media wing, which was built in 1991, isn’t getting an addition, but Burke said they do plan to add an elevator. Some staff offices would be moved there as well to reduce pressure on the house.

Current War Memorial parking lots have 186 spaces, Burke said.

“By reconfiguring parking, we can achieve 204 (spaces),” Burke said.

Still, the proposal would require a parking variance from the Farms City Council. Hoste said the council is expected to vote on the variance at its next regular meeting, which at press time was scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at City Hall.

Burke said they anticipate that the project will cost about $15 million to $20 million. Although he didn’t say how much money they currently have toward that expenditure, Burke acknowledged that they will be doing fundraising for the project.

“We’re comfortable in our (financial) position currently, but we will be doing some active fundraising,” Burke said.

Grosse Pointe Farms resident Connie Boris expressed concern that the glass-enclosed promenade would result in bird deaths, as the area is a major international migratory bird flyway and “the greatest danger they face is anything glass.” She noted that the Ford House, also part of the migratory bird flyway, has taken steps to protect birds in its own new construction project by installing special window glass that looks clear to the human eye but is perceived as having lines in it by birds, thus keeping birds from flying into the windows.

“I would really urge something other than glass,” Boris told Burke. “(The birds) cannot detect (it). … We have to do something to protect them.”

City Councilman John Gillooly said the city received comments from residents praising the renderings, but voicing fears that improvements to the ballroom and concourse could translate into the creation of a restaurant on Lake St. Clair.

“They are extremely concerned (about that),” Gillooly said.

Burke responded that they have no plans to create a restaurant or entertainment complex.

“Our business model really does not support being a restaurant,” Burke said. “There are no intents (along those lines). There’s not even been a discussion (of that).”

Burke said their mission is to be a “patriotic leader” and a “center of the community.”

Gillooly also asked if improvements to the property’s carriage house — including a new heating and cooling system — mean The War Memorial is going to convert it into a jazz club, as some have speculated.

“There are no intents of opening a jazz club,” said Burke, adding that their strategic plan calls for making sure the carriage house is safe and has the proper electrical wiring and heating and cooling equipment.

From August through December 2019, Burke said, War Memorial officials met with various stakeholders, including the neighboring Grosse Pointe Memorial Church and the private Grosse Pointe Club. In recent weeks, they’ve had meetings with neighbors and others, he said. Burke said he’d be presenting a report containing community feedback to the Farms City Council. The council still needs to approve a site plan, a vote that could happen at a February or March meeting.

“We’re very much impressed with the way you’ve reached out to the community (on this project), as opposed to the Patriot Theater,” said Gillooly, referencing the conversion of the old Fries Auditorium into a movie theater and performing arts venue several years ago. “I think The War Memorial is a great community resource. I think traffic and parking has gone down considerably in the last couple years.”

Burke agreed that the Patriot Theater project — which initially generated controversy from neighbors and others in the community — could have been handled better.

“We learned a lot from the Patriot Theater experience,” Burke said. “We’re never going to do that again.”

The War Memorial hosts more than 3,000 events and has an estimated 250,000 visitors each year.

“It’s important for our community. … This is going to be a place we’re all going to be proud of,” War Memorial Board Chair Thomas M. Smith said.

By email, Hoste said construction “is set to begin in earnest by the end of 2021.” Burke said the project will take roughly 12 to 18 months to complete.

Public feedback was still being sought at press time. Anyone wishing to comment on the project can send comments via email to feedback@warmemorial.org or by letter to the attention of Brooks Hoste at The War Memorial, 32 Lake Shore Road, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 48236. Anyone with questions or comments can also call (313) 881-7511.

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