A look at Detroit's Garden Court Apartments 

Albert Kahn-designed building celebrates its 100th birthday next year

Carved into the mantel  of Garden Court Apartment’s lobby fireplace are the intertwined initials “GC.” They’re original to the building, which was built in 1915. The fireplace is ornate, as is the detailed ceiling from which hangs a beautiful chandelier. The circular room has been updated; so has the vestibule. Most of the living quarters within have also received renovations. Of the 65 units, only a few are vacant, one of which is a five-bedroom, three-bathroom, 3,400-square-foot space on the fifth floor, one of the only apartments to retain its original layout.

Originally, the H-shaped building at Jefferson and Joseph Campau housed 32 apartments, but years later the lavish spaces were spliced up into smaller living areas. Some now are as small at 700 square feet, while others, like the fifth-floor unit, remain larger than many suburban homes. 

The building, designed by famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn for J. Harrington Walker of Hiram Walker & Sons, is faced with limestone on its first two floors, while the subsequent seven are red brick. The top story features limestone belt courses and window-surrounds with a balustrade face. From top to bottom on each side of the building are columns of bay windows. 

It was rumored that Garden Court was built so Walker could keep an eye on the traffic crossing the Detroit River. When it was first constructed, it was one of the tallest buildings on the riverfront, offering a perfect view of the Canadian Club facilities that still stand on foreign soil almost directly across the river. 

Interestingly, Garden Court was not available for rent when it was first constructed; instead Walker and his family, along with a host of butlers and maids, inhabited it. In fact, service elevators, stairs, doors, and special quarters for service workers were all part of the original design. Now the freight elevators are used mostly for hauling furniture and equipment, while “back doors” used by the help are mostly sealed off. Now capped off, the facilities even featured toe-taps that alerted workers that services were needed and in which rooms, seemingly a luxurious amenity for the time. 

Later on, apartments became available for rent, though the particular date isn’t known. Sometime in the 1950s, the units were chopped up into smaller spaces. These days the apartments are being converted into condominiums, with space going for about $100 per square foot. Of the 65 units, 24 are currently owner-occupied and five, including the aforementioned 3,400-square-foot space, are available for purchase. 

Mayor Dave Bing lived here during his tenure serving Detroit, and a state senator currently calls Garden Court home, along with a Pulitzer Prize-winner and several of the city’s artists. Kwame Kilpatrick reportedly checked out the space just days before he went to jail, looking for a home for his family. The movie LOL, starring Demi Moore and Miley Cyrus, was filmed here, among others, and the building’s facade was used for the ’90s sitcom Martin, which starred Martin Lawrence. 

For all its fame, grandeur, and beauty, the building still stands, in almost inconspicuous fashion, facing Jefferson just blocks from the riverfront. Down the street is Atwater Brewery. Next door is Staples and across the street is IHOP. The rooftop offers a view of Detroit’s startling canopy of trees on one side and an unfettered view of the river on the other. 

Garden Court isn’t a cheap place to live, but replete with the character only a nearly 100-year-old building can provide, the cost seems reasonable.

The building features nearly soundproof concrete walls, along with original wood floors. Ceilings are 10-feet-tall. Many of the building’s doors are the same ones installed during construction, and property managers have even managed to retain a number of the original iron tubs, including a few with claw feet. Kitchens have been updated, and servants quarters have been morphed into smaller apartments or bedrooms. Modern amenities include a gym, Bizzie Boxes for dry cleaning, a community rooftop terrace, a parking space, valet, and security. Many of the units also featuring original working fireplaces, although management now asks they be converted to gas. It’s also close to the Riverwalk and Belle Isle.  

Garden Court Apartments, which celebrates its 100th birthday next year, was named to the National Register of Historic Sites in 1985 and, considering its careful preservation, it seems it might yet see another century standing in Detroit. 

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