Digital Habitat

The industrial revolution was never history’s best friend. Apart from museums and historical attractions like The Henry Ford in Dearborn, there are few buildings in Detroit that predate the mechanical age.



Published:

 The industrial revolution was never history’s best friend. Apart from museums and historical attractions like The Henry Ford in Dearborn, there are few buildings in Detroit that predate the mechanical age.

Now comes the digital revolution, which is proving to be history’s savior. With a few computers, a server room, and a high-speed data line, law firms, ad agencies, and film studios can operate almost anywhere. And these days, with cloud computing, a server room may not be necessary. 

“If we still needed celluloid film to produce movies, we’d be located in some industrial park instead of renovating an architectural treasure,” says Tom Carleton, a partner — together with his brother, David Carleton, and Sean Emery — in Mindfield, a digital creative studio that produces film, video, animation, and interactive media.

While nothing was stopping Mindfield from operating in an industrial park, the founders preferred an address with more historical character. Their first project was Library Lofts in downtown Detroit, a six-story structure built in 1907 on Library Street behind the former Hudson’s store. The building housed a publisher of ragtime music, followed by a toy store, a music business, a rug company, and a Good Housekeeping outlet.

In 1992, the brothers purchased the vacant building and set up Mindfield on the top floor. They eventually renovated the remaining space into lofts and leased out the ground floor to Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine. Mission accomplished? Yes and no.

The creative trio had another restoration project waiting. The object of their desire was the Grand Army of the Republic Building, a castle-like fortress at Cass and Grand River built to honor Civil War veterans. Completed in 1900, the structure was converted to various commercial operations in 1935, when the last of the veterans passed on. Since the late 1970s, the building has been vacant.

For $220,500, the group purchased the Grand Army of the Republic Building from the city. Next year, following a $2 million restoration spearheaded by Detroit-based StudiozONE and Integrity Building Group, Mindfield will set up shop on the uppermost floor, originally an assembly hall with a mezzanine (the stage backdrop was a battlefield mural).

“We will display Civil War memorabilia wherever we can,” David says during a recent tour. “We envision a bar and restaurant on the first floor, leased space most likely for other digital-based businesses on floors two and three, and then our space.”

During the renovation, David jokes, they may discover another treasure. “I keep thinking we’ll find Confederate gold.” While finding gold may be a long shot, it’s clear the digital revolution is bringing a lot more of Detroit’s historical structures into focus. Startups and expanding businesses want the cool space, and Detroit has a ready supply. db

R.J. King

rjking@dbusiness.com 

 

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

A Clean Sheet

Where is it written that an elected school board is required to operate one or any number of public schools?

The Last Mile

Public transportation in metro Detroit hasn't been much to write home about. Without a car, it's tough to find reliable, affordable transportation to shop, work, and play.

Somerset Detroit

Soon, downtown Detroit will have its own version of The Somerset Collection in Troy.

Inside Out

As a director at the Cranbrook Educational Community in Bloomfield Hills, Mike Stafford says the 319-acre art and educational campus isn’t limited by its physical boundaries.

By the Numbers

The advent of the auto-mobile, along with public transportation, gave birth to shopping malls in the 1950s, and proponents predicted they would never go out of style.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Midtown Detroit Inc. Begins Final Phase of Walking, Biking Paths
    Midtown Detroit Inc., a nonprofit development company, has started construction on the $4.3...
  2. Detroit’s Alger Theater Undergoing Renovations, Rooftop Deck Planned
    The Alger Theater on Detroit’s east side is undergoing renovations to enhance the audiovisual...
  3. Continuum Services Names New Chief Operating Officer
  4. Carhartt Retail Store Opens in Detroit’s Midtown District
  5. Exclusive: Lear Corp. Acquires Hemmeter Building in Downtown Detroit
    Automotive supplier Lear Corp. has acquired the historic Hemmeter Building in downtown...
  6. Craft Cocktail Bar Standby to Open in The Belt in October
    Standby, a restaurant and bar featuring more than 50 inventive craft cocktails, will open in...