Many or most of the 225 homes in the six-block Atkinson Historic District were built between 1915 and 1929 when the Depression terminated construction in Detroit. Henry Ford donated funds for the hospital on West Grand Boulevard that bears his name. As the city grew in the early automobile era, that hospital expanded and became a major employer. Atkinson Avenue was the preferred residential location for quite a few of the prosperous physicians who practiced at Henry Ford Hospital. The homes you see are, typically, substantial two-story box-like structures with full attics. You will find suggestions of the Mediterranean, Tudor and Colonial styles. Most were designed by architects. To maintain the quality of this neighborhood when it was platted, various restrictions were specified. All homes had to be at least thirty feet from the front of the lot line and be constructed of brick, stone, stucco or stone veneer. No frame construction was permitted and all homes had to be built with full basements. Homes had to have a minimum cost of three thousand dollars. Most land in Detroit plotted for development between World War I and 1947 contained restrictive covenants limiting ownership or residency to Caucasians. Almost all residential land in Detroit beyond Grand Boulevard once had restrictive covenants keeping blacks out. Atkinson Avenue was an exception, although I know of no history of blacks living here until after the Supreme Court ruled restrictive covenants unenforceable in 1947.
This street was named for William Francis Atkinson. While serving in the Union Army, he was captured by the Rebels, but escaped. He returned to Detroit and practiced law, but continued his affiliation with the military until 1886. I presume that he played a role in the development of this neighborhood, but it is possible that civic officials wished to honor him so they gave his surname to this street.
Many Detroit middle class neighborhoods went into decline in the later years of the Twentieth Century as the city's population declined. As the city's tax base dropped, the city's revenues fell and decline accelerated in many neighborhoods. However, after the city exited bankruptcy in late 2014, efforts were made to stabalize some of the once prosperous middle class neighborhoods that had architect designed homes and some realistic prospects for revitalization. I believe that, by 2016, it was safe to conclude that the Atkinson Avenue Historic District was pretty well established as a stable neighborhood.
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Listed March 6, 1984
State of Michigan Register of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Use in 2007: Residential neighborhood
Photograph: Ren Farley, November 1, 2007
Description Updated: July, 2016
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