Detroit’s Crystal Lofts building has begun its third life. We are all too young to remember the first life of the building on the east side of Woodward Avenue and Watson Street. It contained a first floor retail space – and grocery store – and the second floorfeatured a ballroom – a fashionable, modern dance hall. It was built in 1919, and the second floor contained one of the many dance halls on Woodward in that neighborhood that included the Arcadia, the Majestic, and the fabulous Graystone.
In 1934, Woodward Avenue was widened by 54 feet to accommodate the increased traffic. The widening only affected the properties on the east side of Woodward, and so the Crystal Lofts building was sliced down the front, and thirty feet of the front façade were removed. The new façade was in keeping with the 1930’s Art Deco style- a tawny- colored cast stone façade that included a stepped entrance to the stairs to the second floor ballroom, various zigzag patterns, and a keystone made of caststone in the “frozen fountain” design. The frozen fountain design was first exhibited inthe 1925 Paris Exposition (the “Exposition Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels”) that defined the Art Deco style.
The Crystal Lofts building lasted through the race riots of 1943 which happened right at its doorstep. The building lasted through the changes of the 1950’s, and the elimination of streetcars on Woodward Avenue. It made it through the toughest times in Detroit, when it was left vacant and abandoned for over twenty years. Enter Detroit developer Dwight Belyue, owner of Belmar Development Group.
Mr. Belyue saw potential in the abandoned, vacant, crumbling, boarded up building. The Crystal Lofts building was literally rebuilt, because there were areas of the roof that had completely caved in. The structural system was still intact, and the front façade gave it character. The new plans for the Crystal Lofts building were created ATIVE by the Detroit architectural firm of Hamilton Anderson Associates. A new third floor was added to the building, and the upper floors will contain a total of 17 condominiums. It will be a mixed-use building with first floor retail, downtown’s newest gourmet grocery store – Zacarro’s. Zacarro’s will feature specialty coffees, cheeses, breadsand after a zoning circumstance is resolved, fine wine and beers.
Today the Crystal Lofts building is home to the Detroit Area Art Deco Society’s newest board members: Chris and Lisa Heine. Both are practicing architects, Chris with the Smith Group, and Lisa with Hamilton Anderson Associates. They are the very first residents of the Crystal Lofts, and newly married.
The Detroit Area Art Deco Society has been watching the Crystal Lofts building for years, and even thought it was once doomed. The restoration and reconstruction of the Crystal Lofts building is one of Detroit’s most awesome success stories. At the Deco Society’s annual meeting in November, 2007, we awarded the Crystal Lofts our Preservation Award for 2007. We can now call the Crystal Lofts building SAVED!
– Rebecca Binno Savage