Eric Beckett



Campus Martius





            Great cities across the globe have great city centers.  These centers are a gathering place for all of the citizens of the city to come together and interact.  Detroit is like many other cities, in the world, that have great public plazas.  Campus Martius defines the center of downtown Detroit.  It has been the staging area for political rallies, a great place to shop, home to the old city hall, the site of a market, and now the heart of the financial district.  The area has transformed itself many times over the years and continues through another rebirth today.  This paper is descriptive piece to showcase the history, the present state and what the future holds; of an area that few people know exists in the city of Detroit. 

            Campus Martius is formed where Woodward Avenue, Monroe Avenue and Michigan Avenue converge.  An oblong rectangle created by the convergence of the three streets forms the boundaries of Campus Martius.  In order to get a clear description of the history of Campus Martius, one needs to include the surrounding streets.    The surrounding streets include Woodward Avenue, Michigan Avenue, Washington Boulevard, Cadillac Square, and Monroe Avenue. 




            Campus Martius has a very rich history.  The area has been home to one of largest department stores in the world (Hudson’s), the old city hall, many different markets, the site of many political rallies and will be the future location of one of the largest computing companies.  The area has been very prosperous at times and neglected at other times.  The founding of Detroit occurred on July 23, 1701 by Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac.  Cadillac built and designed his village around Fort Pontchartrain.  The streets were very narrow and laid out in a basic grid pattern.   This is how the city looked for its first one hundred years, until a fire burned the whole city to the ground.  On June 11, 1805 fire quickly spread through the 300 buildings in Detroit.  In a matter of hours the one hundred year old city was completely destroyed. 

            Detroit had determined residents and they quickly drafted a plan to rebuild the city.  A group of individuals went down to Washington D.C. to get support for the layout of the new city.  General William Hull, Augustus B. Woodward, Fredrick Bates, and John Griffin were the first officials of the new Detroit.  Woodward had a knack for city planning and drew up a very elaborate street plan for the city of Detroit (see picture on page 2).  Woodward got his ideas from the plan for Washington D.C. (designed by L’Enfant).  Woodward Avenue was placed north and south and it was one of only a couple of roads that ran north and south.  The other roads were diagonal, creating blocks in the form of triangles.  To the north of Campus Martius was Grand Circus Park.  Grand Circus Park was 18 acres and circular in shape.  Radiating out of the lower semi-circle were six streets.  This plan for the city streets would later be modified to its current state. 

            “Campus Martius was named after the principal square at Marietta, which was the first settlement and capital of the Northwest Territory.   This name was given by the directors and agents on July 2, 1788, because the blockhouse stood in the centre of it.” (The History of Detroit).  Campus Martius was designed to become a great gathering place for the city of Detroit’s residents and in years to come this would become more and more evident with the construction around the site.  

            Campus Martius can be considered an urban node as well as a landmark.  The intersection of Woodward and Michigan Avenue, in 1919, was the busiest intersection in America (Jean Maddern Pitrone).  This part of the city flourished with entertainment, shopping, public services, and hotels.  Campus Martius, and surrounding area, contained a number of landmarks.  The first landmark has to be the Hudson’s building.  A second landmark, that is still there today, is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  This monument was constructed in 1872 to commemorate fallen soldiers of the Civil War.  This monument stands 60 feet high and is adorned with a female soldier who is armed.  Three more landmarks that are now gone include: the old city hall, the Majestic Building and the Russell House.  The Russell House was particularly important. 

            The Russell House opened in 1836 under the name National Hotel.  In 1857, the hotel changed owners and was renamed Russell House.  This hotel was host to the Prince of Wales, the Grand Duke Alexis, and also was the home of Joseph Hudson for a short period of time.  The hotel was reconstructed and expanded in 1881.  Campus Martius was also home to a house constructed by Nathaniel Champ.  This house became the first temperance hotel in Detroit (Landmarks of Detroit: A History of the City page 579-580).  The property was later sold and the Blindbury Hotel was constructed.  That was torn down in 1890.  One last main hotel was the Hotel Cadillac.  This property was constructed in 1887 on the east half of the square on the north side of Michigan Avenue, between Washington Avenue, and Rowland Street (Landmarks of Detroit: A History of the City page 585).  The hotel was later expanded to the west half of the square. 

            Campus Martius contained many other entertainment and hotel properties as well.  Other hotels to occupy the surrounding area include: the Boulevard Hotel (Michigan Avenue), Dobson’s European Hotel (Woodward Avenue), Gie’s European Hotel (Monroe), Grand Central Hotel (Cadillac Square), and the North End Hotel (Woodward).  The main attraction in Campus Martius in the late 1800’s was the Detroit Opera House. 

            The Detroit Opera House was constructed in 1869 and opened with the play “London Assurance”.  The Opera entertained thousands through its many years in the heart of the city.  In 1887, the building was renovated, where the stage and auditorium was lowered to the ground floor.  However, in 1897, the Detroit Opera House burned to the ground and was replaced with a new Opera House a year later.  Another Opera house located near Campus Martius was Gie’s Orchestration Hall.  This hall was located on Monroe and Farmer streets and was a church before being transformed.  In its early years, the hall was used mostly for concerts, but later it was used for vaudeville shows.  In the late 1800s, the Vaudeville theaters became very successful.  Another vaudeville theater opened its doors in 1878 over by the old city hall.  This was located near the magnificent Majestic building, which had a restaurant and saloon connected to it.  This theater went through a variety of names, from the New Coliseum to the Coliseum Novelty, and finally to the Coliseum.  The Coliseum lasted until 1884, when it was transformed to business use.  The final entertainment venue was located in Cadillac Square.  This was known as the Dime Museum and later the New People’s Theater.  Unfortunately, this facility did not last very long.  For decades to come, Campus Martius was the proud home of many theaters, hotels, shops and restaurants. 

When discussing gathering places for citizens of a city, the first structures that come to mind are the city hall, post office, and library.  In the case of Campus Martius and surrounding area, the important civic structure was the city hall.  The first city hall was constructed in the center of Cadillac Square in 1835.  When the hall was first opened, the bottom floor was home to market stalls.  Later the market was removed from the building to make way for more city offices.  As the city grew, the need for a larger city hall surfaced.  Plans for the new city hall were drawn up in 1854 but construction didn’t take place until 1868.  “It is a beautiful structure of the Roman style of architecture, with a mansard roof, and a tower in the center” (Landmarks of Detroit: A History of the City page 568).  The new city hall was three stories high and had a tower that reached 170 feet high.  Decorating the outside were four statues donated by Bela Hubbard in 1884.  They represented Cadillac, LaSalle, Richard, and Marquette.  This new city hall was also home to the county offices, but a new building for them was under construction in the late 1800s to early 1900’s.  Keeping with the tradition of placing the important public buildings on the main squares, the new county building was located on Cadillac Square. 





            The Hudson’s block is the most significant block in the area.  The main focus on this block for over hundred years has been the Hudson’s Building.  The Hudson’s building at one time was the tallest department store in the world at 25 stories (Jean Maddern Pitrone).  The store contained over 49 acres in floor space (Jean Maddern Pitrone).  The building itself has been the backdrop for the world largest American flag.  J.L. Hudson’s was the key attraction in town while it was open.  The history of Detroit and Campus Martius cannot be told without knowing the history of the biggest draw in town:  The Hudson Building. 

            Joseph Hudson got his start in the clothing business at Christopher R. Mabley’s store on Woodward Avenue.  Mabley’s clothing store was located next to the Russell House, which was a famous hotel facing Campus Martius.  Mabley’s would later expand at the same site to become a large department store.  After a verbal disagreement with Christopher’s wife, Joseph Hudson decided to open his own store.  Another large department store Newcomb, Endicott & Co. was located in the Detroit Opera House but decided to expand and moved north on Woodward.  The vacant space left by Newcomb, Endicott & Co. became the first location of J.L. Hudson Clothier(Hudson’s first store pictured on the right).  “In 1887, when the Detroit Opera House underwent remodeling, Joe Hudson moved his store and its entourage from the Opera House into the six-story Woodward Avenue building occupied by Hudson & Symington, on the west side of Woodward between Michigan and State” (Hudson’s Hub of America’s Heartland page 25).  Hudson’s would stay in this location until its new eight-story store was complete on Farmer and Gratiot. 

            Mabley had a dream of constructing a huge skyscraper to prove the power of his store over Hudson’s.  This never happened while he was alive.  However, after his death the shareholders of his store decided to fulfill his dream and with another developer, constructed the Majestic.  The Majestic was 14 stories tall and occupied the corner of Michigan and Woodward.  The new Mabley store only occupied the first floor though, and was soon replaced by another department store, Pardridge and Blackwell. 

            In the early 1900s, Hudson’s expanded his store once again by adding an eight-story addition.  He also renovated the existing structure.  At the same time, Pardridge and Blackwell moved across the street from Hudson’s on Farmer Street.  Soon after the move, Pardridge and Blackwell were bought out by Crowley, Milner and Co.  “The siren called of heavily trafficked Woodward Avenue lured Joseph L. Hudson to make his breakthrough to the city’s central corridor in 1911.” (Hudson’s: Hub of America’s Heartland page 51-52).  At this location was the Benson Building and it was torn down in favor of a new ten-story Hudson’s.  The new building was connected to the old building by passages over the alley.  Hudson’s would expand again in 1914, when the Brooks Lewis Building was constructed.  This building was used to hold the grocery and meat departments.  Hudson’s would expand again in 1914, when it bought a six-story building behind the store.  This building was the home to Weil & Co., would soon become home to the Hudson’s music store (also known as the J. L. Hudson Piano and Victrola Store).

            A new concept of a store in a store was created in 1915, and led to the introduction of the basement store (located in the first basement of the Hudson’s buildings).  This store was tailored to the factory worker and was stocked with discounted items.  Two years later a new ten-story addition was constructed.  This gave Hudson’s a commanding presence on Woodward Avenue, which in 1919 was one of the busiest roads in America.  The largest expansion came in 1924, when the original store, fronting Farmer Street, was torn down and a new 16-story building was constructed in its place.  Soon the other half of the building would be replaced with a matching 16-story structure.  Following in 1927, Hudson’s competitor, Newcomb, Endicott & Co. sold their store to Hudsons.  This building was quickly razed and a new 17-story addition, with a 25-story tower, was added to the Hudson’s store (see picture on page 8 and the picture on the right).  “This building not only doubled the facilities of Hudson’s store and enlarged the Basement Store to 160,000 square feet, but it also completed Hudson’s frontage on four streets- Woodward, Farmer, Gratiot, and Grand River except for a small piece of property at the corner of Woodward and Gratiot occupied by the Sallan Building” (Hudson’s: Hub of America’s Heartland).  Hudson’s would eventually take over the Sallan Building, but it would take 20 years. 

            Hudson’s would stay prosperous for many years in its location on Woodward.  Trouble started to hit the store in the 1980’s when departments started to close.  By 1983, the Hudson’s store closed its doors for good.  This brought with it the death of much of the retail business in the area.  The building sat vacant for 15 years when the city imploded the building in 1998.  The basement now houses a parking deck while the top awaits a developer to construct a new building on top. 


Present State of Campus Martius


            The present state of Campus Martius is one of anticipation with all of the projects described below.  The area is now home to the Dime Building, which was home to the Dime Bank for years.  Campus Martius today also includes: the Cadillac Tower (see picture on page 11), Cadillac Tower apartments, the Federal Building, and the First National Building.  All of these fine structures were constructed between the 1920s and the 1970s.  Also on Cadillac Square is the city bus terminal, but this will be closing shortly for a new terminal under construction by Capitol Park. 

Campus Martius, today, is considered the financial district and the central business district for the city of Detroit.  Currently, there are a few vacant buildings, but most are slated for renovation.  Campus Martius hasn’t changed much for the last 20 years.  Lack of investment and new development has caused many of the buildings to decline.  The good news is that this is rapidly changing.  Construction and new investment in the hundreds of millions of dollars is transforming the area.  What will arise, following the construction, will be great city plaza and central business district that will rival the best in the world.


Future of Campus Martius


            After 50 years of decline, the city of Detroit, under the Archer administration, has embarked on an ambitious project to revitalize Campus Martius.  The rerouting of Woodward to create a two-acre park in the middle of Campus Martius centers the project.  A newly formed group, The Campus Martius Conservatory, which will maintain and plan events for the park, will run this park (The City of Detroit).  Campus Martius Park will become one of the most important nodes in the city.  The parks design should also make it a landmark and a place for everyone to come and enjoy.  The plan got jump started with the beginning of construction on the new Compuware Headquarters in September of 2000.  Another key project for this area is the Merchant’s Row development (see photo on the left from The Detroit News).  This development is just down the street from the Compuware Headquarters building, across from the site of the old Hudson’s building.  This project will transform eight vacant buildings into 157 loft apartments and ground-floor retail (R.J. King).  This project provides the downtown with the much need residential base for new shops to open up in the area. 





            Cities across the United States are seeing a rebirth and Detroit is one of them.  In recent years, many new developments and plans have surfaced.  Plans to change the Riverfront from its industrial past to a new recreational use are underway.  Many new housing developments are planned for the waterfront as well.  Three new permanent casinos should be breaking ground soon.  Two new stadiums, Comerica Park and Ford Field, have brought many new events to the city.  The Superbowl is coming in 2006, as well as plans for the 2008 baseball All-Star game.  Expansion plans for Cobo Hall Convention Center are about to be announced.  All of this is leading to a new Detroit.  As great as all of the new projects are, it is most important that the city’s central business district be reborn.  This is where Campus Martius fits in. 

            Campus Martius, throughout its history, has been a gathering place for all sorts of individuals, from military to protesters, to shoppers, to elites, and to the poor.  It has been a place to bring the city together.  Although this area has been a shadow of its former self for at 20 years now, it is close to becoming a great place once again.  The key is the new Compuware Headquarters.  This will bring 4,100 workers to the cities central business district.  Also, it is rumored that a Hard Rock Café will find its home in the new building.  For this area to be successful it needs to incorporate its rich history, as a place of shopping, recreation, and a landmark into its future.   With all of the improvements completed, I believe that this area will once again become the gathering place for all of Metro Detroit. 


Burton, Clarence Monroe.  When Detroit Was Young.  Burton Abstract and Title Co.  Detroit Michigan.


Catlin, George B. The Story of Detroit.  The Detroit New, 1926.


King, R.J.  “Lofts to Kick-Start Downtown Rebound”.  The Detroit News September 10, 2001.  Accessed on April 19, 2003.


Pitrone, Jean Maddern.  Hudson’s Hub of America’s Heartland.  A&M Publishing Company West Bloomfield, MI 1991.


Ross, Robert B. Catlin, George B. Landmarks of Detroit.  A History of the City.  The Evening New Association, Detroit 1898.


The City of Detroit Official Website.  Accessed on April 19, 2003.



Picture Sources


Page 1 Map of Campus Martius Yahoo Maps


Page 2 Woodward’s Street Plan for the City of Detroit The Story of Detroit


Page 7 Hudson’s First Store in the Detroit Opera House Hudson’s Hub of America’s Heartland


Page 8 The Hudson Store in its Heyday Hudson’s Hub of America’s Heartland


Page 9 The Intersection Between the Hudson’s Store and Kern’s Hudson’s Hub of America’s Heartland


Page 10 Soldiers and Sailors Statue in Campus Martius Eric Beckett February 25, 2003.


Page 11 Picture #1 Compuware’s New Headquarters City of Detroit Website on Campus Martius.


Page 11 Picture #2 Developments Around Campus Martius The Detroit News September 10, 2001.