Subject of the Month: 2018

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A History of WSU Buildings, 1884-2018

Special thanks to Cindy Krolikowski, Sandra Martin, and especially Alison Stankrauff for their help filling in some informational gaps during my preparation of this timeline. Something missing? Anything look incorrect or out-of-place? Feel free to contact me and let me know.

May 2018: Art & Architecture on Campus

Photo of McGregor Hall and Reflecting Pond, WSU, by Yamasaki


Selector: Clayton Hayes

Did you know that Wayne State students used to register for classes in an old car dealership? That our first student center was a repurposed apartment hotel? That the first building constructed specifically for Wayne State wasn't built until 1948, and was designed by an Armenian immigrant?

Did you know that one of the sculptors whose work is installed on campus also designed a set of doors for the Vatican? That the "Fantastic Four" were originally part of Detroit's old city hall? That a chair of the Art and Art History Department founded one of Cass Corridor's most well-known cooperative galleries?

This subject of the month encourages you to explore the history of Wayne State University through its architecture and public art, and to discover the answer to the question: How did this campus end up looking the way it did, anyway?

Library Resources

100 Select Works from the Wayne State University Art Collection cover

100 Select Works from the Wayne State University Art Collection

by Dirk Bakker and Richard J. Bilaitis

Selected works from the WSU art collection with an introduction by Irvin D. Reid, the WSU President at the time of its publication in 2004.

Selections from the Wayne State University Art Collection cover

Selections from the Wayne State University Art Collection

by Dirk Bakker and Richard J. Bilaitis [Library Use Only]

An earlier edition of the above book, which explores a slightly different set of art objects for the WSU Art Collection.

Subverting Modernism cover

Subverting Modernism

Cass Corridor Revisited, 1966-1980, by Julia R. Meyers

A catalog for an exhibition at the University Art Gallery, Central Michigan University (Jan.10-Feb. 9, 2013) and the University Gallery, Eastern Michigan University (Mar. 11-Apr. 28, 2013).

Art in Detroit Public Places cover

Art in Detroit Public Places

by Dennis Alan Nawrocki and David Clements

Though this book looks broadly at all of Detroit, there is a fair amount of representation of works on WSU's campus.

Canvas Detroit cover

Canvas Detroit [ebook]

by Julie Pincus and Nichole Christian

This ebook covers a wide range of art projects in Detroit, including some (like DLECTRICITY) that occur at or near WSU. It also features a profile of Katie Yamasaki, the granddaughter of noted WSU-affiliated architect Minoru Yamasaki.

Sieve cover


by David Barr

David Barr is a sculptor who received his BFA and MFA from WSU in the 1960s,and this book is a bit of autobiography and a bit of his personal philosophy regarding art. He is the artist responsible for Winter Flower (1987), which is installed near Old Main on Hancock.

Placeholder book cover

Giacomo Manzù

by Giacomo Manzù with John Rewald

Giacomo Manzù was the artist behind The Nymph and the Faun, installed in the McGregor building sculpture garden in 1968. This book offers large-format photographs of some of his other works.

Placeholder book cover

Seff Weidl

by Johann W. Hammer

Seff Weidl was the sculptor behind The Philosopher (1974), installed on the southwest wall of the Law Classroom building, and this book provides photographs of his other works.

DFQ cover

Detroit Focus Quarterly

Detroit Focus Quarterly was published Detroit Focus, a non-profit arts organization that supports art and artists in the Detroit area, and ran from 1982 to 1998. It includes interviews with artists, articles about the art scene and current issues, and listings of art exhibits. Several local artists who have sculptures installed on campus were involved in Detroit Focus in one capacity or another, including David Barr, Sergio de Giusti, Robert Sestok, and G. Alden Smith.

Cass Corridor Documentation Project

The Cass Corridor Documentation Project includes a series of oral histories, recorded in 2011, of individuals involved in or related to the Cass Corridor art community. One interviewee was Robert Sestok, the artist behind Free Form 5 (2001), the sculpture on Cass near the Hilberry Theatre.

AIA Detroit cover 2003

AIA Detroit

The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture, by Eric J. Hill and John Gallagher

This architectural guidebook provides information on many notable WSU buildings and architects, as well as buildings in the nearby area.

AIA Detroit cover 1980

Detroit Architecture

A.I.A. guide, edited by Katharine Mattingly Meyer

The 1980 edition of the AIA architectural guidebook for Detroit provides includes a few notable WSU buildings that are not included in the 2003 edition.

Buildings of Detroit cover

The Buildings of Detroit

A History, by W. Hawkins Ferry

One of the most comprehensive guides to Detroit's buildings, providing photographs and historical information on both commercial and residential structures of note.

Legacy of Albert Kahn cover

The Legacy of Albert Kahn

by W. Hawkins Ferry

This serves as a compilation of the works of Albert Kahn, not only in Detroit, but across Michigan and the rest of the world. It provides floor plans and blueprints for several of Kahn's buildings, along with some biographical information for context.

Yamasaki in Detroit cover

Yamasaki in Detroit

A Search for Serenity, by John Gallagher

This book provides information on the Detroit buildings of famed architect Minoru Yamasaki, along with profiling the architect himself.

Yamasaki in Detroit cover

A Life in Architecture

by Minoru Yamasaki

This autobiographical book by Yamasaki describes his life and architectural pursuits, including his time spent designing buildings for WSU.

A History of Wayne State University in Photographs cover

A History of Wayne State University in Photographs

by Evelyn Aschenbrenner [Library Use Only]

A history of both WSU and its campus told through photographs, many of which are taken from the WSU Buildings collection linked elsewhere on the guide..

Placeholder book cover

Reminiscences of Wayne

Memoirs of Some Faculty and Staff Members of Wayne State University, edited by Henry V. Bohm and Paul J. Pentecost

A description of WSU's history, as told by various faculty and staff at WSU. Though published in 2000, the information contained within cover a good chunk of the university's history.

Placeholder book cover

A Place of Light

The History of Wayne State University; A Centennial Publication, by Leslie L. Hanawalt

A celebration of WSU's history, published for its centennial celebration in 1968.

Placeholder book cover

Up From the Basement, 1927-1977

A History of the Art Education Department at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, by Freda Albrecht Harrington

Published by the department itself, this short book includes photographs and information on the history of WSU's art education program.

Freer cover


A Legacy of Art, by Thomas Lawton and Linda Merrill

This book on Charles Lang Freer and his art collection includes information on the Freer and Hecker houses, as well as Freer's Whistler collection and the Peacock Room.

Have questions about archival collections related to WSU's history? Speak to Alison Stankrauff, our University Archivist.

Wayne State University Architecture

Select Photos from the University Archives

This exhibit, prepared as part of the sesquicentennial, highlights the university's architectural history and includes prints of some images seen on this guide. It runs through Fall of 2018.

Minoru Yamasaki Papers

Accession Number UP002108

The papers of Minoru Yamasaki include correspondence regarding projects, as well as early architectural drawings, speeches and writings, photographs, awards and doctoral degrees, scrapbooks detailing the progress of his career, and various publications.

Wayne State University Photograph Collection

Accession Number WSAV002643

The collection of photographs is largely the output of communications, community, and university relations work conducted under the auspices of the University Relations Division. Depicted are activities, events, and places on or around the university's Detroit campus as well as the people associated with its academic and administrative functions. A portion of this collection has been digitized, and is available via the WSU Buildings digital collection.

WSU Buildings Vertical Files

The WSU Buildings Vertical Files contain press releases, newspaper clippings, excerpts from Board of Governors meetings, and other sources of information on the buildings on WSU's campus, both past and present. These vertical files are available in the Reuther's reading room, and were essential to the creation of the above timeline.

Art on Campus

Online Collections and Resources

Historic Detroit

Historic Detroit's tagline aptly describes their mission: "Every building in Detroit has a story - we're here to share it." Founded by writer and photographer Dan Austin, the site contains a wealth of information on Detroit's physical spaces, both past and present.

Link to

WSU Buildings Collection

A digitized portion of the Reuther Library's University Photograph Collection, the WSU Buildings Collection included are both exteriors and interiors of Wayne State's buildings, past and present, including classrooms, auditoriums, housing, and more. More photos of WSU buildings can also be found in the Virtual Motor City collection.

Link to WSU Buildings collection

WSU Yamasaki Legacy Project

The Wayne State University Yamasaki Legacy project provides information and contextualization on renowned architect Minoru Yamasaki. It examines his designs on the WSU campus, as well as discussion his global influence.

Link to WSU Yamasaki Legacy website

Wayne State University Sesquicentennial

WSU Logo with 150 years in the heart of Detroit

On May 18, in 1868, Wayne State University was officially founded as the Detroit Medical College. The first academic term began on Nov. 3, 1868.  On April 22, 1956, the Michigan Legislature adopted Act 183 “to establish and regulate a state institution of higher learning to be known as Wayne State University.” 

Photo of Detroit Medical College with the WSU Seal, Making History Since 1868


Throughout 2018, the WSU Libraries invite you to join us as we celebrate our University's rich history and sesquicentennial. The official celebration period will run from Jan. 1, 2018 to Nov. 1, 2018.  In addition to the Subject of the Month displays, please check the University Calendar for Special Events and Exhibits.

Campus Architects

Suren Pilafian

photo portrait of Pilafian

Suren Pilafian was born in 1910 in Izmir, Turkey to Armenian parents. They immigrated to New York while he was still young and, at 18 years old, began working as a draftsman for Cass Gilbert. Gilbert was an established architect, having just opened his New York Life Building in 1928, and had notably designed the main branch of the Detroit Public Library. Starting in 1935, Pilafian spent a few years working independently in Tehran, Iran, before coming back to the U.S.

Pilafian bounced between positions at a few architectural firms before establishing his own firm and winning a 1942 design contest for the master plan of Wayne State's campus. His buildings, State Hall, the Engineering Building, the Purdy-Kresge Library complex, and the Community Arts building, helped to establish the architectural aesthetic for WSU's campus. Pilafian continued to work independently in the Detroit area for several years before joining Albert Kahn Associates as a head designer; he passed away in 1988.

Minoru Yamasaki

photo portrait of Yamasaki

Minoru Yamasaki was born in 1912 in Seattle, Washington to Japanese parents. He studied architecture at the University of Washington while working at a cannery in Alaska over the summers to pay his tuition. In 1945, he joined the prestigious Detroit architecture firm of Smith, Hinchman, & Grylls as their head of design before forming the firm of Leinweber, Yamasaki, & Hellmuth in 1949, later just Leinweber & Yamasaki.

Yamasaki formed Yamasaki and Associates in 1957 during the construction of the McGregor Memorial Conference Center, and it was his work at Wayne State and the surrounding Detroit area that elevated him to national and international renown. Perhaps best known in the U.S. for his work on the World Trade Center in New York, Yamasaki died in 1986 and his firm closed in 2010.

The "Fantastic Four"

The "Fantastic Four," as they have come to be called, are four statues of prominent figures in the early history of Detroit:

the Fantastic Four in front of F/AB

Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit missionary who founded Sault Ste. Marie, the first European settlement in Michigan.
Robert de La Salle, a French explorer who was one of the first Europeans to traverse the Great Lakes.
Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the French founder of Fort Détroit, around which the city of Detroit would eventually grow.
Father Gabriel Richard, a French Roman Catholic missionary who founded the University of Michigan and wrote Detroit's motto.

statues in storage: click to enlarge detail view of Cadillac on City Hall; click to enlarge

Julius Melchers, a German sculptor who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, carved these figures in limestone for installation in Detroit's City Hall around 1885. The statues were placed in niches on the exterior of the building's second story.

In 1955, City Hall operations moved to the new City-County Building (now the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center) on Jefferson, and the old City Hall was slated for demolition. Thankfully, the statues were saved and put in storage before the building came down in 1961. Detroit's Common Council gifted the statues to Wayne State University in the early 1970s, and they were placed in the green space nearby General Lectures and St. Andrew's. Three of the four faced east, towards Anthony Wayne Drive, but Cadillac was situated facing south, towards the Detroit river.

The Anthony Wayne Drive Apartments, announced in 2016, necessitated moving the statues to another location. A square was quickly built on the south side of the Faculty/Administration Building, and the four statues were settled into their new home just before Fall Semester 2016. A time-lapse video, along with more information, is available from the WSU newsroom.

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