University may demolish historic homes to make way for new College of Pharmacy building

Monday, January 27, 2020 - 3:49pm

One of the historical houses on E. Huron St. that could be demolished to make way for a new College of Pharmacy building.

One of the historical houses on E. Huron St. that could be demolished to make way for a new College of Pharmacy building. Buy this photo
Natalie Stephens/Daily

Three historic homes located on the corner of East Huron Street and Glen Avenue, currently owned by the University of Michigan, may be demolished for a new College of Pharmacy, according to November 2019 advertisement for the sale and removal of the houses. 

The proposal for a new $121 million, 130,000 square foot building was approved in May 2019. According to a project proposal, the current College of Pharmacy has narrow structural bays and shallow floor-to-floor heights which do not allow for reconfiguration into modern classroom and laboratory spaces. The new building will have more space to accommodate for academic, research and student needs. 

University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said in an email to The Daily if the houses are not purchased and moved from the current site, they will be demolished in the upcoming summer.

“There haven’t been any proposals submitted to purchase, and if that remains to be the case, over the summer they would be demolished,” Broekhuizen said.

Ann Arbor historian Susan Wineberg, who lives in the District, said she was disappointed with the decision to demolish these houses. 

“I broke it down to myself as being bad for three reasons,” Wineberg said. “One is, of course, historical because of the people who occupied those houses. It’s important to the University of Michigan. The second reason is architectural because they’re very good representations of three different architectural styles from 1891 through 1905 and they’re in very good condition. The third reason is an environmental one because we say the greenest building is the one that’s already built.”

The homes were all built before 1944. When acquired by the University, the houses all served as various administrative buildings. 

The home located at 1007 E. Huron, currently serves as a supplemental building for the LSA administration. Charles Whitman, railroad tycoon and State Commissioner of Railroads, built it in 1891 and the University bought the home in 1936. 

Wineberg said the community was largely kept in the dark on the discussion about plans for demolishing the houses before the University confirmed this location for the College of Pharmacy.

“One of the things I wish they had done was let us know of other sites that would be considered for the Pharmacy School,” Wineberg said. “I still think there might be more appropriate places to look for a School of Pharmacy than in a neighborhood of houses.”

The second house, located at 1015 E. Huron, was the first place of residence for the University’s Alpha Chapter of Nu Sigma Nu, which is the oldest medical fraternity in the United States. Spier and Rohns, a famous Detroit architectural firm that also designed the University’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the Gandy Dancer restaurant, built the second home. The house is currently unoccupied. 

Wineberg said she believes the demolition of these homes would be contradictory to the University’s commitment to sustainability.

“The whole question of sustainability is something that they’re (the University) proposing and yet this is not a sustainable behavior,” Wineberg said. “Lots of things have been dismissed about demolition not being a green thing to do, so wanting to be green and tearing down buildings are contradictory.”

The house located at 1027 E. Huron was built in 1895 and purchased by the University in 1938. It was built for Josephine Murfin, whose son later became a regent for the University. It is currently the location of University’s Telefund, a fundraising initiative as part of the Annual Giving Department. 

Wineberg expressed her displeasure at the University’s decision to destroy historical buildings she has worked for years to protect, especially as these houses are a few blocks away from her own home.

“It affects me personally, too because I’m thinking ‘Oh, they’re creeping down Huron and pretty soon they’re going to be in my backyard,’” Wineberg said. “The last of my 30 years of life have been devoted to preserving Ann Arbor’s historic buildings, so of course it’s important to me. I think they’re unusually important buildings that represent what the town was like in the 19th century and its connections to the University.”  

Pharmacy student Kevin Hosseini said since the College of Pharmacy’s teaching, research and office spaces are distributed across different locations on campus, a new building in the historic district will be helpful in meeting students’ needs.

“The building is very old, so of course I am excited for the new building and believe it will help future students focus on their studies by having their own building rather than sharing with the LSA college,” Hosseini said. “The one limitation to the current building is simply limited studying space.”