McGregor Library

12244 Woodward in Highland Park between Rhode Island and Massachusetts

Detroit's leading architectural critic, W. Hawkins Ferry, described the McGregor Library as one of the most important classically inspired buildings in the metropolis. Captain William Stevens owned about one-half the land in what is now Highland Park when he died in the 1880s. The philanthropists, Tracy and Katherine Whitney McGregor purchased land from the Stevens' estate and established a home for orphans there in 1903. The wealth in that family was derived from Katherine Whitney's family since she was the daughter of the David Whitney whose chateau-like home still stands two miles south of this library on Woodward.

In 1918, the McGregors gave the land to Highland Park if the city would build an attractive library there. At this time, Highland Park was a prosperous, growing city of about 50,000 with a strong tax base—upscale housing, the Ford assembly plant and the factories along Oakland that would soon be merge into the Chrysler Corporation.

City voters approved $500,000 in bonds for the library in 1924 and a Library Commission was appointed with instructions to tour the country in a search for the ideal model suitable for Highland Park's library. They were most impressed with the public library in Wilmington, Delaware so the architects of that building, Tilton and Githerns, were commissioned to design a dignified classical Roman building. They did so.

The entrance to this beautiful library is unusual since it is an ornamented, coffered niche between two impressive fluted Ionic columns. Inscriptions abound around the entrance including the dominating "Books are doors to wide new ways." The bronze doors were highly ornamented.

This building is decorated with one of the most attractive friezes found in the metropolis. It is polychrome terra cotta with the design inspired by the temple of Antonius and Fasutine in the Roman Forum. Seventy-five years after being placed there, the intriguing colors of the frieze still shine in the sun. Greco-Roman ideas also inspired the design of the interior. If you were ranking public library buildings for medium-sized cities in the United States according to their elegance and beauty, McGregor would come out high on your list.

The post World War II years were not kind to Highland Park. Its population size in 2000 was about one-quarter of what it was in 1930. Its tax base disappeared. Census 2000 reported that a very high 38 percent of its residents lived in households with incomes below the poverty line. In the city of Detroit, the poverty rate was 26 percent, but in the three-county suburban ring, only 6 percent were impoverished in 2000. The absence of tax revenues led to the closing of this beautiful library in March 2002.

The McGregor Library is located within the Highland Heights-Stevens Subdivision Historic District. The historic homes around the library to the east of Woodward illustrate the high quality housing constructed for middle class families in the first decade of the 20th century. In the summer of 2010, there were numerous reports in various Detroit news groups about the possible arrival of funds to renovate this library. However, there is little evidence of any rebuilding.

Architect: Edward Tilton and Alfred Githens who were noted New York library architects. They worked with the Detroit firm of Marcus Burrowes and Frank Eurich.
Builder: Martin-Krausman
Building materials: The base is granite from Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. The walls are gray limestone from Indiana.
Date of completion: 1926
Use in 2010: Abandoned library building awaiting renovation
Program for the dedication:
Michigan Registry of Historic Places. P 25324, Listed February 21, 1991.
Michigan Historical Marker: None put in place
National Register of Historic Sites: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley
Description Updated: September, 2010

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