Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Washington Boulevard Historic District

The Washington Boulevard Historic District consists of a multi-block area in downtown Detroit, Michigan. Washington Boulevard is one of Detroit’s main boulevards and was part of Augustus Woodward’s design for the city of Detroit following the Great Fire of 1805. There is some debate as to whether the district consists only of buildings facing Washington Boulevard between State and Clifford streets, or if it extends to Michigan Avenue. The southern end of Washington Boulevard begins at the Detroit River and ends to the north at Grand Circus Park. Some of the most significant buildings in the historic district include the Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel, the Book Tower, the Industrial-Stevens Apartments, St. Aloysius Church and Chancery Building, and Detroit City Club Apartments (originally Trolley Plaza). The initial construction of the buildings in this district began in 1901 with the Himelhoch Apartments, and continued until 1930, with most buildings being erected during the 1920s.

In the early part of the 20th century, Washington Boulevard was broadened and refurbished as part of the City Beautiful movement. The new development was financed by J. Burgess Book Jr. and designed by Louis Kamper as an attempt to rival New York City’s Fifth Avenue and bolster Detroit’s reputation as the “Paris of the Midwest.” Edward H. Bennett, a distinguished master planner, led the transformation of Washington Boulevard into a Beaux-Arts streetscape, complete with a sculpture-lined park between two one-way streets. The Washington Boulevard Historic District was redesigned in the late 1970s to include a tourist trolley that ran the length of the Boulevard and extended along Jefferson Avenue to Hart Plaza, as well as an urban pedestrian mall, new sculptures, and an amphitheater. The trolleys made their final trip in July of 2003 and the sculptures were removed in 2004. 

The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.



View down Washington postcard, showing the Book Tower, 1930 - 2011.036.042

Book-Cadillac Hotel postcard, 1930s - 1945.070.001

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