The new promenade will be adjacent to The War Memorial’s main building, the historical Alger House, which was built in 1910.

The new promenade will be adjacent to The War Memorial’s main building, the historical Alger House, which was built in 1910.

Rendering provided by The War Memorial


War Memorial project slated for final site plan vote in August

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 21, 2020

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Revised plans for renovations and an addition at The War Memorial in Grosse Pointe Farms have gotten an informal thumbs-up from a number of city officials and residents.

War Memorial President and CEO Charles Burke presented the latest version of their plans to the Grosse Pointe Farms City Council during a meeting July 13 by Zoom.

“No formal action will be taken at this meeting,” Mayor Louis Theros said at the outset. “This is an updated presentation from the last time The War Memorial was here.”

Burke said the changes — made at the behest of officials and residents — are “building upon the previously approved conceptual site plan.” The preliminary site plan was approved by a unanimous vote of the Farms City Council at a meeting Feb. 11, the last in-person meeting before COVID-19 forced the meetings to take place electronically.

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

Burke said the pillars will be like “something you’d see at the Kennedy Center or on the National Mall.”

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 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.

Besides substantially reducing the amount of glass and adding the stone columns, Burke said they’re using Guardian Sunguard Glass with Bird1st Protection coating, which will add lines on the lake side of the glass that are visible to birds.

Connie Boris, of Grosse Pointe Farms, a local bird expert, asked if Guardian glass was going to be used on all parts of the new facility.

“That’s our intent,” Burke responded.

Grosse Pointe Farms resident Marcia McBrien, of Grosse Pointe Audubon, thanked officials with The War Memorial, telling them “how much we appreciate The War Memorial’s attention to bird safety.” She said they would be willing to have one of their members serve on a sustainability committee for the project.

“We’re willing to be a resource going forward,” McBrien said.

Burke said they appreciated “your input and continued partnership.”

The height of the promenade has been decreased 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.

“We added this pre-function space to spread everybody out” as they wait for an event or to be picked up by car, Burke said.

Other changes include an energy-efficient design that uses skylights and natural light to cut down on electrical use, 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 to the right of the entrance with benches and a circular, ocular skylight above the common area that Burke said is similar to the Parthenon.

“We heard a lot of concerns about being a memorial first,” Burke said. “We are a memorial first.”

The Alger House is on the National Register of Historic Places. As such, while Burke said their goal “is not to create faux history” with the addition, it will “match (the house) in materiality, with color, tone and texture.”

For example, a square ceiling design being used in the ballroom and community room is “an homage to (the original garden designs of) Ellen Biddle Shipman,” Burke said. The community room’s wood parquet floors are intended to match the floors in the Alger House, he said.

Farms Public Safety Director Daniel Jensen said questions about fire safety have been “more than adequately answered” by The War Memorial.

City Council members Beth Konrad-Wilberding, John Gillooly, Lev Wood and Joe Ricci were among those who praised Burke for engaging the community and coming up with an impressive project.

“I’m very happy with how you brought in the community from the very beginning,” City Councilman Neil Sroka said. “You took that feedback to heart.”

In the current economic climate and facing additional challenges as a nonprofit, “I admire your going forward with this project,” Sroka told Burke. “I’m very excited about this project.”

In these difficult times, Burke repeated his desire that they could serve as “a lightning rod of hope for the community” as everyone continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our goal is to be an example for all other communities to follow,” Burke said. “This is a special community.”

The mayor, for one, believes they’re on their way to achieving that goal.

“I’m really excited about this project,” Theros said. “They’ve really put Grosse Pointe on the map.”

At press time, the project was expected to go before the Farms City Council for final site plan approval during a meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 10. It wasn’t known yet whether that meeting would be in person or by Zoom. For an agenda or more information about the meeting, visit the Farms website at grossepointefarms.org. For more about the project itself, visit warmemorial.org/future.

If the council signs off on the project next month, Burke said, they hope to start construction in the fall. The work is expected to take about 12 to 14 months to complete, he said.