As we chronicle the restoration of the El Moore and the development of the community around it, we often give the old building its own voice. It’s too bad Old Main doesn’t have a voice, because no doubt it would have quite a few stories to tell about how the surrounding neighborhood that is now Wayne State University and Midtown has evolved over the past century. Just the name of the Wayne State University’s oldest structure, “Old Main”, tells the Detroit-style tale of survival all by itself. Similar to the El Moore, Old Main is an historic Detroit landmark building that was built at practically the same time (The El Moore was built in 1898, construction of Old Main began in 1894 and proceeded over a three-year period).
The building, which is within walking distance of the El Moore, is currently home to:
- The College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts departments of music, theatre, communication
- The Maggie Allesee Department of Dance
- The James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History
- The Elaine L. Jacob Gallery
- Schaver Music Recital Hall
- The Dean’s office of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
- The Department of Geology
- The Museum of Anthropology
- The planetarium and general classrooms
But despite all the new tenants, it is still, now, and most likely forever, Old Main.
Just consider the history of the place:
Central High School moved to this new location from its previous home in the former Michigan State Capitol building in downtown Detroit’s Capitol Park, which had burned down in 1893. Central High began classes here in 1896 as the building neared completion. As the number of students grew, a large wing was added to the rear of the building in 1908. In 1913 the high school began offering some college-level courses, and in 1917 the new two-year Detroit Junior College began to operate in the building. In 1923 this would become the four-year degree granting College of the City of Detroit, one of the main precursor institutions of today’s Wayne State University.
By 1926 the building had become overcrowded and Central High School was moved to its present location at 2425 Tuxedo St. The building was then given over entirely to the college and was renamed as the Main Building. As the college has grown around it and evolved, first to Wayne University in 1934, and then to Wayne State University in 1956, the building came to be affectionately known as “Old Main”.
Like the El Moore, Old Main stands as proof that just because you’re old doesn’t mean you don’t still have a lot to offer.