The G.A.R.

GAR Building, circa 2004

GAR Building, circa 2004

You may have heard that Detroit is coming back. While that is true to varying degrees, a large portion of the rehabbed or about-to-be-rehabbed buildings now belong to one of two very rich and (presumably) very powerful families. At least one building, however, has been rehabbed by smaller business owners.

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization of Civil War Union veterans. Once its last member died in 1956, the GAR officially dissolved. A few of the buildings they used are still around.

GAR Parade, Campus Martius, Detroit, 1914 From the Library of Congress

GAR Parade, Campus Martius, Detroit, 1914
From the Library of Congress [Click to enlarge]

Founded in 1866 on the basis of Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty, the GAR offered a place for veterans to come together with their shared experience for camaraderie after the war. The organization soon gained political power as it pushed for veterans benefits, helped establish memorial day, and supported various political candidates, including Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley,  and others who were also members of the GAR. The GAR also fought for veterans benefits for black soldiers, and as such was one of the first integrated organizations of its kind. Every year, the GAR had a National Encampment in a different city. The encampments were big reunions in which veterans would set up camp and participate in events such as parades. Detroit hosted in 1891 and 1914.

In Detroit, the GAR building sat under- or unused for decades. It has always been notable because it looks like a little castle on an island, with Grand River, Cass, and Adams Avenues serving as its moat. Plywood covered the windows and advertisements occasionally plastered the lower levels.

GAR Building, 2006 (photograph taken at night)

GAR Building, 2006
(photograph taken at night)

Renovations of the GAR building, which originally opened in 1901, began after Detroit-based Mindfield purchased it from the city of Detroit in 2011. Mindfield offices are now on the top floor and two restaurants recently opened on the main floor. Thanks to a friend who works in the building, I was able to get a tour. I didn’t want to hold up my tour guide while I was getting my pictures just right, so my apologies for the poor quality of some of them.

 

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