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
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
Square, and Monroe Avenue.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
would eventually take over the Sallan
Building, but it would take 20
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
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.
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
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).
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.
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
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.
“Lofts to Kick-Start Downtown Rebound”.
The Detroit News September 10, 2001. http://www.detnews.com/2001/business/0109/10/a01-289933.htm. 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. http://www.ci.detroit.mi.us/econdevel/martius.htm. Accessed on April 19, 2003.
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
Page 9 The
Intersection Between the Hudson’s
Store and Kern’s Hudson’s
Hub of America’s
Page 11 Picture #2
Developments Around Campus Martius The Detroit News September 10, 2001.