The El Moore: A Brief History

Detroit is widely known for its unique historic architecture, boasting a surplus of  both commercial and residential structures built with a precision and intricacy of design of the sort that is increasingly hard to find anywhere  else in the United States.  These buildings have many stories to tell about the growth and evolution of Detroit, and the El Moore is no different.

We will be exploring as many of those stories as we can in upcoming posts and sharing those discoveries with you, but at the root of all the El Moore stories is the El Moore history. And that, as you will see, makes for a pretty good story all by itself.

The El Moore, located at 624 West Alexandrine, was built in 1898 and was also known at the time as the El Moore Flats as well as the El Moore Apartments. It was designed by A.C. Varney, a renowned local architect who designed a large number of other buildings in what is now the Midtown area. The building was constructed at a cost of $24,000 by Charles C. Moore (see our post “Who was Charles W. Moore?” for additional information) who at the time was also political secretary to Sen. James McMillan, who was head of the District of Columbia Committee.  Moore later became Director of the Detroit Institute of Art from 1914-1917.

The El Moore originally contained just eight very large apartments, and the building was home for a select number of well-to-do professional tenants. However, as the city’s growth began to explode outward, the El Moore was forced to adjust to the changing reality of  a growing city and divided the original eight units into 17 units plus 8 sleeping rooms, then later  more division was required and the El Moore housed 25 separate apartments.

As Detroit continued to grow and its population soared to more than 2 million residents into the 1950s, the El Moore continued to adapt to its Cass Corridor neighborhood that seemed never to be content with just one personality or identity. The area was always changing and the El Moore tried to keep up. But in later years as the Corridor began to deteriorate, reflecting the city’s painfully harsh decline, the El Moore mirrored the fading fortunes of Detroit and eventually became vacant.

Then, in 2011, after several earlier failed attempts to purchase the building by other interested parties, Tom and Peggy Brennan, who also founded the Green Garage, purchased the El Moore with plans to restore it to its former glory, albeit with a modern “green” twist.  The latest version of the El Moore has been designed to be environmentally friendly and sustainable while still remaining true to its unique Detroit history and place. It is expected to re-open in 2016.