United Sound Systems in Detroit may receive historical designation; likely impact proposed I-94 widening

Share on Nextdoor

A Detroit City Council committee will consider a historic designation for a recording studio in Midtown that may force the state of Michigan to revamp a $2.7 billion reconstruction of I-94 in the city.

A bevy of classics were record by some of the world's most well-known musicians at United Sound Systems Recording Studio on Second Avenue, the first independent recording studio in the country: Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, MC5, Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones and more.

But since the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) dusted off a proposed reconstruction and widening of I-94 in Detroit, between I-96 and Connor Avenue, the studio has been on the chopping block — it's neatly situated where a proposed service drive would run, if MDOT were to widen the freeway by one lane in each direction, as it's currently proposed. 

The historic designation before the council committee may throw that into limbo. If approved by the committee, it would head to the full city council for consideration before reaching Mayor Mike Duggan.

The process began in early 2014, after Duggan and newly-elected councilmembers took office.

In a letter dated Jan. 28, 2014, Danielle Smith, owner of the studio, wrote to officials: "The owners of the United Sound Systems recording building would like to see this nationally significant building protected for future generations."

Smith noted the studio has already been designated as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.

The consideration by council comes on the heels of a rejuvenated push by activists to quash the freeway project, called a massive "boondoggle" by one national group.  

A spokesperson for MDOT told the Detroit Free Press, which highlighted the council resolution today, the department has suggested moving the studio to a different location. 

"We're waiting to hear back form them on their preferred decision because we do understand the historical aspect of it," the spokesperson told the newspaper. 

MDOT told the Freep the project continues to be evaluated and it's possible the service drive that would require the removal of United Sound could be removed from the plan. The project — funded by federal, state, and local tax dollars for roads — could begin as early as 2018, after a stream of continuous delays. 

About The Author

Ryan Felton

Ryan Felton was born in 1990 and spent the majority of his childhood growing up in Livonia. In 2009, after a short stint at Eastern Michigan University, he moved to Detroit where he has remained ever since. After graduating from Wayne State University’s journalism program, he went on to work as a staff writer...
Scroll to read more Metro Detroit News articles


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.