[graphic header] Detroit: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary, National Park Service

Cultural Center Historic District

The Cultural Center Historic District is, as its name asserts, the heart of Detroit's intellectual and artistic life. Straddling Woodward Avenue, the district is formed by three early 20th century buildings: on the east side stands the Detroit Public Library; on the west are the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Horace H. Rackham Education Memorial Building. This layout originated in a 1913 plan based on the principles of the City Beautiful movement which advocated the clustering of important public buildings.

The Public Library had been located in two other places before it moved into its elegant new home in 1921. Its architect was Cass Gilbert, noted for the Minnesota State Capitol and the Woolworth Building, who wanted his building to "create an environment of scholarship and refinement." Gilbert designed the library in Italian Renaissance style, facing its exterior with white marble and having interior spaces decorated with murals, tiles and mosaics. In 1963 the library gained extra space with an austere rear addition.

The Detroit Institute of Arts, designed by Paul Phillipe Cret, opened six years after the library and closely resembles its neighbor. Cret worked with the museum's art director to create galleries of varying sizes and shapes that stimulated the viewer while at the same time providing a proper setting for the art collection. Two wings--one added in 1965, the other in 1971--provided more space for the Institute's collection, which features Impressionist paintings, American decorative arts, and Diego Rivera murals.

The Rackham Building, named after a local philanthropist who became wealthy as an early investor in Ford Motor Company, completes the Cultural Center. Since its opening in 1941, this simple yet dignified building has served as the headquarters for the Engineering Society of Detroit and the University of Michigan Extension Service.

The Cultural Center Historic District is located three blocks south of the Edsel Ford Freeway (Interstate 94). Woodward Avenue cuts through the middle of the district and the main campus of Wayne State University is to the west. The buildings are open to the public.

Detroit Public Library Detroit Public Library

  Detoit Institute of Arts Detroit Institute of Arts
Click here for detail of a Diego Rivera Mural
Photographs courtesy of the Michigan State Historic Presrvation Office

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