The first foundation for one of our city's most elegant and graceful ladies was laid 89 years ago today.
The cornerstone of the Detroit Institute of Arts' current location on Woodward Avenue was put into place on April 29, 1924, though the new museum didn't open to the public until 1927.
While the museum was founded in 1885, the original building was situated on Jefferson Avenue and what was then Hastings Street. But a larger site was soon desired, and a new location and building was planned on Woodward.
The Detroit Museum of Art's original incarnation on Jefferson circa 1906. Photo via Alamy.
According to Historic Detroit, famed architect Albert Kahn was originally asked to design a new home for Detroit's art collection. Kahn declined, but recommended Paul Phillippe Cret, a French architect based in Philadelphia. His timeless Beaux Arts structures include that city's Rodin museum, the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC and the college campuses of Brown University and the University of Texas at Austin.
Detroit was booming in the Roaring Twenties. Though the museum was originally launched as a nonprofit, it became a city department in 1919 (an operating agreement means it's now run as a nonprofit but is still owned by the city). Cret's graceful, neoclassical marble design was almost immediately nicknamed the "temple of art." The design reflects Detroit at a time of confidence, progress, wealth and unparallelled optimism.
And unlike now, the Motor City was flush enough to indulge Cret's vision. According to the Detroit Free Press, the original estimates for the building were $2 million, but the actual price tag was about $4 million -- double the original estimate and about $53 million today. Two wings were added in the 1960s and 1970s, and the museum underwent a major renovation and expansion that debuted to the public in 2007.
Ralph Booth, brother of George and co-founder of Booth Newspapers, was a major supporter of the DIA who delivered these immortal words at the the cornerstone ceremony, via Historic Detroit:
The cornerstone ceremony took place on April 29, 1924 at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Our city has achieved first place in industry and an enviable place in wealth. We are here today to crown these accomplishments by laying the cornerstone of this building which shall testify that our true ambition is not mechanical production only. This but supplies the opportunity with which we shall gather around us the finer things to which we aspire, and give tangible evidence to the world that Detroit is a city of enlightenment and progress.
Where we claim the best that civilization offers in order that our lives may be fuller, and richer, and contribute to the true betterment of future generations.